Open 2020, Short Stories - Glen Donaldson


Fitting a Silencer

By Glen Donaldson  


Having taken a vow of silence, he resolved to keep it. When his mother showed up at his door after fifteen years to tell him leaving his father was the worst mistake she ever made, he knew he was about to undergo the first major test to his newly pledged silence pact. He understood his mother had fallen on hard times as well the fact that none of his siblings would anymore take her calls. This left him to deal with her but how exactly would he do it without the power of speech?


Within a few minutes she had begun commenting on how well he must be doing, considering the Benz in his garage, the Mac Book air and three networked computers he used to produce his documentaries. Not long after this he had caught her looking through his closet and clothes where he used to keep loose cash when he was younger.


He said nothing when he noticed his mother feel the pockets of his raincoat hanging on the back of the study door. She must have felt his eyes on her because she turned to confront him. ‘Do you know how much I’ve had to eat in the last three days? Do you?’ She took a step forward. ‘I wonder if you even care. And really it’s all your fault. I wouldn’t be in this mess if it hadn’t been for you.’


Robert closed his eyes and an afterimage formed on the back of his eyelids. Strangely yet not entirely inappropriately it was of a teapot. Next to the teapot lay a common kettle. And the teapot was talking to the kettle. Not so much talking as insulting. “Shabby grey. Shabby grey. Shabby grey.” Repeating. Over and over again.


There was no denying it. Robert and his mother had history. If that seems an odd statement to make given the nature of any maternal relationship then you’ve not heard the half of it. A stinking truth was that the only kiss Robert had ever received from his mother as a boy growing up was the day she’d written the brevity - advising acronym K.I.S.S below one of his 5th grade attempts at story writing. It had been a sour brown childhood in a great many respects.


There were so many things he wanted to say right now to her. Things that needed saying. But with only hours to go in his weeklong vow of silence he wasn’t about to break it now. He aimed to win the bet and collect the money – all of it. To the untrained eye it may have seemed like he had some of the material trappings of success but it was, like so many other things in his life, a false mirror. A reflection that looking into would on many occasions cause the elevator inside him to begin falling with dizzying speed.


Robert’s daydreaming came to an abrupt end when his mother’s voice came crashing into the room like an icebreaker. “So what do have to say for yourself? And look at me when I’m talking to you for Pete’s sake!”


He shook his head, opened the front door and stood beside it like a soldier on sentry duty. A life time of bitter experience had taught him sidestepping like a pro quarterback was his best defence in times such as this. With 100 000 big ones at stake plus the mysterious unnamed ‘bonus’, he was no sooner about to tamper with the game plan than he was to tap dance down the street naked in the rain singing an off-key rendition of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’.


As his mother threatened further rumblings inside, he bolstered himself by recalling scenes from one of his favourite movies, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That film had featured a character named Chief, who for most of the movie had fooled everyone into believing he was mute. Robert drew the inspiration he needed from these celluloid inspired thoughts and, after staring for an overly long time at the sole letter sticking out of his front lawn letter box but deciding he would retrieve it later, sucked in a deep breath, turned on his heel and returned inside where the fire-breathing Grumpasaurus Rex lay waiting.


As he breached the doorway the sound of the living room telephone ringing drifted down the hall. Thoughts flashed through his mind. He knew if he decided to answer it he could not speak. He also well understood if he delayed much longer his enraged mother would answer it for him, being the clinically efficient, ‘Nurse Ratchet’ type of person she had forever been.


Robert strode across the hallway tiles like a dutiful waiter in a five star restaurant, wiping a bead of sweat from just above his right eyebrow as he did so. He reached the phone on what he counted was it’s 7th, perhaps 8th ring, carefully lifted the handset and silently placed the phone to his ear with his mother all the while watching him with monitoring eyes like a fighter jet’s radar.


He listened and put the phone down. Although there was a human on the other end, it was a call that didn’t require a word from him. Not really.


It was Viper Squad and another of their ‘System One’ randomly timed phone checks. These were made to confirm he was maintaining the code of silence in accordance with the rules of the contest. As one would expect with so much at stake, this ‘Above Top Secret’ league of exorbitantly wealthy but equally perverse individuals who enjoyed offering impossible challenges to ordinary people and then watching them wriggle and contort with unimaginable effort only to end up inevitably failing, had a variety of methods of ensuring their absurd contest rules were being followed.


Robert knew from the beginning that his home had been bugged. To date he’d located precisely nine separate listening devices hidden in various locations around his house. He’d used his FM radio, carrying it from room to room and using a feedback technique he’d read about in an electronics magazine, to find them. He figured they’d been secreted the day he’d signed the paperwork for the contest at his kitchen table in front of the two black-suited mooks with the fitted earpieces.


He allowed himself a moment of inner celebration, knowing he’d just passed another phone test – under difficult circumstances no less – and then regathered his concentration back to his present predicament which was keeping silent in front of his mother; an incensed mother no less who was currently spoiling for a fight and had the needlepoint collage word smarts to carry it on long into the night.


“If that’s not the strangest thing I’ve seen,” she said with a pinched expression and hardly even a pretence of good nature.”In my day a person announced their name when they answered a telephone. But I suppose your lot would call that old fashioned now”. She underlined this last remark with one of her best soaked-in-contempt head-shakes and then moved across from the room to stand directly in front of him.


Robert could feel the adrenaline flooding his system now like it was being fed into him on an intravenous drip. The hammering in his chest he knew was not due to the impending verbal onslaught he recognized was on its way. God knows he’d stared down countless variations of those before from a mother he’d long suspected had the unmistakable blue rinse streak of a psychotic Norma Bates (nee Spool) running through the entire female bloodline on her side of the family.


His thoughts were for the money, as the more his mother spewed forth her attacking venom like some kind of out of control, flailing garden hose, the more he could feel the temptation to respond in kind rise up in the back of his throat. In years past he would have left the scene altogether, revved up his bike and been gone. But he was in his own house now and a tactical retreat to that degree didn’t seem like something he could do anymore like he had when he was a teenager living under his mother’s roof.


“Aren’t you in the least bit curious as to why I’ve come to see you today?” she prodded. And then in answer to her own question, “It’s not for the reason you might think, so I guess I’d better just tell you. But why tell you when I can show you?” she said, while at the same moment thrusting a hand into the right over-sized pocket of her puffy sleeved carriage coat.


She puckered up her mouth and laughed until her ample breasts jiggled. Viper Squad had always been so ingenious. Sending his own Mother as his final test of silence had been clever. Having her present him with his hefty winner’s cheque – considering all their frugal history together - was downright poetic.


Australian writer Glen Donaldson is the type of person who asks the question -"Why is a group of squids not called a squad?" He enjoys channelling a Halydron Collider of ideas into crafted word sculptures. For a strange slug of yin and yang his childhood heroes were Batfink and Patty Schmooster - inventor of pink cinnamon lip gloss


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