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Best Left Silent

Robert Rae, England, United Kingdom. First published October 1, 2005

There’s a screaming inside my head. I know it’s me, but of course that doesn’t change anything. It’s
funny, how people always talk of that dry, analytical part of you that just watches while your world caves
in. Always the writers and the poets and the psychologists can say that to you in their smiling voices, honey
rubbed along a wound, but they don’t know that even the ones who watch can scream. Oh, God, but they
can scream so loud that nobody hears them.

Once upon a time, I woke up in bed, and saw a crack of morning coming through my curtains. Two
hours later, it’s impossible to summon the fascination that a chink of light can throw you into, especially
when those hours have seen you burn your reserves of goodwill for the day. After all, smiling takes so many
less muscles, doesn’t it? It’s far easier on the face; not even painful compared to trying to look neutral when
it’s facing you across the kitchen table as if the sunlight means something. Nobody really notices a rictus
when you’re drinking coffee.

School isn’t bad as these things go, which they do. The corners of your eyes get a lot of work,
naturally, and you can spend a pleasant period spying out a teacher’s sad smile: that mouth-up-eyes-down
flicker that manages to lose itself on any other wayward charge. It’s not limited to the masters and matrons
of wisdom, heaven knows; you know the look social services have perfected, the one that wants to help
you, child, but stops just short of moving the body in any meaningful way. As long as she knows you care,
you’re allowed to comfort yourself with thoughts that a girl doesn’t make her real friends ’till university
anyway, and a cup of tea can solve all her problems. Bags, though, not tea leaves – too bitter for children
and adults alike.

The vastly superior Garden wins a battle with the television to hold sway over time and inattention,
though each one clamours in it’s own way. After all, one could watch gardening on TV, but there’s always
the chance of your father coming in, and laughing at the fat smiling men leaning on spades and talking
about how to sow seeds in your own back yard. He has a very loud laugh, my father, and very strong. It
makes his stomach wobble up and down, as if he were breathing very fast, or hard. Or both.

Trees and bushes offer shade to fit the mood and a paradise for the scuttling beetles and centipedes,
chased in and out of sight by every innocent child you can still summon to mind. Most of them look the
same, though none of them look like me anymore. It’s surprising how sad that can feel. Hemlock and
nightshade grow up against the far wall, lustrous green and purple providing too fine a trap for many a poor
cat, intent on stroking their lithe, slender bodies though every patch of the poison they can find. It’ll make
them sick eventually, of course, but for now they look healthy enough.

The sun slides away taking the sunset with it, and a million yellow streetlights spring up for those of
us defenceless enough to miss her. They can’t quite make the dust motes dance the same way, but they
shed enough light to cast faint shadows on the walls, until a real shadow comes to close the curtains, and
leave them that way. I used to be afraid of the dark, like most children, but I had a father who would stay
beside me for a while, until I discovered how misplaced my fear had been. I outgrew it, but he’s always
been there when he needed me.

I’m not afraid of the dark, anymore, and I’m not afraid of the nightmares, it’s the waking up from
them I don’t like. Screaming out in the dark used to bring them running, but I don’t do that anymore, not
even when he’s already there. After all, why would you make life more complicated than it already is, when
you can scream inside your head for hours and hours and be sure that you will never have to stop, that you
will never have to breathe hard or fast or smell the hot humid air all around you, no-one will ever see, no-
one will ever hear. No one will ever know. You can try and sit vigil by the streetlights until the sun saves
you again, but not even they are witness to the things that bump against your life in the night. Cry for me,
if you feel like, if you think your empathy can bring me some pity I don’t need, but don’t leave the light on.
No one will ever know. Don’t leave the light on. No one will ever know. Goodnight.

