Week #32 – Silence

Welcome! Here is this week’s Flash, posted in the order received.

The theme is Silence.

Silent Stream by W. Bjorkman
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Turbulence . by Len Kuntz

On our descent to Seattle, the sound of screaming woke me.
Outside, the sky crackled with streaks of lava. When I looked closer, I saw that it was actually jagged branches of lightning.

Then turbulence struck. Like a bomb.

Our plane leapt and bounced and veered.

Children squealed. Someone yelled, “Terrorist!” Latches ripped off their hinges and sundry kits flew down the aisles like cannonballs.

The woman next to me looked oddly unafraid. I figured she’d gone into a form of shock, so I took her hand and shouted, “We’ll be all right!”

She pressed her other hand to her lips, peaceful, kissing the trinket from her necklace.

Then, just as sudden as the turbulence had hit, it ended. We flattened out, the plane continuing its descent, finding the runway with little-to-no wheel skid.

It reeked of vomit. I stank, as well, my shirt dripping sweat, pants soaked with urine.

I tried to cover myself with a napkin.

On a pad of paper the woman wrote, “Are you okay?”

“Huh?”

When she tapped the paper, I realized she was deaf.

“I’m fine,” I said. “And you?”

She smiled, stood up, walked down the aisle and out.

A boyfriend met her at baggage. They kissed, then signed. She made bumping motions and laughed. Across her neck, the silver cross jangled.

My heart felt small, but it beat hard, filled with so many questions I’d never ask: what it was like to be deaf, brave, to be so certain.

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Unspeakable . by Susan Gibb

He makes no sound, no pant nor grunt. He woke me with a lover’s touch, his fingers speaking words a woman understands. It is a dream but no, I feel the warm breath on my neck, the weight and scent of a man that settles me slow and deep into my mattress, my room, my reality. My shriek is stopped by a hand and my body screams by bucking, pushing, shoving at the mass of him. He slaps my face.

“Who are you?” I say, but he slaps me again, so hard that I’m amazed at the gentleness of his other hand between my thighs. This man is complicated, I think; more conflicted within himself than what is happening here.

I moan. He grabs my neck between his thumb and hand. All right, he is no fool. He knows and hates the faking too. He slides inside me and if for nothing else, I’m grateful that my body has responded in its instinctual way.

The silence hangs between us like a world suspended. I imagine Earth orbiting without a sound inside the dark expanse of space. His lurching moves the bed as if the universe had suddenly gone mad and blown us down a black hole, spiraling out of sight–for I can’t see anything, can’t feel myself at all.

And when he’s done, no sigh of pleasure. I close my eyes and when I open them he’s gone. The bedroom door wide open. My soul ajar.

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Sufficiently . by Grey Johnson

At 10:30, she lets the dog in for the night. There is a raggy quilt on the bed that she cannot surrender, and as she slides beneath it, she becomes herself for the first time all day. She has a rolling table, like the ones you see in hospitals, for her laptop. Propped up on pillows, with the whirring and ticking of the ceiling fan, she feels the invisible humming of the lights pull close around her. She is pretending to be a writer.

Suddenly, another equally quiet person is there, having entered their chat using a long-remembered secret code. She used to think of him as someone to entertain with charming lies, but things evolve in unexpected ways. They exchange trinkets in the mail. She recently purchased a headset, and will soon hear his voice.

Television, like the tinkling of a cat’s bell, helps them to gauge their level of privacy. As it ends, spouses drift away to sleep somewhere else, relievedly. Quiet and privacy are necessary, of course, but they do not promise anything for her.

It is easy to be misunderstood late at night, tired and anxious for an unexpected sound. Tonight she has typed the wrong thing, which she does more often than she used to. As is his habit, like a virtual Socrates, he will allow her to reflect quietly on what that error was. Only when she explains herself sufficiently, will the special silent twinkle of his upcoming words resume.

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Big Dipper . by Matt Potter

“How do you expect to find a husband, Leona, if you have such high standards?”

“I know, Mum,” I said. “And normally I adore Americans.”

My counsellor insists I call her Mum. At first I thought it was strange, but I see her point: she’s the right age, my own mother is extremely deficient in the role and we don’t look unalike. Especially after she bleached her hair, lost weight and started dressing like me.

I pushed my sunglasses on top of my head – she says wearing sunglasses inside makes me look like I’m hiding something, though with my pink eyes, usually it’s just to keep the harsh light out – and examined the cuticles the Vietnamese nail girl had just finished.

“You’re not in Saigon anymore, Mai Bi’ch,” I said, craning to read her name badge. “They’ll need to be much better than that if you want to stay in this country.”

Mai Bi’ch looked at me, looked at the nails, and pushed my fingers back into the bowl of nail softener.

“I said, I love chips with tomato sauce, and he said, You mean French fries with ketchup? Now, where do you go from there?”

Mai Bi’ch readjusted the facemask over her nose and mouth, pulled my hand from the goo and attacked my cuticles with an orange stick.

“Ow!” I said, though it didn’t really hurt. And turning to Mum I added, “And he double-dipped his chips in the sauce.”

