Authors: Tiffany Truitt
Copyright© 2014 Tiffany Truitt
Cover Artist: Sour Cherry Designs
Editor: Brieanna Robertson
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
To all of the readers who are perfectly happy with being imperfect.
THE LANGUAGE OF SILENCE
Copyright © 2014
My best friend is dead.
Somewhere in the darkness of my room, I hear my mother whisper words like
. They fall from her mouth, all her words of sympathy, lying ungraciously around. They touch everything. Except for me. Soon, I don’t even hear them.
Instead, I hear a story his sister told me late one night when her brother had snuck off, and we sat at her kitchen table drinking coffee, attempting to stay up all night just to see if we could.
When Tristan was seven, he ran away. Brett watched as her brother crept down the hallway, moving away from his small life in the Jensen household. She didn’t wake her parents. She just let him leave. He somehow broke his way into the Wendall Public Library. They found him sleeping in the non-fiction section, clutching an Ayn Rand biography. He later told Brett he picked the book because he liked the sound of her name.
I called bullshit. Ayn Rand? It all seemed a little too-hipster-convenient to me. But I remember the way Brett’s hands shook as she told me how Tristan sobbed as his parents dragged him back into the house, and how she couldn’t help but sob too.
My mother’s eyes are on me, dragging me from the memory.
I take a deep breath and wait.
I don’t know what I wait for.
I don’t know what comes next.
“Here. Let me help you with that.”
My mom shoos me away from the mirror and stands in front of me. Her hands go to work on the black tie that was waiting for me on the kitchen counter when I got up this morning. It’s new. Much too nice. And way too expensive. Mom was clever enough to pull off the price tag before I saw it, but not smart enough to hide all of the evidence. I found the Macy’s bag in the trashcan.
We’re not really the Macy’s type. Thrift store shopping has always been good enough for this family, and even if we did have a ton of extra money to throw around, I wouldn’t waste it on clothes. I’ve always been fine with whatever I’ve found at a yard sale, or with whatever Tristan threw my way.
His funeral is today. I can’t help but sigh. I’m angry at my mother for wasting so much money on something so stupid.
“Don’t start, Ed,” my mother warns. I open my mouth to speak, but she cuts me off. “It was worth it,” she affirms, her hands moving almost effortlessly. I don’t want to think about how she got so good at this. “There. Perfect. You look wonderful.” Mom smiles, stepping away so I can admire her handiwork in the mirror.
“Is one supposed to look wonderful for a funeral? I’m watching a guy get buried so a bunch of worms and maggots can go to the buffet. Never really got why that inspired everyone to pull out their Sunday best,” I reply. I move past my mother and head to my room.
“It’s called respect,” my mom calls out from behind me.
“Respect?” I scoff, grabbing my one dress coat off the bed and pulling it on. “Is i
t really appropriate to show respect for a man who committed suci—” I swallow the word back down. For some reason, my hands shake. I swear the temperature in the room has gone up a billion degrees. I feel queasy. Like any second I’m gonna throw up on my brand new tie.
Don’t think about it.
The used sports coat has always been a bit too big for me. I’ve only ever worn it twice before. The previous time I wore it was the last night I saw Tristan Jensen alive. My chest tightens.
Don’t think about it.
You can’t feel bad for someone who didn’t bother to think of you before he ended his life.
Don’t think about it.
Mom came home with the sports coat one day after work and told me to put it in my closest. I never did ask her where she got it from. It feels like a thermal sleeping bag against my skin. It’s hot as balls in my room. The heat must be causing my hands to swell, because I fumble with the buttons.
m enters my room like she owns the place. Oh. Right. She does. She starts to clasp the buttons like I’m a damn five-year-old getting ready for school picture day. I push her hands away. “I got it, Mom.” My voice cracks. I know she heard it. I swallow. My eyes burn.
