Warning: lack of editing warning. Also? This is what happens when I read too much Buddy Wakefield.
He doesn’t scream. He doesn’t throw things. He doesn’t pace, or move, or fidget. Just stands there, steady as a statue of the god of venom and cruelty, words pouring like absinthe and honesty ready to burn.
He doesn’t raise his voice. It’s rushed, slightly louder and more reckless than the usual careful tones, the sort of rage that settles against the bones like the worst kind of truth. it’s a pronouncement, not an accusation, rough and proud and too much in the silence he leaves in his wake.
It’s been building for weeks. He’s the ghost of himself, pale and bitter and gaunt, ghostly moans replaced by soft mutterings too low to understand, the rattle of chains overridden by the rattle of an ever-dwindling pack of cigarettes.
When he’s not rattling and tapping out an unconscious SOS with cigarettes into hands, those hands clench tight as a prayer for something to punch. The lips I’ve spent so long returning smiles from now sit in a resting scowl that seems out of place. The glint of mischief in his eyes is long lost behind the emptiness that seems near perfectly drawn into place.
His newest clothes, perfect a few weeks ago, hang loose on a body that looks sickly and frail, without the hint of medical strife. His whole life- the furniture, the family, the memories and the kitchen sink- are packed and ready to go in the bags beneath his bloodshot eyes.
I’m looking at worry from the rear view mirror of the emotional ambulance I’ve been keeping ready for him. It took me days to dismantle the lights and the sirens, since I know how he feels about the noise. I should know, I’m nothing but noise in his life right now, an annoyance to be silenced, that thing that gives him a perpetual eye twitch that starts only when he catches me opening my mouth to try, again, to figure out what to say.
There’s nothing to do but straighten the spine, force every trace of emotion from my expression, and let the words wash over me like acid. I could say something. Probably should. But it’s clear he’s got an endless stream of words he’s dying to say, and who am I to interfere? Better out than in, right?
They’re barbed, those words. They catch on my skin, my clothes, my hair. They burn their way inside my skin, into my blood, to meander through my body and slowly start to burn through the vessels and the arteries.
When certain snakes bite you, their venom acts as a paralytic, freezing the victim in place. Words are like that. The right words can stop you dead in your tracks, leave you frozen and broken and waiting on that final attack.
His words are loud in my head, loud like I’ve been drinking all night and this is the repercussion. My silence is all the invitation he needs to rev himself into a rage, to make it all so much louder, so much more horrible.
“Shut up.” The first time I say it, it’s barely a whisper, stillborn beneath his shouting. It’s sister is a little louder, but just as unnoticed. And then the shouting comes, so sudden it stops him cold.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” He’s not staring like I’m new, he’s staring like his brain has finally caught up. He’s staring like he’s only just realising the line he’s crossed. The truth of us, the truth we’ve spent decades pretending doesn’t exist, is that we’re both the kind to bite to hurt, not to scare. We don’t pull punches. We don’t shrug it off. And it would be easy now, so, so breathtakingly simple, to turn and throw all that hate right back in his face. It’s been done before. We’re not subtle.
I want to scream at him, to rant and pace and slam a finger at his chest like I’m driving my point straight into the heart of him. I want to be that wild thing I used to be, to growl and snarl and terrify until he remembers that fighting me is a losing battle, that I’ve never done meek and it’s unlikely to start now.
It’s been building for weeks. And sometimes, it’s easier to take your keys and walk away without looking back.