the fresh new sign peered out from the midst of swirling snow flurries as a trace of unwanted color. 2005 The light steps of John O’Malley sank into the thick. as he stared. Soon however. the crowd dispersed. grandest parties. hunched against the rough stone wall. First published October 1. the largest. and buried in a makeshift grave of snow. The late hours of evening had yet to pass over the day. a man who had once opened doors to him dropped a coin in his hat without looking at him. The flakes settled softly in his wake. Stepping closer to the building. the awed whispers of his hotel. fine wrinkles the only outline of what had once been.Shards of Memory Liana Bruggemann. Marked out against the expansive white banks. paused. peeling and brown-black from the snow. in a world comfortably black and white. and as he sat half in. Black Thursday as it was called had shattered those dreams…or begun them. cursing as he pushed through the small crowd of workers around the condemned building. grew disinterested. and settled their weight firmly to both feet. He stopped as he saw a man curled and small at the base of the old hotel. the superb quality of his tailored suit. for reality now faded into sublime. O’Malley painted a queer picture in the middle of the shabby street. still form in the midst of bustling bodies. tinged blue around the eyes and lips. . of strings of pearls wrapped around swanlike necks. surrounded by the grey-blurred outlines of rushing passerby. as their owner craned his head. and sublime faded away with the snow. O’Malley remembered that man. collars up to the chin. the look of respect in his eyes. an oddly clear figure frozen in time. resumed their tasks. cheeks flushed with cold. and with the aid of a couple fellow workers. the quirk of his mouth as though unsure whether he was permitted to smile. and O’Malley’s worn leather soles. squinty eyed through the snow at the large. half out of the world. and the carefully crafted might of the hotel crashed to the ground. empty echoes streamed down the snow-muted streets. the sound of his own footsteps crunching in the snow seemed suddenly more solid. one hand subconsciously clutching an old tweedy hat to his head. his patched. Hours. and paused. wet coat drawn up to his ears. red “Condemned” letters spelled out across the cracked and dusty windows of the old building. As the building fell in crumbling ruin. his once fine face paled with the cold. Washington. sweetly tucking away all slips of sound in the deep caress of forgotten dreams. swirling flurries of a gentle blindness. eyes beady and black. the body was hosted unceremoniously down an alley way. a shiver ran down his spine. or perhaps minutes later he still sat. But perhaps it had only been a dream after all…the days of golden arches . He had placed his hat before him. and. as he pressed a weathered hand to the frozen bricks of the towering old Grand Hotel before him. halted their steady procession. weighted with rocks to keep it from being blown away. an empty echo sounded down the street. The next morning an irritated demolition worker leapt angrily from his crane to see what had caused the delay. pale blue eyes sunken deep into their sockets. A stray. United States. slowly. lost on the ears of the deaf-toned passerby. muting cushion of snow without the faintest snatch of sound. of glittering jewels presented for his. the way his eyebrows lifted in barely concealed surprise. present under even the most insincere and same-standard cordialities.

Ph. Fuzzy the cat. United States – Age 18.” she says. she reads all the important books and follows their words humbly and blindly. and last verse.D. when the wailing ambulance pulled out into the rain. First published July 1. she says. or sometimes by the moon. where she meticulously searches for the most colorful. but nobody knew for sure. whose art she greatly admires. brightly patterned fabrics.” Toward the beginning of their visits to the Acacias retirement home. occasionally illuminated by the headlights of her son’s truck as he returns from another lost rodeo. Petunias. She keeps a modest home. She works at the quilt store. she prays. Many sunlit mornings push past her window and beam in hot amber bars against her curling wallpaper. It’s up north. and maybe it sounded funny to Alma too. waiting for their debut to new soil. New Jersey. A visiting singer would have thought that the weekly carolers were the highlight of Alma’s week. She sleeps in a bed with her boyfriend who never kisses her and three spiders who kiss her often. The second time through. and herself. she would ask only once. whose roof shelters a wild daughter. She takes Paxil to see the colors brighter. dead and gone. Her son decided her future for her. they didn’t even know it was Alma. “Page 33!” she would plead. miserable work forced her to ask twice sometimes. she says. To the singers. But days and their magic. The singers didn’t know that she felt hung up by the dwarfed version brought-to-you-by-Alzheimers-by-old- age-  maybe-just-by-wanting-to-hear-the-whole-song- twice-to-hear-the-whole-song-just-once. a growing son. Now Judy moves all of her quilting things into her daughter’s old room but she forgets one thimble. “And I’ll take this. She has never been to England and hates her “first generation American” title. buckles under the weight of gaudy chandeliers. violets. pansies—especially pansies—each blessed with the delightful promise of continual budding. She speaks with an English accent acquired from her parents. her boyfriend. 2005 A hundred dead and dying flowers occupy the shelves in Alma’s garage. and the high school good-doers would dive into a bland and overdone rendition of “Red River Valley. . a book of inspirational quotations compiled by Roger M. Maybe that was the taste in her mouth on the rainy night that she didn’t wheel out into the entryway to hear the singers. which sits in the corner. so the foliage will now sit for a bone-dry day on the shelf. Judy’s daughter is moving to Feather River Junior College up north. She believes above all things in happiness derived from the simplest of pleasures: the song of a sewing machine. The wind never blows too much around her house. She picks up peacemakers wherever she finds them: incense. another. Cathy makes her tea at six o’clock each morning. Her house seeps lace. handing the clerk a small wind chime. drowns in inherited china used once a year when her brother and his family visit for Thanksgiving. They coax her to the nursery. healthy-looking plants. the shortened version always sounded funny and cheap. Judy pours God onto the road every morning with rice flower and colored spices in the hopes of dispelling negative vehicular energy. Sometimes she makes quilts inspired by the work of Picasso.Retirement Anna Breslaw. The staff of the Annex. In fact. the perfect color of thread. third. Baldwin. writes on fancy stationery to old acquaintances who seldom return a word. lavender bath balm. He does not speak with an English accent. believes her to be positively imbalanced. the restaurant next door. the students would only sing the first. reads etiquette books from cover to cover. She spends most of her time as a counselor at the retirement community. She powerwashes the house once a month. candles. Mr. would jerk and twist in their crates in the back of the car. west of some cattle ranching town that no one’s ever heard of. another.

