This story is one of the February Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.

You think that the sound of screaming filling the air would be the loudest sound of all, but it’s not. The silence after, that long drawn out pause that fills up your body, your mind, your heart—those moments—the silence is so loud it is deafening. Today the silence is from a beautiful gift from a thoughtful friend. I screamed with joy to see her standing there with a big bouquet of flowers. The silence afterwards was way more deafening.

When I walked to the shops for the first time in weeks, the traffic whizzing around me, someone tooted their horn, the reply was a massive blast of someone else’s horn. They started shouting at each other; people in the street stopped and stared. That was loud, really loud, but the non sound when I walked into the bakers, that was deafening.

When I was in the house and there were no footsteps around me, there was no one shouting my name, there was no one begging me to go out or asking me to check what they had written. That sound, that non sound, loss of sound… that was the most deafening of them all.

There is a split second when all is calm and still and there is silence, and it is the aftermath of that silence that is so hard to control and so hard to handle. I try to hide from it with a shrug and a silly grin to try to make everyone else feel better, but who is there to make me feel better now? Getting home and turning the lights on to a house that is empty……. I don’t want it to be empty, but I need it to be right now. Those moments I am lost, the noise is too much sometimes: the tick of the clock, the creak of the house, the hum of the fridge, closing in on me. I crouch to the ground with my hands over my ears. My head rolls forward so it touches the ground. My heart then echoes in my ears and all around, and then I realise there is someone hammering at the door. If I answer, then it stops the deafening non sound in my ears, but then it means I have to talk, to “pull myself together,” and I can’t, so I stay on the floor, now silently screaming. I hear footsteps, then nothing. They have gone.

I went to the beach with my sister, my twin. We ran into the surf, our beach-tanned bodies were identical, even to the little spray of star tattoos we had gotten independently around our ankles— they were the same. Our hair—a soft golden brown curling around our shoulders—freckles sprinkled generously across our noses, our mouths upturned and laughing. I had an emerald green bikini on. Jennifer’s was amethyst purple. Complementing each other even when we weren’t being 100% identical. We whooped and shouted and laughed as we ran through the surf. How we dived through a wave and swam out until the people on the beach were little dots in the distance. We swam and laughed; we lay on our backs and talked about life. We didn’t see the big wave, and we were chatting and laughing, paddling our arms, looking at the sun. The wave crashed over us, pulling us under, swirling the seabed up around our eyes. I managed to get my head above the surface but was pulled back down, the water rushing in around my ears. I couldn’t see anything. I pulled myself back up to the surface and span around and around. No Jennifer. I screamed, I called, I pulled in oxygen and dived under, over and over and over again. The silence that replied to my every call getting louder and louder and more panicked. Someone had me, their arms around me, swimming against me protesting. I was put on the beach, and people were looking over me. It all went black. It felt more peaceful, here I was with my sister, we were still laughing, feeling the warm sea around our skin, feeling the sun throwing sparkles all around us. When I opened my eyes, the world was still, people were staring, no one was talking.  Next to me was a body, very similar to mine, the only thing different was that amethyst purple bikini and the fact her chest was no longer rising up and down with new breath. I stared and I stared. I tried to get up but felt pinned to the ground. I looked and looked, and I willed her. I tried to talk to her through my head, willing her to cough, willing her to breathe. The aftermath of the silence that followed the realisation that she was gone, that silence is deafening me with every minute I live on as a girl, no longer a twin. Just a girl who once loved to swim.



Alison Roberts

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