The Endless Silence
It’s been six months since I stopped talking to anyone except my parents and teachers at school. I can talk, but I have chosen not to. Nobody has noticed, it seems. The classroom feels like a foreign country. I sit alone, not partnered with anyone. I used to have someone beside me, but he was useless. I figured that the awkward guy with greasy hair, the guy nobody liked, would be grateful if I sat with him but in the few months we shared the space, he only told me a story about how he once got frustrated with his mum and punched a hole in the wall. He couldn’t remember why.
The air smells like sweaty gym socks. I try to distract myself by concentrating on what the teacher is saying. Something about Latin verbs. I should pay attention, but the sound of traffic lulls me into a daydream.
In another five minutes it’ll be recess and I’ll spend it alone, like the rest of the day. Aurora will soon come out with Melissa and they will giggle their way through the halls, their voices evaporating. I have my book. I can stand quietly by the toilets and assume a superior air, leafing through the pages and pretending to be too absorbed by literature to care.
If I close my eyes and forget where I am, I can fool myself into assuming I am listening to the sound of a river flowing peacefully in a forest. The reality is, the motorway is right outside and even though they recently built a sound barrier, you can still catch the muffled trails of the cars swooping by. There are black silhouettes of birds on the transparent plexiglass. I wonder if those shapes help the birds see the barrier, or if they meet their death on the slick surface, regardless.
The high school corridors are covered in graffiti. They have not painted the walls in decades. The muddy brown is so cracked in places it almost looks like a third world country instead of a school in a European capital. The surrounding suburbs are full of council tenements where people live in apartments like rats jammed in cages. I wish I could say that at least the people are beautiful, but I’d be lying.
Aurora is one exception. Smarter than most, her cheeks point to the sky like a proud fawn. I can hardly look at her now. She talks to Melissa in conspiratorial tones but it’s beyond me what she sees in the girl. Her blandness is so unoriginal. Her voice is hoarse, as if she were a smoker in her fifties instead of being sixteen. Aurora and I used to call her “molasses”, after her overly sweet words, but that was before Aurora dropped me to be her new best buddy.
I’ve been nothing but steadfast as a friend. I was always dependable, always there when needed. And now it is them shuffling papers over the desk, whispering secret laughs. When I look at them, I no longer hear their words. Their mouths move but there’s no sound, like they are characters from an old black and white movie with no subtitles.
In the early days of Aurora’s defection, I used to imagine hurting myself against the sharp edges of pillars, buildings, or steps I walked past. Now every object seems to be covered in dust. Things look the same, except for a fine fog that smooths them into something I cannot quite grasp.
I have created a secret society of whom I am the only member. People at school imagine there’s a bunch of us like the boys from the film Dead Poet Society. In fact, that’s where I got the idea from. I write poetry on an old-fashioned typewriter and post it on the school bulletin board under the name “Grey”. I come to school early just to pin the poems up without being seen, and I leave them there until everyone has left. At the end of each day, I tip toe my way back in the foyer and leave the board as empty and blank as I found it.
Apart from Beat poetry, I am a huge fan of Poe, Lovecraft, the Bronte sisters, Baudelaire and Jim Morrison. So, to remedy my lack of social interaction, I console myself by sitting in my room at home with the red velvet curtains drawn and a single candle glowing in the middle of the afternoon, reading horror stories and listening to the soundtrack from Three Colours Red at maximum volume. Sometimes I try to guess what normal people might think about me by imagining cartoon bubbles filled with words floating around their heads but the bubbles often look like empty clouds.
One of the things I love to do after my reading marathons is to imagine I am a nineteenth-century decadent poet living in a loft somewhere in Paris. Being a noble sick soul, I drown my sorrows in art. I drink red wine, recite entire book passages out loud, and paint prostitutes like they are goddesses. My lofty thoughts are too sophisticated for the commoners to understand. I walk proud and aloof in a wondrous universe and nothing disturbs my inspiration, until I switch on the light and its sharpness surprises me back into the present.
There is a boy in school I have fancied for two years. I have never talked to him, but I wrote him an anonymous letter once and left it under his desk in an attempt to be poetic. I tried to describe how I felt when I heard him play “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin at the school assembly but I doubt I did a good job. He had played the entire song on his shiny electric guitar with his back turned to the audience. When he finished, I had tears in my eyes and I wanted to run up and fall at his feet. Instead, I asked for the microphone thinking I’d sing his praises to everyone in the school, but when it landed in my hands, my throat clenched and I stood silent like a fool in front of three hundred people.
