Aunt Trudy’s voice was a showstopper, all sharps and flats. It bounced around the baseboard and the high ceilings of the Larouche house.
“—and my god, my god, can you imagine going through this every day? I poked my finger right through the wallpaper, mmm-hmm, softer than fancy cheese.” Trudy took a drag off her Lucky Strike.
Lydia chewed, lump of shredded wheat traveling around in circles in her cheek. She wrote ‘maybe you shouldn’t be poking holes in the wall’ on a pad of paper and held it up.
Trudy squinted as if she couldn’t see the paper and took too long to read it, her way of protest against the notes.
“Well, I for one would be happier in a newer house,” she said, ashing on her english muffin, “I can’t imagine staying here.”
Trudy was mom’s sister, not a Larouche. She didn’t understand about the house, not about its history or importance, but she was Lydia’s only living relative at the moment.
Lydia wrote ‘I’ll be 18 soon, you can move out then. It’s only 3 months’ on the pad. Trudy’s eyes traveled elsewhere, as if by omitting the image she could erase what it meant.
Lydia currently spent most of her time practicing how to move without sound. She had gotten so that her tread made no noise on tile, wood, or dirt. Leaves were another matter, but what were the odds that she’d tread on a leaf indoors? She put her cereal bowl and spoon in the sink separately so they didn’t clink and ran the water only slightly so that it didn’t hiss from the faucet.
“All your father’s people,” Trudy said meditatively, “they’re all loopy to a man.”
She was, in her own fumbling way, right. Lydia had researched the family tree for a sixth grade project. Luckily for her, the Larouche family were extensive journalers. All generations had been driven to eccentricities, but all were, with few exceptions, harmless enough. They were not the cause of the shadow over the house. But Lydia had known that long before she’d read anything.
The boards of the front hall groaned in protest. Lydia went out the dining room window as a peace offering. Trudy tromped down the boards in her wedge heels, snorting as she gathered her keys–“really!”
Lydia spent the drive completing a sestina in brush pen. She had already decided her adult career would be a calligrapher because there were words that could still be culled from the page and savored. “Bragadocious” was a good one, like a fine french wine aged in secret. She’d written it in calligraphic swirls on the wall of the girl’s bathroom, and it was the only piece of graffiti to escape the periodic repainting.
Trudy jerked the wheel and Lydia rotated like a gimbal.
According to Trudy, no job you could do without talking was worthwhile. She thought Lydia’s silence a fit of pique. Nothing Lydia could say(or write) could dissuade her from the notion.
“I’ll be looking at listings while you’re gone!” She threatened as Lydia shut the car door silently.
Trudy had been talking about moving out before she’d gotten two steps into the house. If Lydia could have found the words, she would have tried to tell Trudy that staying in the house was no great show of loyalty, she just didn’t trust it with any other family.
She was late, and walked in after the bell had summoned the art class to their easels.
“Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, oh have you met Lydia,” Mr. Simmons crooned in a melodic tenor.
Lydia, ears burning took her seat.
“Now, if anyone’s really serious about the fall show, they need to be finished to-day,” Mr. Simmons orated as he paced around the circle of easels. The others murmured something vague. Lydia flashed a drawing of a thumbs up.
She had finished ages ago. Her piece was called “revolution #9.” It was a maze of the number nine in different sizes and styles that, when viewed from a distance, formed a picture of John Lennon’s face. She spent the art period doodling with red, a color she rarely used anymore.
Her canvas was overtaken with a stylized ‘that’ swelled to sinister proportions, serifs pointing like devil horns. She was still scrubbing alizarin into the ‘a’ when the bell rang.
At lunch, everyone avoided her. She was fine with that. She knew who she was at school. She was the girl with a dead mom who didn’t talk, she understood that identity. What she could live without was Trudy’s constant attempts at restructuring her, stirring her like a paint bucket and hoping for the pigment to appear.
She’d had few friends even before her mother had died. Everyone just assumed the Larouches held themselves above the regular townsfolk, just because they’d been there before anyone else and had got lucky in the mines. The house hadn’t helped. A big old european-style monstrosity, it sat looking down on the village. Sneering at it.
The thing no one realized was that the Larouches, by and large, would have agreed with them. Even Ethan Larouche, the man who commissioned it, ran off to Brazil after he’d lost his wife to a rotten staircase. Lydia had never found any piece of text that would properly explain what was wrong with the house. As of Phillip Larouche, Ethan’s younger brother, the family had just gotten on with the business of dealing with it.
Hettie Manfred(née Larouche) had installed the thick drapes in the piano room. Her son Silas had cut the piano wires. Phillip jr. had replaced the traditional doors with swinging ones, no locks and knobs to rattle around. Lydia’s mother had made plans for carpeting just before her death. Lydia thought she might abandon that, having the old boards replaced would be far more effective.
