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art by Stephen James Kiniry


M.K. Hutchins is a work-at-home mom, nerd, and once-archaeologist who sneaks in writing time while her husband plays with the children. Her science fiction has previously appeared in Leading Edge Magazine. She blogs about books, boardgames, and writing at mkhutchins.blogspot.com.

Silence is the canvas.
That's what my sister always said, right before singing a broom to life to do the cleaning. When her baby cried, the broom always fell over. No more canvas, no more spell.
My uncle chuckled and said that canvas was the canvas, right before he painted a lock to keep out all thieves and jammed it on his front door.
Silence makes music, blank spaces make art.
I remembered that as I studied all the best instruments--from cymbals to zither to bassoon--and as I practiced watercolors, oils, and charcoal.
My sister was one of the first to die of the plague. Maybe my magic was strong before then because I had plenty of silence in me, plenty of open space.
Holding her baby, all those empty spaces for the music to echo turned to mourning, to joy, to tiny toes and warm, milky breath.
Then my nephew fell sick, too.
My body had no silence, no blank canvas, then. It wasn't just him: hundreds of thousands writhed with sickness. Magicians died or fled, but I wouldn't flee. Not with my nephew dying.
I climbed mountains searching for silence, but zephyrs roared in my ears. I descended caves, but shades of darkness drew pictures before me. I locked myself in a tomb, but the whisper of my breath painted my mortality on the wall.
Day by day, my nephew withered to ribs and red eyes, too weak to cry. Uncle tried to console me--he hadn't found a solution, either. Guilt dulled his eyes. I gritted my teeth. "Hadn't" didn't mean "couldn't" unless I stopped trying.
Where to find silence, blankness? My arms shook. Maybe I could not turn the world to silence, to canvas. But I could change myself.
I painted a pin and sang painlessness into it. I drove it through one eye, then the other. I drove it through one ear, then the other.
My world was blank. My world was silence.
Blind and deaf, I sang and painted, sang and painted a world where the plague did not exist. A world where my nephew lived. I sang and painted until a strong hand gripped my wrist. Uncle? Surely I knew those calluses.
He led me to sit, then rested my nephew in my arms. Strong, small fingers wrapped around my own. He was whole.
Uncle brought people, one by one, over the next few days, all with warm, healthy hands. They pressed my hands to their cheeks. Their tears rolled between my fingers.
I asked Uncle if everyone was healed. I don't know what my voice sounded like to him, but he took both my hands and squeezed them.
I asked for my nephew. He was heavy in my arms, full of the same warm, milky smell. I am silence and I am blankness, but inside I am too full for the smallest echo.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Author Comments

My high school band teacher used to say that "Music is painted upon a canvas of silence." Google tells me he was quoting pianist Josef Lhevinne. That image stuck with me for years, perhaps because I had the unfortunate tendency to sneeze in the silence before the first downbeat.

- M.K. Hutchins
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