It’s the middle of the afternoon, and I already got all my morning chores done, sweeping the house and cleaning up after the dogs. Now I just wait all anxious at the window, looking down the long carriageway to the point where it curves inta the woods. But I listen even further, through the trees and right down to the main road, hoping ta hear soon that rattly roar of Papa’s Model A. I’m so excited I almost believe I hear it coming right up the carriageway and slowing down to its light chugga-chikka chugga-chikka until Papa stops it. But I open my eyes and it’s still not there.
My heart is gonna explode, cuz Papa wouldn’t let me go with him even though I like our new Model A and never get to go anywhere in it. And I especially wanted ta go today.
The reason I’m so excited is that Gabriella is coming home, my little sister who’s 4, just two years younger’n me. And she’s been in the hospital for a spell, just getting her throat fixed ta save her life, Mama says. I just really wanna give her a big hug and take care of her. She hadta been scared, I know. I remember when they cut me too at the special hospital.
Finally, I hear them coming for real, and I’m fit ta bust. I run over to the front door, and Mama says “No.” So I go back over to the couch by the window. It takes forever for them ta drive up the carriageway, and Papa sits in the Model A with Gabriella for a bit with it going chugga-chikka until I just wanna scream if I could. Mama looks at me real stern-like, shushing me for fidgeting too much. I sit back down, stretching out my neck to see outa the window for just a little glimpse of Gabriella.
When Gabriella gets outa the car she has a blanket wrapped round her, all snug, but I can see the white bandage on her neck. She looks skinny and tired and like they dumped water over her before bringing her home. I can only watch til they turn the corner round the house, so I wait for the door to open. I’m ready to pounce like a big ol’ stuffed bear and dance with her around the room, but Mama just looks at me again and says, “No.”
Gabriella comes in under Papa’s shadow as he pushes the door open, scowling like he always does. She runs past Mama and over to me even though Mama says, “No running in the house”, and she throws her arms around me. The dogs, Jupiter and Victor, come in, too, not barking because Mama cut their vocal cords. They whuffle at Gabriella, sniffing her up and down until Papa shoos them back out of the house.
“Genevieve, get Gabriella to lay down and rest,” Mama tells me, as she walks inta the kitchen with Papa.
Gabriella steps back a little, holding my hand, and she taps her heart. I do, too. It’s our way of saying we love each other. She points at herself and then at me and smiles though she has lotsa tears in her eyes. I don’t know what she’s saying for a bit, til she touches her neck and then touches mine, and I see her move her lips soundlessly saying she’s happy she’s like me now. I give her a kiss and a hug.
Yes, now neither one of us can talk.
There will be some time before dinner, as long as we’re real quiet, so I take Gabriella’s hand and we walk back to our little room. Today I made it all pretty for her with some garlands of flowers and some old ribbons Mama said I could have. I tied them on her bed posts and around her favorite doll Betsy, and I made her bed all nice for her and got out all her toys and puzzles she likes. I even wroted a sign that Mama wouldn’t let me hang up onta the wall, so I put it on her bed standing up against a pillow. “Welcome Home Gabriella!!!”
I try to get her ta lay down and rest, but she doesn’t wanta. She just wants to be with me, and that makes me so happy that I cry just a little. But she tickles me and soon we’re both overcome with our quiet airy giggles, though she grimaces and touches her throat. But after, we sit down together on her bed, all silent-like, and I realize just how difficult it’s gonna be for us to talk now.
We’re not very good at reading each other’s lips, and I’ve almost forgotten how to pretend to talk. I can read and write and all, cuz a maid we useta have taught me, but Gabriella can’t read or write too much yet. I been teaching her, but she doesn’t know too many good words. If I don’t teach her, nobody will. We don’t go to school on account of us being feeble-minded and unable to speak, Mama told us. Thankfully, Mamma said she didn’t wanna put us down. Though she coulda.
I can see that Gabriella realizes the same thing, that we can’t say things no more with her talking and me nodding and making gestures. She put her fist next to her head like I always do when I have a question for her.