I feel ashamed. I shouldn’t be feeling this. I shouldn’t be feeling anything. My mom ignores me and finishes buttoning the coat anyway. I can’t look at her while she does this. When she’s done, she taps me under the chin. “I know you’ve got this, kid.”
I take a shaky breath, give her a quick kiss on the cheek, and walk past her without another word.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been sitting in my car. Like a coward, I haven’t even left the driveway. I don’t want to go to the church.
I know there’s nothing to fear inside that building. Logically, I know this to be true. This isn’t some horror movie where Tristan slowly emerges from the casket pointing his finger around, accusing and damning everyone for all the ways we let him down.
But even without the appearance of a zombie star quarterback, I
had let Tristan down. I’d seen the signs. I wasn’t blind.
Don’t think about it.
I can’t let those thoughts in, because then I’ll take all the blame onto myself and it will consume me. There’s enough blame to go around, and I won’t be destroyed for anyone.
Don’t think about it.
I wrap and unwrap my fingers around the steering wheel. Has the service started? They wouldn’t wait for me because I’m not important to them. Do I matter at all anymore? Before becoming friends with Tristan, I was just the new kid. The outsider. Now that he’s gone…am I gone too?
Do I matter to
Don’t think about it.
A traitorous tear rolls down my cheek.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, but it doesn’t help. This is the only moment I will let this in. I swear it to myself
as I let the tears fall. I’m not sure I could stop them if I tried.
The passenger door opens. I can barely make
Mom out through the blur of tears. She sits silently beside me. Her hand reaches for mine, and I don’t fight her. For some reason, the gesture only makes me cry harder. I lean my forehead against the steering wheel. I know my mom doesn’t care, but I’m embarrassed.
“This isn’t weakness, Ed,” she says quietly. She’s always been able to call me out. Never pushing me, but always there. I nod like I’m agreeing with her, but it still feels like weakness deep inside. She grips my hand harder. “It isn’t. It would be weak not to feel this. It would be denial. We don’t run from our problems.”
Says the women who’d moved me around so much I never could memorize a phone number when I was younger. I want to tell her this, but she’s the one person I could never sass. She’s not perfect, but she’s the only one who’s always been there for me.
And now that Tristan has left, I’m pretty sure she’s all I
I run my hand under my nose, hoping I
’m not covered in an inch of snot. I wait for her to tell me that I don’t have to go, but I know she would never say that. She wouldn’t offer me the out.
“You need me to drive you?” she asks.
I shake my head. “I got it, Mom,” I manage, surprised to hear how sure my voice sounds.
“I know you’ve got this, kid.”
I can’t help but hear it—her voice doesn’t sound sure at all.
I’m not sure what I find more curious—the fact that the church has only one bathroom and is unisex, or the fact the bathroom has no lock. Of course, my Honors English mind is reading all sorts of symbolism in this sanctuary of 1970s sunflower wallpaper and mold. I could write a paper about how this one bathroom defines Wendall itself. Pages and pages about the room’s commentary on our town’s ideologies concerning lack of privacy and repressed sexuality.
It’s strange I’ve never noticed the bathroom situation before. Then again, my family only ever came to church when it was mandated
—Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, Easter, and the occasional wedding and baptism. My father always made us sit in the back, so we could be the first people out when the service was over. He always had some excuse about needing to make a call or draw up some paperwork. I can recite the steps of sending a fax before I could name any saints. I’m pretty sure the only reason we went at all was to appease my mother’s need to see and be seen.
She was going to get her wish today. All eyes would be on the Jensen family.
The noise behind me breaks my trance. I’ve been staring at myself in the mirror without really seeing. I don’t want to see what I look like today.
Someone is trying to come in. I was smart enough to place a chair against the door, but the person on the other side of the wooden shield doesn’t let this deter them. They begin to pound.
“Brett Mallory Jensen. This has gotten out of control. You have five minutes to get your ass out of that bathroom.” My father’s voice destroys the barrier I tried to create. It doesn’t even sound muffled. He has somehow learned how to defy physics itself.