After not getting anywhere with the letter, I decided the boy was out of my league so I planned to wiggle myself into his life by pursuing his brother instead. The excuse was that he looked like a poor copy of Jim Morrison. I invited him to an afternoon of reading from Poe's books, and he said yes but as soon as he noticed the candle shining in the darkened room, he decided I was weird. I proposed a walk in the fields around my house to save us the embarrassment of calling it off too soon.
While walking together in unkept suburban fields filled with empty beer cans left by wilder teenagers than me, I imagined us roaming through the moors of nineteenth-century England like Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights. Halfway through I realised he didn’t get it and assumed this was a preamble to us getting it on later. Hardly responding when he mumbled something regurgitated from literature class, I remained unimpressed and promised myself to drop him as soon as the date was over. Now I would have to say goodbye to any hope of catching his cool brother as well.
After this episode of attempted romance, I stopped trying to make friends and started spending my time on the roof of my house, experimenting with smoking plants from the herb garden to get high. When the plants failed to produce results, I switched onto cutting my arms. Aurora used to do it too- I never knew why, but I wanted to learn what it was like. It may seem strange but my intention wasn’t to hurt myself, I just wanted someone to see the blood, lock their eyes with mine and magically break the spell. It was over when my brother noticed the scars. I told him I would not do it again.
I have a recurring dream in which I show up at the threshold of a high-rise apartment when a stony-faced woman opens the door before I have time to knock. Without betraying any emotion, she picks me up and carries me over to the far side of her empty flat until she reaches an open window. Once I am hovering outside it, she drops me and watches me fall all the way down to the bottom. I try to scream but nothing comes out. After the impact, I miraculously get up and willingly move back up to the same apartment where the cycle repeats itself. Last night I spent the entire night going up and down fifteen times in a row.
Sometimes, after a particularly bad night I wake up to find that I can’t feel my body. It’s as if I am a ghost floating on the surface of a huge desert. There is a sandstorm raging all around me but I am on the other side of it where nothing stirs. I spent years inside the storm, tossed around all over the place. Things would get smashed, and I’d shout at the top of my lungs until my throat got sore. Then one day an invisible hand clicked its fingers and the storm shifted into a parallel dimension. Afterwards there was only the empty road stretching ahead for miles and miles, with tumbleweeds rolling around in the wind.
On my way to school today I walked past a fashion shop with the latest trends. I don’t dress like the other girls, and I don’t wear makeup. (My father asks me why I refuse to wear pretty skirts and I just smirk and evade the question; If a boy needs me in heels and tight clothes to appreciate me, he can get lost. I'd rather be like Kurt Cobain - minus the heroin).
As I walked past the shop, I remembered why I always wished there was a way to avoid it. The mouthless mannequins freak me out. Their lifeless faces seem to stare at me out of the display windows as if from a deep darkness I can’t quite fathom. They are like alien souls trapped behind a wall, trying to pretend they are human; everyone else is fooled, but not me.I wonder if that’s what my father wishes I was. A pretty mannequin that does what it’s told. Once I heard him say he didn’t expect much from his daughter; what mattered to him was what his son did. He often asks me why I am so angry, but the question is, why shouldn’t I be? Why should I not refuse to do more than my fair share of housework? Why should I smile at him even when I don’t feel like it? My life isn’t about finding a husband and spawning some kids, and I won’t wear a pretty dress to be leered at by men, and I am not going to be accommodating and agreeable
I remember a family gathering where after a particularly bad fight with him I was sitting alone on the front porch of our house. My uncle saw me and came to sit next to me. I expected some words of solace, instead he said: "Do you reckon life sucks now? Just you wait till you get older!" and then laughed out loud. At the time his laugh felt like a mad high pitch giggle, his red hair glowing in the dark like a clown’s. When I think of him now, I still see his disembodied face bubbling up in the distance, though his laughter has been completely swallowed up by a strange timeless force, as if his face has been left stuck into a distorted spasm.
Before recess is over, I intercept my philosophy professor in the corridor. He is the only teacher worthy of the name. I tell him my dark views on life and ask for his opinion. He tells me to read William James; he says it’s true I am a sick soul, but not in the sense I expect. Sick souls see the truth of the world, and it "ain’t pretty". However, there is a way to transcend it, he assures me. I nod, but cannot stop staring at the small piece of brioche that has been hanging from his beard the whole time he’s been talking.
