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Hush, Hush

 

The sun’s rays vibrated against the curtains sending yesterday’s dust into an uproar. It was so quiet that her ears filled with a small ringing sound that convinced her to press her palms against her skirt; to be cast in stillness, a sculpture with her arms hanging loosely over her thighs.

She hardly ever wore lipstick, preferring to wet her lips with spit instead. It moistened, it softened, but it never drew any attention to her mouth. Her lips were useless to her.

Mira had never heard her own voice but she guessed that it was soft. She could tell in the way her tongue always sat limply and how her teeth liked to stay gently closed together. She imagined her voice was like neap tides in deep water, with little difference between their rise and fall. She imagined the taste of her voice like the bursting juice from cheek-numbing bites of grapes when she was happy, perhaps like the dryness of a sour strawberry when she was sad. She was sure that whatever the taste, there was some bitterness in it.

Mira was a mute. The doctor called her the family anomaly. He said she had taken on the bad gene. That wasn’t the entirety of what the doctor had said but that was all she could re-conjugate from memory. Her star charts seemed to change with every subsequent storytelling of her birth, discussed popularly at family reunions, but Mira never questioned the varying highs and lows of her cosmic existence. She liked being described like phases of the moon. So though Mira felt replete on most days, she was human, and there were bad days too on which Mira’s immobility ran so deep it caused her insides to shake in the shape of an intestinal volcano. She could drive herself crazy if she wanted to.

Just as she did, a cross-legged gold wristwatch caught its shine in the sunlight facing the arch windows in her room. The room was pensive, it seemed, in that all its drawers and cupboard doors were swung open in half-thought while the linens exchanged cheeky little whispers about her. If there was doubt whether the others were home, it was because the voices in the room drowned them out. But Mira knew her parents were out attending something-something-yes-very-important for her sister, yet she mocked herself. She screamed loudly, Mom, and there was no response.

The straps of her white chemise, earlier sagging across her shoulders, had re-routed themselves to attention because Mira had finally moved, changed positions, become restless. The room with the most furniture in the house was the living room and she wanted to be in it, with the others-others, with them alive and her alive and her favorite one-seater sofa with its shaggy edges and bold geometric prints that commanded the attention of the room. In her bedroom, they all seemed to speak of her in past or future tense so much so that Mira could forget how to count time, or days, or tell herself apart from the floor.

The narrow corridor outside her room led towards the main stairway, a constricting assembly of wood and egression that always seemed to point downwards, never up. Mira only stared at it top-down so perhaps this was the natural result of a one-view perspective. She had asked her sister once, and only because her response had taken the shape of language in the mouth had Mira felt forced to believe the stairs led up too. Her sister’s voice was so soft when she spoke Mira was convinced she was the only one who could hear her. She had a partiality for voices she liked, and when she decided she liked one, Mira believed everything they said.

Staring down the stair-steps, Mira dipped her big toe in first as if to test the temperature of water before consenting to put her feet down. It was very cold. She immediately decided against going downstairs. She sat at the top of the staircase, her legs tightly wrapped around each other in a hug. She rocked back and forth, playing a game with the air, pushing herself against it so roughly that she produced whoosh, whoosh sounds. 

Her mind became heavy without warning. The air pushed her so hard she lost her balance and slipped down the first flight of stairs. She hit her head badly, a crack in her doll-like skull, a sinister pounding taking form under her hairline.  Her eyes didn’t reach there quite as quickly as they were trained to so it took her some time to realize she was in pain.

Mira sat up straight, feeling the ringlets on her backbone ting, tang, tung like a xylophone, even though she couldn’t feel the rest of her body. Though it might seem like she had spilled herself on the floor like a glass of milk, Mira was untidier, as if parts of her had scattered all across the room. When the numbness withdrew itself from her after minutes, she shivered. She used her hands to untie her right leg from her left leg, heaving her torso up.

Chosen for its fixed position, the small crack in the wall Mira had steadied her gaze on began to grow, sharply, sharp-edges that cut through the concrete and then spread through the banister with the adamancy of axolotl—that did not change, only multiplied. Using the tip of her nose, she traced out the shadow shapes the cracks transfigured into, noticing they were made of repeating patterns and figures but before she could un-puzzle them they disappeared as if the wood had stopped eavesdropping on her thoughts, and the mirror-like image of the banister become real. The dancing didn’t stop there as the color of the wood flickered its tints between light and dark, each a theatrical performance for comedy and tragedy but moreover a desperate ploy to keep her attention on for longer. It seemed to extend its length without shape shifting, its splinters clutching at each other’s ends in a prayer knot and promise of staying close.

