‘The Color of Silence’ by Jennifer Mills Kerr

soft cartel april 2018

The kindling crackles, hisses, pops, flashing red-gold like a circus act.  Too early even for birdsong; the windows are black, icy-cold.  Mug warm against my palm, I stretch my feet toward the wood-burning stove.  Three minutes until they feel warmth, perhaps four.  I have lived in the cabin for seven months, immersed in the silence of the forest and its gold-green glimmer.  Isolated on a hillside, tucked into the forest, the cabin was rustic, simple.  Like that rusted-out car, over sixty-years old, half-hidden between the weeds in the backyard. Your grandfather’s Ford.  The kind they don’t make anymore. The leather upholstery is torn.  Rodents nest in the deceased engine. Still, you can’t haul it away, can’t give it up.  Summer afternoons, you wrench open the passenger door (all the others are impossible to open) and run your hands along the upholstery, the place where your grandmother sat, perhaps your father.  The leather is warm from the sunshine, the upholstery smells of earth. This comforts you, this slow burial of the past: ashes to ashes and all that.

Unlike imagining the grandparents you never knew, the grandparents your father refused to speak of.

My father’s silence created an ache in my chest, a space of cobwebs and dirt, neglected, gray as dirty water, and when I was a child, I imagined something there.  Something alive.  Something to fill the void.

My grandfather’s name was Edmund.  My grandmother’s name was Josephine.  She was a school teacher.  That is all I know.  The car does not exist.  I have called it up, or it has called me.  Stories are like that.  They appear, uninvited yet welcome; birthed from silence, as gray as dirty water.

My grandmother stands at the front of the classroom, holding a ruler–why, I do not know.  Her hands are calloused with fingertips dusted with chalk, quietly pink beneath. Outside the classroom window, a veil of snow and icy-blue air.  A small town outside of Boston.  Maybe Pittsburgh. The grandmother I never knew clears her throat, hinting that I am to return to my seat.  But I do not want to be dismissed. I want to remain close. Ache in my chest, I reach for her hand.  Her image grows dim, indistinct. Even as she fades, I ask: Were you as tall as I pictured you?  What color was your hair, precisely?  Your eyes?

Jennifer Mills Kerr lives in Lake County, California. After writing and publishing short stories for several years, she is now embarking upon writing a novel.  Recently, she launched a YouTube channel for readers and writers called “Exploring the Art of Fiction.”  She received an MFA from Mills College.  You can read more of her work at www.JenniferMillsKerr.com.  

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