trips up to the shop in the evenings for ice cream. We’re more than surfers. If any word could possibly be fitting enough to describe the sight before my very eyes.” I think to myself. some splashing into the jetties. tells me when it is time to awake. that the ocean is mystical. the boardwalk comes into view. Everything is virtually silent save the waves crashing in a location just beyond my view and the summer gulls trying to collect their food for the day. I realize beyond a doubt that I am the luckiest person on the planet. and. United States. define who we are. covered with ocean grass and the most beautifully natural sight greets me. the very light of the world. As I make my way up the steps and onto the worn. a swimsuit. This boardwalk defines my past. As I make my way across and finally off of the wooded walkway. The light of day has yet to grace this side of the earth with its presence. Gathering my surfboard. Our love of the single sport that binds us is built less on our own skill than by the secret we share. it fades away before ceasing. As I sit on the sand. and memories abound within me from childhood summers spent on that walk: bike rides I’ve shared with my family. each individual board somehow tells a part of my life story. radiant pinks and delicate blues shine bright. It heals inner wounds that nothing else can and is capable of consuming your very soul. The sun. despite its blinding qualities. but only truly appreciated by those like me. No longer do I need my alarm. Up ahead. I smile and begin to walk. This is something I have been a witness to on countless occasions before. once welcoming and bright are off. I do not blink at all. to some it could even be considered spiritual. Respect for the ocean. “Tranquil. it is mesmerizing. yet it still never ceases to amaze me and never will. 2005 It is early in the morning when I rise. First published October 1. and the noise of civilization has yet to arrive. null. before making its return. It is almost as though a giant light switch has been flipped on as glorious rays of silken purples. while others make their way to greet me on the shore. It is a beauty recognized or at least acknowledged by the common person. I take a moment to close my eyes. The day has brought its life and night has been chased away under its vanishing horizon to bring darkness and mystery to the rest of the world. my very instinct. the undeniable and easily recognized smell of the beach. tranquil would be the word. as if they need a rest themselves. The numerous stores that line the expanse are closed. Like the pieces of even the most intricate puzzle. Their lights. It might even be something beyond that. The waves are breaking in perfect sets of four. The sky shines clear and blue and the coolness of the night before vanishes. chasing seagulls and even learning how to fly a kite. overwhelms me. for fear I will miss a single second of the sight that is far too beautiful for words: something beyond mere mortal comprehension. reality returns. Now. I look down both lengths. I pass through the dunes. As I grab my board and head for the ocean. the result of the driving force of nature and our communion with it. and everything is free and completely at rest. splintering boards.Tranquility Laura Ann Kauffman. almost as quickly as it had begun. The moment in time connecting the opposites night and day is gone. ever-present yet mysterious horizon. The sun’s likeness reflects off of the vast ocean waters in front of me. a combination of salt and seaweed. I step outside and pause at the bottom of the stairs. and other necessary equipment. begins to make its appearance over the distant. I realize that the shouts from the amusement parks have not started. the wholeness of day and with it. I . Listening intently. something deep within. with my board by my feet. Then it starts to happen. everything just fits. still cool from the previous night.