Mira convinced herself that the banister was there to help her. A risky gesture, but she touched it with her hand and in a reverse plié she was steadied, all five and a half feet of herself.

It was done; the tornado had passed.

 

But a thirst, it came just as quickly. Mira found the rest of the stairs were easy, almost as easy as the rectangularly long carpet that connected the hall and the kitchen. The contents of the fridge looked too simple, the cans and bottles, both frosted and unappealing. Mira couldn’t choose what would best quench her thirst so she shut the fridge. It trembled in metal waves.

Two stacked mango crates rested on the kitchen counter and there were so many of them they chattered like geese, perhaps, in a tone Mira didn’t want to ignore. Nestled in straw and fiber, the little yellow mangoes gazed up at her sweetly confirming to her that they were indeed sweet. Mira believed them. She decided to make herself a mango shake.

Peeling their skins off like velvet fabric, they groped the blender with an expectant ease. She added a glass of milk to them, their sudden-hunching nature making the mangoes seem thirsty themselves. Once turned on the blender was vicious, its gritted teeth and all that. Mira felt self-conscious in front of it, its de-constructive sounds as palpable as a laugh not with but at her, and as it laughed she wished she could laugh too. There was a surge of dislike in her hands that now felt dirty and as she stepped away to wash them, her short-circuiting hate had spun a web of fire on the socket and it burned angry sparks, and Mira felt what the stars feel when fireworks explode too close to them. Wisps of smoke rose from the burnt wire while chewing on the socket and Mira imagined her dark hair burning in it. In panic, she used water to put out the flames but the fire monster consumed the droplets with a bubbling familiarity and changed a shade from orange to red.

The phone rang.

It was nestled amongst piles of cookbooks, ringing loudly like a siren. Mira could not answer it.

The heat beat against her skin and the marble-top counter glowed hotly too. But at its refusal to spread the fire, Mira swelled with a determination of her own to put it out.

She spotted a stack of freshly laundered hand towels folded neatly at the edge of the kitchen sink. She threw one over the fizzing fire, then another, then another. The flames calmed themselves slowly but only after enough layers of soot had seeped into the crisp whiteness of the napkins. The towels were destroyed, but Mira had killed the fire before it had found a way to burn her.

Exhausted and exhilarated by her near-near-deathness, she deliberately knocked over the remnants of the blender and the mango shake poured from it in a dirty yellow river. When it dripped at the sides and down the cabinet drawers, she calmed her breathing. The mango mess looked exactly like her blood flowing on the inside.

 

On the outside, she was back in the hall and headed straight for the living room. Even if the walls shape-shifted now Mira would not change her step. Her legs matched her rapid breathing in stride.

The living room was the only room in the house in which all six members of the family sat at the same time. The invitation to join was often largely casual. If two or more members were seated in the room for over half an hour without so much as one leaving to go to the bathroom, the others would take it as a sign to drop every other thing they were doing and take their own place. It wasn’t a particularly sad or happy room, it was just a clearly understood space, large in size because of its many angular alcoves and it’s door-windows that overlooked the garden. All the furniture in the room was different from each other in color, shape, size and texture, yet there was classroom uniformity to it, perhaps because each piece was arranged in the same direction, facing the outside.

It was the first time since the blender had blown up that Mira felt safe and excitable even though no one else was home. She first touched her favorite sofa-seat with her fingers, then her arms, and chest, and face, and hips and thighs and calves till it had enveloped her completely. The foam muffled her silent tears as she cried and cried and cried, her body rocking back and forth so much so she could have fallen had it not held her back reassuringly.

She ran her tongue over her teeth, as if marinating a thought in her saliva, but there was no taste, no words, no shape of the mouth except for two train tracks that lay aimless in an abandoned railway station. Her jaw protected a heaviness she had never considered to be damaging before, a decaying sense of left and right that was tearing her cheeks apart. On the inside they were sweating, no, perhaps crying from the back and forth tire of staying in exactly the same place.

