Dan A. Cardoza

The Silence Factory

 

Just about anyone would say they don’t understand my chosen vocation. Just quit, it’s as simple as that. Besides you are much too young to work.

I would be mortified with such conversation. How would I explain away the cognitive dissonance, that some jobs are so complex and disgusting, they demand a candidate be chosen absent resume or even application?

I have a benefits package, but not what you would think.  It includes a conspiracy plan, detachment, and repression. And there is no such thing as a pension or 401-K. No escaping on vacations to Disneyland or Yosemite.

You see I work in a silence factory. And because I’m eleven years old and homeschooled, I have no principal or counselor to lodge a fair complaint. Did I mention I get free room and board?

The essential job functions include all forms of silence. They’re listed. You must be able to cope for long periods without a voice, be quite quiet. You must learn not to tell it’s our secret––now hush, not a peep, cat got your pretty red tongue?

I don’t mean to brag, but I do silence as good as a vault.

Sometimes mother showers as early as three AM, the faucets sound like a lumber mill whistle. It’s then I lie on my back and knot my fists into in the sheets which sometimes leave crescent moons of dried blood in the wrinkles. There are times my cloth fists are so tight mother has to soak them in OxiClean, then iron out all the bowed creases. Mother doesn’t seem to mind,  this gives her something to do while watching Jeopardy. She likes to choose answers that begin with questions.

I ask mother, “Can Lisa spend the night this next Saturday?

She says “What is the Vietnam Memorial.”

“No, I am sorry Lillian, for $5,000.00, it’s the National World War Two Memorial.”, says an almost apologetic Alex Trebek.

Then mother adds, “I would have lost five thousand, you know that’s family night, daddy likes peace and quiet so he can relax.”

It’s then I say, “I guess I wasn’t thinking.” But I really want to say ‘everything is my fault.’  But Alex rejects both my answers because they are not phrased with a question.  I’m a loser once again.

No!

What I really want to say is ‘Maybe daddy will have a heart attack Saturday evening watching MMA?’

But I never throw shade because mother says that’s immature. So I relent and say “ok.”

Mom says, “Thanks honey. Glad you understand.”

***

At work I bite my lip so hard I can taste the salt from my eyes, and sometimes the iodine rust from biting my lip. But I never make a sound you see because in my counter intuitive line of vocation, silence means less overtime.

To relax after I clock in, I stay away from the water cooler, float near the ceiling to watch myself underwater, to make sure I don’t scream and drown.

***

I wake to the fresh smell of coffee I don’t even drink, it means mother is up.

She says, “Daddy had to work early, it’s just us.”

Its then mother drops her lit cigarette on the table after her distraction burns her fingers. She chokes back her tears and dabs the hot ashes with a damp kitchen rag.

I sit quiet in the oak chair, the one that doesn’t squawk or crackle like a crow.

I say, “Mom, are you ok?”

Now at the kitchen counter, she drops the ashen towel in the sink and then retrieves my Christmas doll from the utility drawer.

Her question is pointed,” What is this?,” as she body slams my naked Nanette on her back. She looks up at the ceiling.

“Is this humorous?” she asks.

I clock in. Nothing is what I say.

“You’ve penned a nude little girl on her front, and a naked boy on her back, with Sharpie ink,” Mothers eyes dance fear and fire.

“That’s sick” she shouts. “Are you having an identity crisis?”

She shakes me so hard that I clench my teeth, so they don’t rattle like pots and pans or a panic alarm. She slaps me hard once, but I refuse to cry.

I can’t let her see one little drop. It could shatter my hard earned silence. So I brace myself and say nothing, short of being murdered.

“Go to your God damned room,” she yells.

***

After an hour of sitting still on the edge of my bed, I stand and calculate my walk to the kitchen. Not a peep out of me. I spy mother still scrubbing the skin off my doll with a stiff brush and Comet. She’d sobbing and cursing so hard she’s blowing snot bubbles.

She turns and screams, “What? It’s your fault.”

I point at the bathroom as if asking permission. She cries her head yes and whispers “I’m so sorry.”  Then it’s back to scouring the older boy until she bleeds his skin raw.

***

I’m sound asleep somewhere in another survival dream when mother gently taps me awake. I don’t mind that I don’t complete it, because there will be more. And like all these new dreams, I will walk from them into a tomorrow that will welcome strong young women, a tomorrow that will welcome all those who choose to survive and thrive, all those with a strong work ethics and brave little souls.

Mother says, “You can come out now honey. We…I will buy you a new doll.”

After I punch out, I tell mommy, “It’s ok, I’ve outgrown dolls.”

Then we both hurry and freshen up because Reverend Tom, daddy, is leading bible study this afternoon at our house. I think to myself, stay strong after all you have the rest of the day off.

Then before they all arrive I practice my best “Thank the Lord. “

##

Dan A. Cardoza lives in Northern California. He has a Master’s degree in Education from UC Sacramento. He has been published internationally. Most recently his poetry, fiction and nonfiction has been published in 101Words, Adelaide, Cleaver, Dissections, Door=Jar, Frogmore, High Shelf Press, Skylight 47,Spelk, The Fiction Pool, Urban Arts, Tulpa and Zeroflash. He is the author of three poetry chapbooks and Second Stories, a book of fiction.