by Kate Maxwell
It lived in the walls. Weaving around wooden beams, whistling in hollows, oozing through the wallpaper to whisper her name. Even as she burrowed under blankets, its ice breath slithered over cheeks, followed into fears, followed her into sleep. Sometimes it whispered cruelties, salacious acts she knew weren’t from her head. Licking at her lips, it forced whispers from her mouth she had not formed, threatening other children with pinching promises if they didn’t surrender food or trinkets. When Ruth refused it, whispers echoed in her eardrums like a wailing squall. Silence, as the orphans chanted, was golden.
A Suggested Silence
Maybe if she’d learnt to whisper, she’d still be here. Sissy’s volume control had been stuck on strident for years. Ruth suspected an undiagnosed ear infection back in their orphanage days, or just a learned compulsion to be heard over the throng. Either way, the sight of her sister’s pyjama-clad form sprawled over the bloodied kitchen floor, contrived a strange sensation of calm when she switched on the light. Finally, she was still and silent. The shattered window, and Sissy’s open-mouthed stare, suggested she’d interrupted an intruder. But suggestions, like whispers, were sometimes hard to discern.
Kate Maxwell is a teacher and writer from Sydney. She’s been published and awarded in many literary magazines over the years. Her first poetry anthology is Never Good at Maths (Interactive Publications, 2021) and her second anthology will be forthcoming in 2023. Kate’s interests include film, wine, and sleeping. She can be found at https://kateswritingplace.com/