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All the Rest is Silence

Jennifer Hudak grew up outside of Boston, and spent her childhood reading Ursula LeGuin and Madeleine L'Engle by flashlight under the covers. She now lives in with her husband and children in upstate New York where, in addition to writing, she teaches yoga and knits tiny pocket-sized animals. Find out more about her writing at jenniferhudakwrites.com, and find her on Twitter @writerunyoga.
Words write themselves upon her skin when she speaks. The letters emerge like a developing photograph, and become a permanent record of each frustrated mutter, each whispered confidence. As a child, she scrubbed herself raw, trying to erase a secret she revealed to her best friend, a secret she promised never to tell, but the secret, if anything, looked even more visible against her tender red skin. She began to wear long sleeves in the summertime, and knee socks to thwart the boys who snuck under the table to pull up her pant legs in hopes of glimpsing the words scrawled on her ankle. Her parents stripped her naked in the bathroom and peered between her thighs and in the hollows of her armpits, searching for lies. As a teenager, she stood naked in front of her boyfriend while he tried to find other boys' names tangled in the answers to biology questions and recitations of Shakespearean sonnets.
Words write themselves upon her skin when she speaks, so she speaks carefully. "I love you," she says, over and over. Every time, the words flower elsewhere on her body, covering her in a passionate tattoo. The curling, cursive script climbs like pea tendrils up the back of her neck, down along her arms, and on the hidden expanse of her belly. "I love you," she says, hoping that the delicate words will begin to overwrite the other messages, those written in harsh scrawls, and the ones stamped in sterile sans serif all-caps. The derisive middle-school mocking. The silky lies, the angry curses. It will take a lot of "I love you's" to cover up those other words, which are written in darker ink, and thicker lines. She says "I love you" until the letters grow like a garden on her skin, so that the world will know she loved more than she hated. "I love you," she says, and tries to mean it. She says it until she blossoms like a rose.
"Beautiful," he says. His eyes are sage and catlike. "She's written in truth, you see." I want to tell him that there are many truths, just like there are many words, and she has only chosen to speak some of them. The other words--the unspoken ones--write themselves inside her, weaving through her ventricles and veins and wrapping themselves around her heart. The words left unspoken expand and contract with her lungs. They hitch rides on the oxygen molecules. They plunge into her stomach and snake through her intestines. They can make her sick, those words, if she lets them. Or, they can weave together, hooking arms, scaffolding her from the inside. They become fascia, spinal and cerebral fluid. They build themselves into a layer of fat that insulates her from the cold that protects her from blows.
But I don't say this. I don't say anything. He notes my silence, and nods his approval. My words seethe beneath my skin, where they reach down my fingers and lurk beneath my fingernails.
When he grabs my hand, I drag one nail across his palm. One day soon, our words--all of them--will scratch themselves to the surface. They will not be delicate. They will scream like fire.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

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