“Oh,” said Mum. “I see what you mean.”

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Still Small Voice . by Michael Webb

Silence, she thought. When you’re hiding, tucking yourself into the smallest space you can find, silence is all you want- every squeak of a sneaker or creak of a joist may give you away. She could still fit in her favorite hiding spot, but it involved contorting herself quite a bit, and after a little while, her knees and back began to complain about the forces that were being exerted on them.

Other times, she thought, you hated silence- the hush that falls over a table when you’ve said something inappropriate, or the emptiness of a room with no one there that allows your inner monologue to take over and dominate your thoughts. Hiding here, tucked away, the house made little moans and shivers when the wind blew, but other than that, she heard nothing but the incessant chatter in her head.

“Nobody likes you,” her brain said. “You’re too fat. You’re ugly, you’re worthless. Nobody will ever love you. You should have never been born. Nobody cares about you. You can’t do anything right. Clothes don’t fit you right, and it doesn’t matter anyway, because nobody looks at you.”

She looked down at the hardwood floor between her knees, looking at the red droplets that faded to a darker, purplish hue as the wood soaked them up. In the end, she thought, silence is all there is.

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Waking Up . by Susan Tepper

There is soup in a puddle around you, an orange puddle like melted, but you don’t understand how it got there, or why. Accept this and move around the puddle you think. But you feel rooted there. As if a tree is under the ground ready to sprout like springtime, and the roots are pushing against the soles of your shoes. You worry they will stain your shoes orange, all this pushing and puddling. You want to bend down and lick the puddle, lap at it like a cat then find a corner to curl in. Of course this won’t happen. Outside your tent is the war and you are so tired.

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le Misérable . by Fred Osuna

I read the last line and close the book with a smack. “That ends that section,” I tell him. “Coming up is the chapter titled ‘The Ancient History of the Sewers of Paris.’ We’ll read that tomorrow.”

He doesn’t reply. I know he’s not asleep. I set the book under the nightstand where I’ll find it in the morning. I grab the remote and turn the television on. I find “Jeopardy” and turn up the volume. He stares straight ahead at the screen.

I make a few phone calls from the chair beside his bed. It’s hard to hear – Alex is talking loudly – so I compete. The old man doesn’t seem to notice. I change the channel. It’s an old Bogart flick. He watches it, no flinching, no emotion.

When the movie ends, I rifle through the CDs. There’s a Mahler 2nd, the cover a beautiful art deco mosaic. I slip it in the boombox on the bureau, turn it up high so I can hear the soft parts clearly. Is he listening?

The back door opens – it’s Marti, back from grocery shopping. I shout a Hello, go help her unload the bags. We chat over the music, which is booming down the hallway from the bedroom.

Finished, I go to his room. I tell him I’m going. “See you at noon,” I yell in his ear, so he’ll hear me. He stares forward. I leave.

The old man closes his eyes and thinks of smiling. In silence.

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Blessed Silence . by Catherine Russell

She wandered through the tiny space; the deafening noise of the crowd drowned out everything except her pulse beating against her skull. Aunt Phyllis shouted something about her medical history. Cousin Bryan assaulted her with his newest dissertation topic. Her parents bombarded her with the latest gossip.

A miraculously unoccupied corner beckoned, and she sat. Her earbuds drowned out the din. Mp3 ocean waves washed over her. She forgot her pounding head, lulled by the roar of a beach she’d never visit.

She slept. A smile crept across her face. In her dreams, the apartment emptied, planes departed, and she sat alone in blessed silence.

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Spatial Scream . by Derin Attwood

They say that in space no-one can hear you scream. Does that make space the noisiest place in the universe? It could be, but of course would any-one know?

Darius decided to find out so he sprouted wings and flew to the moon. When he got there, there was nothing to scream about and no-one to scream to. But as he flew around looking for inspiration, he saw a thought as it entered his head. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

He raced back to earth to find a falling tree to listen to. But all he found were those still standing and those already fallen, and as much as he asked, no-one and nothing could or would tell him if there had been noise. After a long search, he returned to the moon.

On the way he looked back and saw a tree falling, but he was in space and he didn’t know if the tree made no sound, or if its scream hadn’t made it into space.

Darius was so annoyed he had missed it he screamed, but he didn’t hear the scream and he didn’t know if it was because he was in space or if he had suddenly become deaf.

Then he had a horrible thought. If no one sees you, are you really there? And he wondered if the reason he hadn’t heard his scream was because he didn’t really exist.

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Tararuas . by Duncan Smith

Slow humid rain falling in the gloom. She leads the way up the track, about an hour to the hut perhaps, we should make it just on sunset. It’s darker in the bush, beech trees towering above us, a light southerly pushing through the tops. The raindrops are intercepted by the canopy but regroup into something bigger and more violent on the way down. I don’t want to put on my raincoat, it will make me sweat… and smell. I recall something about women having a more acute sense of smell than men.

Long day at work, late to meet her, not what I had in mind for a first date: she probably thinks I’m an idiot. I try to think of something clever to say, but her legs ahead are distracting, all symmetry and grace. Stop looking at her and think. It is beautiful here, shadows and grey mist, elbowed branches and gnarled roots. I lick the rain and sweat off my lips.

