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The Song of Silence
I. The End
A man and a woman sit in tense silence at opposite ends of a long conference table. They have nothing to say to each other. A dusty analog clock hangs crookedly against charcoal gray wallpaper. Its ticking echoes obnoxiously throughout the barren room. Tick-tock tick-tock tick. A monotonous melody of wasted time.
She pulls at a thread on her faded black stockings. He drums his fingers on the polished surface of the table and stares vacantly at the fake potted plant sitting next to the vent in the wall. Its fronds rustle as the air conditioning kicks in. Once in a while she sneaks glances in his direction, but his eyes stay transfixed on the green plastic of the manmade fern. He occasionally clears his throat, and her breath hovers above her tongue as it waits expectantly for the words that are supposed to follow. However, his tongue is stuck to the bottom of his mouth, glued down by thick molasses, despite only having a bowl of cornflakes for breakfast.
How is it possible that these two people, people who made a small fortune off of their words, now find it impossible to utter a single syllable? She fondly recalls the sugary nights when she laid with him in bed, their bodies pressed side to side, talking until the golden halo of sunshine crowned the horizon. He is busy thinking that, perhaps, they used up all of their words. Their fountain of syntax is not a bottomless well after all. It has finally run dry, and he regrets wasting so many words on meaningless conversations about the weather and what to make for dinner.
The creaking chord of an opening door is added to the song of the clock, drumming fingers, and rustling fern. A cold man in a dark suit enters the room, carrying a seemingly innocent manila folder in his hands. The man sets the folder and a ballpoint pen down in the middle of the table. She inhales deeply. His fingers freeze in midair. No words are spoken. The documents filled with words are spread out and signed by subtly trembling hands.
At one point in time the words had been beautiful, bringing together a young couple in holy matrimony. No one could have anticipated that their words would turn on them, leak from whiskey-stained lips at two in the morning, and scorch their world until it became nothing more than this smoldering silence.
II. The Beginning
“What can I get for ya, sweetheart?” shouted a stout waitress named Stacey over the clamor of the afternoon lunch rush at a small Portland diner.
Dana Strickland looked up from scrawling something in her worn notebook and smiled. “Just a cup of coffee with cream, please. No sugar,” said Dana as she pulled her messy auburn hair up into a loose bun. She secured it with the three bent bobby pins she found at the bottom of her tote bag and went back to writing. Dana never wore a watch, but she could tell that Kelcey Wyatt, the local up-and-coming musician she was supposed to be interviewing, was running late. That was to be expected, though. The creative types were never on time for their interviews.
Finally, after Dana’s coffee had become lukewarm, but before it had cooled off completely, a man wearing a brown leather bomber jacket and Ray Bans sauntered through the diner’s front door. He paused for a moment to look around the restaurant, and Dana motioned with her hand to get his attention. Kelcey Wyatt’s face broke into a smile as he slid into the seat across the table from this beautiful young woman.
“Hey, I’m Kelcey,” said Kelcey, setting his sunglasses down on the table.
“Dana Strickland.” Dana stretched out her arm for a handshake. Kelcey’s grip was firm, his eyes a piercing gray, and for the first time Dana found herself stuttering as she asked the interview questions. However, they quickly eased into a flowing banter back and forth, punctuated with Kelcey’s booming laughter and Dana’s dry, sarcastic remarks.
Kelcey described his music to Dana as “dark, experimental folk rock,” inspired by Simon & Garfunkel and “the tempeh arugula hoagie at Demeter’s Deli.” When Dana asked Kelcey about his childhood, he became more reserved. “It was a long time ago. So, who gives a damn, right?” he answered with a dry chuckle. The interview gradually turned into friendly conversation, and Dana began to talk about her job as an interviewer for the small local magazine Portland Sound (“it’s thoroughly mediocre”), and her love life (or lack thereof).
“Wait, Portland is a big city and you’re right out of college. You really expect me to believe that a pretty girl like yourself isn’t seeing anybody?” Kelcey asked incredulously.
Dana shrugged. “I’m just focused on my job and paying the rent right now, I guess,” she replied. Kelcey shook his head in exaggerated disbelief and pulled a folded turquoise flyer out of his coat pocket.
“I’m playing a gig next Friday at the tiny dive bar on South Street. You should come. I think it would do you good to get out of your apartment for awhile,” Kelcey said, handing Dana the flyer. Dana smirked and took the flyer from his hand, sliding it along with the notebook into her tote bag. She thanked Kelcey for his time, shook his hand once more, and said goodbye.
Dana glanced at the clock hanging on the wall as she made her way out of the restaurant, and realized with shock that over three hours had passed since the moment Kelcey had first walked through the diner door. Dana couldn’t believe it. She had always been the quiet girl, better at communicating through print than in person. However, Kelcey Wyatt had managed to pry the words from Dana’s mind and spill them all over the table in a mess of beautiful eloquence.
