“No! I will not be silenced!” She waved her fist in the air and sat down hard.
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“Mmm.” He eyed her cautiously, one white eyebrow raising ever so slightly over his glasses.
Tangled trees. White birches by the porch. The birds talked to each other high above their heads. Distant voices rang in the background.
“I just think it’s important to stand for something.”
He put down the book, folded a leaf to keep his place. “Something?”
She picked at her shirt. “Lint,” she muttered. “Yea. I personally believe in yelling back.”
Lips curved, wrinkles deepening. “I think you talk too loud.”
“Ha! You should hear me when I’m mad.”
“Thank god I don’t have to.”
Something flashed yellow in dark eyes. Her teeth were so new that they threatened to slice right through her young skin. She scratched the side of her head, wound hair around her fingers, round her slim white neck.
“How old are you?”
He took off his glasses, wiped them on his shirt. “Well now, for people that don’t know each other, that’s an awful lot of information to be wanting.”
“I’m 18. And I’ll tell you something. I’m afraid.”
“In a small town like this? I didn’t think that these mountains held any sort of creature to be afraid of.”
She shook her head. “Your lucky.”
He couldn’t help but smile there, straight teeth sliding out under tight lips.
“You’re not afraid of anything.”
“Well now, that’s not too true…”
She sat down, smoothing the lilac skirt over her knees. “Sure it is. You said so yourself.” She glanced up, squinting against the bright sunlight that slanted through the trees.
“I said no such thing.”
“Want to know what I’m afraid of?” She turned her head, looking down the quiet road. A layer of fine sand had settled over everything, resting again after the mid afternoon rush. The lines on her hand stood out in the shadow of the porch, embossed with dust. She held the hand up, brilliant sunshine streaming between fingers. He looked over her the top of her head, put his book on the planks next to him.
“Getting old. Forgetting who I am. Having kids to pay off the debts I get for trying to achieve a dream. Just like that, I don’t want to wake up one day and see how far I’ve fallen. I don’t want a wailing heartache in my stomach for the rest of my life, I don’t want to drown it in food and alcohol and mindless smiles and trivial information. You know? Laughing off aggression…”
The hand flexed, found its way back to her lap.
“No one! No one said a goddamn word to me. I mean, I grew up ordinary. Not a word then, not a word last year, last week. In fact, no one has said a word to me all day.”
“Well, I think you scared ‘em off.”
He cleared his throat. “Did you know, that after 22 years of marriage, my parents split up?”
“That must have been ages ago.” She saw him look away, brushing at the short hair that was cropped close to his temples.
She traced a pattern in the dust, spirals and lines that crisscrossed like fingerprints. She knew she made him hurt, and awkwardness cut through her, a thorn in her palm. She couldn’t attempt to apologize.
“I never thought that would happen. Specially not back then – you got married, you were in it for life. My pa was almost in his 60’s. I thought for sure it would kill him. Heart attack. I used to think that that pain he felt would have strangled all of him by the time she got her stuff out of there.
My ma, she found a younger guy. I never went to visit their house. It wasn’t my house, not even on Easter.”
Children clattered down the wide stairs, laughing and tumbling past the pair on the porch. She turned towards the man.
“Still, you didn’t tell me what you were afraid of.”
“Oh no?” He put his spectacles back on, picked up his book. “I guess I’ve never thought about what I was afraid of. I had so much to love, there wasn’t enough time or thought to spare to fear anything. I do have certain things, I suppose, buried deep inside. But nothing so simple as being afraid to turn into something else.”
He opened his book back up, and made sure she was listening as he traced a line on the soft page.
‘How could you leave me like that!? How could I have thought that you’d be here forever? And now there is nothing to keep me safe in this cruel world… And the light shall fade from the moon, and the sun shall be eclipsed by the night that my misery creates.’
“Don’t let your fears blind you to life. It is important to stand for something, but don’t let yourself be carried away on a crusade to explain why you are the way you are. Don’t fear change. As much as my parents leaving killed me, I saw the world in a different way, and if I hadn’t been shocked into seeing what I saw I might have never left this town. I might have never realized that I only found peace here, in my home.”
She felt the sun on her hair, the breeze blowing cool beside her.
“You know,” he continued, “I didn’t think I was afraid of anything. When my ma and pa called it quits, I found out that scared me to death. And was that ever a blow to my pride.” He sat in silence, and slowly read through another page. His thumb paused before he turned the paper.
“But you know, it came and went. Life went on. And I thought I would die when they left each other. The funny thing is… I used to be so scared, so scared of dying. They left, I died, I think, and I came back to life. And it wasn’t bad at all.”