Soon we are above the bushline and cloud. The sun has just gone, leaving half-light and a gentle wind through the tussock. She turns to look back. Her face and neck have fine angles and shadows, and I glimpse a smile at the edge of her lips. She is beautiful in her element.

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Figurines . by Robert Vaughan

Today my mother broke every dish in the house. The Lladro Three Wisemen were the first to go. I didn’t mind, in fact, I even helped her trash those Asian figurines that loomed on the former glass shelf unit in our living room. She’d bought them when she took a Feng Shui extension program at the local college.

The whole thing took less than an hour, and when we’d finished, mom said, “Fuck your father, let’s get in the Explorer and drive to Florida.”

My sister was starting to decoupage ash-trays out of ceramic plate fragments. “Don’t do that, Frieda,” I said. “You might cut yourself.”

Before we reached the interstate, Frieda fell asleep. In the quiet twilight, I thought about the Wisemen, broken dishes, shards of rubbish. Just before leaving the house, I’d snatched a Fu Dog head, stuffed it in my coat pocket for protection. Now I rubbed it, feeling the jagged edges at its broken neck.

I glanced sideways at mom, but she stared straight ahead, jaw clenched. I wanted to ask if we would ever come back, but I knew the answer.

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Misdemeanor Offense . by John Riley

It was a surprise they put me in a dormitory, not a cell, with fourteen sets of bunk beds along two walls, windows with no bars, and that for two days no one threatened me, the kid with Penguin classics under his mattress. It was not a surprise when, on the third day, the man sat on my bunk without invitation and told me without being asked he’d beaten his friend to death with a pool cue and still didn’t know why and asked without caring which book was my favorite. I showed him my used copy of Lady With a Little Dog except in that translation it was called Lady With a Lapdog. He said no man should be a lapdog. I agreed and told him the story. “Fuckin’ cheaters,” he said which made me think of my father and I told him about our drunken trip to Mexico, my dad and I, and how at fourteen I’d driven us over the Madres and through a town called Durango. It was a surprise that after I said Durango he stared a long time at the wall of men wearing green shirts and green pants waiting to see what was supposed to happen and whispered twice “Madres at Durango” and then said I should shut-up he’d make sure I was okay but I should shut-up and the prisoners, so unlike me I was certain, schooled away, leaving behind an endlessness that didn’t last.

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Proof of Silence . by Randal Houle

One of the first senses a fetus develops in the womb is hearing. There must be a moment where there is none, followed by the newborn’s cries – a primal plea to never again immerse us in soundless oblivion.

Control:
I once obtained a set of noise cancelling headphones. My ears received nothing from the world around me. Where my ears were unable to hear, my mind took over, creating sound to fill the void.

Variable:
But nature gifts to us small glimpses into an unknowable world.

Can you hear it?

It happens every time you sneeze. A moment of solitude for the soul, or what I like to call soulitude. Monks spend a lifetime attempting to create this euphoria, this epiphany of nothingness, this nirvana.

Mathematical Form:
Those that succeed, never come back, else their words nary escape. The waves of sound crushed in an inevitable black hole, an absence and a merging at once. (For absence of all = “o”; and merging of all things = “m” thus, “om” must be the mathematical equation to this problem.)

Behavioral Evidence:
There must be a cocoon of soundless oblivion waiting for us all. One from which not even the mind can recover. (You are free to refute this although soon enough we will all know.) I offer as proof: the final act of mourning people everywhere, the moment of silence – like a desperate attempt to connect with the void and a longing for soundless oblivion.

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The Weeping of the Trees . by Stella Pierides

Last spring, I hiked up Mount Olympus. The valleys surrounding its
peaks are covered in black pine, beech, yew and tall conifers. On its
slopes, vineyards spread precariously; olive trees anchor deep with
their roots. Streams cascade to thirsty plateaus. No wonder the
ancient Gods lived there.

I stayed in refuges, drank from the streams and breathed the
pine-scented air. Cicadas serenaded me; butterflies I did not know
existed covered my arms. Wolves lusted after me.

Magical. Yet, I dared not return, fearing the strange sightings and
the silence: ghostly shadows appearing through the trees, gathering
near water, rushing through the meadows, with a heavy, voluminous
silence falling all round. At first, I did not believe my senses.
Gradually, I came to expect and even look for the shadows.

Whenever I tried to touch a diaphanous apparition – as if made of
smoke – it pulled back, avoiding my hand. I thought I saw it sigh,
more as a gesture rather than sound, and glide away.

It was recently that I understood – and felt freed to return. The
shadows are the souls of trees haunting the Olympian home of their
Gods. Felled unjustly, burned in war, famine, and in ruthless
profiteering, or carelessness, they return to plead with them.

Next time you visit Olympus, look for the shadows; seek this silence:
If it is not disrupted by a leaf falling, a stream’s gurgle or an
animal’s light footstep, know you are listening to the silent weeping
of the trees.