The bell rings, and the professor excuses himself. As I watch everyone return to their respective classes, I daydream of a white-haired lady in blue with a huge cross printed on her dress. She has no mouth, her fingers are frail, but her eyes are kind. She walks towards me with a welcoming smile. She offers me her hand and although I am frightened, I want to take it, but when I do, the fingers crumble, her face transforms into a mask of bones and within an instant, she dissolves into dust right in front of me.
It is time to get back to class, but instead I go to the girls’ toilets. Do I really want to die? In a way it’s like I am dead already. I am lying on a cold slab of metal in a mortuary, my soul hanging between life and death. Nobody knows I am here, or if they do, they haven’t bothered coming. In the darkness, I can see my naked feet at the edge of the table. There is a door ahead of me. There is a sliver of light trying to make its way in at the bottom. I must decide what to do.
What is the least painful way to die? I can’t cut my veins while taking a warm bath like in the horror movies. It’s too gory. And the idea of throwing myself in front of a car or a train is scary. What if I realise halfway through that I no longer want to do it? Or even worse, I don’t die but instead I break my back and become a vegetable for the rest of my life. Sleeping pills are the best option. You go into a coma and you never wake up. This makes me smile, and I realise exactly how low I have sunk. I probably should, but I refuse to cry about it.
When I get into the cubicle, I lock the door and put my hands over my eyes, sitting still on the toilet seat while I wait for something to happen. I stay that way for a few minutes, until a familiar sound breaks the monotony. Someone has come into the bathroom and I recognize Aurora's heels hitting the floor tiles. I try to hide, but she knows it’s me. She must have noticed my absence from class.
"Are you OK?"
Her tone seems genuinely concerned.
"Talk to me. What’s going on?"
I hold my breath.
"If you come out, we can talk about it."
There’s a bad taste in my mouth. I want to spit, but I swallow instead. I lift my head and open my eyes, trying to focus on the graffiti on the door. Maybe if I say nothing she’ll go away. I wait but she isn’t moving. I listen for a sign of her giving up but the thought of it makes me feel sick. I have to compose myself enough to open the door. Quickly I turn the bolt, swing the door open, cover my face and run to the sink to splash water over it. She says nothing but when I reach the mirror, she puts her arm around me and looks at my face. As soon as we lock eyes, I move backwards and away from her, and when I reach the wall, I slide my back down it until I hit the ground. Then the tears start to fall, despite my best efforts not to let them.
"Should I call someone?"
"No!" I almost shout, then looking down I say: "I just want to…die". There, it’s out.
Aurora takes this seriously. She moves towards me and slides her back down the wall too, until she’s sitting next to me. An endless silence descends on us and everything else disappears. It’s like I have one foot on the ledge of a skyscraper, the other in the air, ready to leap. I imagine the tiny people underneath, blissfully unaware of what's about to happen. The wind is picking up, and I see myself free falling before I finally hit the ground with a large thump.
"You cannot kill yourself. " Aurora says, breaking the silence.
"Why the hell not?"
"Tell me why you want to do it"
We stare at the wall. It is white, cracked, the paint peeling off. I know I have to say something or eventually someone will come and look for us and I can’t stand the thought of people seeing me in this state.
I reluctantly scramble some sentences together. She nods. I am surprised. I thought she’d try to talk me out of it.
I guess maybe she understands. Her father dropped dead when she was fourteen. Maybe that’s why she used to cut herself. I feel the distance between us shorten.
"You want to die because life is suffering, right?"
"I guess so."
"But if you kill yourself, you will make things worse. You will ruin my life, that's for sure"
I look up at her. Her blue eyes are tearing up. Oh no. I turn away.
She takes my hand in hers. I feel her palms pressing against mine. Her skin is warm. I could pull away. Instead, I close my eyes again and see my coffin being lowered in a dark pit while she watches it retreat into the soil. My brother and my parents are there too. Dressed in black, their faces are streaked with tears of regret. I see my mother collapse to the ground.
I start to tremble. I feel like someone has pushed me into a room with no doors or windows and now everything demands I must live in it, breathe it, make it bearable. I gasp for air. She offers me an embrace and I let myself fall. She catches me and I feel her hold me, slowly caressing my hair. I give into the darkness.