Excerpt from the novel 70% acrylic 30% wool, 2011.
December continued with no hitches really, except for the fact that it stubbornly began afresh when it got to the thirty-first. But it was all for the best, who can stand those New Year’s Day lunches anyway.
And my mother continued not to talk. Not even when my grandmother called from Italy—a perverse ritual that she inau- gurated when I purchased a wall-mounted telephone. I’d say, “Here she is,” and hang the receiver back on the wall, where it remained for the duration of the call.
I was confused. One expects people to talk. One expects many things from human beings.
“C’mon, Mamma, let’s go out. Please. I’ll take you to buy some sheet music.”
She replied with her eyes. Like a child behind an aquarium, I observed her obtuse hibernations on the sofa. Lying there supine, she would open and close her eyes, study the ceiling, and then turn on her side and start on the walls.
“Mamma, should I get you some green tea?”
I came back with the teacup and she was still lying on her
side. She sat up and I sat down next to her. I asked if she want- ed more sugar and waited for some kind of reply, a look, or a nod, anything really. Even her breath becoming vapor I found had meaning as smoke signals.
“Mamma, should I call someone to fix the heaters?”
“Do you want more spaghetti?”
“Should I leave this on or put on a DVD?”
Every question came back to me like a boomerang. “This is
all wrong,” I told her again, and she gazed at the spider climb- ing on the ceiling. “How are you this morning?” and she closed her eyes. “Do you want your milk warm or cold?” and she went to the bathroom. “That actress has gotten really old, right?” and she bit her nails.
Certain days it seemed she was competing with objects at who could go longer without making noise. She would station herself in front of the fridge and just stand there. She always won.
My voice was a shameful promontory jutting out from her silence.
When a colleague of hers, a violinist, discovered why she had quit playing she said, “You’re a fool to throw your life away like that.” My grandmother would say the same thing over the telephone, but I would smile. By then, I was part of it, too.
Nobody understood: it’s words themselves that are antithet- ical to life. They’re born in your head, you nurse them in your throat, and then you spray your voice all over them and kill them forever. The tongue is a witless crematorium that would like to share but instead destroys, like Edward Scissorhands’ blade-fingers that cut when they caress.
I quit talking as if it were a problem with cigarettes. I learned to block my words as one learns to do with other embarrassing bodily noises.
It was that December day on which the pamphlet kid came with his last flier—an ad for a garbage disposal unit. I watched him stick our final brochure in the slot, I watched his hand attempting to push it through, but there it stayed, stuck in the slot, forever. It didn’t even fall out when the door was opened.