The Year of Silence

Writer’s Island is back in a revamped format called Writer’s Island Journals.

For those of you who haven’t tried any of the writing prompt sites and would like to, I urge you to give one of them a try.

There is no right or wrong interpretation and writing from a prompt is a good way to challenge yourself and develop your writing style.

The prompt on Writer’s Island Journals this week is breaking through.

I decided to write a story –

Sometimes you have to take time by the tail. That’s what Aunt May used to say. Give it a shake. Don’t waste it, cause once it’s gone, it’s gone.

I am glad Aunt May died before she could see how much time I wasted, how I couldn’t even touch the tail of time, let alone give it a shake. I would have been ashamed if she had seen me wasting time like some kind of dilettante. It would have made the whole thing much worse.

The whole thing. When I look back I call it the year of silence, because that’s what it was. Speaking was difficult. Listening to music or the television was even worse. I turned off the phone, unplugged anything that made a bleep or a whimper. All I wanted to hear was the sigh I made as I slipped into my next high. And my next. And my next. And then after that all I heard was silence.

I thought I was in a blissful state. I thought I had been transported to a land only found in dreams, but it was the pills. Always the pills.

I saw a movie once, a mindless piece of B-grade drivel. The lead female character was a junkie, a pill popper who languished all day on a chaise longue draped in silk and velvet. She pops pill like candy, was the way the other characters referred to her as if it was quietly shocking someone could ingest pills like they were M&Ms. I laughed, because it is not such a rare and surprising event for someone to swallow narcotics as if they were oversized TicTacs. I do it all the time. I did it all the time.

It was all the thinking that did it. The endless drone of my brain at two in the morning bothering me with the lady I had seen on the street with holes in her shoes. An old lady, older than my Aunt May. Obviously poor. Obviously alone. Her eyes said I have nobody. And I couldn’t stand it.

Roger climbed into my head at night too. The guy who sells apples at the corner. Red or green, the best you’ve ever seen. That’s his catchphrase. He sells hundreds of apples a day with that catchphrase, putting them in crisp, brown bags that rustle like autumn leaves as you carry them home. Trouble with Roger was he only had one leg. Lost it in Afghanistan. I cried every time I saw him struggling up the stairs to his apartment, his crutches banging the handrails. I wondered what he would do if there was a fire. I couldn’t stand it.

Leona plagued me the most. She owned the cafe near the station. People came for the All Day Breakfast. Her son had disappeared. No one knew where he was. The Missing Persons Unit had given up. He may never return, they said. He may be gone for good. At night when the cafe closed I saw her at the table by the window, crying into a plate of French toast. And I couldn’t stand it.

The pills took it all away. The worrisome thoughts. They were easy enough to get. Several doctors, several made up ailments. Depression, anxiety, headaches, bad back. Broken heart, broken spirit. There’s a pill for everything if you know where to look.

Doctors said – a pension is what’s needed, you’re unfit to work. ‘I’ll be fine,’ I said. ‘I have my own money.’

I spent all the money Aunt May left me, her life savings, chasing the silence like a bloated aristocrat.

I slept all day. I was lost in the wilds of my mind. I learned how to pop one pill on top of another without any detrimental effects. I was chainpopping. The outside world was lost to me, blockaded by little brown bottles with child proof tops.

I never expected the silence to end. I didn’t want it to end. There is comfort to be had in suppressing perception. But someone cut through my silence as neatly and as sharply as scissors. And everything changed.

Her name was Lucy Jane. She was four years old. She wore pink ankle boots with knee-high sunflower socks. She and her mother moved into the apartment above me. Lucy Jane tramped around all day long in those damned boots singing When the red red robin comes bob bob bobbin along. Not even the chainpopping would silence Lucy Jane, her boots and her bobbin’ robin.

One day I saw her on the stairs. ‘You’re pretty,’ she said. ‘Just like a princess. But your face is sad.’

That day I cut a pill from my regime, shocked by the sight of my pinched, colourless face in the mirror.

