The girl has been told to be quiet for as long as she can remember. Best seen and not heard. Now that she has not spoken in weeks, her parents beg, scream, bribe her to say something. Anything. She has grown to like the silence. Like the clapper of a bell muffled in cotton, she moves through the world with only the dull thud of her breath, her own footsteps. Her hearing has become attuned to things she never noticed before—the hiss and rumble of traffic on her walk to and from school, the tick of the classroom clock as it makes its slow progress toward the end of the day, the swish of corduroy between her thighs, insects singing their arias on the lawn as night falls.
She has given her parents what they always wanted, and now they don’t want it. They are so angry, and there has been fallout. In order to save face, her parents informed her school that she is “struggling with some issues,” so her teachers just don’t call on her anymore. Her parents don’t know that this is a relief. She has always liked school except for the participation, so her grades are higher than ever. She is content, a slip of a grin always on her lips. This makes the teachers wonder exactly what her issues might be. But they don’t ask, and she isn’t talking.
Although she doesn’t have a lot of friends, the few she does have are in solidarity with her silence. After all, they have heard her parents scream her into submission, bitch about “all the damn noise” when they were just sitting in her bedroom watching Tik Tok on their phones. They still hang out, eat lunch together, text and Snapchat, so the only difference is she doesn’t speak out loud. Her
friends don’t seem to mind. They think it’s hilarious, that she’s punking her parents, but she’s not sure if that’s what she’s doing. Maybe it started that way, but the longer she stays quiet, the more she feels alive. In control. As if stilling her tongue has awakened a force in her. Something she has never felt in all of her thirteen years.
She and her parents have just returned from another after-school hour at the family therapist, suggested by the family physician when he could find no medical cause for her silence. Her dad in his work clothes, red-faced, rumpled and fidgeting. Her mother in her best athleisure wear and perfect wine-colored lipstick. Both parents crying as she sat stoic and speechless, shrugging or nodding only when asked direct questions. Is there something that triggered this silence? Shrug. Has someone harmed you? Negative head shake.
Now the girl can hear her parents in the kitchen as she comes down for dinner. Their voices are desperate, bitter. Why is she doing this to us? Everyone will think she’s nuts. Everyone will blame us. When they hear her footsteps approaching, they change their tone to cheerful refrains of Time for dinner! and Hope you’re hungry! They have made her favorite meal, spaghetti with meatballs. Again. She winds the noodles around her fork and slides them between her lips, chewing with her mouth closed. She wonders how far they will go to break her. How far she can go until they break.
Donna Vorreyer is the author of To Everything There Is (2020), Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (2016) and A House of Many Windows (2013), all from Sundress Publications. She hosts the monthly online reading series A Hundred Pitchers of Honey. Though primarily a poet, her small fictions and essay work have appeared in Cherry Tree, Thimble Lit, Sweet, MORIA, Lily Poetry Review, and other journals.