Unspeakable

I’ve heard that a name says a lot about a person. I suppose that’s good if one doesn’t have much to say for herself in the first place.

My name is Keladry. I’ve always hated the way the K makes it sound like choking, guttural and grating. It’s like how I choke, like how I stay within myself. Choke on the garbage that clutters my thoughts and pulls me from reality. I don’t try anymore, I hated the feeling of biting back against the mass of trash that would chase away my friends. So I don’t choke anymore. I don’t do anything. I watch and take note of the woes of the world–the treacherous road that I will not deign to trip along anymore.

“Keladry, would you like to share your response to the reading?” The gauzy voice of my English teacher caught on my consciousness, pulling my listless, green gaze to the front of the classroom. Up until that point, I’d been slouching deeply into my gray hoodie, tying the drawstrings into complicated knots and plaiting my mutinous red curls. My goal from the moment I stepped foot in the classroom had always been to make like a chameleon and subtly convince everyone to allow their attention to slide right past me. People tried to strike up conversations with me, but they swiftly caught on and learned to part around my desk like a river crashing around the solemn stone, silent at its center. I suppose people realized that I don’t have the patience to deal with personalities, however cliche and predictable they might be. “Keladry? A few words, perhaps? Read your response to finally meeting Boo Radley.”

I partook in a mutinous staring contest with the top of my desk, a blush expanding to stain my pasty face. I didn’t want to point out that I’d never answered her questions before, in fact I doubted she even knew the sound of my voice. But that was entirely her own fault. She’d developed her own expectations of me as a student, and it really didn’t concern me enough to explain how assuming things about someone is just setting yourself up for disaster. In fact, I was certain I didn’t even belong on her radar. My mother used to tell me I was just pessimistic, albeit to an extreme level. Even then, though, I knew that life simply didn’t line up the way everyone expected it to. They allowed themselves to be carried off by trust, trust that everything would work out in the end. I’ve just figured I’m not the same as everyone–I see what generations upon generations of humans have fooled themselves into ignoring. I knew that if the girl in the green sweater who sits across from me applied for the exchange program to Spain then she would spend a week in bed, crying because she didn’t have the grades to even THINK of applying in the first place. The foolish girl was allowing herself to be tricked into thinking that life was on her side. And I could see that my English teacher had fooled herself into thinking if she talked enough, then all of us would suddenly be smart enough to graduate high school.

“Ms. Stark, I don’t think she plans on answering…” the whir of a whine entrenched the comment voiced by one of my classmates, drawing the attention of the class toward herself. Muttering erupted around me, dispassionate and falsified, but intense in the meaning. Of course they’ve become used to this from me. I suppose one doesn’t share a classroom for three years without adapting to the people there. What they know, and what my teacher cannot accept, is that I refuse to speak to them. I refuse to speak at all. They think they know me already? Thought they had me figured out because I wore a certain colored t-shirt and wore my hair in a particular style. Thought they knew who I was because they knew how to call names from an attendance list. Well, if they’re so certain about who they think I am, what will letting them in change? People don’t change, we’re all fixed. They’re all fixed–captured in place because of an attachment to living with their heads in the clouds. No one actually sees what’s really going on because they refuse to understand what a disappointing existence we are all forced to lead.

“Keladry? Are you positive you don’t have anything? We all would love to hear what you have to say.” Ms. Stark fumbled in her speech, trying relentlessly to draw me out. Like hell I’m leaving. I just stared back at her, rebellion leaving its warm red markers in my cheeks. “No…alright then. Anybody else?” She turned away, but not before I could catch the noticeable crunch in her eyebrows and dip to her lips. Have I disappointed you, Ms. Stark? Oh, please do excuse me.

“Boo Radley is a creeper.” One girl ahead of me called out, thrusting her copy of To Kill a Mockingbird in front of her chest. “He just kinda watches them, but he can’t, you know, do anything. It’s just plain weird. What the hell does he get from spying on little kids? What good is he to anyone if he just slouches about not even speaking for like, the entire book? It’s like everyone is paying attention to him, for the whole story, but he doesn’t even deliver in the end!” The girl, brown hair tucked prettily behind her ear, shot me a gruesome smirk, heavily mascaraed lashes batting in a combative way. Well shows what she knows about people. Had I actually cared enough to let myself be baited, I would’ve slapped that smile off of her face. Boo Radley isn’t a creeper. He’s careful–smart. He was looking out for himself and recognized the mess that the town was dealing with. Self-preservation by isolation. I happen to approve of him.

