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The Cacophony of Silence

The fight started innocuously enough — they usually did. They were fighting over that stupid doll; the one that Gam-Gam gave them for Christmas. Why Gam-Gam gave the twins only one doll to share between them, Joanna never understood. Didn’t their grandmother know that the two little girls were unlikely to share a single doll without fighting?

On that morning, Joanna held fast to the doll’s legs, while Mary gripped its torso. They each pulled on that doll to and fro. It was comical, really: two little girls on the balcony of their stately plantation style home looking for all the world as if they were playing a game of tug-of-war. Joanna never would forget the sound of the cloth tearing when she yanked on that doll with all of her might and its leg was rent from its body. Nor would she forget the sound of her sister’s cries as Mary fell back over the balcony’s edge; and then the silence after she hit the ground below still holding that doll’s torso. When Joanna looked over the ledge at her sister’s broken form, her neck and leg twisted into unnatural positions then down to the doll’s leg she still held in her hands, she opened her mouth and screamed in such horror that some folks as far as two towns away tilted their heads upward and swore they heard the sound of her wails in the otherwise silent morning air.

The day before the funeral and with help from Gam-Gam, Joanna carefully stitched that leg back onto the torso of the doll, but she did not want it anymore. The doll belonged to Mary now and would from here on and until forever. And when during the service she carefully laid that doll next to her sister within the satin lining of the casket, she held back her tears. It was not until her sister’s body was lowered six feet beneath her that Joanna sobbed.

That was fifteen years ago and for that decade and a half of her life Joanna lived with Guilt. Not guilt, but Guilt with a capital “G”. No amount of therapy had relieved her of that feeling. No amount of money given over to the so-called experts had relieved her of the pain. For the first few minutes of each morning after waking, her tears poured forth and she let out a silent wail. Silent as it was, still others sometimes professed that they heard her cry in the wind.

How Joanna managed to get through high school was a wonder to everyone. That she was able to get into a good college to start that phase of her life astonished them more. She was not even sure how she managed to do it herself. It seemed that, since that day, her life had been one long and never-ending horror flick wherein she played the part of the zombie — moving forward not from her own volition but from an inner calling to simply continue, one foot in front of the other repeating again and again, constantly moving and searching for . . . what? She did not even know.

Each summer between years in college, Joana packed her things to return home for the break; another summer between school years that she knew would be spent in silence. Despite her vow each summer that this one would be different; despite her desire to change the tone and tenor of her life, to move forward with vim and vigor, when she entered the foyer of the family home, the very stillness of the house belayed that intent and lethargy took hold. From the moment her foot crossed the threshold, melancholia reigned.

It mattered not how many visitors came to call, nor how many bodies filled the rooms of her family home, it still felt empty. No matter how many parties were thrown, the house remained joyless. No matter how loud the music from the radio played nor the sound of the meaningless laugh tracks on the television, the house kept silent. Could it be any other way without the sound of her twin’s laughter to fill its rooms? And in that silence, she often wondered whether her parents had wished she, instead of her sister, had been the one to go over that balcony’s edge. The enduring pain had become such a part of her that Joanna knew no other way. Life was pain and she had long ago accepted that, perhaps, Mary had gotten the better part of the deal.

When she lay her head on the pillow each night, sleep eluded her. The cacophony of silence kept her from slumber.

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