|Written by Sylvia Heartz / Artwork by Marge Simon
Silence terrifies me. It has since before I can remember, so it's ironic that I'm mute. The doctors say
there's nothing wrong with my vocal chords or lungs. A psychiatrist my adoptive parents hired said my
'inability to vocalize' might be because of some trauma from when I was really little, like when my bio-
parents died. Oh well. What can I do about it? My 'new' parents are awesome and they're all I've known.
They both understand my signing and we also keep pads and boards all over the house so I can write
what I'm thinking. I keep one in my pocket, too. Mom always has music playing in the background and at
night I keep a small fan running in the doorway. Gotta have the noise.
I love the water because when I'm under the surface, there's always noise. It's like static, bubbling and
“You swim like a fish!” my dad says. Swimming lessons were one of the first extra-curriculars my folks
put me in. Not that I needed them. My swimming ability is like my fear of silence: it's always been there.
I'm on the varsity swimming team at my high school—a stupendous feat for a freshman. Brandi didn't
make the cut and now she barely talks to me, but I guess she was drifting away once we got into sixth
grade and I couldn't communicate with any of the girls she'd made new friends with. Mostly, I'm alone. I
listen to a lot of music and swim. That's the extent of my high school social life.
~ * ~
Practice flies by as usual. I love it.
I'm a dolphin in the ocean, singing to my family across the depths—like a siren in that story we read in
Literature. I'm thinking maybe the sirens didn't sing out loud at all. They just swam so gracefully, those
sailors couldn't stop watching them. I flip onto my back and watch the round fluorescents drift by like
hanging comets. All the while, the water rushes past my ears, blotting out the dreaded silence that lurks
at the end of each sound.
Practice is over too quickly.
“Good practice, girls. See you tomorrow—late session” Coach reminds us. We alternate early and late
practice times with the boys' teams.
I change and check my phone. Texting is the best invention ever: _I_ can use it too.
'Going 2 b late. Sorry. C u at 630,' says my dad. He's been working late a lot.
I sigh and go back to the pool to sit on the bleachers and do my homework. There's a lot of noise at
least. Boys' swim practice is in full gear.
“Okay...Greg Price, let's see what you've got,” Mr. Herris says. I look up. It's the new boy. He's a junior,
just transferred to our school from downtown. That's what they say, at least.
He dives in and swims the first lap: a meaty, splashy crawl. But he's fast. I can tell he's good the second
his muscled arms come up, cleaving the water like my mom's hoe through her garden. Some of the boys
snicker, but their laughter stops when the coach hits the timer and announces the result.
“That's great, Greg!” Mr. Herris shouts, “We need to work on some technique, but I think you'll be a
great fit here.”
Before I know it, their practice is over. I check my phone and see it's seven-thirty already! There's a
message from my dad: 'So sorry. B there in 10.' That was from five minutes ago.
I stuff my backpack and get up, stretching. My stomach growls. Mom's going to be mad at Dad for being
so late, but I'm sure he's told her about it already.
“Hey!” Greg's shout echoes along the poolsides.
The boys laugh and brush by him. One of them must have shoved him. Maybe Nick. Nick's the lowest
member on boy's varsity. He's probably worried about his spot.
“What are you looking at?” Greg asks, his gaze on me. I shake my head, shrugging.
His face scrunches up into a mixture of confusion and anger.
“Nita can't talk,” one of the boys says as they fade into their locker room.
Greg's expression fades into one I've seen too many times to count and I feel something I'm not
expecting: disappointment. Another person has written me off as 'that mute girl.'
I trudge down the bleachers. How did this day get so bad so fast?
I go out to the lobby, waiting for my dad's car to appear. I pace, waiting and waiting, and checking my
phone over and over again. Fifteen minutes pass. The boys are done changing and most of them head
out to the parking lot. They're all seniors and juniors; they have cars.
Finally, I see my dad. I get in, slamming the door behind me.
“What's wrong honey?” he asks. I fold my arms and stare out the window. “I'm sorry I'm so late. I
brought you a burger.”
Come to think of it, I did smell something good when I got in. I see it on the console, tucked into its
cardboard box next to a fountain drink.