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In the name of the Lord . by Alex Lockwood

It used to be a game. Like I guess every kid in town (in the world?) church bored the pants off us. So we messed around. After prayers the pastor with those shot-to-death eyes would say ‘in the name of the lord’ and the congregation would wobble and say ‘Amen’. But in the little gap of breath down where we stood we made our own prayers.

In the name of the lord. Poo. (We were kids.) (And while we were giggling, Amen.)

In the name of the lord. Stupid. (Amen).

We got older and braver. The words were pussy unless we did something too. We knew better than our parents that words were no good on their own. They needed acts.

So it was In the name of the lord. Poke.

There were times when the pastor used to whip the congregation up. Just kept going and going after prayers with that line like it was some holy mantra. All these mothers and fathers of our friends swaying with one arm in the air, repeating amen, amen. We left it late so it sounded like our words came first.

In the name of the lord Pinch Amen. In the name of the lord Amen. Stamp In the name of the lord Amen. Punch In the name of the lord. Amen.

And at home father would whip the buckle of his belt at us. Silence, he told us, In the name of the lord. Then we started hating god.

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The Menacing Echo of Silence . by Al McDermid

The divine winds were still, so the pitiless roar of enemy bombers was drowned only by the desperate wail of the air raid sirens. From the faintest purr of the first enemy plane until the last bomb fell, the world was noise, nothing but noise; the sirens would scream, the engines would roar, the bombs would fall, but fall somewhere else.

That morning started as all others, but it was not; three planes the radio said, so it could not be a raid. Only one was seen. It sounded almost lonely. Had it gotten lost, separated from the other planes, on their way to deal death to some other city? Would it deliver its death dealers here? At 8 o’clock, the ‘all clear’ sounded.

In a flash, the sun came to earth, followed by darkness. The bomb brought no fire, but small fires, started by stoves and fallen wires, ignited here and there, feed on the rubble of the collapsed, wooden city, swept by the bomb-born wind.

And above the destruction that signature cloud rose, towered miles above, like the shadow of a colossus, or of some monstrous god. In its wake, the menacing echo of silence.

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Erzurum . by Matthew A. Hamilton

i dig up the sands of my soul
because I am adopted
i climb into a dusty attic
my hands twist into ferns
I flip through photo albums
a silent war speaks to me
frozen bodies
a baby glued to his mother’s breast
pomegranate juice stains the sand violet
my legs turn to salt

i am a descendent of
an inglorious history
a history known but forgotten
swept away like a mother’s tears
my throat is clogged with mohair
i feel shame because i am a survivor
i cover my face in mud

i am worth twenty silver coins
a Mesopotamian handmaid
my buyer is kind but his wives beat me
they are jealous because
i am beautiful

they fear my power
i am the granddaughter of noah
the treasure of the ark
borne from the sea
my veins smell like
the red wine of Ararat

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Enter the Silence . by Dorothee Lang

In the morning, she stands in the kitchen, waits for the water to boil while the morning traffic floated by on the street below. Her neighbour is up already, too: she can hear his TV, the morning news: a stream of voices through the wall.

She doesn’t want to hear the world yet, switches her CD player on, listens to Dream Café #2 while she has breakfast: Siesta del Sol and Walkabout. In the shop where she works, there’s a different kind of music playing now: Santa songs, to improve the sales. White Christmas, Winter Wonderland, and Jingle Bells, over and over.

Finally her shift is done.

“And now?” her colleague asks.

“Now, into the water,” she says and smiles.

She has brought her bag, the safest way to really go there, especially in winter. As always, the water feels cold at first. Even here, in the public swimming hall, music is playing. She listens to the tunes while she slides through the water, is surprised to hear Heroes de Silencio, on this Thursday in December: Entre dos Tierras.

Later, in the attached sauna, it’s world music: Indian guitars, esoteric flutes. The speakers also cover the room with the loungers, the one with the sign “Quiet, please” at the door – as if silence was a dangerous state, best to be avoided.

Lying there, she wonders what would happen if for one day, silence entered the world.

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Unplugged . by Doris Dembosky

Inga’s lips were a thin grim line. Only hair-line wrinkles on her upper lip and deeper crevices at the corners of her mouth indicated where her lips may have been. Inga sat at the kitchen table. She held her fork in her right hand, and the knife in her left. Like a warrior ready for battle, she held them upright in her closed fists. Her eyes were flat and icy.

If Inga been a stranger and not his wife, Otto would have frozen on the spot. But, having lived with Inga for nearly 50 years, Otto was not fazed. “Inga… Honey… talk to me.”

Dropping her eyes, Inga speared a few peas with her fork and put them in her mouth. She chewed with the diligence that most people reserve for chewing beef.

“Inga, I don’t know what to say because I don’t know what I’ve done. Have I offended you?”

Inga helped herself to more peas.

Otto repressed an audible sigh. He slumped smaller in his chair. Silence reigned.

Silence reigned until Otto died. Otto was not surprised, but Inga was. Otto had gone to bed as usual, but he never came down for breakfast. Only after Otto’s egg had solidified and his coffee had grown cold did Inga climb the stairs to Otto’s bedroom.

Otto appeared to be sleeping, but when Inga shook his shoulder, he didn’t respond. When the paramedics arrived, they pronounced him dead.

