Family Secrets by Meg Pokrass

There was a story about a woman who kept her husband and her daughters on a leash. It wasn’t the kind of story you tell at a party. It was a kind of unspoken understanding between growing-up sisters.

There are neighbors we will never know, my father says. Old stories about them bloom like unexplained flowers in a parched-out garden.

Here in our city, nobody sees each other.

My sisters say that there are stories about us too. We laugh. We think we are mostly okay now. We talk about our silly lives together as if we are able to stand above them and watch ourselves from the edge. The labour we do here feels necessary. We relocate our father from the living room to another room when he can no longer stand up.

 Your mother used to keep us on a leash, our father says, clearing his throat. Then he sits down and thinks again. We bring him a cup of hot water. Tell us a bit more, we say. He likes his tea without a bag, just a tiny squirt of lemon. I have never needed much of a leash, myself, he says.

There is a joke about a horror story about a mother who never stopped walking. She walked her leashed daughters to the edge of a cliff and told them to jump. Then she pulled and saved the one who didn’t understand what was really expected of her.

We work and we grow up and we learn about how we are safest when standing away from the edges of things. We point at the house where the mother and her leashed daughters lived, it is the one that resembles a submarine.

Houses like ours, houses on this block, are mostly sunken into the ground. There are rooms below and rooms above, and the children live in the darker areas. My sisters and I were taken into the custody of our father. But our mother never held us with a leash.

Photo by Alan Levine, used and adapted under CC.