Potential energy has always amazed me. You can feel the energy from heat,
and you can see sparks from electricity. But the idea that because something
is high up it has energy, just because it could be released for gravity to
take hold of - that's always just wowed me. My teacher made it easier to
understand by using the example also of a catapult being held back. Well, of
course that has energy; I could see that when I let my slingshot go and
watched the stones shatter Mrs. Atlee's milk bottles. Still, the idea that
tension was energy, just sitting there in the rubber, always seemed strange.

Secrets have a tension. They have a potential; all you have to do is let go.
All you have to do is breathe out that secret for the world to hear - maybe
even just one person, if it's the right person - and the energy is released.
Energy which has been wound up, tense and tight inside. For some, that
energy just sits, like the water at the top of a dam. For others, it leaves
them quivering, like the rubber on a catapult, or uptight, like a coiled
spring. The bigger the secret, the harder it is to keep it in. And the more
likely that when you let go it'll do more than smash a couple of milk

Randy and Amos had a secret. At the time they thought all they had to do was
gloss it over. Hush it up, make sure that nobody told about it. They worried
about the immediate backlash, worried about the trouble there and then. Why
wouldn't they? Randy was eighteen, Amos nineteen. Randy, a sheriff's son,
and Amos, whose Daddy edited the Tribune, couldn't afford for it to get out
that they'd taken drunken advantage of Randy's fourteen-year-old sister that
night when they were left to look after her because Randy's parents had been
called away.

In fact, that part of it was easy enough. She was half in love with Amos
anyway, and Randy had always had a way with words. It didn't take so much to
convince her that nothing good could come of telling, least of all to their
parents. Of course, both of them, in their reassurances, made a point of
their concern, regret and compassion. Randy probably even believed his
reassurances that he didn't see his sister any differently at the time.
Maybe Amos led her on a little to the effect that they could be together
when she was sixteen, but sure, it was only to save her feelings. She'd be
over it by then, that everything would have blown over. Of course.

But they figured without the potential energy. It didn't just go away, oh
no. Amos moved away; his Pop pulled a few strings and got him a job as an
assistant editor at a two-bit town paper in Iowa. Too good an opportunity to
miss. He was a coiled spring, I figure. Guilt, taut and sharp. He's a
drinker, now, a lot quieter than he used to be. Had a couple of girls of his
own, and I heard tell that he's the most overprotective father you ever came
across. I had a chat with his wife when they passed this way a few years
ago; sweet young thing, maybe eight years younger than him, flowing blonde
hair and an eyes the colour of innocence. She wonders why he won't let the
girls out on their own, safe as it is in their little community.

Randy, well it affected him in a different way. It was his first time, too,
and he got a touch mixed up between fraternal feeling and first-time
feeling, and somehow his sister became the unrequited love of his life. He
had a couple of failed marriages, even tried being gay for awhile. None of
it worked out. He couldn't stop seeing her face in his dreams. It got so
that the only way he could make sex work was by closing his eyes and
pretending. Can you imagine how that kind of shit must eat somebody up?
Wanting the one thing, the one person, you can never have.

I know this because he confided it all to me a few years back. I think it
felt good for him to confide, maybe released a little of the tension, a
little of that energy, although I'm not sure that's why he confessed. I told
him he was just gonna have to get on with getting over it; nothing to be
done. The energy is still balled up there, I can tell. He's a catapult,
quivering and losing his shape.

And me? Well, I thought I was a catapult too. I balled up that dirty little
secret like a pellet and I held it back and held it back. I almost let it go
when it became clear that Amos had no intention of waiting around for me.
But when I pictured those family photos shattering like bottles as I went
along the mantelpiece taking aim at each one, I couldn't do it to Mom and

So I got on with things. I built a life, built a family. Holding it in was
tough, but I did it. The only place I ever told my tale was on my arms, and
nobody knew enough to make sense of the words there except Randy and Amos. I
was careful to wear long sleeves most of the time. I didn't even kiss a guy
again until I was twenty-three, scared I was some kind of slut. I almost
told Alex, just before I married him. I knew he would still love me, but
he's so protective. I doubt he could have stayed civil to Randy - maybe he
would have even insisted on going to Pop, or having it out with Randy or
Amos. So I held it, held it.

And now, well, Mom and Pop are six months in their graves, God rest them. A
lot of those years, I thought about revenge. I always thought that when
they'd had gone, I'd let loose, get Randy and Amos a good shot in the eye.

But you know, I don't think I'm a catapult after all. I'm more of a dam,
just sitting tight, holding that water as long as it needs to be held. As
far as revenge is concerned, I figure that potential energy, the potential
in the fear of it coming out, and all the things that tension did to them...
well, anyway, I don't particularly feel like punishing them anymore. But
even dams have sluice gates, and let the water out sometime. That time is
now. Maybe it will cause some chaos. Maybe Randy and Amos will take some
damage, if they're stupid enough to sit under the dam.

But that's not why I'm doing it.

Whether we're talking dams, catapults, springs - whatever - keeping things
from just being out there, where the energy wants to go... it takes effort. It
takes its toll, on the elastic, the brickwork, the nerves. I'm getting older
now; too old to keep it up anymore. Tonight I'm gonna tell Alex. From there
- who knows?

At least it won't be my secret anymore. It will have a life of its own.

Terry Pearce writes fiction in the evenings and educational materials in the daytime. He lives in London, where he is also
studying part-time. His work has been published in The Legendary, and is soon to be published in Grey Sparrow Journal,
Clockwise Cat, and Delivered. He is a moderator, regular participant and occasional winner in a weekly flash fiction
competition at <> .


Copyright 2009