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The Silence

by Christopher Hivner


I sat awkwardly on the wooden bench, the fresh coat of white paint smooth beneath my hands that rested on the edges of the seat.

All around me in the pristine brightness of the shopping mall patrons acted out the modern-day equivalent of hunter-gathering. The bench was stationed outside the hair salon, and on it I awaited the calling of my name and the simple displeasure of a haircut. The bench was a part of a circle of four benches facing each other and right now one person occupied each bench. We were all trapped. Trapped in the awkward silences that make up most of the world.

Sitting no more than twenty feet apart from each other, our bodies shifted and our eyes darted from place to place, every so often briefly connecting. The woman to my right was bored, as witnessed by her dull eyes and frequent sighs. Next to her sat an empty wheelchair which belonged to her elderly grandmother who was in the salon.

Directly in front of me sat a smug, college-age man who, for reasons that escaped me, had his sweat shirt on inside out, the tag jutting out like a growth on his neck whenever he swiveled his head. And directly to my left sat a seemingly pleasant, plain-faced mother waiting for her son to finish his haircut.

I crossed my legs and leaned back hard against the bench looking ostensibly straight ahead, but my focus was to the left of the college man. I watched an attractive young woman and her even more attractive mother walk into the large clothing store sitting next to the hair salon.

We four strangers, connected by stolen glances, were all fighting the same battle of whether to speak or stay silent. We sat back, we sat forward, crossed our legs, shuffled our feet, lay our hands across our laps, then stretched them across the backs of the benches. I could feel the stretched silence form around us into a bubble. Our eyes bounced from one another and then to the fortunate ones outside our cell. College Boy stared at two passing girls, pleading with his eyes for their help. Granddaughter looked anxiously into the hair salon to see if her grandmother was finished yet. Mother stared at me, then the floor, and back to me again until I briefly met her gaze and then the floor regained her focus.

The bubble tightened, sealing around us. The strain showed most on the bored woman. Her face was suddenly taut, mouth closed so tightly she seemed to be in pain. Her eyes burst up from the floor, bouncing from College Boy to me, to the mother, and all around the mall. Searching for help, for anyone. Her hands unfolded from her lap, imploring. Her mind flashed out to me. I could hear her voice screaming in desperate wails. “Say something, talk to me, please!” The pressure inside the bubble was too great. I was pinned to my seat like an insect to paraffin. My mouth would not open, half formed words ebbed and flowed in my throat. The woman’s eyes, teary and puffed, looked to the mother for solace, but the mother was already crying on her own, shoulders sagging from the unbearable weight depressed onto us.

I looked across to see College Boyís attempts at flagging attention from anyone outside the bubble. But the shoppers passed by him and us, completely unaware of our suffering. If we could only speak to one another.

My hands covered my ears, trying to block out the silence as it built to a roar, smooth and raw with power. Thoughts from each of the other three pierced my mind. Bored Woman screamed, “Talk to me!” over and over in a voice weakened by fear. College Boy released a string of expletives, clawing at the bubble with his mind. Mother mewed quietly like a child.

My own mind was fighting to open my mouth to speak. I knew now that if just one word was spoken, the bubble would die. But the silence continued to hold us. I couldn’t concentrate with the five voices ricocheting about my brain. Then there were no more words, just a deep bellow. For whatever reason, we turned toward College Boy.

His mind melted, streaking out his nostrils in a clear, thick liquid. His body shook out of control, arms and legs flailing. I jerked when his last thought hit my mind. “The world is mine,” he shouted fiercely, then repeated it in a voice of final plea. “The world is mine.”

The bubble opened behind him, reshaped itself quickly around his body, and ate him. The bench sat empty. I could see beyond it into the clothing store. No one looked our way, no one cocked a head as though they may have heard something. College Boy was gone. The bubble undulated.

I stopped trying to communicate with Mother and Granddaughter. It took everything I had to keep the silence at bay. It worked at my mind, taking away things I needed. For an instant I couldn’t breathe.

Suddenly, I couldn’t think of even the simplest thing. My eyes darted all over the mall. I tried to remember where I was. I took a breath and felt again the constriction on my whole body, a giant plastic wrap. The tug of war swept back and forth in my mind until I felt a release of pressure. The silence had shifted its attention to Granddaughter.

Her body was still, lying rigidly on the seat of the bench. Her feet were being erased. Inch by inch she was disappearing before my eyes. Then I saw the slit in the bubble. Like a zipper being closed, it moved up the length of Granddaughter’s body, taking her away. In desperation I tried again to shout to her. I tried mentally to reach her; but she had closed down.

Before Granddaughter had completely disappeared, I turned to Mother. She was doing no better. Still crying softly, her hands were clenched tightly in her lap. Trying to reach out to her, my mind met hers and exchanged thoughts in a jumble of information. I told her to hang on, to keep fighting. I told her the silence wasn’t going to take me. I had always liked being alone, not talking to anyone, thinking through ideas. I knew silence well.

Slowly I sensed that Mother, too, was going to win her fight. She wasn’t as closed down as I thought. In fact, she wasn’t scared. Though married and mother of a teenage son, she was often alone. She didn’t like the silence, didn’t seek it out, didn’t look forward to it but wore it like an old sweater. She was crying because it was all too familiar.

We sat separately, our minds locked together. The bubble tightened its grip. We let go, mother and I. Let the silence in, freed it to spread in our minds. It settled over us, sending tendrils out from the center, feeling for weakness. But I welcomed it, talked to it, lay down in it like a field of wildflowers, stared at it like the stars on a clear night. Mother continued to cry but let the silence in to make itself at home.

I don’t know how long we sat, eyes closed, on the benches in the middle of the busy shopping mall. Mother gently pressed her hand to mine and I woke from the relaxed coma. She lingered in front of me a moment, already backing away. Before her son and turned with his fresh haircut to see what was the hold up. Softly I said goodbye, and she smiled.

My name was probably called soon after, but I was not there to hear it. Instead I left the bench and strolled around the mall. I walked close to groups of people who were conversing and eventually settled at a table in the food court. For once I wanted to be surrounded by voices and noise in all its chaos. For once I wanted to avoid the silence.



Christopher Hivner - Over the past 5 years Chirstopher has had stories and poems published in the on-line magazines: The Blue Lady, The Orphic Chronicle, House of Pain, Frightnet, Shadowfeast, Penny Dreadful, The Ultimate Unknown, The Black Abyss, Vortex of the Macabre, Shadowdance, The Inflated Graveworm, Dark Angel, Mindmares, Outer Darkness and others.


January 2000