Mira wanted to scream, but all she managed was a jerking upright to her feet. She fell next into the leather couch, the one that always looked smaller when you sat on it. Her body squeaked and Mira slapped her thighs, and cried more. The fact that her body and the couch could talk to each other so easily seemed unfortunate, almost a careless division of gifts and such. Even though they spoke in a somewhat churlish manner to each other, they did it effortlessly, even intimately. She was nothing more than an eavesdropper.

It was everything from the banister to the blender to the bloody leather couch that convinced her that she didn’t need her head, only her fingers and toes and the splintering sinews in between that provided the underground connection were enough. She was just a face.

The couch was unbothered by her revelation and pulled her closer to it by the waist. Her body was lifeless for just a few seconds till another spasm replaced the momentary calm, a knee-jerk reflex brought about by a Richter-rattling in the brain. She was the type of angry that was dangerous, the kind in which the badness and the wickedness and the filth of the dark imagination takes reign of the impulses, and the fingers feel like they’re doing something they’re not, the chest feels close when it’s actually distant, the legs always a step ahead, and the mouth grows numb, hollow. The skin breaks into an oil-sweat and the features feel as if they are sliding off the face so that nothing but a graveyard of pores will remain and through the tiniest outlet even the most obscene thought swimming underneath escapes like bubbles of the word woe. For Mira it all ended on the mouth.

In the same chopped breathing she forsook the couch not out of heroics but instead because the mere mortality of panic took over, reality set in and she landed back in her body, now standing on her feet. Her heels met the carpet with a fierce thump, as punishment perhaps but for whom, it was unclear, because they both burned. At first it stung, but when the burning turned into a residual tickle, Mira noticed it was the kind of heat that asked for permission before creeping into the body; a self-generated heat that was always so polite. It wasn’t like the harsh fire from earlier that harassed the skin for attention, instigating so much anger that her brown skin eventually turned red. No, Mira actually liked the gentleness of the carpet’s touch and the way it kissed her feet with dozens of loose threads with every move she made.

Facing the patio door like the rest of the furniture in the room, Mira only wondered what the soft green carpet in the garden would feel like against her bare feet. If the hair on the living room carpet bristled softly, like a gentleman of few words, what would the grass say?

It must have said welcome because Mira crouched down on it, arching her back, spreading her arms so far out that the pigeons mistook her for a bird. They were silent but Mira noticed them all the same, thanking them for their quiet but all-knowing reception. Instead the grass felt alive or rather she, herself, felt alive on it, but different from the perspiration she’d experienced in the inner confines of the house. She noted the wind could be as loud or soft as she wanted, depending on whether she chose to concentrate on the color of the fence or the way the leaves shook goodbye to their branches. She found that even if there was no water, she could imagine it on her tongue by sticking it into the atmosphere where she’d read water too lives silently. She could hear the sounds of the street cackle boorishly in the background yet they could not interrupt the way she listened. It was only when the silence was laid out against the noise and Mira, with will and skill, sensed that she could hear both, she felt an iota of wretched weight leave her. It must have happened through her hair follicles because an icy ripple made its way down her head. Her ears turned a toasty shade of pink and each time she noticed something new in the garden—like the ants, or the thickness of the mud, or the rose beds, or the angle at which the straw stuck out from the pigeons’ nest, or even the way her skin compared to the color of grass—her ears turned pinker and pinker, till they were a deep shade of rosé.

She closed her eyes just once with purpose, to memorize every frame that lay graspable before her by instantly re-creating it in the tiny layer of film behind her eyes. The colors could have changed and sounds may have distorted themselves she’d later question, because even two minutes later, everything seemed different. The déjà vu in itself was exhausting.

But even in the great outdoors, a prickly silence settled in. The sudden departure of words left Mira feeling dissatisfied since she did not realize that all their last words had been their last. Had she known, Mira would have said something funny, a joke perhaps. So she sat motionless, her face pressed up to the sky, staring at her open bedroom window. The sunlight was fading. The curtains turned an even darker shade of purple as the dullness consumed the sky. A familiar stillness was beginning to settle in. She didn’t want the sun to leave but she said nothing. Her eyelids were too heavy to ask it to stay.