At which point, a primal cry escaped Inga’s thin lips.

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The Golden Moment . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

I draw the bow across the strings, the trembling G of Chopin’s Largo, and wait for the small gap of time suspended between noise and its absence, the space where the note vibratos into nothingness. I lower the bow, and the hall thunders.

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Planes careen into fields and skyscrapers, a cacophony of metal and fire. After, the sky stills, an eerie instant slouching towards an infinity of sorts. I rest my cello in its velvet-lined case, and close the lid.

*

You enter this world amidst the clack and clatter of machinery, the urgency of voices, and the stench of laser-burnt skin. The surgeon reaches into my abdomen and your head crowns, waxed with blood. The surgical suite melts into white and you yelp your hello.

*

Your science project involves water tension and other physics I do not understand. I watch you release the eyedropper, amazed at the utter perfection with which each bead breaks the awaiting meniscus. You record the seconds it takes for the water to resume its placid surface.

*

The hushed morning after the snowstorm, you sleep upstairs. The ground glitters with diamond dust, the only sound the tinkle of flakes falling. I pick up my cello and play to find the space in between.

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Silence is . by Nicolette Wong

Silence is a droplet of grief falling into the void that has forever opened between us—you no longer sparkle while you dance, and I cannot catch your meaning adrift in this room, stifling and cold with no exit to the future.

You must not follow me, you say, for I have let go of hopes and idealism. Take me home and lay me down to sleep, before you leave at daybreak to pursue what flies away.

To escape from your self-pity, I close my hand to hide the pear-shaped tear piercing into time.

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Perspective . by Kelly Grotke

He went out the front, turned the corner past the garage and climbed up the slight hill until he reached the bench. A quick dust-off to the planks as he thought, sometimes it’s good just to sit down.

A light snow had fallen the night before, gathering in the furrows left behind in the fall from his last run around the lawn with the mower, curving near the empty flower bed and straightening out again moving down the slope. As if he were looking down on some vast cityscape from a far away vantage point. A dry leaf scuttled across the ground at his feet, breaking the silence and his illusion. Funny the things you notice with a little time on your hands.

Both parents dead, three divorces, grown kids scattered and busy, and his two sisters had come in over the weekend to keep him company. One working on a divorce of her own, the other’s family would be driving down later that day. And so here they were, at it again, inside the house. Rearranging his furniture. He couldn’t say why, but this was the second time now and the sense of some kind of ritual in the making had finally driven him outdoors, something close yet unknowable was going on in there but you can overthink things so he considered forthcoming bruises and stubbed toes instead.

He looked down again upon his cityscape and conjured up its inhabitants, all happy and warm and home for the holidays.

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Linda Vs. Sound . by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Normally, after her shift, Linda would make herself a latte, untie her apron, and study at one of the tables. That evening, however, KEXP kept playing songs with grating guitar riffs, and loud laughers were everywhere. She chugged her coffee, burning her tongue. Then, she dashed out the door and down Olive Way.

Once downtown, she marched straight to the library. The bottom floors buzzed with schoolchildren and the un(der)employed, but Linda had planned for that. She knew she had to take the escalators past the glass encasing the bookstacks and make her way to the top floor with its glorious views of the Sound and the lights. More important, to her, was the reading room. For fifteen perfect minutes, she had it to herself. Then came the announcement: the library was closing.

Fucking budget cuts.

Where else could she find quiet? Her roommates would be home by now. Then she remembered that the Pike Place Market would be closing. She ran down Pine and across the brick road. She squatted on concrete that reeked of lavender and salmon. As she was about to take out her books, she heard the rhythmic clunk of traffic on the Alaska Way Viaduct, which some asshole poet years before had taken for “Puget Sound sounds”.

I give up.

She trudged up Pike to the Bartell Drugs and bought earplugs. Thus fortified, Linda survived a bus ride home beside a teenager with Lady Gaga leaking from his headphones.

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Tableau . by D.L. Tricarico

The mute blue skies are a canopy

For the infinite fields and the whispering

Squirrels and rabbits become

The dumb court jesters of the morning.

A brown hawk steadies his wings

And soars, but goes nowhere.

Surrounded by a congregation of trees

I sip my coffee, and my connection to the land is absolute.

Jesus is in the red clay of the earth, and in the rustling

Of the leaves I hear the silent arias of God.

The hawk spins, arcs, and falls.

A lone rabbit listens, one ear cocked

Toward the absence of sound.

For a moment, all movement stops,

But the canyon speaks to no one.

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Unheard . by Kim Hutchinson

“If a tree falls…”

He didn’t want to have this conversation, not tonight, not for the hundredth time since this morning. He stamped his freezing feet against the sidewalk.

The muzak played Hark, the Herald Angles Sing. For some reason, it pissed him off.

“…does it make a sound?”

Once his brother got onto something—a question, a catchphrase, a snatch of song lyric—he clung to it, repeating it again and again and again until it rung in your head like a bomb had gone off between your ears.

