Silence: A Short Story


The fire alarm down at the paper mill goes off again, and enters the world through every earhole in the city. Large and sustained, a signal for an imminent danger neither us had to be concerned with. I let myself out of the car in our driveway, and get out my key for the front door. Push it forward into the open concept kitchen, where I don’t do the dishes.

I put the black kettle on a reddening burner. Wait for steam. Think about you back at the field, and inch my bleacher-chafed arse around the cool until I could get warm enough to slip off my toque.  I uncurl onto the futon in the living room, press my face down onto its synthetic fabric. Breathed dust and tiny plastic fibre. I start trying to build demarcations in my memories again, to determine when the futon stopped being mine and Karen’s, and started being ours. When everything in the apartment stopped being mine and Karen’s and started being ours.

Like always, I can’t determine it. But tonight it seems most logical the place is actually ours. The three of ours.

The kettle starts harmonizing with the murder cry of the fire alarm down at the mill, so I get up to take it off. My mug is white and thick and deep and porcelain when I pour white liquid into it. This is why I came back to our tiny apartment, to fill the thing with warmth; drag it back to the bleachers with me; something to furl my hands around in the unseasonal cold.

It’s August. I’ve taken to wearing hoodies again.

Karen was killed in our bathroom about a year ago.

When I sneak back to the field, I make sure not to drip any liquid on our floor. I was hoping you hadn’t scored. Hoping you would score after I got there.

See, Karen never wanted me so bad until she found the stains your blood left on our bed, after the first night you slept there. And I liked the way she looked at me, as she pulled off the cover layer and saw them. I thought I heard everything click in her head. I was a fucker. I’d never been fucked by anyone like Karen when she was that jealous, and all I wanted was to keep it going.

That first night, before you bled onto our bed I spurted blood onto your boyfriend’s bathroom mirror, pulled my face toward the glass and popped a pimple. It had been nesting above my left eye, I’d seen in my reflection in an empty glass.

I stumbled out of the bathroom and walked hammered amidst loud Jamiroquai; amidst human bodies pressed together in tight clusters, sweating and talking about me. They were all talking about me, like they start to do at every party, eventually, and I kept my head down and walked into your boyfriend’s chest, spilling his drink down his belly, onto the floor.

Get a rad, he’d said, half-grinning. Instead, I walked straight through the kitchen, down the hard wood hallway, and out the back door. You were out there because you wanted fresh air, standing around pulling the closest thing to it into your lungs. I said you wouldn’t find fresh air around here, if that’s what you were looking for. You were wearing a cheetah-spotted coat, and stockings. Your shirt was way too big and it draped down onto your bare thighs. I could see muscle pulling lines into them when you rested your weight onto one leg and looked past your exhale of grey, towards me.

You asked if I was bored, too. I said “yeah, you wanna go for a walk?”

My apartment was a few blocks away. We ended up outside the front door. I didn’t know where Karen was.

You wanted to try something you hadn’t done with anyone since you were small enough to do it with your dad; I hunched down and let you climb onto my shoulders your legs stretching down to my waist as I stood up. I held you aloft like that and tried to stay as still as possible, fishing around in my pocket for the key. You were crying out because you thought I was going to drop you, and I got scared thinking someone from the party was going to hear us, that they had followed us here.

I got the door to open and it swung forward into the big space of the kitchen. Like it’s always done.

The continuum of nights, of letting myself in, these memories are like weeds uncoiling outwards around the memory of not being unable to open the bathroom door. When it was still my bathroom, not yours, and I had to wait outside, pounding and screaming until Jake stopped torturing Karen and slit her throat. And her screaming fell into silence as her life ended.

Sometimes I see myself as the progenitor of the movements enacted in her death. Like my past decisions were the soul reason she died. I let jealousy out of its cage, and it turned back on me and bit my hand off.

You were there that night she died, uncoiled on my bed, waiting for her to stop screaming. And you were the one that invited Jake over, to keep her busy while we fucked around. I didn’t know Jake evaporated and something else took his place after enough blow and liquor.

When I bring you home from soccer, the firemen have gotten to the mill, and unwound their magic through the vacated halls. Through a signal of silence, they have set another demarcation through our perception of time. One squat between the moment a fire has ended and the impending moment another one begins.

You change out of your soccer uniform and we let ourselves onto the bed. When we’re this close, our hearts beat our minds unhinged.

Sometime later I dream I’m at Karen’s funeral and my mom is there and her blonde hair flows out from under her black hat and she looks into my face and tells me you don’t exist. And I try and argue but when I open my mouth a ringing fills the air and men are dragging me backward towards a police car and I wake into a room filled with the racket of the fire alarm down at the mill. Karen’s there like she sometimes is to tuck me back in, and calms me into quiet. It’s like she knows it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted.

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