Submitted into Contest #238 in response to: Set your story at a silent retreat.... view prompt

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Fiction Funny

This story contains sensitive content

Warning: the F word will probably appear more than once.


The first thing Mark said at the Silent Retreat, to the stacked young blond behind the reception desk, was, “Hey there! Sounds like we’re in the right place, eh?” He said it because the office felt like a tomb, chill with the total absence of TV or background music. The blond raised her eyebrows over her wire-rimmed glasses and gave a little smile, pressing the smile closed with her upraised forefinger. “Oh yeah,” Mark remembered. “Right, silent.” Then he dropped his voice and murmured, “Mark and Sheila Holleran.”

 “Mark!” whispered Sheila. “For Pete’s sake, shh!

Shh,” the blond reminded Sheila, her brows lowering.

“Oh, sorry,” said Sheila. The blond lowered her brows more. “I mean—oh, okay, I’ll be quiet. We’re new to this.”

Now the blond nodded and beamed—maybe to show she was still speaking to them, though of course she wasn’t actually speaking. She bent down to find something under the counter, and Mark admired her generous cleavage. If Sheila hadn’t been right beside him, he might have made mention of it, but luckily here she was. 

Straightening, the blond placed a pair of liability waivers side by side and smilingly handed out two pens. Okay, sign the waivers, Mark didn’t need ‘sign language’ to get that. Struggling with (silent) laughter at his own joke, he signed away his liability, and so did Sheila hers. After the blond collected their waivers and filed them neatly in a drawer, she turned away to reach down a key. Mark thought the back view was as good as the front view—but he also was starting to think he should really be getting into the spirit of this place. It was a retreat, and retreats were supposed to wrap you in a cocoon of peace and transcendent understanding. 

In fact, that was what had first attracted him to the ad. He and Sheila had been at each other’s throats lately over the smallest thing, and he thought this might be just the remedy—a sort of twin cocoon. “Hey, Sheila,” he’d yelled, because she was in the kitchen noisily doing stuff. “Listen to this! Should we go to a silent retreat?”


“Where they don’t say a word. Where there’s no talking allowed.” 

He had caught her snarky laugh. Then she’d answered, loud enough so he could hear, “You couldn’t be quiet two minutes without advertising it through a bullhorn.” But a minute later she had come in and peered curiously over his shoulder to see what he was talking about. And she’d liked it. As he had known she would. By the time they had registered online, paid the money, and started off on their adventure, they were completely jacked up. They spent the whole two-hour drive speculating on every possible detail—sometimes with laughter, but sometimes with an awed hush of expectation. It might, it really might, change both their personalities in forty-eight hours. How hard could it be to refrain from shooting off one’s mouth for that long? “Alright, babe,” Mark had grinned as they pulled into the parking lot, “this is it. Show time. Not another peep.” And then he’d gone right into the office and blown it. Okay, poor start—but nothing that couldn’t be fixed by ignoring it.

When they saw their little cabin, which was going to be their private paradise for two soft, wordless days, Mark almost did say something. Hard not to. The bed, under cloud-puffy quilts, actually did make him think of a cocoon; he could hardly wait to crawl into to it and metamorphose. He approved the sufficiently large TV screen, though wondering if they’d have to watch with the sound off—yeah, probably. The view outside was killer, he noted as he drew the curtains closed: lawns and hedges and walking paths, a couple of flowering bushes. For later. 

Sheila, meanwhile, to his amusement, was leaping all around the room gesticulating soundless amazement over every piece of furniture, even over the fact that the bedside table had a drawer that opened and closed. And a Bible in it. She held the Bible against her bosom with one hand, fell to her knees, and pantomimed a praying martyr. Yes, laugh or no, there was something basically holy about this place. They hadn’t said boo for twenty minutes, and that was…it was…Mark couldn’t find the word. He studied his reflection in the mirror and found to his satisfaction that he was a pretty fine-looking man. Those eyes, as he bent closer, were serious and somewhat creased, youthfully blue, and already showing early evidence of enlightenment. 

Behind him, he could see Sheila had now thrown herself backward onto the bed and was pantomiming everything she wanted him to do with her. Even verbally she was unusually outspoken, and as a mime she was almost scary. Mark turned away from his reflection. She was unbuttoning her shirt with extravagance, and Mark started to growl, “Oh ho ho,” as he descended on her.  Then he remembered, nope, not even an ”oh ho ho.” Weird. They would have to gratify their desires silently for once. That was a hoot. There was no way! They nearly strangled on their muffled giggles.

Well, Mark thought an hour later, a person couldn’t screw all day. And when you got right down to it, there wasn’t a whole lot else to do here. Sheila could read; she’d even thought to bring a book, and she was doing it now. Every time she turned the page, she gave it a snap that sounded like a rifle shot in the quiet room. Mark wished she would stop doing that. He even suspected she was doing it to annoy him. Next time she snapped a page, he spun his head in her direction as if it was a rifle shot. She paid no attention. 

