I look out and find a quiet has fallen during the night. I stand on my doorstep taking it in. I don’t move. There’s so little of it, no more than a dusting over the houses. I turn to call you, but, of course, you’re not here. Even if you were, you wouldn’t hear me. I cough and no sound comes out.
It’s not fully light yet. The street’s dark, other than the odd lamplit window where someone’s probably trying to fall back to sleep or is wondering if they should give up and make porridge. There’s no one around but a dog and a woman with shoes that remind me of raindrops. You never liked her because of her swanky shoes. A dick move, you said, out here with all these wild lanes.
Lately, I nod to the woman some mornings. I’ve considered saying hi, but I’ve got that nod just right. I nod and she smiles across my gate. The small dog sniffs and barks puffs. She calls him with a whistle. I see her mouth pucker into the shape of whistling anyway, but only silence flows off her lips. It looks like a fire put out.
I step towards the footpath and freeze. It’s as if the quiet has wound around my feet and is holding me still. It’s the same for her, I think, she should have moved on by now, jogged on with those footsteps born of avoiding puddles. She just stands there looking at me, quiet rising in the air. I watch it and picture a quiet that fell once before. I’m swept into it. Buried.
It was years ago. We were driving home from a party when the quiet started. You said it was the same as one that laid when you were fourteen, but I’d never seen anything like it. A quiet so dense I could barely get out of the car. The kids struggled to plod through it to school, the whole house was knee-deep in it. We moved like pushing through cotton wool. I lay awake at night and felt sticky webs of it glue us to our bed.
It dissolved suddenly, with you yelling up the stairs, ‘Hey, it’s gone. Let’s have a party.’ We got on with work, choir, football practise, the volume of life turned higher each year. But occasionally, I’d find flecks in my pockets. I’d dab it on in public places. Bob showed you his conservatory, palm on the small of your back, while I peeled prawns with his wife, and I sucked those flakes of quiet for all I was worth. I stopped finding it when you got sick. I hushed and every word sounded like prayer, but it wasn’t this.
This quiet drifts out of my doorway and ties the street in knots. The woman picks up her dog, rubs his silky ears and looks me in the eye. My mouth fills with a marshmallow sensation, something swollen and soft I once used to be able to press between my gloves. It was so downy, but firm in my fingers I felt I could make it whatever I liked. I’m no longer sure I can do that. I look at the woman with the dog and mouth what I think is hello, but I don’t know without hearing myself. The quiet keeps falling and falling, coating the street. I don’t know when it will stop. The woman wades through it, taking a footstep towards my door. We look around, the sky growing lighter around us. The birds wake and morning breaks like someone so wounded they can’t cry out.
© Angela Readman
[This piece was selected by Sara Crowley. Read Angela’s interview]