by Anastasia Ledyaeva
You wake in a home of suffocating silence as it slithers past your door. It is a serpent, hissing warnings, seething, don’t you dare breathe quite that loud—don’t you dare disturb the peace and quiet. Your tongue is a stone lodged halfway in your throat; your breathing is kept shallow and stuttering as if you’re nothing but a creature poorly imitating its own death. You wonder—will they hear you if you scream?
It isn’t that you’re afraid of the silence, no—it’s an old friend you recognize that knows you just a bit too well. After all, you don’t dare to smile at it, not like you do when they ask why you’ve stopped or quit or walked away, or in the moments when you can’t say it isn’t your fault and you’re drowning. You’ve been drowning for an eternity—or seventeen years, if you must be specific. They tell you to be specific.
They tell you not to mumble, to straighten those shoulders—don’t you slouch, son, don’t disgrace our family with your laziness and your useless daydreams! When they think you can’t hear them, they say you’re a fool—a child trapped in a young man’s body, fitting together no better than a scattered puzzle held together just by thinning wire. Yes, sir, you mumble still, and they snap at you to speak up—snap like the crackling flames in the old fireplace, like the fire you once heard burned a forest down. You’re burning, too.
Or drowning, as you thought, or maybe both—God, you don’t even know. Can you be both? Aren’t both just suffocation in the end? But you can’t tell them. You can’t ever tell them that. Because your voice is nothing more than just your tongue, and your tongue is nothing more than just your voice, and both are still caught in your throat by that same stone. It scrapes the inside of you raw until there isn’t a vocal cord left to speak with. To scream with, if you weren’t such a coward. And beside that stone, coiled up, is the awaiting scream—one you can never let them hear.
The silence buzzes in your ears still, the sheets scratch at your skin and tangle your limbs like you’re nothing more than a puppet. Are you? Were you ever alive in the first place if you never spoke your mind—never even let yourself dream? Were you human, or just a hollow space? They’d tell you you’re being ridiculous for asking. They’d tell you to focus on your future, your studies, to smother any hopes you have in favor of listening to what they demand from you.
And you’re tired. You’re so tired because even if you spoke, they wouldn’t listen. You’re so tired, so you never try to speak. Why would you? You just welcome the silence when it twists past your throat—because it’s easier than fighting.
Anastasia Ledyaeva is a first-generation immigrant living as a full-time student in the Midwest. Originally from Russia, she is also a plus-sized, queer woman, and her work has previously been published in Iris Youth Magazine. She can be found on Twitter as @ladyzenik and on Instagram and TikTok as @anastasialdv.