The Migrating Words
Every year, we watched the words leave. Lana stood on the roof edge. I leaned against the chimney; the bricks were like tree scratch. We didn’t have much talking left. She said something and pointed to a bit of sky I couldn’t see. I inched closer, my feet wobbling on the roof tiles. She gripped my arm. I gazed over the town. We saw the words rise.
They looked like folded smoke. The air was clashing letters and spiral sounds, but we were on the highest rooftop so the words wouldn’t touch us. Everyone else in the town stayed inside, where I could see their faces pressed to windows, looking like lost coins. The words moved as a shaken flock. When they swept over the houses, Lana’s fingernails dug into my arm. I wanted to tell her she was hurting me, but I had no talking left.
She gripped my arm. I gazed over the town. We saw the words rise.
We stared at the sky until the last words had gone. I wondered how long it would take them to reach the other side of the world; I tried not to think of the silent months ahead. Lana climbed down first and I followed. The walls were cloud damp. My fingers ached from cold as I put my hands and feet where hers had been. When we were little, in the hush half of the year, I used to walk in her footsteps because I wanted to be in the sounds she made.
I jumped down. Lana grabbed my hand but didn’t look at me. We ran. Years ago, she had chased the words and lost her way; now, so she wouldn’t be lost alone, we always raced through the streets together. Our feet were so loud, I didn’t know which thuds were mine. Brick colors blurred about us. The town was a shut voice. We stopped at the library, heaved the door open, and stepped inside. It felt like cave echoes. I stared at its rows of empty books. We crept along corridors of shelves that sounded like buried towers, Lana touching blank spines as if our side of the planet were still word-full.
When we were little, in the hush half of the year, I used to walk in her footsteps because I wanted to be in the sounds she made.
As we drifted back through the town, we saw little ones trying silent games. I lingered while Lana went inside her house. My mother always put our books away before the words left, but at Lana’s they lay open on blank pages, waiting for the return. They smelled of star drift. When no one was looking, I used to press my ear to them and pretend I could hear the stories they once held.
I went home. My mother sat downstairs in a quiet that was brittle with our hidden books. I remembered Lana tying knots in my hair that felt like word pieces, and my mother making me cut them out. Afterward, I stole a pair of her high heels that were the color of forgotten holidays and gave them to Lana. She always wanted the loudest shoes; sometimes, we swapped boots with boys. We always tried to make the silence ours, but it was web shards and glass stiff, and when we were together in it, she looked like she was behind windows.
It was the first wordless day of the year, and I fell asleep before sundown because the silence felt like night. In the morning, I woke up in yesterday’s dress, still smelling of rooftops. I walked to Lana’s through snapping-color streets that seemed on a wrong speed. We huddled in her room with her leaning against me. Her eyes were closed, so I shut mine too: if we were in darkness together it might feel like talking. In the hush half of the year, nothing had names. When we were little, each time after the return, we roamed the town making up new ones. We crammed notebooks. Lana still kept them under her bed, but of course they were empty now.
It was the first wordless day of the year, and I fell asleep before sundown because the silence felt like night.
At Lana’s house, every room sounded of cupboards, and as the days sank by, her eyes looked like stilted winds. We sat close but didn’t touch. I began to stay away. In my room, I tried to count time, but the weeks moved fast as shivers and I didn’t know how many were left. Then one day, the skies were filled with charcoal blinks. I ran through the streets. Lana was waiting for me. While the words billowed above us, we clambered up the rooftop all scrabble and glow and we felt the words falling. I heard Lana shouting. We stayed on the roof while books filled and our voices brimmed, and we talked and talked until the sky was fat with stars. By the time we climbed down, the town was asleep. We crept to the library and lay in moon patches. Lana blind-picked books and I read them aloud.
Our days were word-full. We went past the town edge. In the hush half of the year, every place was a nowhere, but now we could wander without getting lost. The road out of town was the color of mountain air, and we walked until our steps were aches, rested in woods, and then still talking, trekked back home. The months rushed with us. We knew the words would be gone soon and we didn’t want to be silence-stopped. On the night before they left, we crept to the library. Lana plucked a novel from a high shelf, tore out pages and started eating them one by one. I copied her. We ate them all. They tasted of frost light.
The next day, we stood on the rooftop. The sky was swift with words: they swarmed and juddered and flew away. Hush was everywhere. Then Lana said my name.
We kept quiet around other people; we didn’t want them to know we were word-full. We murmured on rooftops while they stayed inside. We whispered stories in woods. We gave new names to the silent world. We talked.
Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and can be summoned by a cake signal in the sky. Her best friend is a dog who can count. Her stories can also be read at Molotov Cocktail, Quantum Fairy Tales, Rose Red Review, and elsewhere.
Illustrated by Keit Osadchuk.