Where Do The Voices Go?
Ariel didn’t warn us about the people who steal voices from us.
They aren’t just stolen by evil sea creatures thirsty for naivety. No, there are others who are just as thirsty, but they don’t lurk beneath the dark waves. They pick their own kind of dark in corners of the street and cars with tinted windows. Sometimes they even pick rooms to share with their beloved, waiting to snap their voices with their jaws like hungry piranhas.
I heard them while driving with the windows down that whistled when I went twenty over the speed limit. They told me what happened in spurts. I was walking. He drove by, but I wasn’t fast enough. The supermarket. I blocked them out by turning my music all the way up, but somehow, they creeped into that as well.
The first time I heard them I was a little girl and running around my yard collecting fireflies in the palms of my hands. I cupped my hands to my eyes and watched them glow. When their tiny feet tickled my palms too much, I threw them up into the sky like confetti and watched them float away.
As I watched a firefly join the stars, I heard a whisper. It floated above me the way the firefly did, and I could’ve sworn that was where it came from. But it stayed, floating, drifting, whispering to me until I acknowledged it.
I looked up but found the sky to only be filled with stars and the moon, no passing planes with flickering lights.
I was traveling.
The voice let me into snippets of their story and progressively grew louder about it, as if it had been collecting dust on a shelf where speaking was prohibited. When I had enough I ran back into the house, sealing the screen door shut, shutting out the voice. I could see it as a phantom in the moonlit yard, doing pirouettes around blades of grass that needed to be cut. It lived with the fireflies that I never went out to catch again.
When I was in the park with my mother one day (our routine for the weekends) she left me to walk a lap around the path while I picked dandelions and made wishes. I wished for a million things when I was little: a new dollhouse, a popsicle, a trip to get a Happy Meal after the park. I nearly milked the park dry of all its dandelions. I would for sure be considered a thief if one of the park patrolmen walked by, so I took one more for good measure and promised to leave the rest. I blew the wisps which triggered the voice. She was more hyper than the last, jumping from one word of explanation to the next. My brain buzzed like a static television and made me go dizzy. I was at a park too! She sounded too happy to be faking, but my senses as a child still balanced on the level of naiveness. I realized now she frantically wanted me to free her.
“What do you want from me?” I asked on the verge of tears, searching for my mother in her white walking sneakers.
The voice drifted away with the wisps leaving me alone. It went on like that for most of my childhood. Voices hidden in the isles of toy stores and corners of the playground side. Each voice was different. Some were older, some younger. I found a voice my age once when I was swinging. The wind picked up and made the rusted swing next to me move along with me. That was the only voice I felt comfortable having a full conversation with. She loved the park and was able to let her voice be left on a swing, even though it was taken in her home a block away.
That voice got me thinking about the others. Did they all get to choose where their voice ended up? Or were most of them constantly journeying to their freedom? It reminded me of the voice that ended up in my backyard that night. My first voice, who I hadn’t seen since then. I hoped they all got to travel and run away from who stole their voices. But doubt lingered, sinking its fingers into my mind. What happened to the voices that were stuck where they were taken? I wished I could free them all.
I got used to the voices, especially by the time I was a teenager. By then, I began searching for them, interacting with them more. I took a trip to the butcher with my dad. He wanted to make bison burgers for dinner and fire up his new charcoal grill. We walked in, hit with the smell of meat out of its carcass, being chopped and strung up like a jewelry display. I tried to ignore the pink and red flesh that huddled close together in their glass containers. While my dad told the butcher what he wanted, I heard a voice. Butchers have sharp knives.
“What?” I whispered.
I couldn’t pinpoint where the voice was coming from. People have sharp knives. The butcher in the back waved his knife around, slicing off layers of the hunk of meat he was piercing. Layer after layer came off and the voice kept repeating the same things. She didn’t sound as sullen as the others. No, rage lined each syllable, searing me like a branding.
I couldn’t finish my burger and spent the night throwing it up into the toilet. I saw the voice as that burger and I was eating her up, swallowing her words. I became the stifler who silenced a voice. I never ate meat again.
