I started to hear her soon after Lucy died. The first time was at the funeral. She was faint, at the very edge of hearing, distracting me from the mumbled prayers.
I took to listening for her. I would stand, quietly, straining to catch her. Then of course someone, Jeannie perhaps, would say, “What are you doing there?” and the babble of talk would start up about Lucy and how hard it must be and I’d lose track of her.
I started keeping my own company, with no talk or doors banging or the kettle going on or a toilet flushing. Just listening.
Of course, you start preferring solitude and everybody loses their minds. You’re depressed. You need to move on to the next stage of grief, whatever that is, and get counseling. Then people start phoning ‘just to check on you’ and it’s impossible to listen.
No use explaining: “I don’t want to talk about it, I’m not depressed; I’m just listening.”
So I rented a little cottage.
“I’m just going away for a short while. I need to get my head together. Yes, I’ll take my phone. No, I’m not depressed. Goodbye. Love you. Goodbye. Goodbye.”
The cottage was delightful, but old buildings are full of sounds. The roof creaked and the wind moaned along the gutters. The rooks in the fields below croaked out all day and at night the owls screamed and raindrops banged on the slates. I strained but I just couldn’t quite hear her.
Down in the cellar, it was better. I pulled shut the heavy door overhead and descended the narrow steps. The torch buzzed so I turned it off. Down here, I could truly listen.
Except for the drip of water, somewhere in the darkness. Each plop echoing between the old stones. I wept with frustration. I envied the deaf.
I used a hairpin. It took a few attempts to puncture each eardrum. The pain was intense. But in the anguished quiet, I could finally hear … my own heartbeat. How it thundered.
I gobbled those Xanax tablets Jeannie got for me and washed them down with vodka, choking and sobbing.
Finally, the body slowed its racket. In between each faltering heartbeat, I could hear her, at last, getting clearer and clearer.
She’s so beautiful.
She is silence.
Over on Twitter, Heather H. offered a writing prompt, to tell a story with the title 'Silence.' I think this story ended up being the bleakest thing I've written, which is why I'm delighted with Eilish McDowell's vivacious delivery. Is there a ghost in this one? Of course, the narrator might be disturbed by grief. But that's the fun of ghost stories: the most disturbing ghosts are the ones that never make an appearance.
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