“Spare change?” he asked the couple heading into the cineplex. They glanced at his brother, saw something was wrong with him, then at him, noting his dirty and disheveled state, judging them to be human flotsam in milliseconds. They passed without a word, not even a head-shake.

“So does it?”

“No, it doesn’t.” He sighed and lit a butt he’d found under a park bench. “It makes sound waves. Someone has to hear it for it to become a sound.”

A man with a black bar in his ear walked by, talking to someone somewhere else, maybe across the world.

“Spare change?”

The man didn’t hear him.

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Amelia . by Stephen Hastings-King

1. Elsewhere, alone, stranded on an atoll, far, Amelia Earhardt is being eaten by crabs.

Every time she tried to sleep they came, legions of small armored things scuttling claws aloft across the purple sand, wave on wave as soon as she stopped moving.

When she crawled out of the water they turned in her direction and stopped. All they do is wait. Everywhere all the time they wait.

The presence or absence of a fire neither attracts nor repels.

2. Day follows night always the same: the sun, the three trees that provide no shade, the search for food and movement along the horizon, the signals without reception, the dwindling supply of wood, the darkness, the waiting, everything always the same on this sand crescent nowhere visited by no-one except the fading famous aviator and an army of waiting crabs.

3. When she gives in, she dreams of aeroplanes speeding down brightly lit runways and flying over fields populated with rows of pastries, performing loops and barrel rolls in the air behind glass like fish in an aquarium. Every plastic pilot sees another and gives the thumbs up; everyone’s grand adventure is cheered on by nuns and napoleons.

When she gives in, she is a machine covered with small dials and the transparent bursts of pain she emits dissolve instantaneously in the still warm air.

4. In subsequent repetitions of the history of the atoll, she is fragments of bone, a lighter and a pen.

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The Sounds of Silence . by Joanne Jagoda

In her last years with her debilitating illness, a Parkinson’s-like syndrome, speaking was increasingly difficult. I would phone her on my way home from work, and though I knew she was listening, because her helper gave her the phone, she could no longer converse. It was painful for both of us because we were so close and missed our daily shmooze. I would carry on a one-sided conversation just so she could hear my voice, jabbering about work, the grandchildren, and padded the strained silence with filler words.

Despite the fact she could barely speak, on occasion she would still communicate. One Saturday her weekend caretaker annoyed her and my mother looked at me and rolled her eyes. I totally got her frustration and a glint of her feistiness and humor. When my teenage nephew came to visit her in the hospital wearing a tee shirt and shorts and she noticed it was a blustery San Francisco day from the swaying trees visible through the window she suddenly piped up, ”Where is your jacket?” Her grandmotherly love and concern could not be silenced by her illness.

Shortly before she died, the young rabbi from her congregation came to her hospital room with a shofar or ram’s horn. It is customary to sound the shofar every day in the Jewish month of Elul before the New Year. The rabbi blew the shofar for her and those plaintive sounds transformed the heavy silence of her sick room and changed her whole demeanor.

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The Duende . by Frank Rasky

Even before he opened his eyes he felt the rosewood glowing in the dark. His room was so small it was as if he were living inside a guitar case, but it was a good place, quiet and out of the way, where he could practise undisturbed.

When he’d lain down, his classical guitar was in the corner. Now it stood at the head of his bed, the hole in the soundboard staring at him like an immense eye. The strings rippled, as if moved by a sigh, calling out to him in the silence.

“Play me.”

He had been in a nightly flight from his body, attempting to break free from the constraints of fingers that could barely span five frets. In his dreams he had the long fingers of a concert artist, deft and agile, capable of expressing the most exquisite rubato.

“Play me.”

Now he took his guitar in hand, and at once felt a strange fiery sensation rise from the soles of his feet, to the palms of his hands, to the tips of his fingers: the Duende. It was that mystical force poets can sense, and no philosopher can explain.

He played the prelude from Suite Espanola, fingers flying across the guitar neck. He was no longer in disharmony with his destiny, but free to be what he most wanted.

And at last he felt the joy in his own body, and in the guitar, the two of them, composed, as if they were one.

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THE SANDY KNOLL . by Ramon Collins

Paulin turned his field jacket collar up. “Jeez, the desert gets cold at
night.”

Sergeant Snyder squirmed over on his side to ease a lower leg muscle cramp.
“Sand don’t hold much heat.”

Lonely stars glanced at each other in the dark sky. Occasional flashes to the
east were followed by a faint rumbling sound.

“Do you suppose they know we’re over here, Sarge?”

“Now what the hell do you think?”

“I was just asking. This is your third hitch and I’ve been here three days.”

“Paulin, they damn well know we’re here — feel better?”

“I’d kind of like to see who’s trying to kill me tonight.”

“If you don’t wanna die, stop joinin’ the fuggin’ army.”

The sergeant inched his way up the knoll with his elbows, keeping his weapon out
of the sand. Paulin watched, then did the same on the left side.

Snyder turned his head. ”Keep that goddamn muzzle outta the dirt — squeeze off
a round you won’t have a hand left.”

The breeze stopped and silence took over.

“Paulin — hear that?

“Hear what?”