III. The Power Couple
Kelcey and Dana’s marriage happened abruptly. After four whirlwind months of dating, Kelcey proposed to Dana while they were passing a blunt back and forth in his basement. Family members critiqued the engagement behind closed doors. Dana was a practical, serious girl, and she seemed to have been lured in by Kelcey’s dark and enigmatic aura. Perhaps she felt the need to fix Kelcey and his eccentric ways. To many, it seemed as if the relationship was based off of pure passion and physical connection. If somebody had stopped partaking in the idle gossip for one moment and had asked Dana why she was so infatuated with Kelcey, they would have received the simple reply, “he loves words.”
Dana eventually quit her job working for Portland Sound and was hired as a staff writer for National Geographic. Kelcey was signed to a major record label and his music career began to take off. They were a true power couple, ready to take on the world with the weapons of love and linguistics.
IV. The Milky Way
The bruises running along Dana’s side reminded her of galaxies, the purple blotches looking like shimmering supernovas under the dim bedroom light. Dana stood in front of the full-length mirror and examined the markings covering her nude, slender body. She could remember exactly where and when and how each one had occurred. However, Dana could not figure out why. All she knew was that whenever Kelcey would take to her with his fists, no words were spoken.
V. The Night
“Hey honey, where have you been?” Dana asked, sitting up in bed and rubbing her eyes. Kelcey’s dark silhouette stood in the doorway. Although Kelcey frequently came home late at night, Dana could tell immediately that something was not quite right this time. Kelcey was breathing heavily, and he swayed as he took walked slowly over to Dana. Fear crept down Dana’s spine and settled itself at the bottom of her stomach. Kelcey stood over Dana and leaned down until their noses were almost touching. Dana’s stomach churned as she caught a whiff of Dior perfume on his skin. She only wore Chanel.
“None of your goddamn business,” Kelcey slurred. The overpowering smell of whiskey flooded into Dana’s nostrils.
“Listen, Kelcey. You can’t keep stumbling home drunk in the middle of the night with no explanation of where you’ve been,” Dana said in a voice that was wavering but had an underlying ferocity. “We’re supposed to be honest with each other and--”
Dana’s words were cut short by a stinging slap to the face. She let out a yelp and begged Kelcey to stop, but Kelcey was no longer in control. He was powered by alcohol and his inner demons.
Later on that night Kelcey came back into the room. He laid down beside Dana’s quivering body. “I love you,” Kelcey whispered into her ear.
And he did. In the only way that he knew how.
VI. The Reason
1979. An Arizona summer hotter than Satan’s ass crack. A mother dies too young. Her fourteen-year-old son struggles with the demons she leaves behind. He downs a bottle of alcohol at a high school party. And another at a different party. Then another in his bedroom. He tries marijuana for altering reality. Shrooms for escaping reality. Painkillers for numbing reality. So many painkillers, but the pain remained. A bottle of alcohol. The son dies too. He isn’t buried. He isn’t mentioned in the obituaries. He goes to college. He graduates. He meets a girl at a diner and marries her later. A bottle of alcohol. He beats her up. She tells herself that he can’t help it. His mother died; his father drank too. A vicious cycle. A lost soul. But aren’t we all just lost fucking souls?
He writes songs about recovery while sipping glasses of Scotch.
VII. The End (Part 2)
She doesn’t begin to cry until after she has pulled out of the divorce lawyer’s parking lot. The tears trickle slowly, silently down her cheeks. She turns on the radio to break the stifling quietness inside her Subaru. Kelcey Wyatt’s gravelly voice fills the car:
there were stars inside the swimming pool
and there were crystals in my palms
we bathed beneath the neon lights
bodies moving like atom bombs
She quickly switches the radio off and begins to cry even harder. Eventually her body is shaking with painful sobs, and she has to pull over on the side of the road so she can catch her breath. She lets the tears roll off her cheeks, lacking the energy required to wipe them away. The cloudy sky is a heavy gray, and she feels the weight of the atmosphere pushing down around her.
She weeps. After some time the clouds cannot contain their tears either, and they release their sadness in the form of a torrential downpour. She tries to pinpoint the moment when it all went wrong. A line of cocaine before a show, a few too many drinks at a dinner party, a joint in the basement. Never enough to raise a red flag. After all, she expected as much from a somewhat famous musician. “Those creative types,” she had always thought to herself. His behavior was always excusable. Until it wasn’t.
She realizes that “it” may have never been right in the first place.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a young blue bird flies over to the car and perches itself on the side view mirror. The bird doesn’t seem to mind the rain. It sits there for an eternal moment, staring right at the woman. The moment is so movie-esque, that she half expects the bird to open its beak and start singing. It doesn’t. And in the amicable silence, Dana realizes what the problem was between herself and Kelcey all along. It wasn’t that their personalities were all that different. It wasn’t the alcohol. It was that she relied too heavily on his words, her own words, their words. They never held anything back. They lived and breathed the sounds coming off of each other’s tongues, the black ink staining the pages before them. Words can be used as marvelous tools, or detrimental weapons. However, without actions behind them, the words are hollow. “I love you”s are meaningless when paired with black eyes and broken wrists.
Dana’s hand floats down to her swollen belly, caressing the life it contains within. She vows to teach her daughter the importance of words, as well as the necessity for the actions that follow them. She begins to hum softly, but stops herself. She starts the car.
Dana Strickland drives down the highway back home, propelled forward by the vibrant song of silence echoing in her ears.