As I got older, the voices grew more grim. They didn’t hold back to spare my ears of the details anymore the way they did when I was a child. Sometimes, I debated cutting my ears off the way Van Gogh did and feeding them to the voices as if they were hungry dogs. I imagined silence too often. A silent world, a silent life. But those voices knew about that all too well.
I went to prom with my boyfriend at eighteen and wore a champagne dress that hugged my hips. He commented on my figure, staring down at my waist as if that was where I could mutter my thanks. He held my hips, gripping them harder when I rubbed against him. I can’t even remember if he looked me in the eye at all that night.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” I told him, out of breath from dancing.
There were girls in a circle, on their phones and talking about who they were planning to dance with, what parties were going on and complaining they were bored and ready to leave. I relieved myself then hunched over the granite sink to wash my hands with the ylang ylang scented soap. The girls had left, leaving only me in the fancy bathroom that reminded me of a Victorian room one would find in a mansion. I yanked one of the fancy towels out of the bin with the hotel’s logo on it and the rustling sparked a voice. I stopped drying my hands, letting the water drip down my arms like trickling blood. I remember my prom.
“Was it fun?” I asked the voice.
I stared in the mirror, hoping to catch the silhouette behind the voice, but only found myself, makeup already running from the amount of sweat dancing had caused me.
It was until he took my voice.
I bolted from the bathroom, nauseous and ready to go.
“I don’t feel well,” I told my boyfriend.
“If you’re ready we can go,” he said. “Can we get one more dance first?”
Unlucky for me, it wasn’t a slow song. I moved my hips, focused elsewhere as I searched for the voice within the music. She must’ve stayed in the bathroom, absorbing its silence.
For a few months, I didn’t find any voices. At graduation, none walked the stage with me and when I moved into my dorm at college, none waited to greet me. I thought I’d escaped them, but also missed their company when I was alone. I started looking for them again on campus. I read by myself in a secluded part of the library, but none found me. Parties were too chaotic for me to find any there, even when I stowed away to the frat bathroom. I didn’t even find any in the lobby of my dorm after hours.
One night, I stayed at the library late to finish my first paper. My dinner was two cold brews and a muffin from the cafe in the library, causing me to get the shakes and make a dozen typos in my paper. It was tedious finishing, but when I finally did it was dark. I cursed and began my trek in the dark back to my dorm. There were a few people making a late night snack run, others skateboarding with their friends.
I turned the corner, a straight shot to my dorm, when a bush rustled next to me and another voice finally found me.
“Tell me all about it,” I said. “We have some time.”
I was at college.
The voice explained to me how her voice was taken and I listened, pausing to give her more time before I walked back in my dorm. It tainted the whole thing.
She had been looking for me since I’d arrived, being the only voice to step forward after over a month. There’s others here. Many of them.
She had been the one who sought me out first, but the voices of the people around me had been loud enough to drown her out. When I went to sleep, I sent out a message, screaming for the other voices to find me. That I was there and ready to listen to them. Silence drove me to sleep.
One of the last voices I encountered that I remembered was when I hunted for my first apartment. The voice had been my first that had been stuck. It was just after college and I moved to the big city to start my career as a journalist. I had many options for apartments, but opted for one that gave me a clear view of the waterfront. As I turned the key into my new place, I walked in, footsteps echoing, welcoming home. I sat on the floor, cutting open my first cardboard box full of silverware. The voice came to me in the tinkling of the forks.
“I’m here,” I said.
I could feel the weight of the voice take a seat next to me. It was taken here.
“Have you been stuck here?” I asked.
I stopped a minute to look around at the empty space. The apartment wasn’t huge and felt lonely without anything in it. It’s lonely being stuck here.
“How come you couldn’t leave?” I asked. “I thought you could be free to go anywhere you wanted.”
That doesn’t happen with everyone.
I swallowed the lump in my throat as I sat with the voice. It felt hollow and whole at the same time.
“Will you ever be free?” I asked.
I don’t know.