I touch her lips and then mine, and I shrug. Gabriella nods sadly. But I have an idea. I take her hand and we sneak over to the door of Papa’s library. I make my hands open and close like a book. I point to the kitchen and to Gabriella’s eyes and back to the kitchen. We can hear them talking loud in there. Papa’s probly drinking already, even though it’s the afternoon. I point to myself and Papa’s library. I raise my hand like saying stop, and point to the kitchen again.
Gabriella smiles and tiptoes over near the kitchen, looking back at me hopefully. I think she knows what I mean.
I open Papa’s squeaky library door real slow and just enough to squeeze in, and once inside I hafta use Papa’s chair to stand on to get a book. It’s Humboldt’s Manual of American Sign Language that Aunt Madeleine sent a coupla years ago when I got my surgery. Mama said it wasn’t for me, though, cuz I’m too young for such things.
I suddenly hear Mama and Papa coming out of the kitchen and start yelling at Gabriella about being too noisy. I grab the book, jump down, and run out the door, but there’s no time to close the library door or push the chair back in place.
I just run inta our room, hoping maybe Papa won’t notice me, but I hear Papa swearing in French and Mama asking God why she has such horrible children. I think they see the library door open. Soon, I hear Papa go to his office, and I know it’s not good for me.
Papa’s angry when he comes into the bedroom, and I think he’s gonna hit me with his fists like he does sometimes. He asks me where the book is, and I give it to him. He hands me his knife and I know what he wants me to do. I go outside to cut myself a switch. Gabriella wants to come out with me, but they make her go lay down in her bed.
I don’t have much time to find a good switch, one that’s not too thick and not too thin, without any knobby parts cuz they hurt. If I get it wrong he’ll just get the fire poker, so I find a nice little green branch on a tree just outside the house and cut it off and trim it real careful. Be nice to me, I say soundlessly to the branch in my airless and soundless whisper, and I go back inside.
Papa hits me a lot with the switch, but at least he doesn’t make me be naked any more when he punishes me. And he doesn’t know I had put on an extra skirt under my dress. I weep and breathe heavy and roll around, though, like it really hurts. In the end, I pretend to faint cuz it hurts so bad, and Papa stops. He picks me up and puts me in my bed and then places the book back in his library.
I’m surprised Mama and Papa let me have dinner after being so bad, but maybe it’s becuz I still hafta do my evening chores and I didn’t have any lunch on account of being so excited about Gabriella. It’s just tomato soup and some bread and cheese for us, but it stops my grumbly stomach. I try to eat standing up, so Papa thinks he hurt me, and he tells me angrily to sit down. My sister's not eating much and looking pretty tired, but she smiles and winks at me all through dinner, and I hafta keep from giggling.
After dinner, I do the dishes and clean the kitchen for Mama while she relaxes, and Papa sits in his library. Then I hafta sweep the kitchen floor, which is the worst part. I already scrubbed it this morning, but Mama’s very particular.
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It’s nice and quiet for us when Mama and Papa send us to take a bath and go to bed. Gabriella and I take a bath together, and I wash her careful and keep from getting water on her bandage. She looks more like Gabriella when she’s clean and I dry her with a big towel. I give her the soft one.
I pick out her cutest pyjamas, the ones without the holes that she likes with the elephants. I wear my pyjamas with the ducks, and I snuggle into her bed so we can read a little. I bring Mother Goose.
Gabriella giggles when I open the book, breathful and quiet, and she puts her fist next to my head. I giggle too. This is her way to say I am smart. I had switched the paper covers of Mother Goose and Humboldt’s. Our Mother Goose book now teaches sign language. Papa's sign language book on his shelf is full of nursery rhymes. We look through the pictures and how you say things like “hello” and “I love you” and “I’m hungry” and other things.
I put a blanket over the lamp to let just a little light through, and I lay my dress along the crack under our door. We got just a little time before Gabriella is probly gonna fall asleep. We start to learn slowly to talk to each other, and it’s a world just for us.
I hold Gabriella’s fingers in a fist, thumb against her cheek, and then bring her hand down like a finger gun on top of her other hand.
Written for the Unspoken Challenge- September 2023
Convey a deep conversation between two individuals without uttering a single word aloud.
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