Saturday, October 27, 2007

Silence is Deadly (Written in 2004)

They eat alone at the same table. Neither appears aware of the other, totally engrossed in their reading. Slight sounds of disgust come from his end of the table from time to time as he reads the afternoon paper. Seemingly absorbed in her novel, she looks away from it only long enough to pick out the next morsel from her plate. Neither has turned a page for the last ten minutes. They eat slowly, deliberately, quietly, as if in a backwards race to see who can finish last. Finally she gets up from the table. As she carries her unfinished plate to the kitchen, she stares at the floor in front of her while passing his end of the table, almost as if she expects the hardwood boards to buckle and trip her as she walks.

He drops his fork to the plate as soon as she leaves the room. Lowering the newspaper he stares at the partially eaten meal in front of him. Seeing something other than his abandoned chicken and potatoes, he seems lost in his own mind. Sadness, anger, frustration alternately pass across his face. Cradling his head in his hands, he closes his eyes. He hears her in the kitchen, scraping the remains of her dinner into the trash.

After rinsing her plate and glass, she loads them into the dishwasher. Her face controlled, she begins putting away the remains of the meal. Wiping down the stovetop and counters, she stops for a moment, leaning on the counter, head bowed in seeming defeat. Covering her face with her hands, every inch of her clenches. Hearing him stir in the next room, she turns back to her cleaning.

Calm now, with a neutral face, he carries his dishes into the kitchen. Her back is to him and for a few moments he watches her methodically wiping every inch of countertop with deliberate slowness, as if it were a meditation. He leans toward her lifting his hand, his face twisted with indecision. Emotions again play across his face as he stands frozen, watching her wipe the same stretch of counter over and over. For a moment, sadness seems to win and he starts toward her. As if she can sense his decision, she tenses, briefly pausing in her cleaning. He stops, the sadness disappearing from his face, quickly replaced with anger. He turns and dumps the remains of his dinner into the trash, throwing his empty beer bottle in behind it with a loud thud. He drops his plate to the counter, silverware rattling, and stalks out of the kitchen.

Only then does she turn away from her cleaning, tears puddling in her eyes. She leans back against the counter, arms crossed, hugging herself. Looking up at the ceiling, she bites her lip as the tears stream down her face. Racked with sobs, she drops her head into her hands and weeps. Some time later she lifts her head, eyes dry but full of misery. The sweet scent of burning tobacco floats in the air and the sounds of the street below drift in from the balcony. She moves to the living room, watching him from behind.

He leans on the railing, staring at the glowing tip of his cigarette. The anger is gone now from his face, sadness has won over. He senses her watching him. Aching to turn to her, he watches the street below, wondering if any of those tiny people have the same barbed wire wrapped around their hearts. He decides to go to her and tell her he’s a fool, tell her anything to make the silence end.

Wanting so much to say something, anything, she steps into the night air. Leaning on the railing next to him, she stares at the cars in the street, trying to think of what to say. Feeling his eyes on her she turns and sees her misery reflected in his hazel eyes. A sound, half sob, half sigh escapes her lips and she leans into him, touching her forehead to his. Together they watch the street below, in silence.