Oct/Nov 2008  •   Fiction  •   Special Feature

Words & Silence

by Martin Roxby

The first word Jack sent us was "Mellifluous." It arrived in a buff envelope, so familiar now, so unexpected then, the word itself written in clear lettering on the single piece of paper contained therein. Just the word, nothing more. This was eight years to the day since Jack had left without a word. To us he had been dead for those intervening years, imprecisely mourned, he had vanished completely from our lives. But then a word—Mellifluous. And we knew right then Jack was alright. A man in difficulties or in peril would not have sent such a word. A man without confidence or faith could not have chosen it. We were sure of that.

In the subsequent weeks and months, other words followed. The twins hoped for nouns, and Kiki yearned for verbs. It was our collective hope these words could be brought together in some explicit message, yet all we received were adjectives and adverbs. We were thrilled with Iridescence and soothed by Plangent. We worried over Caliginous and fretted on receiving Cadaverous. All the time trying to understand Jack. Trying to reconstruct our shallow memories of him around these words he sent. Desperately searching for context and meaning.

The months coalesced into years, and time slipped by like a swollen river. The words kept tumbling through the letterbox at irregular intervals. Kiki grew dismissive and feigned no interest in them or in Jack. She would leave the house when one arrived, walk out across the headland, let the wind and rain embrace her. The twins, too, lost interest in the words themselves but instead took to collecting each piece of paper and pasting it to the wall of their room, from the skirting board to as high as their short arms could reach, to form an elaborate collage as meaningless, as a whole, as each word was on its own. Sometimes, when the house was still and the twins asleep, I would see Kiki creep into their room and play the beam of a flashlight over the collage, pausing here and there, perhaps trying to find the latest word or remember the sequence of their arrival.

But still just adverbs and adjectives. It was, I came to realize, as though Jack no longer had use for these words. Had assayed their worth and discarded them, sent them back to us in case we could make use of them now that he no longer could fathom their purpose or live with their indulgence. I imagined him pared down to only that which was strictly necessary, a purer being than the rest of us, less corrupted by the many accretions we accept, unnoticed, to our lives. I imagined he was happier now. Yet I knew he no longer had the words with which to express it.