The price of reticence

Submitted into Contest #102 in response to: Write about a mysterious figure in one’s neighborhood.... view prompt



Thirty minutes and forty-two signatures later, Tilda Waters was finally ready to move into a new house; for the third time in six months.

A month passed before Tilda’s delicate sandals were begrimed by the soil in the front lawn of the house as she stepped out of the car, followed by her butler, Franklin. She thwarted Franklin’s, attempt to hold an umbrella over her head by a perfunctory wave of her slender hand. The gratuitousness of holding an umbrella over her head on a clear day repulsed her, but Franklin’s age got in the way of allowing her to express her displeasure. Holding her head down, as if inspecting every inch of the soil she was about to step on, Tilda glided inside the house.

As Franklin locked the door, seven men, who had gathered to watch the descent of nobility into the grand house from behind the fence, eased their necks and turned about to retreat, feeling cheated for being handed a humdrum event which paled in comparison to the grand ceremony they had envisaged.

When Franklin retired to his quarters in the evening, Tilda roamed the house like a liberated spirit.

She commenced her tour by tapping on the iridescent mantelpiece and letting the subtle reverberation flow through her arm. The piano keys, she thought, deserved to be played at least once. The vintage cutlery in the kitchen, pristine enough to deter anyone from touching it and thereby violating its sanctity, seemed to vivify in her presence. She took each one of it out and placed it back exactly where it was, making sure to align it with the pale yellow stains on the glass shelf. A while later, as she became cognizant of the asymmetry of her exploration, Tilda decided it was time to go upstairs.

Twenty-four, she muttered as her heel connected with the uncarpeted cold floor. She looked down at the living room once more, ensuring nothing had been left unassimilated and walked into the room on her left.

The still, quiet air called to her, for although not enchanting, it was unmistakably unprejudiced. She shut the door and rested her back on it, taking in the tapestry, the clay angels jutting out from either side, and even the faint trace of the portraits that, she surmised, once hung from the wall in front of her. Through the glass door of the balcony, she saw the lilies, the roses, and a bevy of merry plants lined up across the railing, and smiled at them. Gently, she touched the top of each of the plants, as if they were toddlers sitting meditatively.

Her tour ended in half an hour and she went downstairs, leaving one room unexplored.

Tilda seldom got out of the house, for the items of daily use were procured by Franklin and the town, far removed from the hubbub of the metropolis with but a few hundred people did not have much for the gratification of the affluent. However, she had brought her companions with her; companions with gloss for skin and pages for appendages.

She would take several of these books at once and retreat upstairs and spend hours reading, experiencing, and truly immersing herself in the books. This would leave her no time to socialize. Tilda’s reclusion, however, was not received well by the town’s people.

Some felt belittled by her disinterest in them while others found her reticence baffling. Some had their warm regards returned to them as cold shoulders. Many attempted establishing an acquaintance with her, but not one succeeded. Consequentially, rumors about her began to spread.

“Not that I expected her to be anything else, but I’ve figured the woman’s a condescending brat,” said Hilary, the librarian’s wife. “For one month the woman’s been purchasing books from us and not once have we turned her away for, you know, if there’s a book written, you will find it in our shop. The first time she came to the library, she simply handed me a list of books—a really strange combination of psychology and fiction and geography— and did not say a word. I let that slide for she might have been busy, you know. But she did it the second time. And a third. Now, how was I to not notice such queer behavior? I saw her at the lake one day, staring at a flock of geese, and waved at her. The woman, if you can believe it, pretended to have not seen me and continued looking at them, you know. I say, you might be a millionaire’s heir, but what right do you have to look down upon those who earn their income, however modest, with their own hands?”

Lilette, her sister-in-law, was standing across from her, resting her elbows on the library counter. “I see what you mean. I would not have believed a word you said had I not experienced her loftiness first hand.” She patted Justin, her ten-year-old nephew, and said, “I went to the park yesterday with him and we were having sandwiches when he dropped some ketchup on my dress. Just then I saw her walking towards us. Do you know what she did? The woman kept staring at the spot and then looked the other way in disgust as if it was that execrable. I swear had I not been with Justin, I would have done something about it.”

“Well, she talks to no one, either,” chimed in Clyde, Hilary’s husband. “I tried to make small talk once but she muttered something and got in her car.”

“Someone needs to tell her that this is inappropriate. Clyde, how about if we go to her house tomorrow?”

“Now, Hilary, I think that’s a bit too much. Besides, what do we care? If she does not want to talk, so be it.”

Hilary shook her head. “This, your too good nature, is what gets you into trouble. If she wants to live peacefully in this town, she must co-operate. No one must feel berated, certainly not because of a woman who has just stepped her foot in the town.”


Tilda was sitting by the living room window one day, with a book balanced skillfully in her left hand, the right one at the ready to turn the page. The light coming from the window behind her illuminated the book and the white pages reflected the glow back on her face. Deep in thought, she kept reading the book, her head not moving an inch, her eyes taking in every word on the pages, pausing where the writer must have paused, too. Suddenly, a distant sound of feet on gravel caused her to sit up. She swiftly put a bookmark on the page and went upstairs. A minute later, the doorbell rang.

“Yes?” Franklin said.

“Hello. My name is Clyde Stevenson and this right here is my wife, Hilary Stevenson. That young man is our son Justin. We, er—” he looked at Hilary, who nodded discreetly, in a manner characteristic to a wife.

“We’ve come to talk to Ms. Waters. Is she at home?”

Franklin stared at the pair for a second too long and nodded.

“Why, yes. Is she expecting you?”

“No. We’ve not really had a formal introduction and would like to personally extend our warm regards to Ms. Waters.”

