Home > The Weight of Silence(11)

The Weight of Silence(11)
Heather Gudenkauf

You've always been a good sport, Calli, I'll give you that. You're no girly-girl. I remember the time when you were one and just starting to walk--all wobbly and unsure. I was six and Mom told us to go outside and play. You followed me around, trying to do everything I did. I picked up the bruised apples from the ground under our apple tree and threw them at the side of the garage and you'd do the same. I didn't much like having a baby following me, but I loved how you'd say, "Beh, Beh!" for Ben. Whenever you'd see me, it was like you were all surprised that I was there, like you were all lucky because I stepped in the room, even if you'd seen me, like, ten minutes earlier.

Mom would laugh and say, "See, Ben, Calli loves her big brother, don'tcha, Calli?" And you would stamp your fat little feet and squeal, "brudder, brudder!" Then you'd come over and grab my leg and squeeze.

Later that same year, when I turned seven, I got the coolest pair of cowboy boots for my birthday. They were black and had red stitching. I wore those things everywhere, all the time. And if a baby could be jealous of boots, you sure were. You'd catch me wearing my boots and admiring myself in the mirror and you'd just go right after those boots and try to pull them off of my feet. It was actually kinda funny; Mom would sit on the bedroom floor and laugh her head off. I don't know if you thought I loved those cowboy boots more than you, or if you just enjoyed seeing me all riled up, but that got to be your favorite pastime for a while. You always ended up getting at least one boot off of me, because you were so much littler than me and I couldn't just kick you away from me. I'd get in a ton of trouble if I did that. Lots of times you'd just sneak up on me while I was watching TV and you'd latch on until that boot just slid right off my foot, then you'd run. Most of the time you'd just throw the boot down the steps or out in the yard, but one time you threw it in the toilet. Man, was I mad. I refused to wear them after that. Mom washed it out and set it out in the sun to dry, but still I wouldn't wear those boots. But you sure did. They were yours after that, even though they were way too big for you. You'd wear them with every outfit you had, shorts, dresses, even your pajamas. More than once Mom had to pull them off your feet after you fell asleep in bed. You still wear them once in a while. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you weren't out in the woods in them right now, stomping around.

When you stopped talking isn't real clear to me, but I know you were four and I was nine. One day you're wearing my boots, telling me the dumbest knock-knock jokes and giggling like mad, and I'd roll my eyes. Then one day nothing, no words. It just got so quiet around here. Like when you step outside after the first real big snowstorm of the year and everything's all smothered in white and no one has shoveled yet and no cars are on the road. Everything is still, and it's nice. For a while. Then it gets kind of creepy, a quiet so big you yell just to hear your own voice, and the buried outdoors gives nothing back.

CALLI

Calli ran down Broadleaf Trail until it intersected with River Bottom, where the trail traveled downward at a steep angle, winding its way down to the creek. Each dip or rise in the forest had its own smell, sweet with spiral flower, pungent with wild onion, fetid with rotting leaves. Each hollow and turn had its own climate, warm and moist, cool and arid. As Calli ran down toward the river and deeper into the woods, the temperature dropped, the trees grew closer together, the vegetation gathered in tight around her ankles.

Calli could hear Griff's large body pounding the trail above her. Her chest burned with each breath, but still she ran, spindly tree trunks and craggy bluffs blurred in the corners of her eyes. Patches of sun briefly shone brilliantly on the ground before her. A stitch in her side caused her to slow and then stop. She listened carefully to the woods. The narrow creek gurgled, a cardinal called and insects droned. Calli searched for a place to hide. Off the trail, she spotted the remains of several fallen trees arranged in a crisscross pattern, behind which she could rest for perhaps a few moments, unseen. She climbed over the gnarled pile and dropped carefully to the side away from the trail. Once seated, Calli pulled stray twigs and branches around her to camouflage her pink nightgown. She tried to steady her breathing. She did not want Griff to hear her huffing and find her trapped within the middle of the branches with no quick escape.

Minutes passed with no Griff, only the comforting knock of a woodpecker somewhere above that rang out over the usual forest sounds. Calli shook in spite of the heat, and rubbed the goose bumps on her arms. The rage that radiated off Griff needled at Calli's memories and she tried to close her eyes to them. That day.

On that day in December, it was cold. She was four, and Ben was off sledding with some of his friends. Her mother, belly heavy with pregnancy, was making hot cocoa, plopping white cushiony marshmallows into the steamy chocolate, then adding an ice cube to Calli's mug to cool it. Calli was at the kitchen table, drawing paper in front of her and an arrangement of markers around her.

"What should we name the baby, Cal?" her mother asked as she set the hot chocolate before her. "Don't burn your mouth now."

Calli set aside her drawing, a picture of Christmas trees, reindeer and a roly-poly Santa. "Popsicle, I think," she replied, pressing a spoon against a melting marshmallow.

"Popsicle?" her mother asked, laughing. "That's an unusual name. What else?"

"Cupcake," Calli giggled.

"Cupcake? Is that her middle name?"

Calli nodded, her smile filled with sticky white marshmallows. "Birthday Cake," she added. "Popsicle Cupcake Birthday Cake, that's her name."

"I like it," her mother said, grinning, "but every time I say her name, I think I'll get hungry. How about Lily or Evelyn? Evelyn was my mother's name."

Calli made a face and tentatively took a sip of her cocoa. She felt the burn of the liquid traveling down her throat and she waved a hand in front of her mouth as if to fan away the warmth.

The back door opened, bringing with it a swirl of frozen air that made Calli squeal. "Daddy!" she cried out, "Daddy's home!" She stood on her chair and reached her arms out, snagging onto his neck as he passed by her. The cold that hung on his parka seeped through her sweatshirt and he tried to set Calli down.

"Not now, Calli, I need to talk to your mom." Calli did not release his neck as he clumsily approached her mother and he shifted her so that she rested on his hip.

The smell of beer bit at her nose. "Stinky." She grimaced.

"I thought you were getting here hours ago," Antonia said in a measured tone. "Did you just roll into town?"

"I've been gone three weeks, what're a few hours more?" Griff's words were innocent, but had a bite to them. "I stopped at O'Leary's for a drink with Roger."

Antonia scanned him up and down. "From the smell of things and the way you're lurching around, you had more than a few. You've been gone for a month. I figured once you got back to town, you'd want to see your family."

Calli heard the tension in their voices and squirmed to get out of Griff's arms. He held her tightly.

"I do wanna see my family, but I wanna see my friends, too." Griff opened the refrigerator and searched for a beer, but found none. He slammed the door, causing the glass bottles to rattle against each other.

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