“Sorry,” I sign and pick up the food.
“That's okay. Guess you had a long day too, huh?”
“Yes,” I nod.
My dad puts the car in gear and we start, but before we get out of the lot, I see something at the edge.
It's Greg standing in the snow outside an older model car. He's pacing and typing into his phone.
I wave at my dad, pointing at the boy.
“Hm? Who's that?” my dad slows down and drives over to him. “Looks like his battery might be dead. It
happens. Let's give him a hand. I have jumper cables in the back.”
“G-R-E-G,” I sign as we pull up, so my dad will know his name.
Greg looks startled when we get out, but he sees it's me and relaxes.
“You're Greg?” my dad asks as he gets out the cables.
“I'm Nita's dad. Need a jump?” he asks, holding out the cables.
Greg looks flabbergasted, but he nods. “Wow, thanks a ton. Nobody's answering at home.”
I stand awkwardly, shifting from foot to foot to make some noise in the quiet parking lot. My fingers
fidget with the paper pad and pen in my coat pocket, but what would I even say to him?
He must be thinking the same thing, because he scratches his close-cropped black hair and practically
sprints to my dad's side to help out with the cables. I follow and watch.
It's all over in a minute and we're headed home.
“What's that big smile for?” my mom asks when we come in.
I shrug and run up to my room to finish up the homework I never got done. The day has suddenly
gotten a lot better.
~ * ~
“Mind if I sit here?” Greg asks. I nod-shake and he sets his lunch tray across from mine. He has such
pretty brown eyes, I barely notice Brandi and her 'new' friends whispering and snickering from the next
“So, you can hear everything, but can't talk,” he asks as he spoons some applesauce.
“That must be rough...not being able to talk.”
I lift a shoulder.
“Used to it,” I sign, but stop myself mid-gesture. Greg doesn't understand.
We eat for a while until he talks again.
“The guys say you're a really good swimmer—one of the top scorers. Maybe...”
I lift my brows.
He smiles and I think it's the nicest thing I've ever seen.
“Maybe you could show me some 'technique', like Coach was saying.”
I nod, trying not to be too enthusiastic. Man...I've heard of crushes. Is this what it's like?
~ * ~
We meet during 'free swim' at the school, claiming a lane to ourselves. After a couple weeks, Greg's time
We go out for pizza after a home meet, victorious. There's laughter and good noise everywhere. I'm so
happy, I can hardly stand it.
“You really helped me, Nita,” he says. This is only the second time we've been out together—outside of
practice. The first time, we got hot chocolate on our way back from Saturday free swim. Greg drove.
I love his car. It's old with red sparkly seats. It smells like barbecue chips and Greg's cologne. So far, it
hasn't broken down again so that's another mark in its favor.
“No problem,” I sign, knowing he'll understand. He's learned a few phrases—especially ones related to
“I really needed to do well tonight. My mom'll flip when she hears.”
I get out my pad and write, 'Will she be at the next meet? I want to meet her.'
Greg's eyes shift, his mood changing the way it almost always does when he talks about his family. I was
surprised when he mentioned his mom at all.
“Naw. She works evenings. But she really...really busted her ass to get me into this school...and us
outta that hellhole we used to live in.”
I pause, debating whether I should write what I'm thinking or not. But I do it anyway.
'What about your dad?'
Greg's lips tighten and I can tell he's grinding his teeth. His face lifts, however, and he reaches over to
grab my hand. I hold my breath, loving how it tingles where his skin touches mine. It's different than all
the times we've touched before. When I show him how to improve his strokes, I often have to guide his
arms. My eyes flit from our hands to his face.
“Never mind that piece of...crap. I'm dying for a slushy. How about you? Wanna go to the Station and
get a blue bomb?”
~ * ~
The store is mostly empty, but the freezers' whir provides a nice background hum. I like it here.
As we stand at the counter to pay, I notice a yellow car pulling up. A bunch of young men get out and
walk around Greg's car before looking in. They see him.
I grab Greg's arm and point.
“Oh...shit!” he says. He takes my hand and pulls me behind a shelf full of chips. “Stay here,” he
whispers, pushing down on my shoulders to get me to kneel out of sight.
