Read Leonora's story on Cheap Pop to avoid spoilers: 'Men's Secrets.'
I have been a fan of Leonora’s writing for some time. Her stories are always distinctive, fresh and brave; and her most recent story, ‘Men’s Secrets,’ on ‘Cheap Pop,’ is no exception.
I’ve thought a lot recently about whether stories can be seen as feminine or masculine, whether a given story could be written by the opposite sex. I’m still undecided as far as this question goes, but it is stories like this that make me question the possibility.
First lines are particularly important for flash fiction and there are few better ways of engaging the reader than inviting them to ask themselves a question: ‘It happened when I was fifteen.’ This is followed by two more short sentences that ask further questions: ‘All of a sudden I was hot. It came out of nowhere.’ We are then given the image of teenage boys and girls hiding away behind stairs getting up to all sorts of teenage-shenanigans. I’ve always admired Leonora’s bravery and honest writing style, exhibited in wonderful lines such as: ‘Usually there was a lot of tongue involved. Then the hands would start. They went up the shirt. Down the shirt. They paused at the pants and then they went there, too.’ It is interesting to note how all the ‘doing,’ is carried out by the young male characters. But for me, there is always a nativity and playfulness present, expressed in the line: ‘It’s like they read a book up to a certain point, and then Mom came in.’
The second part of the story shifts in tone. The narration feels more knowing at this point, and adopts a more mature point of view looking back on events. I’m always drawn to stories that explore the relationships between people, and here, there is not only the narrator’s relationship with boys to consider, but with her mother too: ‘My mother looked at me. She said, there’s something different about you, and I nodded. I was a woman now. I knew how to keep men’s secrets.’ For me, in the final lines of the story, I’m left contemplating the movement from innocence to experience. But what is done so wonderfully, is the ambiguity surrounding the ‘secret.’ When their relationship appears to wain and the narrator describes how a boy (maybe Alan) put his ‘hand over my blouse and we just sat there,’ the narrator nods in confirmation that ‘it would be their secret.’ I have yet to conclude what this secret is, and hopefully it will remain that way. Each time I read it I consider different theories, which is a wonderful thing.
I will leave it there, only to insist you re-read the last paragraph and enjoy those brilliant turns of phrase: ‘It was a bond. I told myself this. It smelled like M&M’s and menthols, like x=y2. He was the x and I the y, or he the y, it didn’t matter—we equaled out.’ Say no more.
'Men's Secrets,' is a brave and honest piece of flash fiction.
Note to self. Be brave!
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