Serenity stands in the corner of the room, staring across at my bookshelves. She is motionless, and I wish she’d go over and pick out whatever book she’s interested in. Following her line of sight, I try to figure out which book it is; I suspect it’s ‘PostSecret’, a brilliant idea conceived in Frank Warren’s inspired mind. For those who don’t know, Frank Warren invited members of the public to write a secret on a postcard and send it to him, anonymously. Some of these secrets are funny and some are shameful, while still more are frighteningly sinister. Many of those who submitted their secrets said that it helped them to heal their hidden wounds.
Maybe Serenity wants to send Frank Warren a postcard, or maybe she sent one, and is wondering if it is included in his book; if so, I can understand why she doesn’t take a look while I am in the room.
I stroll casually over to the bookshelves, and peruse the spines as if I’m just looking for something interesting while I pass a lazy half-hour. When I reach the book in question, I pick it up, with a practiced air of indifference. I don’t want to make her feel as if I’ve been reading her mind.
As for Serenity, her gaze doesn’t falter – she remains looking at the gap that I’ve left. She doesn’t even glance my way as I take my seat at the table. I’m impressed by her determination not to give the game away.
I turn the pages. The first secret is merely a claim of many secrets, but none are named. I doubt that is her secret.
One says “I know you don’t really like me. Please stop pretending.” It could be that one; she certainly lack confidence. I read on, assessing possibilities as I go, dismissing the majority for a variety of reasons.
“He’s been in prison for to years for what I did. 9 more to go.” It shocks me, but I don’t think it’s anything to do with Serenity.
“I used to fertilize a ring on my lawn, and every time I mowed it, IT GREW. My parents still think it was aliens.” Amusing, but no.
“I ate all the blueberries, and they were delicious.” Unlikely; she’s not interested in food.
“I’m terrified of not existing.” I think she’s more terrified of existing, but I could be wrong.
I turn the page, and there it is, on page 61 – but to make sure, I pass it by and read on.
“When I was a teenager I used to babysit my next door neighbour’s son. When he was asleep I would go into their bedroom and go through their drawers. I found a packet of condoms. I put a pin through the middle of each of them, and thus ensured myself another 5 years of babysitting.” No. I don’t think she likes small children, and she’s not that enterprising.
“I once wrote an X-rated letter to my boyfriend who broke up with me before I could give it to him. … I gave it to my next boyfriend.” Nope. Serenity is a life-long celibate.
“Income from teaching creative writing:$32,654.00. Income from writing creatively: $0.00.” No.
“When my friends go on diets, I discourage them. This is because I want them to be fatter than me.” No. I’m her only friend, and she’s thinner than I could ever be.
“I love having my period. It gives me an excuse to be bitchy and irritable and to take naps.” That’s not Serenity. She’s never bitchy and irritable.
“I still believe my childhood bear is real. I am in college. I still talk to her… when no-one else is in the room.” Serenity doesn’t have a bear, and she’s not very talkative anyway, but this postcard begs the question; why would people think this girl’s bear is not real?
“I stole your duck and took it to San Francisco.” No chance.
I read to the end of the book, and after a furtive glance at Serenity – who still remains motionless – I go back to page 61, to the secret which jumped out at me, and I feel sure that if she is the author of any of the words in this book, it is these:
“I feel blank inside.”
I’m posting this in the hope that someone out there can advise me. How can I help Serenity?
I asked her if she’d mind me taking a picture to add to this post. She didn’t reply, but I sensed that she liked the idea. She has a certain style, and a penchant for scarves, which, with my help, she ties in unusual ways and wears as dresses. I know she’s proud of these creations – they seem to be her one real interest in life, and she always seems pleased when I bring a new one home, but she gets few opportunities to show them off, since she never leaves the flat. Her latest garment is a huge scarf which I found in our Oxfam shop. Although she prefers rare hand-embroidered vintage silk and wool, she was thrilled with this one. I’m sure you’ll agree she looks beautiful in it.
She stands in the corner of the room, barricaded behind the arm of the sofa because she doesn’t like being touched. There was an unfortunate incident a few years back, when I took a job which required me to live in a tent for six months. She doesn’t like camping, so she moved into the window of Oxfam until I came home. The incident occurred while she was there. It was an accident, but it left her mentally scarred.
It’s just occurred to me – maybe she wasn’t staring at the book. Perhaps she has difficulty with her sight. That may explain several of her problems.
I think I’ll take her to Specsavers.
©Jane Paterson Basil