The class went on to discuss the possible intentions the author had by saving his appearance until the end. I tuned them out and was out of the door as the bell began to ring. Turning into the side hallway to make my way to an empty classroom for lunch, I nearly collided with the broad chest of a boy from my English class. “Oh, it’s you. The mute.” he rolled his shoulders, a hostile frown clutching the bulge of his chubby cheeks. “You know, we all know the real reason you don’t speak. You think you’re better than us, smarter than us. You don’t even bother to answer, and the teacher just lets it slide by. But you know what that makes you? A self-righteous bitch who doesn’t realize her place in this school.” He leaned forward, a leer painting his words. “You’re like a zombie, walking around with nothing to say, nothing to do. You’re just a waste of space. It’s stupid.” He gave me a rough shove and stalked down the hallway. I realized that I didn’t even know what his name was. And for a brief second, I felt something in my stomach, like a burn. It hurt, so I quickly turned myself to stone and paced away quietly. Way too dangerous to get worked up.

At the end of the day, pushing past the mahogany door to my house, I felt nothing. Or at least, I tried to feel nothing. Through the entrance to the kitchen, I heard my mother’s tinny voice, raised in a provocative giggle. When I passed by the kitchen, she lifted her hand and gave a two-fingered flap, acknowledging my presence. I stuck out a thumb in return, dumping my backpack and flinging myself into the den to sprawl out on the couch. A few minutes later, she appeared in the doorway, arms crossed and reclining against the frame. “Keladry, baby, how was school?”

I gave her what she expected: nothing. My mother is good for one thing at the very least–she couldn’t care less about the responses to anything she said. She felt good for going through the motions, even if she spoke to me with only one half of her consciousness. Giving a small dazed smile, she flowed into the room. She eased herself into the crisp chair across from my couch and placed a small hand on my knee. I could tell she was a little tipsy, but ever since dad left, that always seemed to be the case. Watching my mother sway in her seat as she continued to blab at me, I wondered how she was still going on. She still talked to her friends, still made a decent wage at her job, and still tried to connect with her unresponsive daughter. Sometimes I admired her, but mostly I pitied her.

I was the product of a marriage built on secrets. My eyes had gazed many nights on the dark and silent form of my father as he crept out of the house, his eyes winking with a heady greed as he scanned the room for life. Mom never even connected our increasing debts with a husband who happened to have loose fingers, our money falling from limp palms to clatter against the felt green of a poker table. She trusted him, trusted herself to have changed his addictive leaning. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal if I just managed to bring us all to the same page of the warped novel that our lives wrote, independently of each other. So I let the secrets spill from my too eager mouth, falling in a stream of innocence tainted with the message of corruption. I rotted through the ties that held my family together, my words applied the force to my mother’s hand as she signed the document promising divorce. My words, riding on thoughtless childish ideals of truth and honesty, crushed my mother and sent my father scurrying away. What a stupid, loose mouth. And I knew that my voice had been the one to call disaster to our door. It spurred a severe lock-down, new locks on the door, high-security locks on my voice and I kept the key far out of my reach, where I wouldn’t be tempted. I would never be the cause of such sorrow again. I gave up on talking, because I know what it can lead to.

Mom still hoped, though. She went on dates and tortured herself in front of the mirror to put together outfits that would convince her latest beau to pop the big question. And every time she came home with her mascara laying siege to her dolled up face, and hysterical sniffing bouts as she recounted her failure once again.

“Keladry, you listening sweetheart?” Her bright eyes locked on mine, drink making hers a little out of focus. I nodded gently, swiftly touching the hand that was still on my knee as confirmation. There are times when I wish I could say something to her. She hasn’t heard my voice in seven months–seven months she has lived for both of us, talked for both of us. But whatever I say will just hurt her more. If I were to start speaking to her, my tongue would whip its way through caustic phrases, helping her to see what’s what, but crushing her down in the process. I love my mother, but I don’t think she’s as strong as me. My emotional muscles have strained for many months, bulking up and creating a powerful shield.

