Home > The Weight of Silence(7)

The Weight of Silence(7)
Heather Gudenkauf

Calli shook her head miserably.

"Let's go now, I got a headache." He roughly yanked at Calli's arm when the slam of a screen door stopped him.

A woman, barefoot, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, stepped out of the house with a cordless phone pressed against her ear. Her voice was high and shrill. "Sure, you go running out when she needs you, when her precious little girl goes missing!"

Griff went still, Calli stepped forward to hear more clearly, and Griff pulled her back. Calli recognized the woman as Louis's wife, Christine. "I don't care that there are two girls missing. It's her daughter that is missing and that's all that matters to you!" Christine bitterly spat. "When Antonia calls, you go running and you know it!" Again the woman fell silent, listening to the voice on the other end of the phone. "Whatever, Louis. Do what you have to do, but don't expect me to be happy about it!" The woman jerked the phone from her ear and violently pushed a button, ending the call. She cocked her arm as if to throw the phone into the bushes, but paused for a moment. "Dammit," she snapped, then lowered her arm and brought the phone back down to her side. "Dammit!" she repeated before opening the screen door and entering her home again, letting the door bang behind her.

"Huh," Griff snorted. He looked at Calli. "So, you've gone missing? I wonder who took ya." He laughed, "Oooh, I'm a big, bad kidnapper. Christ. Let's go. Your mother is going to hit the roof when we get home."

Calli let herself be led back into the shade of the trees and immediately the air around her cooled. Her mother knew she was missing, but she must not have known that she was with her father. But who was the other little girl who was missing? Calli squeezed back tears, wanting to get to her mother, to shed her pee-covered nightgown, to wash and bandage her bleeding feet, to crawl into her bed and bury herself under the covers.


I have visited all the places that Petra loves: the library, the school, the bakery, Kerstin's house, Ryan's house, Wycliff Pool, and here, East Park. Now I walk among the swings, teeter-totter, jungle gym, slides and the monkey bars, deserted due to the early hour. I even climb up the black train engine that the railroad donated to the city as a piece of play equipment. It amazes me that anyone with any sort of authority could believe such a machine could be considered a safe place for children to play. It was once a working engine, but of course all the dangerous pieces had been removed, the glass replaced with plastic, sharp corners softened. But still it is huge, imposing. Just the thing to offer up to small children who have no fear and who feel that they could fly if given the opportunity. I have seen children climb the many ladders that lead to small nooks and crannies in the engine. The children would play an intricate game they dubbed Train Robbery, for which there were many rules, often unspoken and often developed on the spot as the game progressed. I have seen them leap from the highest point at the top of the train and land on the ground with a thump that to me sounds bone crushing. However, inevitably, the children sprang back up and brushed at the dirt that clung to their behinds, no worse for wear.

I, too, climb to the highest point at the top of the black engine and scan the park for any sign of Petra and Calli. For once I feel the exhilaration that the children must feel. The feeling of being at a pinnacle, where the only place to go now is down; it is a breathtaking sensation and I feel my legs wobble with uncertainty as I look around me. They are nowhere to be seen. I lower myself to a sitting position, my legs straddling the great engine. I look at my hands, dusty with the soot that is so ingrained on the train that it will never be completely washed away, and think of Petra.

The night that Petra was born I stayed in the hospital with Fielda. I did not leave her side. I settled myself in a comfortable chair next to her hospital bed. I was surprised at the luxuriousness of the birthing suite, the muted wallpaper, the lights that dimmed with the twist of a switch, the bathroom with a whirlpool bathtub. I was pleased that Fielda would give birth in such a nice place, tended to by a soothing nurse who would place a capable hand on Fielda's sweating forehead and whisper encouragement to her.

I was born in Missouri, in my home on a hog farm, as were my seven younger brothers and sisters. I was well-accustomed to the sounds of a woman giving birth and when Fielda began emitting the same powerful, frightening sounds, I became light-headed and had to step out of the hospital room for a moment. When I was young, I would watch my pregnant mother perform her regular household duties with the same diligence to which I was accustomed. However, I remember seeing her grasp the kitchen counter as a contraction overtook her. When her proud, stern face began to crumple in pain, I became even more watchful. Eventually she would send me over to my aunt's house to retrieve her sister and mother to help her with the birth. I would run the half mile swiftly, grateful for the reprieve from the anxious atmosphere that had invaded our well-ordered home.

In the summers I would go barefoot, the soles of my feet becoming hard and calloused. Impervious to the clumps of dirt and rocks, I could barely feel the ground beneath me. I preferred to wear shoes, but my mother only allowed me to wear them on Sundays and to school. I hated that people could see my exposed feet, the dirt that wedged itself under my toenails. I had the habit of standing on one leg with the other resting on top of it, my toes curled so that only the top of one dirty foot was visible. My grandmother would laugh at me and call me "stork." My aunt thought this was quite amusing, especially when I came to get them to help my mother deliver her baby. She would discharge a big, bellowing laugh that was delightful to the ears, so much so that even I could not help but smile, even though the laugh was at my expense. We would climb into my grandmother's rusty Ford and drive back to our farm. We would pass by the hog house and my father would wave at us and smile hugely. This was his signal that a new son or daughter would be born soon.

In name, I was a farm boy, but I could not be bothered by the minutiae of the farm. My interest was in books and in numbers. My father, a kind, simple man, would shake his head when I would show no interest in farrowing sows, but still I had my chores to do around the farm. Mucking out the pens and feeding buckets of slop to the hogs were a few of my duties. However, I refused to have any part of butcher time. The thought of killing any living creature made me ill, though I had no qualms about eating pork. On butcher day, I would conveniently disappear. I would retrieve my shoes from the back of my closet and tie them tightly, brushing away any scuffs, and I would walk into town three miles away. When I reached the outskirts, I would spit onto my fingers and bend down to wipe away the dust and grime from my shoes. I would double-check to make sure my library card, wrinkled and limp from frequent use, was still there as I stepped into the library. There I would spend hours reading books on coin collecting and history. The librarian knew me by name and would often set aside books she knew I would enjoy.

"Don't worry about bringing these back in two weeks," she'd say conspiratorially, handing me the books tucked carefully into the canvas bag I had brought with me. She knew it could be difficult for me to make the trip into town every few weeks, but more often than not I would find a way.

I would slink back to the farm, the butchering done for the day, and my father would be waiting on the front porch, rolling his cigarette between his fingers, drinking some iced tea that my mother had brewed. I would marvel at his size as I slowly approached my home, knowing that disappointment was awaiting me. My father was an enormous man, in height and girth, the buttons of his work shirts straining against the curve of his belly. People who did not know my father would shrink away from his vastness, but were quickly drawn into his gentle manner as they got to know him. I cannot recall a time when my father raised his voice to my mother or my brothers and sisters.

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