not missing of beat of his lazy gait. The bench I sit on is green. A couple of hours ago it brought me here. shadowed places standing out against sunlit sides. painted over years of dents and names scratched in wood. “Swing low. This building stands behind a wall of brick rowhouses like the low hill of alfalfa fields blocks a view of the lower reaches of the mountain. A contented Labrador Retriever disinterestedly glances toward him. a blue-green flowerpot at his feet. A sudden crash from a nearby construction site sends every pigeon in the park into flight. in German. barely room left to breathe. rustles them. still emitting a trace of smoke. Strains of harmonica waft from the park bench opposite me. United States – Age 18. My backpack sits to my left with its main zipper opened just wide enough for me to extract my notebook and pen. At home. holding onto their last few dirty-brown leaves. Their wings create more noise than the blast that scared them. regardless of the unknowns because this one thing I know with certainty. I will hike the blocks back to the station. A buzz of voices blends with the city soundscape of cars driving and trucks backing. His mother comforts him. yells “Achtung! Achtung! Achtung!” at a squirrel that crosses two inches from his foot. At my right is my suitcase. seeming to hold themselves back from too much involvement with their surroundings. Nearby on the dusty asphalt a pigeon waddles self-consciously. A squirrel churrs a threat to his brother. A toddler. bobbing its head as if pecking the air for some invisible food. One feeds pigeons that strut in a semicircle around his feet. The rowhouses’ potentially beautiful façade is marred by rusty air-conditioner units and a high trim of metalwork. A lady sits down next to me. and it will bring me to the train station. contrasting with the clean brick and the white window frames. holding tightly to his sister’s stroller. An ocean sunrise. cool enough to make you shiver but too warm for a jacket. sweet chariot…” The man plays each line of music. The subway. Tomorrow. The noxious gray fumes begin to flow from its burning tip. then sings it. Pennsylvania. Trees obscure my vision slightly. a couple of students eat their lunch. I think it’s time to leave. The walkway before me never becomes silent. His nearly empty bag is next to him on the bench. I’m going home today. A man sits down on the bench across from me. and soon. A street musician of sorts has opened for business. creaking and complaining of the overburdening load. lighting up a cigarette. challenging him to romp. corroded to a bright green. eyelids dropping on his creased red face as he stirs his cup of coffee. surrounded by his array of harmonicas. Washington Square Ben Carr. 2003 A cigarette butt lies next to my foot. swingsets squealing and sparrows chirping. Its pockets are crammed full like the subway this morning. A puff of air. tranquility at its best. . that marker in the space of time will return and once again I know I will be awed and captivated by a secret known only to those who fail to take it for granted and remain humbled by it. “Coming for to carry me home…” Two benches to his left. First published July 1. shoulder chafing from the suitcase. the mountain overshadows our farm in the same way that the thirty-story apartment building a block north overshadows this park. They both recede as they rise.face it with excitement.

Life’s not fair because you don’t get along with your family. As soon as they find someone better. I’ve learned that sometimes. Friends are like lemmings. alone. there’s no way to get away from it. but now its because of real things. but that’s because I am. Most of the time you get yourself nothing except people sick of and mad at you but you feel better. alone. well a lot of times. I don’t know if it will stay that way forever. 2001 In middle school I’ve learned many things. Life’s not fair because many times you feel like no one loves you and feel as if you can’t go on.You’re All You’ve Got Brenna Durkin. Of course no one will admit this but it’s true. Life’s not fair because after missing the bus. Many times you think this person. who follow the head lemming. getting a referral and pulling a muscle you still have to go home. Then one day your best friend finds a more perfect lemming and slowly begins to drift away from you. or people. and I know I will remember them always. and you realize. true or not. a faster better-looking lemming they totally forget about you. Life’s not fair because your so-called friends betray you and there’s no one to turn to. failing a test. Since you have no friends and life’s not fair you might as well do things that make you feel better because you’re the only one you’ve got. United States. maybe one you’ve known since kindergarten. and life’s not fair. whining and complaining make you feel better. When I say that life’s not fair. I may sound like I’m whining and complaining. but eventually you split up and never talk to one another again. and whenever you have a bad day there’s really no one to turn to. take out the trash and listen to a lecture from your parents. Don’t even try to say I’m wrong. You’re alone. they weren’t really my friends in the first place. The lemmings follow each other. because I know. . and there’s no way out. This is because life’s not fair. and they cut you down and insult you all the time. do three hours of homework. You may think that you have a friend. Then you begin to think. but if it does then at least I learned two important things in middle school. I sure hope it doesn’t. then faster and faster until one day you look up and you’re alone. First published April 1. Slowly at first. No matter how hard you try to get away from the other lemmings it never works. that’s because it’s not! In middle school you get dealt a bad hand. and there’s no one to pick you up when you fall. In a way you’ve always known that because you didn’t always get the color Popsicle you wanted. and are trapped. but the two most basic are you have no friends. will be there to confide in forever and would always have a shoulder for you to cry on. Being in middle school is like being a lemming in a cage.

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