You Don’t Have
to Say It

by L. Soviero

I guess this is home, Sis. Our little cabin, all backwoods lonesome. The one you and me confused for a castle as kids. Because we didn’t know how big the world could be.

But we no longer talk kid things. We don’t even talk yesterday since we learned they crave sentimentality.

Instead, we talk tasks: folding, roasting, stitching, hammering, pruning, soldering. You tell me about the hummingbird feeder you’re constructing. I point to my ear, a signal to listen for the pops of dead leaves. And after scanning a horizon belted by the last bit of daylight, we pinpoint the cause — a fox skulking in the woods, a gray illusion flickering between skinny trees.

Sometimes the conversation dips into door hinges or light bulbs or baker’s yeast. Other times, it’s the volume of blood in our cycles, a suspect mole in need of scrutinizing eyes, the aches at home in our knees. But always, we march on with plain facts.

One day we encounter a small waterfall in the woods, and it’s like the last few years never happened as you reminisce, “How about that time in Niagara?”

And that’s all they need to creak awake like a door not often open. For a subterranean stampede to wrench up the delicate flora in its path. For ten polluted hands to claw out of the dirt, their fingers shackling your ankles and calves. Gripping. Kneading. Even gasping despite the lack of mouths, the lack of lungs.

I use the technique.

Five things we can see:
“Clouds. Trees.”

Five body parts:
“Lips. Head. Heart.”

With no nostalgia to sink their teeth into, they retreat. But even after the earth eases, after it rests, fear moors us to our spots. Fear of the message we send with our movements. The memories mired in our muscles, the danger of their release.

A few days later, a woman is on our porch when we return from checking the traps. She says she walked three states. The slump of her back says way more than this. You invite her to stay, telling her there’s no better place to take it easy.

That night fireside, you read facts about hummingbirds from an old textbook — how there are over 350 species; how in one second, they can lick up to 15 times; how they co-evolve with the flowers from which they eat.

The woman offers a flask, but you say alcohol leads to longing, stirs up what we keep deep. So, she drinks alone. Until her eyes hollow, until they’re a glossy stage for the dance of the flames as she says, “Jack tricked me into thinking he could lay eggs.”

Feeling the writhing beneath our feet, we beg her to stop.

“I know he must have snuck an egg from the fridge, but when he squeezed his eyes tight and pulled it out of his pant leg, I really believed he did it.”

And the dark hands of the past bloom from the dirt like sick weeds, the skin and joints gnarled and rotten. They cling on to her calves, nails digging in, as she says, “And you know what?”

But before she can tell us, the hands drag her waist-deep. Long enough for her eyes to admit no regret as the hands scatter and crawl her body full, so the human is no longer seen.

Then, she’s gone. In a gulp of earth enough to bury her history.

We lie wide-eyed that night, ears sensitive to each other’s sighs, to our tosses and turns tangling with the bed sheets. And we’ll want to comfort one other, but we won’t. We’ll never relive what happened to that woman. What happened to all who let the hands hold on too long.

But, sister, you and me are survivors. The next morning, you’ll fry eggs over easy, and I’ll make coffee that’s too bitter, and you’ll be sure to say so. We’ll soak the mugs in warm, soapy water even though they’ve been stained for some time now and probably will never come clean. In the afternoon, it’ll rain, a blinding kind of silver piercing the cloud cover so pretty we stare though it hurts. That evening, it’ll turn a cold that stings the teeth, but we’ll build a big fire in the fireplace, and it won’t take long for our home to warm, to feel safe in a way that almost lets us pretend a cabin and a castle are the same thing. And as we huddle near the fire, the past will sit between us, all the words never spoken, all the ones we won’t ever need.

L. Soviero was born and raised in Queens, New York but has made her way around the world, currently laying her hat in Melbourne. She has been longlisted at Wigleaf and spotlighted in Best Small Fictions. Sometimes, she can’t help being overly sentimental about the past.
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