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Anni Shamim

Cambridge, Massachusetts
For about ten years, I haven't been able to settle on the perfect word for the blank below. It's in the last sentence of a 9,000-word short story. Maybe you can help?

"The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug." - Was it Mark Twain who said that?

So here's the gist of the backstory: Conservative, lower-middle class, inner city Pakistani family. Salman is Noreen's much older brother. Noreen is married to Ahmed, who loves her dearly. They have two boys. Salman visits often, loves his nephews, has a good relationship with his brother-in-law (Noreen's husband). But Salman and Noreen (brother and sister) share an awful secret from the past, and hardly ever even look at each other since that incident (no, nothing to do with incest). The last sentence is the one with the missing word:

.... She would send an errand-boy out for fresh samosas and kababs from the bazaar, while she fried up pakoras with thick-cut onions and thin-sliced potatoes, the way Saleem liked them. Carrying in a full tray, she would set it on the center table in front of the men. Then she’d bring them a tea-cozied pot of strong black tea, steaming milk, and a sugar pot with a silver spoon.
Noreen kept her eyes down and Saleem kept his gaze on his brother-in-law or nephews. If by chance he turned to Noreen, if for a brief moment their eyes ever met, Saleem’s face grew taut and his neck stiffened, their secret [ ? ] between them once again.
***
I was born in Pakistan, went to American schools in Kuwait and Pakistan, then to Pakistani schools in Pakistan, and then to college here in the U.S. I am fluent in Urdu (speak, read, write), Pashto, and Punjabi, and feel as American as I do Pakistani. After my fiction MFA from Emerson College here in Boston I fell off the writing wagon for a few years. Took this year off from my paying job in publishing/educational sales to spend some serious time on my craft. In October I started submitting short stories to lit mags, and the rejections have started rolling in.

I write literary fiction with a multi-cultural sprinkle or two; I'd love a few short stories published before getting back to my novel (on its third, still-messy draft).