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Story 4

Marilyn Márquez


Marilyn Márquez is a Creative Writing Major at Western New England University, a member of WriteAngles and the Holyoke Creative Writers Group. She was born in Caracas, Venezuela, surrounded by the city’s multiculturalism and Spanish influences, which shaped her unique view of the world and, of course, her writing. Her work is scheduled to appear in the Poetry Matters 2012 Anthology, in which her poem "Koi" was awarded fourth place. Her work will be published in the "Readers of Rao's" anthology. Her editorial commentary will also appear in the upcoming issue of "Fresh Voices."

Every once in a while you come across a story that really knocks your socks off. "Silence" is one of those stories.





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 nonexistent spine.

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 reality show.

“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 time.

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 keep ticking.”

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 believe it.

“You’re late!” The clock yells from the bedroom.

He’s right.


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.

The End

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