1st Place – Flash 405, August 2019: “Underneath the Words”
When I think of our childhood, we’re on the third floor, on the musty carpet of our attic playroom, strewn with Playmobil bodies and plastic flowers small enough to swallow. We watched Rugrats even though mom forbade it, and staged sales where we bartered small belongings we had managed to squirrel away. Marbles, rubber balls, baseball cards and Homies figurines, little stones or medallions we had rubbed some worth into with the warmth of our fingers. I knew you were duping me somehow—you were older, better at math—but I didn’t mind, because with my dimes and quarters I could claim pieces of you. Nevermind they were pieces you didn’t want. I hoarded them, cherished them, just the same.
* * *
I’ve started to laugh like you. No one can tell except me, and there’s no one to tell except you, but I don’t call, because you haven’t called, and we can keep going like this, I swear, brother, I swear. The last time we spoke we skirted around every important thing, landing on weather and dinner and small jokes we hoped wouldn’t offend. Your face on my screen looked just as it always had—there: your Adam’s apple; there: your dark eyebrows—and I could almost ignore the collar, the white square peering up at me like a third eye, its judgment unspoken but received. Forgive me, brother. I’ve been avoiding you, and the difference is noticeable, the quiet has heavy hands. In the dark outside my bedroom window a tree moves like the shadow of a shadow, but I’m not afraid. It’s warm inside, and the bed fits two, and before we fall asleep my lover makes me laugh, and the room is filled with you for a few long seconds, and then you’re gone.
* * *
We’re hundreds of miles and thousands of days from where we started, but I can still place us back there, with our matching sharp elbows, sharp noses. On the dirt strip that lined the driveway we used to beach our bikes in ruts so that only the front wheels spun, so we could pedal as fast as we wanted without going anywhere, without risking the speed or the flight or the fall. We lined up end to end, you in front straddling your black frame, and me on my pink, following. We pedaled in tandem, making our wheels whine and whine with the effort of going nowhere at all.
I hungrily read this piece many times, returning to it again and again because of the writer’s incredible use of language, their ability to time-travel while staying rooted in the emotional heart of the story. This piece begins in an attic playroom, two young siblings bartering with their cherished belongings, “rubb[ing] some worth” into smooth stones and marbles “with the warmth of [their] fingers.” This piece deftly transports the two children through space and time, into adulthood; the siblings speaking to one another in ways adults who’ve grown apart often speak to one another—through computer screens, in niceties, in mundaneness, in intermittent silences that screen their insecurities and “judgement[s] unspoken…”. I loved how, in this piece, the silence asks for forgiveness, how, like shadows, the silence is both tangible and intangible. I loved the moving way the narrator reveals their yearning to reach across the cold chasm of age, to place their warm fingertips on another tangible intangible: a memory. When this piece closes with the memory of the siblings as children once again—close in age, close in body, their bicycle wheels spinning and spinning and not caring that they are not going anywhere, just so long as it is together—I found myself crying with love for these two people. I cried with yearning to know what had pulled them apart, for them to return to their childhood closeness. I cried with happy-envy of the writer’s breathtaking skills to weave exquisite imagery, sound, meaning, and emotions into intangibles like shadows, silence, memories. And, I cried with more happy-envy for the way the writer, in so few words, revealed their family history through an attic filled with magic, computer screens filled with longing, and a dirt-packed rut filled with trust and unquestioned belonging.
Sionnain Buckley is a writer and visual artist based in Boston. Her work has appeared in Winter Tangerine, Wigleaf, Strange Horizons, wildness, and others. She was a 2019 Rhinebeck Resident with The Seventh Wave, and serves as the Art Editor for 3Elements Review. More of her work can be found at sionnainbuckley.com.