“William, lower your voice. People have started to arrive. They’ll hear you,” my mother’s voice begs. I could have predicted this response without any real taxation on the brain. My parents tend to follow the script more times than not. It is probably easier for them to talk in clichés than really talk at all.
“I don’t give a damn if they hear me. Get her out of there now!”
“I’ve tried,” mother whines. “It was a miracle I got her out of the house. She refused to take a shower. She wouldn’t even change out of her pajamas.”
“Isabel. There is no way she can sit in that service wearing pajamas!”
“Of course not. She has a bag in there with her. I had a dress shipped from Saks yesterday. She has everything she needs. She just won’t come out.”
My father starts to pound on the door again. “This is unacceptable, young lady. Do you hear me? Get your ass out here now.”
“William! Please. Watch your volume,” my mother pleads.
“Watch my volume? Don’t parent me, Isabel. If you knew how to handle your children, I wouldn’t have to be doing this right now.”
My father is a jerk. I’m always surprised how he manages to make me feel sorry for my mother. He’s not entirely off base with his comment, but even I know today is not the day for this. Today is about Tristan. Not about my parents or dress code. I don’t want any more drama. I clear my throat. “I’ll be out in five minutes,” I call out.
“Thank God,” says mother.
I pull out the contents of the bag my mother pushed into my hands this morning. The dress is beautiful. It if was any other day, I would love to wear it. Of course, I would spice it up with some crazy accessories, but I have to admit
, Mother has good taste. I pull on the dress. The black silk falls down to my knees, tight around the chest and poofing out around the waist. The top is a v-neck. The symbolism warning goes off loud and clear in my brain again. It paints me as exactly the daughter my mother craves—grown up enough to take care of myself so she doesn’t have to, but still innocent enough to protect the family name.
My hair leaves something to be desired. It’s been awhile since I have washed it. Without any product, it’s a wild mane of black curls. But I can make it work with the right makeup. Luckily for me,
Mother has packed an entire makeover kit in my bag. After making myself presentable, I pull out the last item—a pair of brand new black stockings. I immediately chuck them into the trashcan.
I reach inside the pocket of my sweatpants
, which lay abandoned on the bathroom floor, and pull out the wadded up pair of stockings I had stuck in there earlier in the morning. After pulling them on, I notice they have a rip across the knee. I don’t care. I won’t be changing them.
It’s silly. Ridiculous even. Last week, I had texted Tristan to see if he could pick me up some on his way home from practice. After a few disparaging comments about my fashion sense and a smart alec remark about seeing if I wanted him to pick up tampons too, Tristan threw the box into my room.
I don’t know why they are important, but they are.
After making sure the lid is down, I take a seat on the toilet and pull out my phone. I scan through my text messages. There are about a billion-zillion of them to wade through, but not a single one from Ed. I haven’t talk
ed to him since the night of the wedding, and I worry. I worry about how he is doing. I worry that I’m not supposed to worry about him any longer.
I click on his name and start to compose:
I want you to sit next to me today. It doesn’t have to be weird. I think he would have wanted it that way. He would want us to be friends. I know he would. We can be friends. I need us to be friends. I’m so worried about you. I know you’re hurting. You wouldn’t have to pretend around me. I wouldn’t have to pretend either.
I stare at the message, willing myself to be brave enough to send it. I can’t help but chuckle a little, knowing that on the slim chance Ed did read it he, he would mock my constant refusal to abbreviate anything while texting. I am lover of the English language after all.
But I doubt he’ll even open the message. The real problem is that I fear I won’t get a response back. I know I won’t. That’s the way Ed’s always operated. Avoidance. Anger. Never acceptance.
I didn’t just lose my brother.
With a sigh, I hit delete
Tristan. Me. Ed. We will always be the things we never said.
I take a look at myself in the full length mirror before leaving. Almost perfect. My eyes find the tear in my stocking.
I have become a symbol.