A few days later I saw Lucy Jane again. ‘You can come up for a tea party if you like,’ she said. ‘I have Beauty and the Beast cups.’

I cut out two more pills. That night I slept with the window open, listening to the traffic, lying carelessly on the edge of the bed with my neck craned towards the street below.

A few days later Lucy Jane handed me a crinkled sheet of paper. She had drawn the street below in crayon. There were tall buildings, cars, buses and people walking. She had added fairies, stars and music notes. The notes, a series of semiquavers, caught in my throat. I swallowed and they slid down like milk. It was the final part in the end of the silence, the final stage of breaking through.

I weaned myself off the pills. Sometimes I panicked. Most of the time I stood firm. I couldn’t get enough of sound, running through the streets with my ears wide open, talking to everyone I met just so I could hear the glorious tones of their voice.

I was attuned to the world, elated, catching sight of myself in shop windows and laughing. Listening for sorrow. Listening for joy. Listening every morning for the sound of the pink boots on the stairs.

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13 thoughts on “The Year of Silence

  1. Magnificent Selma! What a wonderful story with a happy ending that fit so well. The red, red robin….may he find us all, if not a pair of tiny pink boots! 😉

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  2. A fantastic story Selma. I have been there…recently. I don’t look back, I just look forward. I have lost a lot, but gained a lot of experience. I know this is not the life for me. There are many old junkies in my neighbor, it’s good to see what I could have become.It serves as a reminder.

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  3. Hi Selma,
    Right again!!
    “Broken heart, broken spirit. There’s a pill for everything if you know where to look.”
    Prescription:
    “The notes, a series of semiquavers, caught in my throat. I swallowed and they slid down like milk.”

    I’ve often thought that ‘good’ music is ‘food’ for the soul. After all, who is the most savage and dominant predator on the earth? And, as we all know, “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.”
    Another wonderful read 🙂

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  4. GYPSY – I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes I crave silence but at other times too much of it can seem like a prison. Thanks for your kind words, my dear friend!

    PAISLEY – I think the music is playing all around you in a metaphorical sense. I hear it whenever I read your work. XX

    GROOVY – I completely agree with you. Without hope even the little things, like doing up our shoes, seem too much. You have made such a profound observation.

    GERALDINE – I do think there is something very cheery about those little girls in their groovy winter boots. I love the bright colours and how they often don’t go with what they are wearing, but they insist on putting them on anyway. There is such joy in that simple act!

    LINDA – my Grandma used to sing that to me. It’s such a jolly song, isn’t it?

    PUNATIK – I hear you, hon. It is so easy to reach that point of no return without even meaning to. Glad you ended up breaking through. It would have been sad to have lost you.

    MELEAH – I am so sorry, hon. You’re in an incredibly demanding place right now. It’s tough, really tough. I just want you to know I am with you all the way and I believe you will be OK. Lots of hugs to you. XXXOOOOOO

    CHRIS – you are spot on about music. A salve, a balm, a place of solace. If I didn’t have music I don’t think I could make it through. I love my books but sometimes words are not enough. I don’t usually listen to much classical music but I listened to Beethoven’s 9th symphony the other day and I thought: ‘How could you not believe there was hope for the human race after listening to that?’ Truly inspiring.

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  5. I have often craved silence, so when I had the chance to experience something close to it during a recent retreat, I took in as much as I could.

    Then I found I missed certain sounds: the voices of my family, those warm and tender tones, the familiar footfalls, even the murmur of the television in the other room. It’s my family, and it’s where I’m safe.

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  6. What courage and dignity you have exhibited in this post, and the strength to break your journey into the heart of darkness — and ‘silence’… bravo to you for this break through!

    I too went down that slippery slope after my 18-year-old son was killed. I had the love of family light my way back home.

    peace to you Selma…

    …rob

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  7. KAREN – what a wonderful, comforting realisation. There is nothing like it, I know!

    ROB – I am so sorry you lost your son. I cannot imagine how difficult that must have been.

    Thank you for visiting and for your very kind comments. I appreciate it.

    ANTHONY – awww, thanks, hon. That is a big compliment coming from you!

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