“Quiet” by Tricia Bauer
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Tricia Bauer explores the dangerous side of silence.
by Tricia Bauer
I was quiet. I was able to be quiet. My sister more than made up for my absence of audible response to every situation. More than once an adult would suggest, not unkindly, Still waters run deep, which did not console me as I pictured a bottomless ravine filled with the coldest water. Plus I couldn’t swim.
I became even more quiet after a girl went missing. It was Baltimore, mid-sixties, mid-summer when the parents in our neighborhood suddenly stopped asking one another when the heat would break. Close to one hundred, the humidity pressed us inside in front of enormous window fans that roared their hot breath against our conversations.
My family transcribed the headlines to us this way—She vanished. Without a trace.
Our mothers kept us close, breaking into our routines of all day roaming the street into games of jacks and jump rope and our own versions of houses made with blankets slung over chairs and tables. We would crawl from room to stuffy room snaking through basements of knotty pine. That summer we did not wander free each long day until evening when mothers would crack an aluminum front door and holler our names for dinner. We did not come stumbling in from pasture to our proper places in the barn.
That summer I read in front of the attic fan, sometimes letting it turn the pages for me until I locked my thumb in place. This was the summer before I would enter junior high, which my mother suggested was a good time to “put my dolls away.” Every November I’d picked out a doll that I wanted for Christmas. We’d take the bus, my mother and I, into the city to the department store with its enormous floors of squeaking hardwood, its tiers of carefully arranged toys. My sister’s preference in Barbieland was about the car—the Barbie Mobile—and had nothing to do with mothering.
Reluctantly I took the strips of old bed sheets that my mother had torn for the doll-put-away purpose and wrapped a naked doll body. I prepared three of the dolls, then carefully set them in a box that I slid under the eaves of the attic. The wrapped dolls waiting there together made me sad. I told my mother I wanted to read instead. She put her palm to her forehead and sighed.
Despite this tight web of staying busy with projects, the news sifted through. I heard my father say she was close to my age, a twin. I took my snow ball of slushy ice topped with bright orange flavor and then jabbed at it with the wooden spoon to make every bit the same color.
For one entire week, I imagined I was that sister with half of me missing. I walked around in a daze and avoided my own sister. “You’re so weird,” Dot said, making two distinct syllables of the critique.
The police enlisted the help of a “seer” from New Jersey. Green house. Dirt floor. Rumors drenched the air like birdsong. In my own dreams, the girl swam on the surface of a quarry, in her own world, holding herself above the danger. Her hands, arms dipped in and out of the water to stitch a pattern that, like magic, disappeared behind her.
When the girl still had not been found by the time school started, my mother met me and my sister at the bus stop at the end of our street. Parents guided us home to homework and meatloaf, and the fear that hung on with the summer heat. The conversation shifted from heat breaking to heart-breaking.
The seer didn’t mention next door. But that is what it turned out to be. The headline was huge—FOUND. Mary was found in the basement of the house adjoining her house in the row of neat houses with cool dirt basements and connecting walls. An arrow-like shaft was found protruding from her chest, her half-clothed body.
The young garage mechanic was described as “a mannerly boy,” then “the quiet type.”
Pink roses marked her place, and, curled to one side, a small ceramic doe that could easily have fit into a doll’s garden. The cemetery is small, just behind an historic brick church the size of a one-room schoolhouse. Big oak out front, corn field to one side. I went there before, at eighteen, I set off. I still do not know which I feared more then—being the victim or accused.
TRICIA BAUER has published five books of literary fiction; her most recent work, Father Flashes, won FC2’s inaugural Catherine Doctorow Prize for Innovative Fiction and was published by The University of Alabama Press. Tricia lives in Connecticut with writer Z.Z. Boone and their daughter Lia.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Apr 10, 2017