There was once a woman of alone who died, and those who were left to tend to the details of her absence stood over her almost nude body as their attention was directed by a stranger, “What do you know about this?”
All they knew was the same puzzlement as the one who had asked the question.
Long rows of parallel punctured tracks, indelibly blue, ran the lengths of her legs from ankle to inner thigh, from wrist to shoulder, and across the width of her stomach in three neat doubled rows. They cocked their heads and turned to one another for explanations, but there were none. They shrugged their shoulders helplessly, saying nothing.
A sheet was pulled, “She was a woman of secrets, then?”
They lifted and dropped their shoulders in unison, murmuring agreement, relieved to shrug off the obligation of knowing the truths of a woman who had been, after all (hadn’t the stranger said so?), of secrets.
They went out for coffee together, discussed plans and long-sleeved blouses and the collection of facts available.
None of these facts suggested a need for such all-encompassing stitching.
The suggestion was made that perhaps, in the end, she’d gone quite mad. This suggestion was greeted with welcoming rumination for the slurping beats of a few sips of coffee, but then brows furrowed — hadn’t the man with the sheet said that some of the markings were many years old? She hadn’t always been mad. Wouldn’t they have noticed?
So that was troublesome, but as they rested with the uncertainty for a few more slurping beats, it turned out they were able to come to a pleasanter place of apathy.
What did it matter, anyway? If she had wanted to tell them the stories of her secrets, she would have done so. It would be rude to chase her into death for the answers.
They finished their coffee and shrugged off the unanswered questions, their shoulders rounded so as to better let the sharper points of obligation slip away. They paid the check and left a generous tip and lifted their faces to the sunshine as they gathered in the street to separate. Someone said, “It’s no one’s duty to fully know another person.”
It really was a lovely day, they agreed.
They stood together for a silent moment, each retreating into the individual thoughts and intentions that would guide the steps away.
One of them was a bit more hesitant than the rest to have this be all there was to the story.
She leaned into the group as though to speak, but in the end all she had to offer the story’s furtherance was a bitten lip and words stuck behind.
She was a woman of secrets.