“What's up?” I sign.
“It's okay. Just let me handle it.”
He walks away and I listen.
“Gregorio, what's the deal, hm? You park here, thinking no one will know your car in this barrio rico?”
“Hardi,” Greg says. I can hear the other guys circling him. “No. Just out for a slushy.”
“Where'd you go, man? You know,” the guy pauses and when he talks again, his voice makes the hair on
my neck stand up. “No one gets to bail. That ain't how it works. You're a Mort forever.”
I hear rustling and suddenly someone is grabbing my arm.
“Look what I found,” the guy says. He's old, like in his twenties and he's really tall and strong. I try not
to shake, but I know I am.
“She's just buying stuff. You don't need collateral shit,” Greg says, but I see a bead of sweat on his
“Hey, what the hell's goin' on here? You jerks better get outta my store or I'm callin'-” the clerk starts,
but a huge black gun in his face cuts him off.
“Just sit down back there. We'll be outta here in a sec,” the guy with the gun says.
Then the leader punches Greg. It's so fast, I don't know what's happening. I try to scream.
“STOP!” I yell.
They stop. Greg stops. The clerk stops. The freezers stop. No more whirling slushy sculpture on top of
the slushy machine. The clerk's TV switches off. The lights go out.
I'm two years old and I'm screaming. I'm screaming and my parents are falling over. Dead. They're dead.
I made them stop. I made them silent.
~ * ~
I wake up in Greg's car. We're driving. We're stopping.
I jolt upright, flapping my hands, screaming in sign language, “Talk! TALK! No silence! No silence!”
“Okay, okay Nita,” Greg says, taking my flailing fingers in his. His nose is bloody and his eyes look too
wide in his face. He's afraid.
He turns on the radio.
“Where?” I ask after a moment, looking around for the first time.
“We're in your driveway. I took you home.”
“What happened?” I sign, knowing already.
“You tell me,” Greg whispers. “Everything stopped. I woke up first. The other guys were on the floor.
How'd...what'd you do?”
“Nothing!” I sign. I rip my hands out of his grasp, kick open the door, and run into the house. His car
sits in the driveway for a few seconds before he turns on the lights and pulls out.
~ * ~
I sit alone at lunch three days later. I stayed home and my parents were all worried about me. I told
them I felt sick.
I look around for Greg, but he's not there.
I see him after swim practice, when I come out in my sweats.
“Nita, can we talk?” he asks.
I nod slowly and check my phone. My dad will be here in twenty minutes.
We sit in the lobby on a bench together.
“Nita...I'm trying to get my brain around what happened...and I think it must have been some kinda
dream or something. I'm just glad you weren't hurt. And...” he takes my hands and squeezes them, “I'm
really, really sorry that happened. I guess you can't run away from some things. I just wanted to tell you
“No!” I sign, shaking my head. I'm crying.
“Hey...it's okay,” he says and hugs me. I keep shaking my head into his shoulder. When I look up, all I
see is glass shattering. Shattering, gunshots. That yellow car again, right outside.
I look back and see blood on Greg's shirt. He falls off the bench, so heavy I can't stop him.
The car drives away.
I shake him.
Silence. There's no noise in the school. It's late. Everyone else has gone home. Or is it just me? I can't
hear a thing. Only death. Death is silent.
Greg is silent.
He's dead. Just like my parents, after I killed them.
Yes. I killed them.
That's why I can't talk. If I talk, people die.
But they didn't die in the store.
I calm my rapid breathing. There's only one thing to do.
I lick my lips and form the word in my throat.
The author's life is a blaze of activities. She writes novels and
creates artwork for the multi-genre role-playing game, Universal
Horizons. She paints in watercolor and acrylic, while chairing a
community art council. She has other part time jobs and manages
to squeeze in hobbies like cooking, gardening, jogging, and
writing short stories. She's written several novels (outside the
game), which have not yet been published. However, many of her
short stories have been published. One is due to appear in Aoife's
Kiss in September, 2013. Other magazines her work has
appeared in include: Liquid Imagination Online, Silver Blade
Magazine, Every Day Fiction, Golden Visions Magazine, and