I don't turn on the radio when I drive. I don't listen to books or podcasts. There are some things I might like to hear to help wile away the time and make it more pleasant. Instead I sit in silence. My thoughts are all I hear. Some days it might be better to listen to the radio, to hear the bland and cloyingly gaudy pop come from my crystal clear speakers that probably cost me an extra few hundred. Some days anything is preferable to silence. But I've found silence has a voice. Silence speaks. I try to listen. Even if what it says is the opposite of what I was—or even need—to hear.
Anger used to burn the house. It branded it. The invisible welt was as red as cherry candy and stung like a sand wasp; itching, irritating, and feeling like it would never let go. Another thing I've learned is that things can heal if you leave them alone long enough. But then again, some are like an allergy, flaring up the moment you come into contact with what hurt you.
The drive was fine, I say. I do not mention that I could have crashed while I tried to swim free of the water in my eyes. We do not mention these things. At least I don't.
Home is an odd word, so heavily loaded with connotation it's a wonder it hasn't buckled and snapped under the pressure. But then again, home is supposed to stand a lot of pressure. There's not much use of it otherwise.
I walk into the kitchen. My eyes instinctively go to the biscuit jar. It’s not a jar. It’s a ceramic Noah’s Ark, just big enough to fit about twelve biscuits. Some homes have a cookie jar. We don't.
It is empty. This disappoints me bitterly, and I sit down, dejected. It's kind of funny, the little things that can break a guy.
I tried to make biscuits once. I ended up adding too much baking soda and they had been spoiled. No one in my house believed in waste and so they had been eaten. Every single one. My siblings had complained then and laughed long and loud when they recalled it now.
Now I’m cursed. My sensitivity to the stuff is far beyond that of mere mortals. I can tell you if there’s too much of it in your cookies a mile off. I can sniff the improper quantity from any mixture. Some people call me ridiculously sensitive. But I impolitely push my plate away and refuse another bite with an air of dignified politeness.
We sit in silence. But like I said, silence can speak. Sometimes silence shouts. If I could I would shout back. But I can’t, so we just sit. Memories float around my head. Little snippets of conversation gabble on.
“It’s not my fault he acts like that. You don’t need to try to blame me.”
“Why don’t you ever listen!”
“He chose his own path. That’s his problem.”
It’s amazing how much I can remember verbatim. Down to the shape of the voices as they twist and twirl, trying to get in a wounding blow.
“You could have said something.”
“It’s not my life to choose.”
“Well you could have at least tried.”
I can’t stand it after a while. It’s too hard to pretend I’m too tired to do anything else. I am tired. I am so tired it rather surprises me that I can walk with all the weight strapped to my chest. I excuse myself and go upstairs. The last golden red hands have stopped reaching across the sky, driven back by a cold grayness that matches my emotionless emotions.
I try to sleep, but sleep seems busy somewhere else. I could try to distract myself with my phone, but somehow it doesn’t seem worth the effort. Tonight is a night of quiet. I won’t be disturbing it.
Hours pass and nothing happens except an unquiet spreads through my bones. I try breathing deeply. I shift around.
I will not be sleeping tonight.
I creep downstairs, looking for something, I’m not quite sure what. I end up in the kitchen, and sit on the floor. Some say that the kitchen is the center of the home. I believe them. So much happened here. Some good, some bad. It’s the hearth of our home. I like to think Hestia would like to come here sometimes. I look at the biscuit jar and my mouth sours.
I find I am hungry. This makes sense as I haven’t had dinner.
It takes just a minute to find everything. Things have been moved around a bit, but most things are in basically the same places. The baking soda is still marked with a red sharpie. This might have made me laugh in another life.
The rolling board is clean.
I mix and measure, carefully, my old shame insistent that I don’t mess this up. It’s incredible that the old thing is still legible, but I have this recipe memorized. The one change I make is to add a pinch less soda. No one will notice. But I can tell.
I was never as good as her. She had a gift, nurtured through the years. I didn't. Though through much practice I mastered a few tricks, I resigned myself to a fate of mediocrity in that realm. It was the butter that was the real trick. It would always stick to the knife, and then melt later from being too warmed in my hands. She could always briskly whisk it away with quick movements between her thumb and palm, always perfect, as if it was a thing that took barely any effort.
I let them rise a little longer to balance for the baking soda. I don’t mind waiting. I’ve waited a long time already. An extra hour means nothing. There’s no point in holding onto time. We all get our measure.
I contemplate the reason I’m here. It’s odd the way death pulls people together. The few funerals I’ve gone to seem more like a reunion than a ceremony to honor the dead. He wouldn’t want to be honored though. He would wish only for a nod of recognition and a smile laced with irony. He used to say he wanted his grave to say We will meet once more. I doubt his headstone will be like that. They’ll probably borrow some Hallmarkian proverb devoid of both meaning or heartfelt anything. Then again, that might make him laugh. Insincerity was his favorite joke.
The rising done, I pull out the old wooden rolling pin. The rolling seems therapeutic, like rocking a baby, something I haven’t done in years and miss. Sometimes I roll the dough like a slow song, reveling in the beautiful mundanity of it. Sometimes I don’t, and the dough probably is worse for it.
I realized I had forgotten the biscuit cutter and hunted for it anxiously, a curse ready on my tongue. It would not do to fail now. I found it somewhat predictable in the jar, which isn’t a jar. I stare at the biscuit cutter for a second and I wonder if it was always this rusty.
As the biscuits bake, I sit and think in the oven glow. He was my friend, he was a good one, good to others, but especially me. I’ve heard that some siblings aren’t friends, which always strikes me with its extreme oddity. But he was my best friend in a way.
The kitchen door slides open, carelessly spilling the light into the night darkened living room, interrupting my solitary vigil.
“Hi mom,” I say.
I shrug my shoulders.
She looks around the kitchen. “I noticed we were out of biscuits,” I say.
Her eyes tremble. “I haven’t felt like making them.”
I glance at the timer. “They’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
We break bread together. I'm no English major, but the irony of it simmers on my nerves just west of pleasantly. They are hot, and good. The pockets of butter I have failed to mix properly taste wonderful and fill them with a delicious taste. They taste almost like coming back from a long journey late at night and finding a cup of hot chocolate waiting on the table and an old friend ready for a chat. Almost.
We eat in silence, the bitterness hovering lightly in our mouths.
Before the last crumbs are gone, I speak.
“Tell me why you didn’t try to help him.”
She avoids my eyes. “I did.”
I raise my head. “You should have told me.”
“It was easier to let you believe it was my fault,” she breathes. “I didn’t want you to have to believe…” She took a shaky breath. “It really was his life to live.”
“And his to end,” I mutter.
I split the last biscuit with her. The butter is deliciously sweet. But the baking soda still sinks into my senses. I taste them both, the bitter and the sweet. The good and the bad. I think in silence as the sunrise breaks through the sky, grabbing for new life with a reaching, golden glow.
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This is so beautifully and artfully written! I have many siblings who are all actually my best friends, so this really touched me. I loved how the story slowly unfolded revealing heart break, healing, and understanding. I also love the biscuit descriptions; I could smell them baking!
Thank you. I honestly felt a little let down on this one. Rereading it now I feel like it isn’t so bad as I imagined. I am more than glad that I was able to touch you with my words.