Today’s One Word Story is from my good buddy J. Hewitt, known simply in our circle as Pope.
Though he’d probably never take credit for it, There would be no One Word Story Project or any project I’ve done without him. He paved the way for all of them with his World’s End project, the Godfather of all projects! Pope’s also one of my favorite writers among my peer group. He’s got great chops, so distinctly inspire by his southern roots and this story proves it.
The word Pope chose to form his story around is aphasia, which is the loss of one’s ability to speak words they previously knew or the failure to now understand them. In this story, it’s the former part of the definition that applies, and in true genius, Pope takes this one word and turns it into a commentary on domestic violence. And true to his fashion, the title of this story is musically based.
You can follow him on Twitter @ZenPopeJ. Also check out his blog: https://zenophobiablog.wordpress.com/
Without further delay, I present “And Touched the Sound of Silence” by J. Hewitt:
She started to lose her mind when she started to lose her voice. Not that she lost her voice in the way that we usually think—instead it was one morning when she said a word and then couldn’t manage to say that word again.
She sat in the room, that cold terrible room with the small desk, looking at the camera hanging in the corner. Any moment, she knew he would be in there, ready for answers. And she wouldn’t be able to give them to him.
The word was “Coffee”. She had said it in the same manner she always said it, that low grumble she could manage when she first awoke, and dragged herself out of bed. Tommy always wanted coffee in bed, and he could get quite mad when she didn’t have it for him.
The day before that, she had gotten passed for that promotion. Again. This time to Pete, nearly ten years younger than her and had only been in the company for three years. They told her that she had been heavily considered, and that her history with the company had been strong, and they had admired her commitment. Then they talked about things that were unquantifiable and intangibles and other such stuff that they always said whenever they were passing another man in front of her.
“Coffee” she had uttered, like she had the day before and the day before that. But when she tried to say it again, nothing would come from her. Her mouth had forgotten how to say the word.
“What the hell?” she asked. She wanted to ask what was going on afterwards, but she couldn’t say “what”.
Tommy was still snoring when she placed the cup of hot joe on his nightstand. She shoved him a bit to rouse him, then got in the shower. Three times, with the water rushing down her body, three separate times she tried to say the words coffee, what, the, and hell. Three times she failed.
At work, she didn’t say much, preferring to nod her head to those who passed by. She was too scared to speak. She’d tried to write them, but failed as well. The words were in her head, she knew them, she could think them, however, they wouldn’t come out. She couldn’t express them.
How did it happen, she asked herself in her head, afraid of what would occur when she said the words. It didn’t make any sense—her brain was normal, her thoughts were normal, but here she was afraid to say something or write something or type something—afraid of losing it.
In the room, the scary cold ugly room, she looked at the mirror across the wall. It was like the ones they show in the movies. She took a deep breath. He would come in, he would threaten and cajole and appeal to her better senses. She couldn’t help but to shake.
She had used the word “beat” three days before, when she absentmindedly told Tommy that her feet were tired. She’d said ‘tired’ two days before, and stuck for a moment, she had just said that she was ‘beat’.
She had used the word “scared” nearly a week afterwards, when she tried explaining to her mom what was going on. Her mom suggested that she was just being overly dramatic. The last time she was passed up for a promotion, her mom had also told her that it was for the best—she just wasn’t cut out for ‘man work’.
She had used the word “help”.
After she got home from work that first day, Tommy was still sitting on the couch. She tried to be as conservative with her conversation as conceivable.
“Yeah,” Tommy didn’t break his gaze from the television.
“No. Just no work today.”
“Just go fix dinner, okay. I don’t really need your pity.”
She would later regret saying ‘sorry’ in that way when, later that week, he demanded she apologize for being too quiet around him.
For not understanding the stress he was going through.
For constantly nagging him. Judging him.
All she had to do was say she was sorry and he’d stop.
But she couldn’t. No matter how much she wanted to say it, she couldn’t.
When a coworker noticed the bruise on her face and the fact she couldn’t sit without crying a bit from the pain, he asked her what had happened. She looked at him and as carefully as she could replied “Accident”.