Lydia walked herself home, watching the leaves fall, listening to the dry scrape of their bodies on the pavement. It was hard not to wince at sounds even on the outside. Sometimes she woke up in the night, afraid she’d been snoring. Sometimes she woke up from a dream where her mother turned to her and asked, “did you hear that?” and the a in ‘that’ lengthened like a sword.
Trudy had to leave. For her own good, as much as Lydia’s. Lydia had it all planned out. Discipline would be her life preserver, not desperation. Lydia’s great-uncle Aloysius had cut his tongue out at the root. She would train her mind and body instead. She could do it. She could try.
Leaves gathered on the mansard roof of the house. Phillip had thought it clever to put arches on the attic windows. From the sidewalk they looked like eyes. Lydia stood on the front walk in a staring contest. The house won. She snuck in around the back.
Trudy was on the phone. She didn’t hear Lydia enter, because she never did.
“…and my gawd,” she said, lengthening the vowels obscenely, “I can’t imagine having your own mother die right in front of you, mmm-hmm. Shrink says it’s called ‘selective muteness.’ Mmm-hmm. Only cure is to get her out of this house. Out of town, maybe. Mmm-hmm.”
Lydia stood behind her aunt as she washed dishes, chewed gum, and made noise, noise, noise. It bounced off the walls and the floors and the windows. Lydia eyed the jagged edge of shadows warily, making sure they kept their shape.
Trudy turned around and dropped the phone, clapping her hands to her heart. “Chrissakes, child, you nearly gave me a heart attack!”
Lydia took a well-worn piece of paper from her pocket and held it up. It read, “I’m sorry.”
Dinner that night was already-cooked pot roast and instant mashed potatoes and frozen peas. Trudy cut past the meat, knife shrieking against the serving plate. Lydia winced as she set down spoons, soft as a dove.
Trudy was talking, her jaw jabbering up and down as if her words were chaw. Stupid house should have come with a boat anchor to put around your ankle, that’s what kind of white elephant her sister had married into. Rusty taps and drafty rooms and a piano that couldn’t even be played! And what, pray tell, was she supposed to accomplish in a place where none of the doors could be locked? Might as well level the whole thing and put up a McDonalds for all the good it would do….
Lydia held up a note that read: ‘aunt Trudy, I’m done.’
Trudy chewed, mad eyes looking everywhere but the paper. She might scream, she might explode, living in a house of moldy styrofoam where even the curtains ate noise, not even the comforting sounds of a house settling—
“All this quiet, I just can’t stand it another minute!”
Trudy’s speech broke off and she dipped into the opening bars of “Nearer My God To Thee.” Lydia dropped her paper. She instinctively tried to cry warning but training left her larynx blocked.
Trudy sang elaborately, forcing her voice into tremolo as she arranged meat slices on the platter. She sharped out of her range on a few notes as she poured wine.
When she closed her mouth the song went on without her.
Lydia greyed and sank back in her chair. The pulse was thudding so hard in her veins she was sure it had to be audible.
Trudy looked around, bemused. She no longer had control of the noise. An ‘o’ fanned out threateningly, turned sharp. Trudy turned to Lydia, eyes asking for help. Lydia cringed back helplessly as the red noise of it fell on her aunt, every sound possible tore from her throat and bounced pinging off the old walls until it was something else entirely.
Trudy fell, screaming soundlessly as her own voice was used against her. She convulsed, ripping the tablecloth from beneath dinner, scattering plates and silverware and feeding the noise. It swelled into every perceivable octave in orgasmic triumph as Trudy hit the floor.
Lydia slumped, trembling, as the noise died down. The instrument of its being had ceased making noise, now it searched for what scraps it could. Lydia gulped and calmed her breath until it didn’t come in heaves. She identified every little sound her body made, one at a time, and made a conscious effort to stop it. When she had calmed herself enough, Lydia rose and crept to the other side of the table.
Trudy lay half-covered with the tablecloth. Her eyes stared up at nothing. Lydia dragged the cloth over the remaining half.
It would look like a heart attack to anyone else. It had looked that way with her mother, and countless other relatives. But Trudy had been there, to catch Lydia as they wheeled her mother away on a gurney.
Lydia fetched paper and pen.
She wrote, ‘I’m sorry, my aunt’s not feeling well.”
She shook too much and the pen made a scratching sound on the paper.
She forced herself to stop and take a few deep breaths.
‘I’m sorry, my aunt’s been ill.’ There. The strokes were straighter, the pen moved easier.
She looked down at Trudy. Three months until her eighteenth birthday. Discipline. She could do this.