“I was thinking it would be fun to do something for your birthday, and I know you haven’t really connected,” her eyes blistered at me for a moment, an admonishment in the clearest sense, “to anyone at your school, so I was thinking I could get some family friends and take you out to have some fun. What do you say?” Her grip on my knee tightened, the pads of her fingertips pressing deeply into my skin. I briefly wondered if her fingerprints would leave a mark. I shrugged uncomfortably, a dent wresting my eyebrows down into a frown. “Please baby, do it for your mama. You need a little fun, you never do anything, talk to anyone…baby, what’s the point of even living if you don’t do anything above just functioning?” Her words slipped into me, clawing at my brain and slathering my stone heart in a contemptuous fire. Why did they just sound like an echo of the same argument shoved in my face at school? I glanced up at her, the smile that was meant to entice me curling in a way that teetered in a demented expression. I was unable to do anything but nod numbly.

“Ready? Hup!” I cringed as I watched my mother jump from the twenty-five foot platform, dangling in limp fear from the gauze wrapped bar of the flying trapeze. She plunged through the air, whipping up before she grazed the mat below her and arcing all the way to the zenith of the swing. My knuckles cramped from clawing so hard onto the metal folding chair beneath me, and I watched the woman who birthed me screech in delight as she wrapped her knees up over the bar, letting go and hanging like that, her arms raised above her head as a grin nearly split her face into two parts. There was no way I was going to do that. I didn’t have a Twinkie’s chance in a school cafeteria of surviving that sort of experience. And while my life may be inconsequential to everyone around me, and perhaps I don’t have the right to even care anymore, I know a death sentence when I see one. I guess that was my mother’s plan all along, it would be so easy…it would be just like an accident. Death by flying trapeze. Props to her for the irony of doing it on my birthday too.

She stumbled down from the mat, chattering seventy miles a minute. When she spotted my set face she flung her arms around me. It took me a moment to realize her clumsiness was just due to the thrill of the trapeze, and not induced by intoxication. I suppose she just wanted to remember this day and all its gory details…she could keep it in her mind forever, watch as her baby girl’s neck snapped. I blew a gust of air from my nose, leaning away from the woman who was trying to kill me. “Baby, you just have to go next!”

The skin on my pale cheeks went taut as I opened my mouth in a silent ‘O’ of protest. My hair flew about my face as my opinion was made clear. Hopefully. My mom spread her warm palm on my cheek, brushing the hair from my eye. “Honey, you don’t have to worry, it’s a liberating experience. Just don’t think about it. Let yourself go!” She giggled and gave me a slap on the rear. “Go on girlie, get your butt up there.”

My glare, supposed to burn, was ignored dutifully as she towed me to the foot of the ladder reaching up into the expanse of rigging high above my head. I hadn’t realized she needed serious medical attention until this point. Sure, she was always a little off, but I never understood the depth to her insanity. She expected me to let myself go? Forget the consequences? As if I could do that…to ignore the results of such a hair-brained attempt at a frivolous dip into excitement. I stopped talking because I was aware of the reactions that every action drew out. I realized that without looking forward, I was destined to crash over and over again. And crash I would if I consented to jump off a platform looming many feet above the ground.

All this ran through my head even as my hands circled gingerly around the bars, hoisting myself up the vertical path to my doom. I knew it was a softness toward my mother that controlled my rusty limbs, and inching onto the small ledge I tried to get my mouth to move, to voice my protests. Nothing. And as I was ushered into place, deft hands locking me in, I dropped the resistance. There was nothing I could do, I was frozen in life, just like every other sap around me. I didn’t have a choice anymore, I had to trust that I wouldn’t die. Forced into life, what a ridiculous notion.

Wait.

