SILENCE AS A TOOL • by Victor Kreuiter

Silence dripped from the maples in the back yard, drifted down like snow, was stirred by a passing breeze and pooled around the feet of the boy, slowly climbing his ankles, trying to hang on. He shuffled his feet, trying to shoo it away.

Coming home from school, his mother asked him what was wrong and when he said nothing she asked him again. When he said nothing again, she put hands on hips and said, “Listen, mister…”

He looked away, silent.

She put hands on his shoulders, looked into his face and pried it out of him. When he told her, when he twisted out of her grip and went up to his room and closed the door, she felt horrible.

She sat in the kitchen and worried about her son, who at fourteen was experiencing his first real heartbreak. It happens to all boys and girls, finding out the heart can break. When it happens, it’s the end of the world.

Dinner ready, she called upstairs. He wasn’t hungry and she didn’t insist. He listened, and when the house went silent, he crept down the stairs, tiptoed through a dark kitchen and out into the back yard. He sat on a bench near the garden his mother tended.

Darkness arrived.

He heard the garage door open and close, his father was home, and through the kitchen window he watched his mother and father talking. His father ate while his mother stared out that same window. Could she see him, outside, in the dark?

He felt small.

The light went out in the kitchen.

After a while he heard the back door open and he saw a figure walk toward him. It was his father.

His father walked to the bench, sat beside him, put hands down on knees, leaned forward and remained silent. They sat like that for an hour. Then another. The neighborhood went silent, his end-of-the-world feeling eased, and he felt the end of a day. Eventually his father stood up, looked at his son, tapped his shoulder, nodded, and walked into the house. Tom followed.

He would grow up and marry a lovely woman and they would have a family and raise their children as best they could, being loving and supporting, watching their children grow, hoping for the best and worrying about what to say and when to say it and when to back off.

He was never sure what triggered the memory. It didn’t come often, but at times, watching his children, it would show up. He told his wife about it and she listened and when he finished, she could think of nothing to say. She took his hand and held it.

“I’ve always wondered,” he said to her, “how my father knew he could teach a lesson using silence as a tool.”

Victor Kreuiter lives, reads and writes in the Midwest United States. His stories have appeared in Halfway Down The Stairs, Bewildering Stories, Literally Stories, Tough, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Del Sol SFF Review, Straylight Literary Magazine, and other online and print publications. His story, “Miller and Bell,” originally published in the August, 2022, issue of Mystery, was selected to appear in The Mysterious Bookshop Presents the Best Mystery Stories of 2023.

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