She runs to side of the shed, back thumping wood, hands clutched around her heart, holding it close. She looks around to see if she is alone, strawberry blonde hair swinging this way and then that, but no one has followed her, the sounds of her classmates’ playing are muffled and before her is empty grass and silence. She raises her clasped hands to her nose and slowly pulls them open to peer inside, at it, her new find, her latest treasure. It is still there, pulsing and vibrant and alive: for a second she is transfixed in wonder. Then she claps her hand to her mouth and swallows, feeling it slither down her throat like liquid sliver and collect in her chest. Apprehensive and excited all at the same time, she parts her lips, her tongue quivering in anticipation, that moment before you don’t know what it's going to be like, what it is, and the silence around her is oppressive, somewhere a magpie chirps and she is caught in limbo but she pushes and
The effect is instantaneous: the word splits into fragments, ripping the silence with a compulsion it cannot contain and the scar in her heart knits itself into oblivion. Its power touches her and she feels her skin rise into goose bumps: she feels change, small and imperceptible but all around her. She waits for the silence to return and tries it again, this time crinkling her nose as supporting act to her lips. Crinkle, bite and
Once again, the fabric of her universe is lacerated and her essence solidifies: she feels more real, more there. She is fascinated. “Fuck,” she whispers, tracing her lips. She has found her friend.
She begins to collect them, tucking them into the cavity of her torso for safekeeping. As soon as they know, all her peers want one: she watches as pale imitators step forward to share its power, imitating her facial expressions and echoing her tongue positions. But none of them can master it, not like she, quiet, aloof Ana Louise and all those shadows get is air.
She begins to learn. She learns that her friends can lacerate a lot more than silence: hearts, for instance. She tries it on her mother and watches her weep into the stairs, a red splotch on her floral dress where the word ‘whore’ has ripped through. Egos, for instance. She tries it on Robert when he gets an A plus in his test and watches as he leaves half as small than when he came in. Lies. Tried on Rachel when she spoke of her shiny bike and watched as she scrambled to swallow her words back whole. Happiness. Tried on Greg when he brought his new pencil case to school and observed as he spent the rest of the day trying to hide it, now stained with the stench of her words. Hope. Tried on Katie when she extended a shy hand of friendship, observed as she used it to pick up the slivers of her confidence.
She learns strategy. An expendable soldier buried at the right moment in the sequence, poised to explode and it lights up the entire line, bursting it into a fire display and scorching her target. Voice. The right delivery, the soft caress of tone to envelope and masquerade her warrior. Inflection. The right button to press in conversation, the right trigger to squeeze. She turns master, watching as people hunch past her in corridors, as they avoid eye contact, as they tremble at the sound of voice that, even empty of her warriors, tinkles with the shards of their destruction.
She exists. Every morning, they file out of her chest and assemble behind her, a long shadowy line of power, and her own personal royalty robe. She does not take them off, some say she cannot, but no longer are they called forth to use, to battle. Silence walks in front of her, carrying memories of her devastation in its soft white folds and here, this is enough.
And then, he arrives. She only learns of it through their eyes: she watches as pupils linger upon hers a second too long, as backs straighten an inch too high. It is only then that her silence filters in the whispers. She watches as he grows in their minds and in their words. The man with the bag. The man with warriors never seen or heard of before. The stranger who was given his warriors, who did not take them, the sorcerer with an enchantment that cannot be beaten, some say not even by–. Can he, could he, will he?
They face each other across the playground. She unties her cloak and spreads her soldiers before her, sprawled like the pieces on a chessboard. She watches as he unties his bag and pulls out his warriors, slowly, gently. She notices he does not arrange them, setting them out like they do not belong to him. For they do not. They are apologies, the thousands he has been given by strangers as they drop his coffee, or break a promise or brush past him on the street. As she watches, she knows she cannot win. For his warriors burn with the light of different passions, sincerity, sorrow, guilt, habit, while hers burn with only anger, passion and pain.
He bends down and picks the most beautiful of his apologies, blue and red and pulsing all at once, an apology whispered by his mother when she realised that she missed his play in which he had been specially picked as lead actor and he offers it to her, hesitantly, shyly. As she reaches to take it from him, their fingers brush and her lips separate into an involuntary smile. When she looks into his eyes, he does not look away. Her warriors evaporate, shimmering into her silence. She has made a friend.