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Words of Creation

M.K. Hutchins regularly draws on her background in archaeology when writing fiction. Her YA fantasy novel Drift was both a Junior Library Guild Selection and a VOYA Top Shelf Honoree. Her short fiction appears in IGMS, Podcastle, Daily Science Fiction, and elsewhere. A long-time Idahoan, she now lives in Utah with her husband and four children. Find her at mkhutchins.com.
I joined the temple as a very young girl. By the time I was eight, I'd mastered writing. I joined the ranks of the novice priestesses, vowing to never speak again.
Words have power. With words, the gods created the universe. Ordinary people tossed syllables and sentences around like they were copper pennies. But priestesses understood the power in speech. Our utterances could crush mountains or make the rivers run dry. In our history, the few priestesses who tried speaking invariably destroyed themselves.
Silently, I studied and meditated long hours in sacred halls. Silently, I drew maps for farmers, showing them where to dig irrigation canals. One of the farmers, his eyes as brown and warm as fresh-baked bread, asked me if I minded being so quiet.
I sketched him an answer in the sunbaked dirt of the field. I wrote of the ringing caw of the crow and the throaty call of the raven. I described the way water tinkles over metal and hisses down brick walls. The slap of sandals on cobblestones and the whisper of dirt against dirt.
He seemed to understand that silence gave me room to listen to the divine. After that, he always brought a wax board with him. In his clumsy script, he asked me questions. Told me jokes. Filled my days with delight.
When he asked if the temple forbade priestesses to marry, I happily wrote him the truth: no, not at all. Then I teased and asked him why he'd asked--shouldn't he already know that?
When he kissed me, I wondered why anyone ever bothered speaking aloud.
I silently birthed our son into this world. Wordlessly, I cradled him and inhaled his milky-sweet smell, day after day, month after month. His cooing and babbling echoed around me. I stretched out my hands, encouraging him to shift his pudgy feet on the packed-earth floor and walk to me. I beamed at his successes. I cuddled away his fears.
My husband spoke to him, of course. He had to learn language, like all children. He said "Mama," and "Dada." He learned "drink" and "blanket" and "bowl." He began stringing words together, too: "more tickles" and "I so sleepy."
One night I lay by his bed, waiting for him to fall asleep. I listened to him squirm against the mattress as he tried to find just the right position. Listened to his breath slow and deepen.
He reached out a slightly sticky hand and patted me on the cheek. Then he said something I'd never heard before. "Love you, Mama."
I squeezed his hand, my soul threatening to burst from my body. Suddenly, silence and listening weren't nearly enough.
One day, I could write to him, but not now, not here. Could he see it, know it, from just my actions?
I should have stayed silent. I couldn't.
I leaned over him and I whispered in his ear. Five words. Five words from two decades of silence. My voice sounded like papery leaves. "Love you, too, little one."
His sleepy eyes widened in wonder, and in them I saw nebulas and stars, planets and meteors--spinning, growing, taking shape.
He nestled down closer to me, content and sleepy.
I'd broken my vows. And instead of being swallowed up by the earth or struck with lightning, I'd inadvertently stumbled across the Words of Creation. I ought to be ashamed or horrified.
But there was only room in my soul for peace. I curled up next to my son and fell asleep quietly contemplating whose love had created my own universe.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 7th, 2016

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