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art by Billy Sagulo

Silence

Lydia Waldman grew up in Rochester, NY and currently lives in Philadelphia. Her interests include playing the violin, writing songs, and making homemade ice cream. This is her first publication.
We eat cold macaroni and cheese from the saucepan while the newscaster tells us that the adverbs will go first. First is difficult for her. Each time they cut from the international footage to her rote summary of the crisis, she pauses too long with her teeth against her lower lip. By the fifth time, you can see the bloody spot where she's bitten down in frustration. By the tenth, she's leaving a blank space in her sentences and waving her hands as if to say You know what I mean.
We didn't go to work today. Some people did--they thought it was important to maintain the semblance of normalcy. But this morning Martin saw a couple of kids spray-painting "FUCK" in wobbly red-orange letters on the door of the house across the street, closed the curtains, and went back to bed. Dim blue light filters into the house. We pad around in the matching slippers my mother gave us last Christmas. The television spews out noise: sirens, shouting voices, whirring helicopter blades.
When Martin isn't watching me, I examine his ear, the dark curl of hair that spirals around it. Today is the last day I'll be able to ask him, Do you love me?
My sister calls around noon. It could be the last phone call I ever take. I stay calm because someone has to. I wonder what we'll use the phones for, afterwards. Juggling? They're about the right size.
After I flip the phone closed, I go into the living room where Martin has balanced the cheese-encrusted pan and fork on the arm of the couch.
Despite earlier (handwave) reports, says the newscaster, it appears written language will also be affected. I think she meant hopeful. All those people who ran out and bought pocket dictionaries are out of luck. No one will even be able to recognize words well enough to point to them.
"My sister called," I say.
Martin gives me an inquiring eyebrow, his face still half-turned to the screen. Are we saying less already, for fear we'll reach for a word and find it gone?
I shrug and pick a dry curl of noodle out of the pan. "She cried."
"Huh."
"What's that supposed to mean?" It sounds combative but I don't mean it to. I just want to know.
"She would."
I wonder if this should make me angry. I think of tearful widows on soap operas. The last thing I ever said to him was, "I hate you."
At 2:00 someone slips a glossy pamphlet through the mail slot. A glowing blond Jesus cups a grinning child's cheek. The text says, Are you ready for eternal
I don't know what it says after that. Yes. No. There's a buzzing in my head when I look at it. It ends in a question mark. I recognize the question mark.
Martin comes up behind me. I start. He takes the paper from my hand and lets out a hard chip of a laugh. Then he opens the door, looks right and left.
"Hey," he yells at a woman's retreating back. Long denim skirt, clogs. She's already at the end of the block, turning the corner. It might be the right woman.
"You know, you're a little late with the--" He breaks off, gesturing angrily, his mouth open.
"Come back inside," I say. I pull him by the sleeve. He lets me.
His slipper comes half off as we go over the threshold. He shoves his toes back inside. "You think it's the Rapture?" he mutters. "Kind of inefficient. One piece at a time."
Are you scared? I want to ask. But I've never once asked him that.
We can make this work. Gestures, signs. Book, I say to Martin and open my hands. He grudgingly repeats the motion. But later, when the word is hovering above my tongue like an itch I can't scratch, it's slipped out of my hands as well.
We have a library of kindling now.
The TV isn't showing the news anymore. At first there were mobs of people with signs, statesmen shoving each other on marble steps. Now there's soothing string music by a composer whose name I used to know, flocks of geese against pale orange sunsets, fields of bobbing daisies. Martin switches through all the channels in disgust, then leaves it on the daisies. I hate the daisies, but I don't turn it off.
I make dinner. At first I was going to cook something special, as a... celebration wasn't right. Commemoration? Consolation? But the cookbook is useless. I microwave frozen lasagna and baked potatoes and bring them to Martin in the living room on real plates. I still know potato. He's found a channel broadcasting an old black and white movie. Neither of us can tell what it's about. There are a man and a woman in a car. She's wearing a hat. Outside there's a sound like a metal trashcan falling over, a yowl that might be cat or human. Our forks scrape against porcelain.
When the sun goes down, I walk around the house turning on lights. In each doorway I close my eyes and try to remember something important that was said in that room. Then I give up and flick the switch back off. In the bedroom, I pull a beige cardigan off a hanger and wrap it around my shoulders. I feel nebulous. I could be anyone. An animal that somehow pulled on a blouse and blue jeans this morning. Or maybe someone else did that. Maybe I'm her ghost. Maybe I'm in this body by accident.
He could be anyone.
He's already lying in bed. The room is dark. I step out of my slippers and slide in under the blanket, close to his warm side. I raise my fingertips to stroke his shoulder. He turns his head, startled. We've never been a couple who casually twine our fingers together under restaurant tablecloths. We haven't done this in so long.
The fingertips are a mistake. I withdraw them. I think he's looking at me, but I can't meet his eyes. I don't like the sound of our breathing. It's like a radiator's hiss that you don't notice and then you can't stop noticing it. He moves his face hesitantly towards mine and our mouths stumble together. I want to feel his skin, the stubble I wish he'd shave. His nostrils flare, his lips curl in something like a snarl, and I think maybe he's just waiting for me to leave him alone so he can sleep, but then he rolls over on top of me, his right hand tangled in my hair. I can't see his face. We fall, somehow, to the floor. I bump my hip against the dressing table. Clothes are discarded. The streetlights make a pale pool on the ceiling. I grip his back with my nails. His hips jerk. We breathe harshly, out of sync. He finishes and rolls off me, his eyes wide and glassy.
Someone laughs loud and drunkenly outside. Glass breaks. I rest my head against his chest and listen to his heart thud and slow and wonder if now we will be happy.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 17th, 2013


I've been told that I write a lot of stories about failed relationships. I'm fascinated by the difficulties people can have in communicating or connecting with each other. In this story, I wanted to explore how the loss of language would affect a couple who were already struggling with their relationship.

- Lydia Waldman

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