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       Unspeakable, p.5

           Erika Rummel
 
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AFTER TWO hours of marching along the dirt road, I come to an eccentric sprawl: two cabins and a trailer on concrete blocks. The place is deserted. I guess people come out only on the weekend. I try the door of the cabin. It’s locked. I rattle the windows, trying to force them up. The sashes won’t budge. I walk over to the trailer. The windows are cracked and the door is swinging back and forth in the wind. The inside is gutted and smelling faintly of urine. There is nothing here for me. I move on to the cabin across the road and manage to open a window. It’s the tilting kind, but when I angle the pane parallel to the ground, it leaves only a narrow opening. I measure it against my shoulder span. It looks wide enough. I reach through the opening with my arms first, then follow through with my head turned sideways. I need something to hold on to, a counterweight to pull my body through. I get hold of a table. But it’s not heavy enough. It moves toward me. Still, holding on to one corner and tugging at it, gets me a bit further in. My upper body is inside. Now I’m afraid I’ll get stuck and end up suspended in mid-air. But the table has moved as far as it will go and is anchored against the wall, giving me leverage. I manage to wiggle through. My hips hang up for a breath-stopping moment, then I land on the table top with a thump. When I stand up, my shoulders feel sore, but after a few rotations, they are fine.

  I look around. It’s a nice cabin, with a kitchenette, table and chair on one side, and a sofa bed on the other, covered with a red duvet. I open the cabinets: there are edibles – canned soup, tuna, crackers, sugar, instant coffee, cereal, and mouse droppings, or at least I think that’s what the black pellets are. There is an under-counter fridge, which is pretty much empty. It contains only a jar of pickles, a bottle of Gatorade and two cans of Coke. But there is a carton of bottled water sitting on the floor. I can last here for a long time. To celebrate, I open the can of tuna and eat it with some crackers. I drink the whole bottle of Gatorade, I’m so thirsty. Then I dig into the cereal and eat it dry because there’s no milk. Afterwards I am still hungry. I warm up a can of soup and spoon it right out of the pot into my mouth until I feel the liquid slosh inside me and know I’ve had enough.

  I go outside, carry a folding chair to the roadside and sit, blinking sluggishly into the sun. Maybe someone will come by and give me a ride to the police station in Twentynine Palms. While I’m waiting, I think of Tony. The mouse droppings I saw in the kitchen cabinet reminded me of the mice in Tony’s pet shop and of the time he came to our house for dinner, when I was a kid. He was working at my father’s ad agency then. I liked Tony right away. He was a sweet, dopey-eyed man with a narrow face and full lips the colour and texture of muteness, dusky purple, soft, and slow to part. We had something in common: an unwillingness to talk. But Tony made himself talk. One strand of his hair kept falling over his eyes. He swept it back with an upward motion of his head and pushed out sentences in response to my parents’ questions. The words came from his lips piecemeal, interrupted by throat-clearing. I wasn’t sure what to make of Tony’s reticence. Was it awkwardness? Was he suffering from a physical handicap, something like a stutter, but more comprehensive? Was he another lopsided creature like myself, born too late? Or were there people who held back for strategic reasons, because they were in the middle of thinking, searching their brains backward and forward for the right words? Perhaps you can only speak fluently once you have finished thinking and know your subject by heart.

  After I was excused from the table, I discreetly hovered, fascinated by Tony’s

  reserve. I wanted to see how it would play out. I listened to the halting conversation in the living room, the slow procession of sentences, the negative spaces around my father’s responses, the pauses that developed as Tony failed to contribute his share of words. I became aware of the rhythm of conversation, the ebb and flow, the rush of words crowding the air when my father asked questions, Tony’s shallow responses, and afterwards the charm of silence, the emptiness allowing anyone to insert anything they liked or simply setting their minds adrift. But my parents didn’t appreciate silence, and Tony wasn’t invited back.

  For a long time I hung on to the photographic presence Tony had left in my mind. I was hoping to see him again one day, run into him by chance. I was filled with longing for his silence. I wanted to observe again the movement of his reluctant lips, the way he pursed them before speaking.

  A few months later his name came up during dinner. Mom asked how he was doing.

  “Tony?” Dad said. “He quit. He couldn’t handle the job.”

  “So what’s he doing now?” Mom asked.

  Dad shrugged. “No idea. We haven’t kept in touch.”

  Nothing more was said of Tony, but I spun a story around him, set him up in an airy place in my mind, a kind of chapel, and filled him with delicate, kind and noble sentiments. Thinking of Tony relieved for a moment the longing I felt for him. I kept working on his portrait until he was perfect, a man of loving kindness, a saint come to life, bending down to me smiling, caressing my cheek. It was a chaste fantasy. I felt true love for my saint.

 
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