Snyder propped himself on an elbow and looked back. “I heard a rustlin’ sound
behind us.” He rolled over, sat up and stared into the darkness. Paulin turned
halfway around then froze.

“Sarge, if you’re tryin’ to scare the crap out of a new man, yer doing a good
job.”

“Is that what I smel–”

Shots knifed through the dawn.

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The Silent Bell of Amherst . by Steven M. Stucko

She would ding when she should dong, dang when she should have rang, and sometimes would clang for no apparent reason. Emily had been in the Amherst Women’s Club bell choir for thirty-five years and now her hearing was failing.

Talented, her musical duties evolved over the years from swinging and shaking to a more complicated martellato, where she skillfully created the tricky staccato tones made by striking the bell into the foam-covered table in such a way that the clapper strikes the casting immediately after the bell strikes the foam. Emily nailed it every time until, at eighty-nine, her ears book-ended a gathering fog.

Emily wanted her swan song performance to be at the Fall Ball. Friends were concerned, but Emily arrived at the first practice with modified bells sporting crocheted clappers. She attended every practice and learned all the arrangements, though another woman took over her part.

No one spoke of the ruse and Emily appeared to hit all the notes. She received a standing ovation, and after the buffet dinner took the podium and dinged her wine glass to get everyone’s attention [F#7].

“I want to thank the choir for the chance to stand up here one last time, and if anyone needs some silent bells, just drop off some yarn!” The room erupted in kind laughter and good cheer. Emily passed before Christmas and we smiled at her service. She was a hoot.

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Aspects of Silence . by Beate Sigriddaughter

This was no dream. I was familiar with the open scent of silence. On my flight home to life I failed to decipher the zigzag of letters my mother wrote some fifty years before in German script to my father.

I wanted to know. I couldn’t imagine what.

In life the extent of our courage amounted to weather reports exchanged and assorted animals, my cats, the ducks on the water, fillies in June, some foxes, one year pelicans on City Park Lake, another year amazingly two eagles in the suburb.

Before I ever moved my language was already foreign.

For years I called my widowed father every Sunday. His hearing got worse. The hearing aid didn’t work. He blamed the batteries. I was tempted to say he never understood me anyway. He asked about my cats and my husband’s friend’s tarantula.

I stood at their grave site and threw in three red roses and thank you, thank you, thank you ticked from my heart like hemlock needles falling, for the love, the spark, the living kindled.

Then came the Sunday when I was at home and had no call to make. The last card I sent, a tiger carrying its baby in its mouth, lay in a salver in the hallway of my oldest brother’s home, still in its envelope and destined never to be read.

I anxiously remembered when my mother was a little girl, her father had a dog named Senta.

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Silence . by Guy Yasko

The couple exits the lobby and its Christmas music and steps into the
grey. They cut across the parking lot and disappear into a row of
snow-coated cedars. They follow the path between fields, past empty
lodges. The sky darkens. They stop.

– When are you coming back?

He stares at horses in the field beyond the fence. The horses are
completely still. How do they stand the cold?

– Do you love me?

He looks at her and sees the snow falling on her hot cheek. He resists
the urge to brush it off.

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It is a Place Where Dreams are Realized . by Martin Brick

It came to him while hunting. Deep in the woods, he sat on a log listening for deer. And in that calm windless valley, the snow produced a peculiar silence. A silence so complete it spoke.

He listened.

It was a sound akin to static but less… there. Still, he felt it gave precise instructions.

So he took his vacation time. He built walls out there in the woods. He built a spiral staircase, towers, gargoyles. He built an ice castle.

The silence was louder inside the walls. It told him to make a table and two chairs.

And it told him to bring Melinda. He had her wear her warmest clothes and walk into the forest at night. The castle glowed with candles. There were caterers with an elaborate meal. She sat in her throne draped with the skin of a deer he’d killed. They traversed five courses of food and drink. She smiled, glowed to rival the candle-dabbled ice.

Then he requested, “listen.”

“Listen?” She expected something. The caterers, in fact, waited in an anteroom with a sorbet dessert, with a diamond ring on the dish.

“Yes. The snow told me it’d tell you what you want to hear.”

She smiled coyly. Indulged him.

Her face went from glow to mysterious spiral of smoke.

“You hear something?” he cautiously asked.

“I do.”

“What?”

“It says go to pharmacy school?”

“It does?”

“It does.”

He closed his eyes to listen. She was right.

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Cows in Silence . by Catherine Davis

A cow wanders onto a roof and falls through the skylight. It is a calamity, but such an innocent mistake. Mightn’’t you wander onto a roof once upon a full winter snow in Vermont?

A cow climbs a gravel mound in Virginia, perhaps to see what it can see in its little corner of the world. Not much gain in elevation, alas, and then that sinking feeling. Up to its armpits when I spy it from the road. Good job on saving that cow, my friend tells me later, after calling its owner to inform him. You know Junior’s just going to go whack it over the head with a hammer, and there’s dinner, don’t you, he says.

