If you would bear with me for today, instead of a usual blog post, I’ve decided to post a piece of short fiction that I’ve just finished. I hope you like it, but, as always, your feedback and conversation is greatly appreciated.
Life and Death
Nobody liked the way she treated him. She was always by him, and anytime it seemed like he might be about to speak, she either jumped in first or did something with the obvious effect of keeping him silence. She was so well-practiced at this that not one person could actually remember having ever heard his voice. None of them liked it, but they didn’t say anything. They didn’t feel as if they had the place to criticize a mother, or they were too afraid to question her strange control over her son.
The truth was that she was responsible for something she was confused and overwhelmed by, and she knew not what to do about it. This is not to say she was necessarily overwhelmed at the fact of being a mother, though it could be true in a general sense as it is with all parents. No, what she was overwhelmed by was the fact that extraordinary children are often born to ordinary parents. After all, what would anyone else have done when faced with something so strange as what Timothy was able to do?
He didn’t cry when he was born. The doctor didn’t seem to be worried because everything checked out okay, but she had been prepared for the cry and not hearing it was almost more startling. It seemed however that instead of expressing himself to the world, he was trying to consume all that the world was trying to express to him. He looked around as if he was logging every detail, and even his mother’s face seem to hold his attention only as much as the rest of his surroundings.
After the first three months, his mother was really starting to worry. When she’d take him to the doctor, she’d be reassured that Timothy was just fine, but they’d continue to keep an eye on him for any possible developmental issues, as silent babies do happen to be very unusual. She tried to coax a sound out of him so many times, by playing with him, showing him pictures, making him wait just a little longer to be fed, and still not a sound came from his mouth. Then came the first word.
It was part of her routine, to check the baby at the same time every morning because she obviously wouldn’t hear him wake. This morning, when he was about five months, he was laying awake in his crib staring in wonder at a butterfly that was resting on the top of the siderail. It wasn’t like any butterfly she had ever seen, but it was beautiful. Before she could really wonder about how it got there she ushered it outside, but when she again laid eyes on her son she somehow knew that he had some part in it. Then, as he was looking back into her eyes, he uttered a sound, a coo, and it felt as if it pierced right through her. She had never felt anything quite like that, but there was a sudden awareness, an appreciation even, of her surroundings. The strangeness of it troubled her, and she wondered for many more days of silence as the feeling faded what had actually happened.
A couple of years later, the coo almost forgotten in silence, she was taking Timothy on a walk. He was at two and a half years old just as he was as before, never uttering a sound. As they walked down the street, a car turned the corner and started driving in their direction. She saw the squirrel, but she didn’t know if Timothy did. She willed the squirrel to stop, or the driver to notice it, but her mind could force neither. She cringed just before the car ran over the rodent and carried on to turn the corner and forever exit their lives. She hoped that Timothy hadn’t seen the violent death, but she could just make out what sounded like a sniffle. Tears were running down his face, yet he was not hysterical as most young children would be. He walked toward the lifeless squirrel, pulling his mother along with him. She thought about taking him away from it, or stopping and talking to him about life and death, but she decided to let him explore his world and work out what he could first.
His sniffles grew more frequent as he got to the squirrel and leaned over it. He studied it for a long moment as she watched him, keeping an eye out for traffic and hoping against onlooking bystanders. Suddenly he stopped crying, and he looked up at his mother and said what sounded like, “poa qual.” She felt something strange again, though it was different this time. Before she could discern what it was, she saw the squirrel twitch. Then, with Timothy looking on at the poor creature, it’s twitching became movement, and after just a minute or so the squirrel got up and ran across to a nearby tree. She took Timothy straight home, unsure of what to do with this new twist in her confusion.
From then on she never allowed him to speak in public or around anyone else. Though he seldom spoke as it was, she did not know what would happen if he did and chose not to take any chances. That was why she was willing to accept the looks of disapproval from those around her, and why she could take her son’s frustration at not being allowed to speak. She taught him not to speak to others, but to communicate in writing instead. While this was frustrating and caused him to be picked on at times, he trusted his mother and did as she asked. But he still hoped for the day when he could freely speak his mind, and she knew that a time was coming where she could no longer expect to keep him silent.
By the time he was a freshman in high school he had no friends except for one girl, who didn’t mind writing notes even while outside of class. His mother had explained his silence away as simply being born without the ability to speak, and his temperament purported that lie to the effect that most had stopped picking on him, and those that did, or rather the one that continued, at least did not try to coax any words out of him. However, this too would change, and change him forever.
It was a Friday, and dreams of a long weekend were filling their heads. Timothy and Amanda had different classes for the first two blocks, but the rest of the day they shared classes and lunch together. They had grown beyond writing to the point they could communicate generally with expressions. Onlookers fancied romantic designs, but for Timothy this was far from his mind. He was simply grateful to be able to connect with someone so well having his speech robbed from him.
