by Marilyn Márquez
“Midnight!” the clock yells, angry
that I’ve asked it again what time it is. I still have
seven hours to go. “Aren’t you tired yet?” the TV asks,
reminding me I am exhausted. I haven’t slept for the
past couple of months, since I left home. My brain’s
begging for some peace, and my sore muscles for rest.
The truth is, I don’t dare to sleep. At least, not yet.
I have to make sure he won’t be back tonight. “How can
you be sure?” the nightstand asks, but I ignore it, like
every other night. The little table lamp flickers, as if
the sole mention of his memory sent shivers down its
Things weren’t always like this. I
used to be a good sleeper. I used to sleep through car
accidents, ambulances, screaming children, car alarms,
gun shots and the occasional explosion. I once slept
through an earthquake. Not anymore. These days, I can
barely close an eye without him barging in.
I turn around to ask the clock what
time it is, but I stop when I see its angry face. Time
has a habit of slowing down in these situations, that’s
probably why my clock is so cranky. I don’t want to go
to sleep yet, but the TV decides it’s time for me to
rest, so it starts showing me reruns of some sick
“You win,” I say.
I get up with the pretext of going to
the bathroom. But I know I’m just delaying the
inevitable. On my way out I walk by the sink and gasp.
There’s a woman in the mirror staring back at me: pale
skin, stringy, short black hair, and dark circles under
her dark eyes. She is least twenty pounds heavier than I
used to be.
“You look like crap, Veronica,” I
whisper at my reflection and go back to bed. I turn the
light off, close my eyes and shiver. He’ll be here soon.
He always appears by the doorway, his
expressionless face lit by that eerie red glint in his
eyes. His features are deformed into a grimace; a
horrible, dead smile. His breath, like freezing fog,
engulfs the furniture. His pale skin, like translucent
paper, glows in the dark. His scent leaves the room
smelling of burnt rubber and blood. The floorboards bend
under his weight, his monstrous frame hidden in
darkness, and his hideous shadow becoming part of the
landscape in the room. Dead Silence.
This Silence isn’t the sweet, young,
playful one that used to bring me crickets every night
when I was a child, or the peaceful quiet I like to sit
and read with. It isn’t the calm mirage that appears for
a second after the rain, before the birds chase it away.
It isn’t even close to the bitter, prickly, shooting
stillness of a funeral. No. This Silence has claws. He
stares at me and his eyes are laughing, and behind the
murmur of his laughter, I hear him whisper: February,
1992. I know this Silence ... Yes, we go back a long
I was still a child when we first
met. Back then I still believed that little and private
bubble I called “The World” was untouchable. The first
time I saw him, he was spearheading a procession of
soldiers about to storm the Government Palace in
Caracas. They marched, advanced, and charged, not for
love of country, or law, or orders, but for murder. That
night, this Silence shrouded them in his shadow. He
swallowed the noises surrounding them and walked before
those soldiers. He clawed his way not only into the
palace, but also into the homes surrounding it; into the
bedrooms of people who thought it was just another
midnight. And he stood in their bedrooms, just as he
does in mine, watching, waiting, grinning, freezing the
air around him, bending the walls and poisoning the air
with his stench. And then the coup began and he wasn’t
needed anymore. This Silence has malice.
The second time I saw him, he was
standing in the middle of my living room. He was
grinning, waiting for me to try to speak so he could
swallow my voice, too. My mother turned to me, pale and
scared, and answered my question before I could ask:
“There was a coup. They gained control of the Aviation
and the Army. Only the National Guard is still loyal
...” And right then, I felt the cold, sharp grasp of his
claws. All day that day he lurked, stalked, and crouched
in the different corners of the city. I saw him
standing, triumphant, in the rubble after Angelica’s
house was bombed. She was only twelve, like me, and my
best friend. He only left when the ambulance came to
carry her and her family to the morgue.
He shrank and crouched beside my
neighbors as we watched from the rooftops how the planes
bombed the airbase and the mall next to it. I saw him
suck the laughter out of the children missing school,
when they realized those popping sounds at the distance
weren’t fireworks, but gunshots. I saw him lick the
blood off the lifeless body of the pilot whose plane was
shot down. I saw him chew off the hope for peaceful
resolutions. I saw him dance as he swallowed the fear of
a whole country. And I saw him growl and snarl at the
few brave souls who tried to tell the truth to the
world. Yes, this Silence has fangs.
For weeks he was the only presence
allowed on the streets after sundown. He watched the
soldiers from afar as they shot at people’s houses just
for fun. He took over communications and newspapers. He
blacked out all news reports, domestic and
international, and watched the city turn into a jungle.
He was the only live entity left after they burnt down
the ghettos surrounding the city. People whose only
crime was being poor were being labeled “conspirators”
and lost everything. He swallowed their cries. This
Silence likes chaos.
