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Silence and Sound

by Mason Binkley

 

My toddler twins jump from the juice-stained sofa, soar and crash. They roll around on the floor in knots of naughtiness with their limbs buckling and bending at odd angles, their high-pitched screams and bursts of laughter echoing off walls.

The woman in the apartment below beats her ceiling and yells, “Shut up, it’s late! Control your kids!”

I’ve told them again and again to calm down, do something with their quiet voices: draw a picture, build a house with Lincoln Logs, or watch a cartoon on the television screen they cracked. Although they pretend to heed my instructions, their eyes and smirks betray their intentions and within minutes they’re spinning and howling and colliding, headlocks and knee kicks, louder and louder.

And where the hell is Hank? The man who said, “We’ll make it work,” after I had asked at twelve-weeks pregnant, “How can we raise twins when we can barely support ourselves?” The man who won’t answer my calls or texts, who will probably stumble in later smelling like a beer swamp.

“Come here!” I say. “Gobble, gobble!”

Tonight’s meal consists of Tyson chicken nuggets with ketchup, applesauce with cinnamon, and milk with a pinch of Benadryl.

They sit at the table, both shirtless with red marks on their bodies from the roughhousing. In near-perfect synchronicity, they reach for their cups. Their heads tilt back, white liquid zigzagging down from the corners of their mouths.

The woman below delivers the fiercest blow yet and says goodnight in her own special way, “Thanks for sucking!”

But for once there’s no noise.

It’s disorienting, this abrupt absence of sound. I close my eyes.

A memory presents itself, coming uninvited, but welcome: I was a girl, watching my mother practice “Ave Maria” on her piano in the living room. She played flawlessly from beginning to end, but what I remember most vividly was the instant the piece concluded, how still and quiet we were. I learned then of a silence so precious it must be divine.

The boys slam their cups onto the table and burp. They gaze at me with enormous smiles. Blake has a chipped tooth on the bottom row, whereas Brian has a chipped tooth on the top row. They have Hank’s dimples.

They inhale the rest and ask for more, globs of ketchup in their laps. I melt cheese on crackers, their favorite. How can their stomachs hold this much food? I imagine them as teenagers, eating everything I own.

My phone vibrates on the table. It’s a typo-ridden text from Hank: “Sorry. Was ketching up with the guys. On metro. Be home son. Keep twinzoes awake so I can tuck them infer bed. Xxooo”

How did I allow such chaos into my life? My parents raised me in a home marked by order and calm. After dinner, my father read to me or helped me with schoolwork while my mother practiced. She taught theory and composition, but her passion was performance. Night after night, she lost herself in music.

Blake and Brian slide down into their chairs, all droopy eyelids and extended bellies. They yawn back and forth.

“I don’t want to do this alone,” I reply to Hank, “but will if I have to.”

One of the boys, I don’t know which, finally mumbles those long-awaited words, “I tired, Mama.”

And again there’s silence, but not the kind that comes from awe. I can see my mother there in the living room, candles burning on the windowsill, her fingers frozen over the keys as the final notes of “Ave Maria” ripple through air.

 

Mason Binkley is the author of the flash fiction collection, Familial Disturbances (Ellipsis Zine, 2019). His stories have appeared most recently in JMWW, New World Writing, and New Flash Fiction Review. He reads for Pithead Chapel and lives in Tampa, Florida. You can read more of his work at www.masonbinkley.com and find him on Twitter: @Mason_Binkley.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Silence and Sound”?

This story, which underwent countless revisions over a period of one year, is rooted partly in experience. I am a proud father of identical twin boys, once lived in an apartment with a noisy and obnoxious neighbor, and have always cherished classical music, so I am quite familiar with variations of silence and sound. Beethoven and banging, Schubert and shouting. But fiction requires more than mere experience, as we know. At some point, imagination must come out and play.

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