Rushing dizzy into headlights out of the late rural blackness, a cow, stock still staring, in the middle of River Road. Collision averted by the skin of my teeth. Few seconds further on, reconsidering, I u-turn. This cow is booking it like nothing you’d believe when I catch up. Cow herding by Volvo, but then it turns into a field. Mississippi 911 is blasé: where is it now? I don’t know, I say, but it’s fast.

This cow is curled by the fence a few feet from the sparkling aqua pool where I swim. This cow is white, all its friends are white too. Beauty beside beauty within beauty — this is France.

All over everywhere, cows train in a single direction across vast pastures, harking to some silent, inner compass.

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Nightfall . by Lola Elvy

The sun melts
behind purple hills

The moon climbs
on a ladder of hidden stars

A quilt of snow cloaks
the forest floor

Snowdrops glisten
in the bushes

The day’s last loon cries
to her young

And then silence.

An owl hoots
The night awakens

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The thing that filled first . by Doug Bond

You were a lover of views never one for things not meant to be seen, like the forgotten back lots inside dark city blocks. So I held the pen awhile, with that thought in my head, and marveled at the space around my signature, how light the lease papers looked with only one name holding it all down.

Winter comes in through the window I’ve cracked open. I feel the fire escape iron cold in ways I’m not yet used to, everything here notched towards grey, bare and lightless in December just as you are deepening into green on the hills and water bringing blooms and the air full of wet wood.

Those nights we watched winter rains sweeping through the big trees from behind the cover of tall glass windows the noise of it on the other side was the thing that filled first. Even the finest misty rains had their sounds and the beating of water falling from leaves.

I crook my head out over the black lattice fire escape, long strands of clean mounded white, as the back lot fills with a storybook snow covering the tumbledown fencing, garbage cans and spare parts of dismembered cars.

It is silent as it falls and cold inside the emptiness of the single room at my back where later I will write you yet another letter that won’t get sent and little by little the spaces left bare will fill and cover all that I’d left too long go untended.

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Buying Silence . by Walter Bjorkman

“So it’s at Herbst in Bay Ridge, same place my Dad had his, and even out to Oceanview on Staten, same place too. Wonder how many regular folk here took that final route over the years, three funeral homes a few blocks away from each other and three cemetaries within a mile on Staten, one each for Protestant, Catholic and Jew. And here we got a perfectly good one right next door, Greenwood. A Times reporter once said ‘it is the ambition of the New Yorker to live on Fifth Avenue, to take their walks in Central Park, and to sleep with their fathers in Greenwood’. I looked it up once in the Brooklyn library – Horace Greerly, DeWitt Clinton, Samuel Morse, Teddy Roosevelt’s wife, the Tiffany family. Even the mobsters had to be elite, no common street hood – Albert Anastasia, Boss Tweed, and just a few years ago Joey Gallo. Nope, not for our kind.”

“Well, my mom’s goin’ the first way too. I never got to know her much, she was sixteen when she had me, popped in and out of Granma’s until I was ten, then we only heard a little about her until the funeral. She married a rich dentist up in Nyack, guess we reminded her of nuthin’ but bad. A hunnert buck check showed up in the mail every month, we weren’t too proud to use it, pride is for suckers. Now we get to pay her back for nuthin.”

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Silent Night . by John Wentworth Chapin

It was that first sip of bourbon that brought on the calm. Yes, she drank every night, and no, she didn’t have more than two except for the occasional festive or depressed night. Yes, she drank alone, and no, she didn’t worry about it. She’d dated enough drunks to know the difference. Sometimes she had a date and sometimes she had to work late, but she carved out time at about 6:30 to kick off her cramping shoes and relax a bit before going on with the day. Vespers, she called it. The church of the self.

You need to get laid, her sister said. You’re alone too much.

I’m not alone enough, she answered, skewering a cornichon on her fork and snapping off half in her slight overbite for emphasis. It was a quick deli lunch; her sister had the habit of injecting intervention into every meeting, no matter how brief.

You live like a nun, her sister objected.

She toyed with a comparison between Mother Teresa’s needy millions and the marketing department she ran.

That’s right, she smiled. A nun.

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Bird . by Michelle Elvy

(for Kirk)

It is quieter than quiet. A seabird lands on deck, squawks his lonely squawk. It’s his hello but the woman shoos him, tells him to go.

She wants to be alone with the toenail moon and the shadows all around, with the familiar line surrounding her, where dark night touches down on black ocean. The wind is light. The sails sigh and sometimes thwonk. But mostly she is lulled by the sound of nothing, the heave and hush of swell on hull.

Ahead lies the longest line, the measure of her existence. It’s invisible but real, parting the world in two. North and South: will they feel as different as before and after, then and now, life and loss? Will the South Sea soothe her Chesapeake soul? Will Acrux tug like Polaris used to pull? Will ghosts come to her now, whisper stories from shared history? Will they feed her future, warm her salt skin, will her on?

I hear you, brother. I remember when you strummed harmony with your hands. I see your forever grin.

The bird returns. She asks him where he’s from but he flies away and fades to shadow. And she sails on, west by southwest, the taste of tomorrow on her tongue.

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Walter Bjorkman provided this week’s picture, Silent Stream. This is what he had to say about it:

“(silence)”

Comment on “This Week’s Art”

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