He danced to the tune of the
government’s decision to cancel our constitutional
rights. He sang his opera prima as our Congress sent the
military barging into people’s houses, looking for
someone to blame for the bloodshed. He stood by,
grinning, as always, and watching as one side tried to
destroy the other. He roamed the city helping and hiding
looters, rapists, and thieves that liked to hunt for
people. He stood in the middle of living rooms, his face
frozen in that deformed grimace, as he watched families
mourn their dead. This Silence drinks tears.
Eventually, life began to return to
the city, and the familiar noises of life chased him
away. I thought I’d never see him again, but I did.
Things were getting worse. The leader of the butchers
from 1992 was elected president. Everyone knew it was
only a matter of time before The Silence showed up
again. I was leaving my home to come here. I turned
around to look at all the beloved faces of friends and
family, the mountains under whose shadow I grew, and all
those familiar places I knew I wouldn’t see again when
he appeared. I prepared myself for the coldness of his
skin, the lifelessness of his gaze, the sharpness of his
claws, the glint of his fangs ... but this time he went
for my parents. They couldn’t move, speak, or cry. So I
did. He laughed. This Silence likes loss.
Suddenly, I notice the slightest of
shivers, is it me? No. Something’s happening outside. I
go to the window; there’s some commotion downstairs. A
neighbor decided to have a party. Someone called the
police. I turn around, afraid he’ll be standing beside
me. But he’s already left, chased away by the presence
of life that isn’t afraid of him.
So, he feeds on fear. Finally, I can
get some sleep. There might be hope.
Morning comes and goes on with its
usual discretion. In the office only my pocket-sized
silence accompanies me: a small, light, gentle presence
in my purse. It helps me think, and today I need to
devise a strategy, forge alliances and plan my routes
for tonight. I have decided to confront him. Tonight,
his siege of my bedroom will end.
I walk home, tired after a long day
in the office and weeks of insomnia. I see the streets
and I wonder if I will ever be able to participate in
the life that fills them to the brim. I watch the birds
fly these friendly, blue skies. I wonder if they are
aware of the other, less friendly realm their cousins
are forced to inhabit in my part of the globe.
“What are you up to?” my watch
inquires, “You haven’t asked me the time all afternoon.”
I look at it and smile. “Hush and
I walk slowly past the shops I never
visit and the grocery store I’ve never shopped in. I
come to the street where I always turn right to take the
bus. I see him, waiting at the bus stop, swallowing the
voices of the people around him. He plans to begin early
today, make up for last night’s interruption. I look him
in the eye and walk straight ahead. There’s panic in his
eyes. I like it.
I check my phone. No messages. I keep
walking. He tries to catch up, but the closer I get
downtown, the more it hurts him. He’s panting and I
detect the slightest limp in his formerly secure steps.
I can tell that the music pouring out of the Italian
restaurant I’ve always wanted to visit burns his ears,
but he presses on. I walk towards a coffee house where
they are hosting a poetry recital and sit in the middle
of the room. His grin collapses. After pacing outside
for a few minutes, he comes into the room and sits in a
corner, giving the poet a panic attack. He smiles. But
then, people begin clapping, and the poet returns to the
stage and takes the microphone. Her voice fills the room
with words of hope. I turn to his corner, and can’t help
but smile as I realize our hope is poisoning him. The
second poem, a painful reminder of the loneliness of a
lost love, revives him. He begins grinning again, but it
doesn’t bother me; every one of his reactions confirms
my theory. The third poem is about promises of love. The
moment her words begin to fill the air, he begins to
squirm in his chair. I am enjoying it. She reads the
last poem, the longest one, describing snippets of her
life, and he leaves the room, trembling and in pain.
This Silence fears life.
After the recital, I stay to talk to
the poet and thank her. She doesn’t understand, but
accepts gracefully. I leave the coffee house and meet
him head on; I knew he would be waiting. He tries to
disarm me by showing me memories of the ruins of my
city. But I decide to remember my home as I left it:
whole, rebuilt and alive. Still, he limps behind me. I
approach a group of laughing children. He tries to
swallow their laughter, but it’s useless, these kids
don’t fear him. He’s powerless.
I keep walking, not sure of where I’m
going, only that I need to get him away from me. I walk
past a small French bistro and sit at the bar. He tries
to follow after me, but the place is too crowded. I
order my dinner to go, and wait at the bar a little
longer, when my phone rings. It’s my neighbor. Perfect
timing, I’ve been waiting for her call. “Yes, I’d love
to go. I’ll meet you there.” I hang up, leave the
restaurant and find him on the curb, panting.
“Do you know what time it is?” my TV
asks before I turn it off.
“You’re going to bed early today,” my
nightstand says, alarmed.
I go into the bathroom and on my way
out, the mirror whispers, “you look different, did you
change your hair?”
“I changed my strategy.” I turn off
the lights, and for the first time in many weeks go to
bed before midnight.
I hear a whisper in my left ear.
“It’s four o’clock,” the clock says. I open my eyes.
He’s here. I sit up on my bed and ask
him what he wants. He doesn’t answer, only limps closer
to my bed. He looks angry, but his icy aura is gone. His
grimace is not menacing as before, just grotesque. I
think I can manage to kick him out tonight.