What was she trying to express, that he should have brought a book of his own? Mark wasn’t a reading man. He was…what kind of man was he? His desperate eye fell on the two suitcases. An unpacking man, that was what. Somebody had to. He threw the bags onto the bed, unzipped them, and started taking out garments. After he’d used up the four complimentary hangers, he had the most insane urge to say something. He wanted to say, All they gave us is four hangers! But he caught himself. Sheila snapped another page, and again he whipped his eyeballs toward her oblivious face.

Yes, there were those lawns and hedges and walking paths. Very elegant—Mark felt he should be wearing satin lapels and polished black dancing shoes. At least he could smoke, which he would certainly be doing if he were wearing the satin lapels. He fished his Camels from his shirt pocket, shook one out for Sheila and another for himself. As he flicked his lighter he noticed that it made an extremely audible click in the low-hanging summer air, where even the local insects seemed to have read the Silent Retreat bylaws. He lit both their cigarettes. Silence was downright eerie. As they walked on, the sucking sound of his Reeboks on the asphalt made him look around uneasily.

When he did look around, he saw that he and Sheila weren’t the only ones enjoying the afternoon stroll. There to the right was another couple, and they had come, arm in arm, to a complete stop. It must be the cigarettes, Mark was astute enough to grok. The pair wore the unmistakable expression of non-smokers witnessing an outrage. In fact, the outrage was such that the man, before thinking, had started to say out loud, “Oh, ah, um—” and his companion had to shake his sleeve while clapping a hand meaningfully over her own mouth. But the two recovered their equanimity with commendable speed, and the man simply took a few steps forward, making an X with his fingers where a cigarette would sit in his own mouth. Nodding comprehension, Mark dropped his newly-lit smoke onto the pathway, and so did Sheila. The lady walked right over and picked them up, after making sure they were perfectly extinguished. Then she gave them to Mark with a sad shaking of her gray-tressed head.

“Aw, shit,” Mark said. “Sorry.”

“Mark!” cried Sheila.

Their brief exclamations hung in the air like laundry on a line for all to see, and the outraged couple looked at them hanging there and came to their silent conclusions. After that, Mark and Sheila crept back to their cabin, while the other two removed themselves with rapid but noiseless steps.

The rest of the day went along quietly—actually quietly. Sheila read without snapping pages, and Mark—passing and repassing the mirror—felt a certain definite peace, or at least something that surpassed understanding. This was a great idea, this retreat. He complimented himself. Being silent was an art, really, and he was an artist. Being silent meant you had to quit allowing your ego to rule. You had to let everything go and just…


“You know w—” Sheila laid down her book to stop her mouth. Then she stood up, because she’d had an idea. Mark knew that having an idea and not being able to talk about it is a terrible thing, so he followed her into the kitchenette and paid close attention as she pointed to the hotplate, a pot, a colander, and her stomach; wherefor he grasped that her idea was to cook the pasta she had brought, so they could eat it. And when the pasta had quietly boiled its allotted eleven minutes, she shoved the colander into Mark’s hands and moved to the door, the pot of pasta in two potholders. Mark got it: okay, the sink was already full of dirty dishes from their quietly unproductive day, and she wanted to drain the pasta outside. See? They were getting good at this wordless communing. He took the colander and walked barefooted onto the lawn. And Sheila poured.

“Mother FUCKER,” Mark screamed. “That’s my fucking FOOT!”

“Well, you aren’t supposed to hold the colander over your foot,” Sheila pointed out. “And also, shh!”

“I won’t shhh,” Mark cried, emphasizing the shhh. “I have zero interest in being quiet.”

“Mark, we can’t be noisy like this, they’ll kick us out!”

"How could you not have warned me?"

"What was I supposed to say? We weren't talking."

“You tried to boil my fucking FOOT.”

“That’s it,” snapped Sheila. “Leave the pasta. We’re going home. I’ve had enough of this absurdity.”

“Sure,” Mark shouted. “Let me just try to put my sock on over my BURNED FOOT and I’ll be right with you.”

Then came the drive home. It was everything they could have wished, everything they signed on for. At the start of the two hours, Mark tried to say something to Sheila, and in another ill-timed moment Sheila tried to say something to Mark. But there was really, truly nothing to say. Nothing. They set their faces forward, watching the twin pools of headlight shudder along the graveled road from the retreat and then the roughish highway to home, and they did not speak. Never in their entire five years together had they been so silent. Their hearts and minds were full—full of failure, full of anger, yet full of a strange, humble compassion. Each of them understood that they were what they were; that they weren’t going to be magically changed by anything as arbitrary as some woo-woo retreat; and that love was a very great thing, so great it could withstand the noise of living. Love could even thrive on words—on spoken words, flung words, screamed words, certainly on whispered words that made everything right. And thus ended the Hollerans’ Silent Retreat.

February 24, 2024 01:51

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1 comment

10:25 Feb 27, 2024

That ending is funny and sadly realistic at the same time. I've heard most good relationships have some arguing.


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