Franklin remained silent for a moment, and said, “I see. Please, have a seat.”

Leaving the three downstairs, he went up to inform Tilda about the guests.

Hilary took in the lavish decor of the living room and, replacing Tilda’s house with her own, imagined how it would look had it been embellished similarly. She was wearing a dress she had last worn two years ago at her brother’s wedding. Since then it had been lying in her wardrobe, waiting for an event worthy enough to warrant taking it out.

Clyde, meanwhile, sat twiddling his thumbs, feigning interest in the architecture. He was unfazed by it and had no intention of staying in the house any longer than was absolutely necessary. Yet, he could not stop his mind from thinking about what the wealthy owner of the house would think of him. Would she judge his choice in shirts? Would she, figuring out the vast difference in fortunes among them, not acknowledge his presence at all? A couple of deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth seemed to calm him and he folded his hands again and looked patiently at the top floor.

Justin, surveying the house in total awe, took it upon himself to arrange a stack of papers kept on a table.

Franklin came downstairs and in his most polite voice reserved for moments like these, said,

“I’m truly sorry, but Ms. Waters can’t make an appearance at the moment. She, I’m afraid, does not feel well and has decided to take some rest.”

Hilary dug her nails in the sofa. As she was about to say something, Clyde interrupted her.

“We completely understand.”

Just as they were about to leave the house, a soft whisper reached their ears.

“Please, wait.”

Tilda grabbed the railing and began her descent down the stairs, with slow, measured steps. She kept looking at the stairs the whole time and only once did she look at the pair. She got down and stood near a sofa. Franklin requested the Stevensons to take a seat.

Clyde saw the face of a troubled woman, yet Hilary could only see Tilda looking down upon her. Clyde cleared his throat and leaned forward.

“We are very sorry to have disturbed you. But we—” Clyde paused and weighed what he was about to say. He grew more aware of the triviality of their visit to Tilda’s house, which was accentuated by her indisposition. Should he leave the house without lettting her know their reason for the visit? Or should he give way to his wife’s demand and cause more grief to an ailing woman?

“Please, do not hesitate,” Tilda said.

This time, however, Hilary took charge of the situation and before she could be cut off by Clyde, began to pour what she had been intending to say since a very long time.

“Look, Ms. Waters, it has been exactly two months since you came to this town and—”

“And ten days,” Tilda said.

“What’s that?”

“Two months and ten days.”

“Oh is that so? Pardon my poor arithmetic, if you will. As I was saying, it has been two months and ten days since you came to this town and yet—”

“Mama,” said Justin, holding a book in his hand.

Hilary bit her lip. “Yes, honey?”

The boy gave the book a final look and said,

“Mama, what is as-per-jer, as-per-jers syndrome?”

“It’s Asper-ger’s, honey. It’s a, well,” she put her hand to her chin. “Well, why don’t you ask Ms. Waters? She purchased, if I remember correctly, seven of those books from us and—” Hilary’s jaw dropped.

She could hear nothing but her own heartbeat against her ears. She did not have the courage to look Tilda in the eye. Fearing her eyes might betray her, she closed them tightly and put her hand on her mouth.

It dawned on her that Tilda’s buying the other books was but a ruse. That all she was interested in was making a sincere attempt to overcome an obstacle that nature had put in her way.

Clyde sensed the guilt rising in Hilary’s heart and touched her knee lightly. Words failed him and he could not lift his gaze from the floor. He put his hand over his heart and bowed.


Franklin closed the door as the Stevensons left. He turned back to see Tilda slowly walking up the stairs, counting the steps.

July 16, 2021 19:17

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Shaylynn Skinner
03:12 Jan 26, 2022

I loved this story it was great! Will you read mine: The Locked Door?


J Sagar
09:50 Feb 06, 2022

Thanks for reading! Sure, I'll check out your story.


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Mercy Ineke
20:27 Nov 18, 2021

Awesome story I enjoyed every bit of it.


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Sarah Desouza
16:37 Aug 31, 2021

I really expected she would be a bit of a trollop, but the ending was so shocking! I could tell she was a nice delicate woman by her mannerisms, maybe a little attentive to details, but that was mistaken rather accidentally as Pride. She is probably one of the nicest, and I swear that Paris Hilton is the same Some rich folks cant tell what they are doing.Lovely Story. Read mine?


J Sagar
13:28 Sep 01, 2021

"Some rich folks cant tell what they are doing" Well said! Thanks for the comment! I'll check out one of your submissions. 👍


Sarah Desouza
08:45 May 31, 2022

I kinda noticed that you follow me on reedsy. If you like my writing here, you're sure to like my book! Yes, I wrote a romance novel called 'His Lingering Perfume' by Sarah D (me) It's like on Barnes n Noble, Storytel, Amazon n all. I'll post the link hopefully it's clickable. Otherwise just google it k! Again it's a Greatttt book that costs close to nothing. It would be a great favour if you wrote a nice review for me. A refreshingly different romance, if young...


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Charli Britton
16:49 Aug 10, 2021

This story caught my eye, because I love the word reticence, and I knew I just had to click on it. Very nicely written. I love the words you have used in here, simple yet elegant that most people wouldn't have. For instance, Arithmetic. I think most people would have used Math, but I like your style. :)


J Sagar
14:04 Aug 11, 2021

Thanks a lot for taking the time to read the story! Btw, I do like your idea of leaving a comment on (or liking) at least one story a day. Would definitely love to make someone's day, the way you made mine. Thanks!


Charli Britton
20:04 Aug 11, 2021

Thanks for taking the time to read my bio, I think it will be ice for a lot of those Reedsy authors who don't get comments. And your right, it is always the highlight of someone's day.


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