CW 41: Sound and Silence

29 July 2011

And so we come to the end of 41 Days of Story in support of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. I’ll have more to say soon about what it’s meant to me to do this work. For now, I want to thank all my donors for your wonderful support, and all who have taken time the last 6 weeks to read my work.

If you’ve enjoyed these pieces, please consider a donation to Clarion West to show your support. The Write-a-thon links will be active for several more days, and you can also always make a donation through our usual link.

Here’s all the work of the 41 days. You’ll also find these pieces cross-posted at Sterling Editing as incentive for writers to practice their editing and story-building skills.


Sound and Silence

For Caryl Owen, who knows music. Thank you for your friendship and support.

Anyone who wishes can read more about Mars, Duncan, and the band in Dangerous Space.

Duncan and I weren’t speaking to each other, which meant we only talked in the studio, and even that was becoming harder. Lacerated hearts are what they are, but if we let them interfere with a new album, we would really be in trouble. And so everyone was worried.

Johnny said diffidently one night, as he was unplugging his guitar, “So you and Duncan…” He had a strategy of leaving questions unspoken, and most people can’t stand silence; they will rush to answer whatever they think they hear, which often means whatever question is loudest within them. And those moments can be so revealing. So astonishing. Sometimes so cruel.

But I’m an engineer, and I know better than anyone that music is silence as well as sound. I just raised a polite eyebrow.

He gave me the look that meant Fine, make me say it. “Are you two okay?”

I put up a hand. Keep out. Johnny said, “Mars–”

Duncan stepped into the open doorway. He was too thin, and the circles under his eyes were darker even than music makes them: some of it was from me. I knew I didn’t look much better.

He ignored me, and said to Johnny, “Can I get a ride home?”

“Don’t forget your notebook,” I said. He had taken to leaving his lyrics on the floor by the wastebasket every night, as if it were a test to see if I would toss them out.

Now he looked at me. He would have seemed relaxed enough to anyone who didn’t know him. But I could see the set of his jaw, and the anger and hunger and hurt in his eyes. He stepped into the room long enough to retrieve the notebook, and then returned to the door.

“We should go,” he told Johnny. “There are fans three deep across the street, it’s going to take a while.”

Johnny looked unhappily back and forth at us. I felt for him. It’s hard to be between two people whose distance is so crowded with things unsaid that it’s like sirens going off.

“Have a nice night,” I said. And looked at Duncan. Say something. Show me you forgive me. But he turned and left. He’s the best singer I know. He can do things with his voice that make people hear their own deepest questions, whether they like it or not. And he is good with silence, too.

I waited until I was sure they were gone. I imagined them in the car, not talking about it. Then I locked up the studio and went upstairs to have a glass of wine or three, and go to bed alone.


When my doorbell rang an hour later, I was so startled that I spilled my wine. And then my heart began to drum inside my chest, Duncan, Duncan, and I was so scared that I nearly didn’t answer, because he had finally come to say something and I didn’t think I could bear to hear it.

But when I did open, Lucky marched past me with two bags of Thai food and another bottle of wine, and the determined look she gets when there is a problem to be solved. She headed for the kitchen.

“Come right on in,” I said, with the bite that dodging a bullet sometimes brings to the moment.

She stopped and wheeled, bags swinging from her hands, bottle precarious under her arm. “Enough bullshit,” she said. “I am tired of getting fretty midnight emails from the band, so you are by jesus going to tell me what’s going on. What did he do? Did he say something rotten? Did he fuck somebody you really can’t stand?”

And I was never, never going to talk about it to anyone, but my heart was still on the disco beat and the wine was wailing within me, and I said, “He wants to move in.”

“What?” It was her turn to nearly drop the wine, and her face was as shocked as if she had just seen the world turned inside out, the shape of everything changed. It was one of the Truths of Our Musical Generation that Duncan Black would never, never commit.

“Holy shit,” she said, and now she was beginning to smile, and I couldn’t let that happen.

“I said no,” I said. But actually, I hadn’t. Actually, when he asked, when his question was there between us singing of love and hope and never before, when the joy of it was shimmering in his eyes and trembling on his mouth, all I could find in answer was silence. Silence. Until he finally said, “You don’t want to?” with so much surprise and despair that I felt his heart break as if it were in my own body, I felt it break.

“But you love each other,” Lucky said. And I held up my hand: Keep out.


The next day in the studio went so badly that we stopped early. The entire band was frantic with frustration and something deeper; the great unspoken question, Are we all breaking up? Angel jerked his bass case from the floor and snarled, “I thought we used to have drama, jesus fucking christ,” and stalked out. Con, the steadiest of them all, was shaking when he left. And Duncan forgot his notebook.

I looked at it for a while, there by the trash can. I couldn’t leave it. So I locked the studio and took it upstairs, and dropped it on the living room table. It sounded heavy in the silence of my house.

When the doorbell rang, I wasn’t surprised at all; Lucky would never give up until she understood why, and when I opened the door I was so busy trying to find the words to explain that I had no answer, that I was completely unprepared to find Duncan instead.

His face was in neutral, and he had shut himself up behind careful blank eyes. “I left my book,” he said. “Can I have it back?” And in the silence that followed, I understood he was saying I left my heart, can I have it back? and that the answer was already drumming within me. Duncan. Duncan.

“I do want to,” I said. “I do. I want it so bad that I’m scared we’ll break it.”


Duncan closed his eyes. Then he opened them, and opened his arms, and I stepped in and we leaned against each other. The sound of our breathing, the sound of our hearts, the silence in which everything sang.


2 Responses to “CW 41: Sound and Silence”

  1. Jennifer on July 29th, 2011 1:56 pm

    This is the perfect piece to end your 41 days, and what an unexpected treat to read about Mars and Duncan!

    I think that last paragraph is my favorite of all of them. It’s for sure my favorite right this minute. : )

    Congratulations on this wonderful, momentous body of work and the way you made it happen.

  2. Kelley on July 30th, 2011 7:46 am

    Thank you very much indeed, and thank you for all your support. It’s made a difference.

    I have lots of favorites now! Will be interesting to get some distance on the pieces and then see how I feel.