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Silent Collections

The night's western heat was strangely oppressive; a solid, dry heat. Even with the doors open and the fans whirring, the air settled heavily all around us. The Monday holiday was over and the clock ticked away, already an hour past the time when fourth graders should be sleeping. But what could I say to her? She was no more able to sleep than I was, feeling buried deep in the evening lungs of late May.

"Awake..?" Her voice rang out into the room through the cracked door. I had known that she had been standing there for nearly five minutes, contemplating the right phrase, deciding whether or not to test the darkness for another sleepless mind.

"Yeah," I could feel her awaiting the invitation," wanna come lay down in here instead of your room?"

She bounded in, bouncing the bed jubilantly.

"Sorry," she chirped, but I could sense her smile beaming somewhere in the shadows beside me. She tried to get under the single sheet where I lay, but as she wiggled, her legs became increasingly tangled. I sighed and smiled to myself, lifting the twisted sheet and tossing it over us in a cool rush of air.

"Sing to me, Jess?" she asked, but the question slid out more like a wince.

"...sure...what do you want to hear first?"

"Ummmm...I See the Moon."

I had been singing her the same repertoire of six lullabies since she was baby, something I had begun as a way to connect the two of us despite our 13 year age difference. It had come to the point that she rarely asked me to sing to her anymore, but now as she asked me, I knew that this was more meaningful than it had been in the past. She wasn't merely asking to hear some songs that would preface her dreams, she was asking for a salve to help her nurse some unseen wound. And I hoped with distinct clarity that singing those songs to her, the same ones that our mother had sung to me many years before, would perhaps allow me to purge a poisonous feeling of fear and tension that I had been carrying for many months as well.

And thus my baby sister and I lay, becoming progressively more tangled in the languid span of each other’s arms, while I went through each and every lullaby I'd ever learned. When I had finally worked through them all, we were both still wide awake, wishing that the songs had actually managed to ease the unspoken ache in our marrow. With the silence gently prodding me, the compulsion to comfort my lovely child, a mirror image of my pre-teen self, overcame me.

I spoke to her as a sister, and moreover friend, explaining that the road ahead of her would be an arduous navigation through adolescence and young adulthood, but that no matter her mistakes and misfortunes, I would interminably be there to stand beside her and behind her. I hoped to create a foundation of raw honestly that would guide us through decades of hardships ahead. My words wound on and on, until I finally remembered the ticking of the clock.

It was nearly midnight.

I allowed the weight of all I had said settle about us in the confines of the stuffy apartment, fans uselessly whirring the thick air back and forth in a leisurely ping-pong match. At last, as I felt her breathing ease into a routine, I kissed her forehead and slid out of bed, headed for the bathroom. I flicked on the shallow light and was taken aback by the mirrored aspect that met my gaze. For a moment, I saw her face peering back from my own eyes. And although she had not made a single sound during my exhaustive monologue to her, I could now see that my t-shirt was streaked with tears where her head had rested against me.

And as my tears subsequently fell, soaking and intermingling with those already present in the weave of my shirt, I felt weakness sweeping through me. The innocence was gone; this child was a child no more.

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'A word after a word after a word is power.' 

-Margaret Atwood

The English language was the only instrument I was ever meant to play in this life. Stories and poems are a way of letting the air into rooms that have long been left unvisited. Whatever may have brought you here today, I hope the journey resonates with you.

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