As they were walking from their last class, they were writing back and forth about what they might do that weekend. They were approaching a more secluded part of the school, but they were arguing about whether to start on their English paper on Saturday or even at all that weekend, and so they did not even notice that the only one approaching them happened to be Chaz with his usual cohorts.
“Well whaddya know, it’s Timmy and Mandy, our favorite mute couple. What’s up, dummy?”
“Leave him alone, Chaz.”
“Why, can’t the dummy speak for himself? Oh, that’s right, he’s too stupid to know how to talk.”
Timothy looked down at his feet. He wanted so badly to speak, to put Chaz in his place, but he dared not. He knew that his mom had very good reasons for it, whatever they were. But still…
“Seriously, Chaz, don’t you have anything better to do than to show off your ignorance? Why don’t you get lost and leave us alone.”
“Those are some pretty big words from such a little girl. Are you going to make me? Are you gonna make me go away? Or do you think your dummy here is going to help you?”
“He’s not a dummy. Just leave him alone.”
“Okay, fine, we’ll leave him alone. Hey dummy, would you mind if we messed with your girlfriend here instead? No objections? Okay.” He took her bag and tossed it to one of his friends. She backed away from him but another one of his friends was there. They circled around her and began pushing her back and forth between them while they kept Timothy from getting to her. “Do you like our game dummy? Yeah?”
Timothy tried to push Chaz out of the way to get to Amanda, but he easily threw him to the ground with his other hand. When he hit the ground, he looked up and saw the fear on Amanda’s face, and something terrible began to well up in his chest. Before he could stop himself, he yelled out, “Stop it, you jerk!” The next moment seemed to last forever.
As soon as the words passed his lips, it was like an explosion had gone off. The circle of bullies had flown outward as if from a blast, but Amanda had remained at its center, seemingly unaffected. Chaz himself had slammed into the wall with an audible thud, and now remained in a slump on the ground. Timothy was still on the ground, a look of shock holding onto his face. This was partly mirrored in Amanda’s, though what had been just fear was now intensified to become terror. The silence immediately after seemed to be the deepest and longest silence of their lives.
After a moment, all of Chaz’ “friends” got up and ran. Amanda seemed to be frozen in place, and Timothy could only look up at her, begging in his eyes to keep her acceptance while also wondering what had happened. After what could have been days but was probably closer to a minute or two, a teacher ran up to the three of them.
“What happened? Are you okay? What happened to Chaz?” She ran over to his slumped body. “He’s not breathing! Amanda, quick, go get help, call 911!” Amanda shook herself free from her marble stance and ran off. The teacher was too concerned with Chaz to consider Timothy sitting behind her. She straightened him out and started performing CPR. Timothy could only watch, horrified at what had happened, and hoping with every beat of his own heart that Chaz would recover. By the time Amanda came back with others, the paramedics weren’t far behind. He was at least breathing by then, but he remained unconscious.
“So what happened here?” One of the paramedics asked while he got to work. He looked at the teacher, and then quickly followed her gaze to Amanda.
“I, I don’t know. Him and his friends were pushing me around, and then he just kinda fell back and hit the wall. They ran away…” She let her eyes shift over to Timothy.
“And what about him? Is there anything you’re not telling us?” Timothy begged her from his eyes.
“I really don’t know,” she said as she looked down at her feet. “It all just kinda happened while I was being pushed around.”
“How is he? Is he gonna be okay?” The teacher asked.
“It looks like he’s going to be okay, but there’s no telling what happened with him or if there will be any lasting effects. Let’s get moving.” The paramedics carted him down the sidewalk and disappeared around the corner. It fell quiet again, with Amanda staring at her shoes, Timothy staring at Amanda from his back, and the teacher looking back and forth between the two, unsure of where to begin. She was at least glad that they had avoided gathering a crowd of onlookers.
“I hope you two realize that something has to be done here. We can’t have a student almost die on our campus and not be able to answer for it.” She looked at Timothy again, who still hadn’t moved since she had arrived. “Okay, I want you both to come with me down to the office. Since you are both so fond of written communication, you will write an account of exactly what happened here. I will call your parents; hopefully we can avoid this getting too messy.” She said the last part more to herself than the two freshmen.
The doctors would later attribute the incident to some mysterious condition, resulting in numerous tests for Chaz that all strangely came back negative. Everyone seemed to be eager and willing to accept that conclusion, essentially forgetting about what had happened. But for Amanda and Timothy, it remained as a formative moment.
For the remainder of that year, Amanda avoided Timothy as much as she could as she tried to work through what had happened. She never made any mention of Timothy speaking at all in her official report, and thankfully neither had he. But she still didn’t know what to do now. Was it really how she saw it? If it wasn’t, then what did happen, and how could she have been misled? And if it was, as she knew it was, then what should she do about Timothy? She remembered thinking before it would be nice to hear what his voice sounded like, but now she was afraid that he might speak and something bad would happen to her. She was afraid to be around him, and she was afraid of upsetting him. But she couldn’t betray him. One thing that she was sure of was that she would tell no one the truth of that afternoon.