The moment the thought crosses my
mind, he throws at me the sharpest memory in his
arsenal: Angelica, still twelve after all these years;
her pale, dead face encased in black wood. Her family is
wailing inside the packed funeral home. I fall back on
the bed and feel his weight beside me. He’s laughing.
Morning comes again, and this time
the birds do chase him away. I’m cooking breakfast when
the phone informs me my mother’s calling. She wants to
know how I’m feeling. She’s worried. Maybe she senses
his presence, or maybe she just knows me well enough to
know I’ve been lying every time I tell her I’m fine. She
repeats several times that things will get better with
time, but no matter how many times she says it, I don’t
“You’re late!” The clock yells from
After another eight hours in the
office, my resolve begins to fade. Do I really want to
go out with a bunch of people I don’t know? My feet are
killing me. I need to start buying less aggressive
shoes. I prepare to leave. My cellphone rings. It’s
Jessica. She wants me to know she’s going to be late,
but she’ll be there. “Don’t you dare go home, Veronica.”
I walk in the direction of the coffee
shop I visited yesterday. I’m hungry, but I hate eating
alone. I go to the Italian restaurant I’ve always wanted
to visit and walk inside.
“Are you waiting for someone?” A girl
in uniform asks before I decide to walk out.
“I’m by myself.”
The girl smiles, grabs a menu and
directs me to the bar. I follow, just because I don’t
want to go back.
I get through dinner, juggling
conversation with an elderly lady and a friendly
bartender. Afterwards, I head downtown. He’s limping
behind me. I look at him and realize he’s getting
smaller. His skin is wrinkling.
“We’re going dancing,” I inform him.
He tries to grab me, but most of his
strength is gone. His eyes aren’t glowing anymore. I
continue walking, almost strutting, to meet Jessica. We
go in the club and the night begins to dissolve quickly
into a mirage of lights, music, people and freedom:
freedom from loneliness, from the clutches of his voice,
from the memories of old fears that held me hostage;
freedom to laugh, to dance, to enjoy. Freedom from the
fear of what comes next, because I remember what it is:
Life is what comes next.
By the end of the night, or the
arrival of early morning, I find him again.
“I will keep doing this. Tomorrow,
and the day after, and the day after that. You can
continue to follow and be poisoned, or you can go. I
won’t listen to you anymore.”
He tries to get up again, but all
that's left of the monster that terrorized me every
night is a wrinkled shadow.
Jessica drops me off outside her
house with the promise of a movie for tomorrow night. I
say of course, and walk towards my apartment. Then, I
see it by the door: a little statue. It’s a fossilized
version of the Silence that held me hostage for so long.
I pick it up. There isn’t much left of the monster. The
little effigy I hold in my hand is no bigger than a
dollar store souvenir. Only it isn’t a replica. I can
see its featureless face, where the hideous grin used to
be. The red eyes are now shut and no longer glowing.
It’s a petrified shell. Only the coldness remains. It’s
no longer terrifying or imposing, only sad.
“What are you going to do with it?”
my watch asks.
I put it back on the floor, lift my
right foot and step on it. The shell begins to crack. I
do it again. And again. And once more, until the shell
shatters, and a sharp pain runs from my heel to my
chest. I watch the shards turn into ash. I catch one in
my hand, and realize it’s what’s left of the memories he
liked to throw at me.
I see it change before my eyes: The
looting. Only this time the men aren’t destroying
anything anymore; they’re retreating as the National
Guard takes over and begins to impose order over chaos.
The black SUVs disappear and in their place supply
trucks arrive in the city, businesses begin to reopen
their doors. The last thing I see before it flies away
is the rebuilt farmer’s market where we used to shop.
I grab a second piece of ash:
soldiers ramming the presidential palace in a humvee.
They ram the gates, as always, and storm the palace with
their weapons drawn. But unlike the other times, I see
them get caught after hours of fighting. I watch them on
the news, handcuffed. I see the tanks abandon the
streets, and we are allowed to go outside again.
I keep catching the ashes, watch them
morph into the present: burnt buildings rebuilt, movie
theaters open for midnight showings. Caracas, once
scared by shrapnel, now repainted and smooth, as it
should be. I finally find the one I’ve been looking for:
Angelica. I see her house after the bomb fell. They said
it had been a mistake. They said the pilot missed the
target for several miles. They said it was an accident
that never should have happened, but all their regret
never changed anything. My friend’s still gone. I watch
them clear the rubble and my tears begin to blind me
again. I regain focus, and then I see her. Not the
Angelica I’ve seen for the last eighteen years, pale and
lifeless. No, this time I see my friend. The girl I used
to play dolls and climb trees with; the one who taught
me how to roller skate and put on make-up. The girl I
had forgotten. My best friend. For the first time, I am
able to remember her without pain.
I let go of the ash, walk into my
apartment and go to bed, in silence. I can sleep again.