She wished she could use that word now.
She kept looking at the door, kept holding her breath every time she heard a sound. She wanted to scream and to cry and to be held. She wanted to call her mom, but she had already used the words come and get and me. She had already said I and need and you.
She had already said help.
She had known Tommy had gotten fired at least a week before she started to lose her voice. She knew it was because of the alcohol. She could smell it on him, she found the bottles stuffed in his socks. She didn’t say anything, she thought it was best back then.
She’d mentioned it to her mom, who told her, “it’s best not to trouble him too much, dear. You know how men are—and when something takes their manliness away, it’s your role to make him feel like a man again.”
She drummed on the small table in the room, waiting for it. Knowing it was coming—she should have been used to this. So many nights, so many times she had been in a similar situation. First was waiting for the announcements from work, the days after she’d been interviewed. Waiting for the promotion she knew wasn’t going to come.
Then she’d wait for her mother to understand, to comfort her and make her feel alright.
And the worse? Waiting for him. Waiting for what he was going to do. Tommy would drink, and his words would get more and more mean.
More and more hateful.
She’d try to placate him (a word she had used yesterday), she’d beg and cry and do whatever he said. She’d screw him or cook for him but it never worked. He would get angry and he would start with a slap. Then maybe a punch.
If she was lucky, he wouldn’t get the belt.
She should have been so used to it but she never could. She could never gird herself enough to make herself feel strong enough to take it. She hated the waiting, she hated it worse than the beatings. Worse than the humiliation.
The door opened. The man was middle aged, wearing a uniform. He sat across from her.
He pushed a small glass over to her. He then opened a folder, showing a picture. A picture she wished she could already get out of her head.
There was Tommy, on the carpet, the wound crusted in crimson, his eyes still open.
She wanted to say he was going to attack her, but she had used too many of those words. “Attack,” was all she could muster.
“You attacked him?”
She shook her head violently. She pointed at Tommy.
“He attacked you?”
“I saw the bruises. He got you good, didn’t he?”
“So, tell me what happened.”
“You felt weak?” he asked, and she shook her head again.
She started feeling the tears well up in her eyes. She started to point towards a calendar that was hanging on the wall.
“What about it?”
How could she tell him? Her mind raced. Suddenly, a way formed like a lightning bug appearing in total darkness, “Five days ago.”
“Oh, he attacked you five days ago? You call the police?”
She slowly shook her head.
“So, what happened?”
She thought—so many words, but she’d used so many. Two weeks since she started to lose her voice, two weeks since she had started going crazy or whatever. How was she supposed to survive? How was she supposed to express anything to him?
Words like help and need and love and scared. Words like afraid and terrified and please and stop. Words like abuse and fear and assistance and so many of them were gone. There were thousands of words out there, maybe some still available to her, still could be used. But they had all disappeared. They had run from her and hidden in the dark and she couldn’t find them no matter how hard she tried.
That night, he’d gotten so mad, he’d threatened to kill her. “Give me one reason I shouldn’t!”
“Tell me you love me!”
She couldn’t. She’d used those words two nights before.
“Tell me you love me bitch!”
She grabbed the knife.
“What’s that supposed to mean? You mock me—hell, you won’t even talk to me anymore! You think you’re better than me? You think you’re better? Tell me you think you’re better than me, or I swear to God, I will kill you right now. I’ll grab that knife and I’ll cut your goddamn throat!”
He moved closer.
The cop asked again, “Tell me what happened?”
But only one word, one small word was the only one she could think of that she hadn’t said. Funny it was that one. How many times? She couldn’t think of a single situation where she had said it.
Truth be told, she’d lost her voice years ago, when Tommy first beat her. When the world first walked over her. But then she could ignore it. Then she could pretend that it wasn’t anything to worry about. Then she could pretend to be normal.
“Ma’am, I want to help you. Tell me what happened. Tell me how he beat you and I can get this taken care of. But you have to help me.”
Just one word. Last word she hadn’t said. She felt the tear fall as she spoke.