For Timothy it was torture. He had not only exerted some terrible ability that he didn’t even know he had, let alone whether he could control it, he had also managed to scare away the only friend he’d ever had. It was probably for the best, he imagined, because if he were to somehow harm her– he squeezed a tear back into place. He suffered pain before, and he would take this to, without succumbing to weakness.
He thought about his mother. If she had kept him from speaking for all these years, she had to know about his problem. What had happened before his memory could accuse him? Whom had he hurt? Had he ever killed anyone with his words? He wanted so badly to ask her, but he was afraid of the answer. That, and he didn’t want her to know what had happened. He thought she might suspect it, but she was also the first to believe in the mystery illness. At least he knew where to go from here. He would never speak so long as he could help it, and he refused to get close enough to anyone that they might want to hear him.
Fifteen years later, Timothy still tried to forget about the expense of the terrible gift he’d been given. He kept true to his resolutions, having never spoken one word and never developing relationships past professional acquaintances. He had found some moderate success as a freelance writer which allowed him to find a comfortable apartment of his own. He lived in a self-enforced seclusion, feeling he was doing what was necessary to protect everyone else.
This day, as he was going through his morning routine checking for job requests, he saw a message from Amanda. He was always eager to hear from her, and despite not seeing each other in person since graduating high school, they continued to write almost daily. This was not a message he had hoped for however. It read:
I’m sorry to reach you like this, it doesn’t feel right, but it’s the only way I know. You need to come home. It’s your mom. She collapsed yesterday. They have her in the hospital now, but it doesn’t look good. They’re saying it’s cancer. They said it’s a wonder it wasn’t caught before it advanced this far. I’m really sorry, but you need to hurry. I’ll be here with her at least until you get here. Let me know if there’s anything more I can do for you.
His lungs started to burn; he hadn’t realized he was holding his breath. Once he was back to breathing, he lowered the back of his laptop and stood, scanning the room for his shoes. He left without any regard for turning anything off or getting extra clothes for the stay. He didn’t know what to do with his thoughts, so he tried to ignore them.
As he got closer to the hospital, and even up through the floors, he tried to think of better moments that he had shared with his mother. Regardless, the burden of his unspoken gift and their efforts to hide it seemed to color everything that he could think of. He wished he could talk with his mother just once.
Seeing her in the bed, his tears finally released. Whether the memories were more good than bad or more bad than good, he still loved her, and he began to feel the specter of her loss. He quietly walked over and grabbed her hand. The gesture awoke her. She smiled brightly but weakly at the sight of her son. “Timothy, I’m so glad you’re here.” She grimaced in pain for a moment. “I’m afraid it doesn’t look like I’ll be around much longer. I wanted so badly to talk to you, to tell you…”
He looked down at her through the tears, still communicating with his expressions, urging her to continue. He wished his curse would leave, that he could talk to his mother and everything that had strained their relationship would be gone. “I never–,” she winced again. “I never told you. Your voice, the reason you can’t speak, it’s different. It does things.” She stopped for a moment and looked at him, waiting to see any sort of response. He grabbed a nearby crossword book and flipped it to a blank page. He wrote in the margin and showed it her:
I know. It’s destructive. I found out once. You don’t have to talk about that.
She shook her head, the pained look on her face differing from the spasmodic episodes just prior. “No, not destructive. You had a gift, you brought life. There was this squirrel, before you could remember, that got hit by a car. You made it live again. With one sound, not even a word really.” She took his look of incredulity as one more pain of her wrongs. “Son, I was wrong. You have a gift, and I was wrong to hide it from the world. I thought I was protecting you, but I was really just afraid.” She started crying with him. “I hope you can forgive me.”
He found it hard to believe her. All he had known it to do was destroy, how could it have the opposite effect? Still, he longed to be able to say just one thing to his mother. What if he never did, and she died here?
“I love you, Timothy.”
The phrase broke through his thoughts, burrowing into his emotions and escaping his reason. Before he could overthink it and stop himself, he let out in a raspy voice, “I love you too, Mom.”
It seemed like nothing happened. Could it be that he was now free from his burden? The thought caused joy to compete with the powerful sorrow that was consuming him. He tried to ignore it and be with his mother in what could be their last moments together. But as he held her hand, he thought he could feel warmth begin to pour back into it. He looked into her face, and though he doubted, he could see color coming back into it. Her smile grew, and they both knew that they were experiencing life coming back into her. Somehow they knew that the specter of death was fleeing, and they knew just the same that it was at the words that had just come.
Her recovery was unexplainable. The doctors were amazed but confused when they let her go home the next day. For Timothy, her renewed life was a sign of his life renewed as well. Though he knew that he was capable of destructive power, he also now knew that he carried the potential for so much more. With hope now strong, he went from there intent of figuring out how best to use this new life.