All We See But Cannot Say
If only we could talk.
Oh, the things we could say. We would tell you this is not a place for cigarettes, and that the smoke has stained our drapes beyond repair. We would tell you to wipe your feet before you come inside, the mat is there for a reason, to take your boots off at the door – don’t track in mud (again)!
We would tell you that the cheap gum isn’t masking the cheap liquor as well as you think, that the slump in your shoulders is affecting your poster, that the bags under your eyes are dark and deep, and that general hysteria is starting to show.
Okay, maybe we wouldn’t say those things. Some things are better left unsaid in polite company.
But we’re not in polite company, are we?
Nothing is proper about what happened here just minutes ago. Nothing is courteous about the trail of flicked ash scattered in your wake, parted like the red sea by the hard tip of the ax you drag behind you.
But you’ve never been one for common courtesy, have you?
We’ve seen the way you order her around, yell at him, throw her, smack him, scream and hit till you’re red in the face, veins bulging, eyes bugging, and they are crumpled and whimpering.
And we’ve felt every blow: shoes stomping floorboards, knuckles knocking vases from tables and pictures from walls. Our linoleum is cracking and our wallpaper is peeling (from neglect of course, but also from something more…sinister).
If only we could talk. We would have tried to warn her when we saw you get out of your truck, ax in hand, as empty bottles spilled out clinking onto the rough gravel. Her back was to the screen door; she never had a chance. If only she hadn’t been washing dishes with the radio turned up just a little too loud. If only she had turned and seen you, a figure of imminent doom shimmering in the noonday sun. If only she had left when her instincts told her to a day ago, when you hadn’t come home and she was trying to get up enough nerve to take the shoe box and the boy and run.
But she didn’t. She didn’t run. And too late she realized she didn’t put the box back in the closet. Boy, she went black and blue when you suspected the thoughts running through her head.
Now she didn’t turn. And that was the last thing she did or didn’t do.
If we could talk, we could tell all sorts of stories of the things that happen in this old house. But words would fail us, at least momentarily, for what we just witnessed minutes ago.
Later your concerned neighbor would burst from the screen door, stumbling down the front steps gasping and retching. An hour after that the police officers would stand in a semicircle and gossip while the coroner took pictures, the flash shining a harsh light on the grisly affair. The officers would talk about how the carnage was burned into their brains, how the blood would never fully come out of those cabinet doors, and how they would have never thought Dean Parsons could be capable of such evil. He was a Christian and upstanding member of the community for goodness sake!
But none of them saw what happened, not like we did. They didn’t see the flash as the ax descended, newly sharpened steel biting into bruised flesh, each blow finding its mark, slower at first but growing with intensity, hacking over and over and over. They didn’t hear the anguished screams that would have curdled our blood, had we any. They didn’t see her collapse to the floor, a pulpy mess under the onslaught. They didn’t hear the wail of the child as he peeked around the door frame. They didn’t see, they didn’t hear. They weren’t there.
If we could talk we sure wouldn’t tell you how the boy was making his escape, wide-eyed and breathless, down the narrow hallway, over the Loony Tunes duvet, and out the tiny bedroom window. We would have held our breath as we watched him become an ever-dwindling dust cloud heading for the neighbors. Then, when he was safely away, we would have shouted for joy and wept bitter tears.
Had we been able to talk we would have told her years ago that things weren’t getting any better, and with every new bottle for you and every new bruise for her they were just getting worse. We would have firmly told you that you needed professional help for the voices in your head and the rage in your heart. And, sad to say, when we saw her belly began to swell we would have told her another way to use a wire coat hanger.
But we can’t talk. We are but wood and stone. Drywall and glass. A frame of bones, flesh, and skin yes, but of another kind, merely erected as a dwelling for them. Day in and day out we can do nothing but observe. We cheer in their triumphs and cry in their pain, but that is all we can do. Voiceless, we are forced to watch over and over again a cycle of new beginnings, unresolved emotions, new fears, and unending violence. The boy is gone, she is gone, and you are gone as well. All in a different sense of the word, but all gone. Yet others will take their place. The gears will slowly grind into motion and the cycle will begin again.
If only we could talk.