We learnt to speak in one-word sentences. Growing up, our families were similar – we had been born into families of craftsmen and arc-welders. They forged weapons with their teeth—each word an arrow, each syllable a silver bullet designed to puncture the air and bleed. When they fought, they tore through the drywall, peeling away years of hidden wounds. We understood very quickly, between the chipped paint and broken mortar, that there wasn’t enough room for us or our emotions. We learnt to shrink ourselves down to the size of a pin, that when we fell in the eye of a storm, they wouldn’t hear a sound. We learnt to parse our sentences, in hopes that they would float, bright-footed, somewhere above gravity.
Over time, it became a habit to pare our speech into its bare skeleton—to strip away skins of emotion, inflections and undulations, that our words would sit, simple, unassuming and squared away in a corner of the room.
Last winter, we drove up to the coast to watch the waning tide. As we stood on the shore of a world fading into darkness, you watched the waters lap at your feet. It was cold but you couldn’t feel it, not with your stripped-away bones. You wanted to swim, as you always did when you came to the beach. At first, it was because you wanted to forget—there was something about being five feet underwater, bereft of sound and life, that made your thoughts grow still. However, as time passed, it grew into the darkened molars of an addiction. You swam, that when the cool waters hit your skin, you would know that you were alive. You were living and breathing, and not merely a shell of the past. If you swam far enough, you were convinced that you could drown the memories that had robbed you of your voice.
“Swim,” You pleaded, eyes brimming with tears, as you pulled at the sleeve of my jacket.
I shook my head. “Cold.”
“Swim.” Your voice grew more insistent.
I shook my head.
You pointed at me, face contorted into a scream. “Hate. Vile.” You spat out the only words you knew how, mind scrambling to find the word that would sting the most. “Awful. Worst.”
You found it. “Monster.” The word hung between us, growing its lungs. Both of us knew that, later that night, it would sharpen its teeth to take on a corporeal form in the silence.
You sank to your knees and covered your face, sobbing. For the longest time, we stayed there like this. Me standing, palms open, watching you. You, on the ground, racked with guilt and cradling the fragments of the evening.
Finally, you spoke, lips curling around a word you hadn’t spoken before.
I nodded, sinking down to my knees to meet you eye-to-eye, and wrapped my arms around you.
Sher Ting has lived in Singapore for 19 years before spending the next 5 years in medical school in Australia. She has work published/forthcoming in Trouvaille Review, Eunoia Review, Opia Mag and Door Is A Jar, among others. She is currently an editor of a creative arts-sharing space, known as INLY Arts. She tweets at @sherttt and writes at downintheholocene.wordpress.com