My actions weren’t my own anymore. I was lifted from any responsibility that my thinking always placed on me. I couldn’t just trust myself to get through this–I needed to fill out the deflated shell that was my person and grab onto those around me. Tentatively, I smiled and tried to revel in the weightlessness that embraced me. I clutched the gauze wrapped bar in front of me brazenly, rolling my hips forward and pulling my shoulders back. At the call, I bent my knees, feeling the muscles slide to accommodate my movements.

And I jumped.

Wing tugged at my bangs, forcing them along the contours of my cheeks, stretched to consummate the dredges of a scream that tore from my throat. My gangling body was suddenly whipping through nothing, through air, and I felt a flash of brilliance that swept through me at the sensation of beating gravity. I was flying and I could see everything that I was forced to leave on the ground. My attitude was there, sulking by my mother as I swung without the weight of my worries. As I reached the peak of my swing, I felt a strident yank on my elbows, curling around my forearm and up into the digits clawing at the bar. That was when I realized that perhaps such a change of outlook was a little too abrupt, a little too soon. I could tell as I witnessed the reverberating of pain down my arm that my grip was wrong, my rash bout of confidence inspiring a carelessness that I was unaccustomed to. And without further ado, the bar decided to rip itself from my lax grip. The momentum from my swing carried my frozen body into the knotted apron that simultaneously bowed to allow my body to crash while also pressing harsh resistance against my skin. Too late I felt the tug at my waist signaling the attempts of the man pulling lines to yank me forcibly from harm. I tumbled to the mat, heels over crown, until I stopped, spread-eagled on surface. I just breathed as I felt myself melt into the cushioned support. I tried to let my anger and panic melt along with my body, but they refused. Adamantly.

“What the hell was that?!” My voice was feathered and lacquered with heavy misuse—a layer of dust seemed to rise into the air. Had we been in a cartoon I would’ve expected a loud creak to accompany the use of my jaw. My mother allowed a small exhalation to pass by hanging cherry lips. Her trembling hand reached out to me and I swatted it away, anger still tainting my features.

“Baby…”

“No! I could’ve died! You can’t just shrug it off like you do with everything else. This is my life we’re talking about…a stupid, careless mistake and I almost—”

“Are you…okay?” Her tentative question soared on a much stronger voice. It seemed to ask something different from me. Was I okay? What did she even mean by ‘okay’?

“I’m sure my wrist—”

“No, Baby, bones and muscles will heal. I meant are you okay? Are you broken forever? Can’t you still go on?” She came forward to embrace me a shaking hand fingering the strands of my hair. “You’re still alive. You didn’t die—a careless mistake led to a bit of pain…but aren’t we all tough enough to handle a little pain?”

Suddenly I was back in my mother’s arms that first day after the divorce. She held me the same way, like she didn’t want to even have enough space to breathe. Together our chests moved and she tried not to cry, but I felt the tremors around her shoulders—I imagined I could feel the tremors in her heart as well. Back then I couldn’t even see straight, think straight, or feel straight. All I knew was that I had messed up. I had messed up and to me the entire world seemed like it had died, so I assumed that I had gone ahead and perished as well. Had it really never occurred to me…?

“I’m…okay. Right?”

My mother laughed; it was a sad laugh that tugged on bitterness to give it body, but it shook her whole body and I felt it rattle me to and fro. I felt my heart beating, I felt it moving with my torso and I wondered how I had even managed to function when it was so wrapped up in the dust of my delusion. “Sweetie, I can’t answer that for you.”

I felt stupid. It was frustrating to realize how much stronger than me my mother was. Had she waited this whole time for me? Tears taunted the edges of my vision so I closed my eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“You wouldn’t listen. Even when I yelled. But it’s okay now. You’re okay, I’m okay. We are both okay–the family is okay…we just have a sprained wrist that needs a doctor’s attention, maybe we’ll have to invest in an Ace Bandage. But now, I suppose you have the voice to go and ask for one, yeah?”

“That and maybe some cough drops…”

“You’ll get used to it.” Were the words she left me with as she clapped me on the shoulder and went to jump off the platform again. I just watched as she flew—and every time she touched the ground again, she would smile at me as if to prove it.

Jenan Jacobson
Age 15, Grade 10
Writopia Lab
Unspeakable

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