Sitting Quiet was selected as the winner of The Waking's Flash Prose Prize in Fiction/Nonfiction
Despite its title, nothing about this story is quiet. It's loud in language, in image, in movement, in heart. The story shows how memory swallows and spits thick–sometimes pretty but most of the time gooey & ugly–& how our relationships with people are always haunted, not just by history, but by the ghosts of who people used to be. & that lesson, that sorrow in navigating how to reconcile the present with an unapologetic past, is what I was moved by & couldn't shake. & by the end, I too felt like I had an almost-bursting belly.
—JJ Peña, contest judge
Brother, one summer your shirt is so spit-slick that it sticks to your chest and you have to wring it out in the sink.
I sit quietly in the corner of your bedroom and watch as you draw the thick globs up your throat. I do not understand why you do it—the u-shaped pool of saliva under the collar of your shirt. I am six years old and learning to write the alphabet. I do not understand what the letters O, C, and D mean together.
That summer, our other brother stopped showering, and I began swallowing watermelon seeds so one would grow inside me. Years later, when you are diagnosed with psychosis and jump out of your bedroom window, I learn why I wanted that—my belly stretched and split open.
I am ten and watching you again. This time, you struggle to swallow the pills prescribed for you over breakfast. –
“You could swallow this with enough water,” our father says to you as he picks up the remote. “You could even swallow a brick.”
Brother, you don’t even smile. Eventually, our father yields. He offers you chilled orange juice, the liquid thicker and able to coat your throat.
Later that night, I sit in the backseat of my father’s car as we drive you to the emergency room. In the reflection of the passenger window, you struggle against yourself. Your muscles stiffen and contort as your body rejects the medicine given to soothe it. I don’t know yet that I am jealous of your pain's visibility. I only know that it all feels wrong; like learning someone else has the same birthday as me.
Slowly, your gaze is forced back towards me. Your corneas tighten, and your eyes bulge white in the dark of the car. I look out the window as if the stars have called my name and shiver under the canopy of feeling small.
I realize now, I wanted the watermelon seeds to grow, so I too could show violence as existing inside the body, competing with the mind to occupy a whole person. Because unlike you, brother, I was babied and not hit as often. You tried to even the score with curated discipline. You’d lock me in the bathroom, the pantry, out of your room. You’d turn off the PlayStation, the lights, quit games before you could lose them. You made sure everything belonged to you, and we’d play tag in the kitchen, steak knife in your tightened fist, when it didn’t. I learned to let you.
One evening, you eat the leftovers I was hiding in the back of the fridge. I wail for hours, inconsolable, like an infant with a sour stomach. Even when you apologize, and our mother offers me an after-school trip to the store. Even after she screams at me, That’s enough. Enough! It’s gone. Even when our father is called and tells me, it really is time to stop.
I remember the glow of the TV on our mother’s face, her impatience. Then myself, my swollen bottom lip and wet face. This wasn’t the first time I felt betrayed—our parents had been divorced for so long that the thought of them loving each other felt wrong and tainted. But brother, maybe this was the first time lack was so real and personal. I had sucked my tongue like a breath mint, the whole drive home, as if to prepare my mouth for those leftovers, but you even licked the foil clean.
We laugh about it now, you and I, over glasses of wine as old as that moment was ago. We swallow it fast, those years resting in our bellies or wherever we put things we no longer deal with.
“You were hollerin’,” our mother says to me, gripping the counter to hold herself up. You laugh your laugh that sounds like gasping, and I shake my head at myself.
“I don’t even remember what it was,” I say. “But it must’ve been good.”
We sit around your dining room table and don’t mention the years of your spit in the carpet or the time your mind was so sick it didn’t feel like your own. We don’t mention your furrowed brow, your vein-popped neck, your belly-burning threats. I don’t bring up that sometimes my skin still cracks, pops, and fizzles like the Capri Sun we once cooked in the microwave. You don’t know that life eventually became like being inside the ottoman you threatened to shut me in and sit on.
Instead, we wear the faces of people who forget. We sit quietly, autumn cool and cordial, and listen as the night creaks on.
Kianna Greene is an Atlanta-raised poet, essayist, and recent graduate of the University of Central Florida. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, The Cypress Dome, and is forthcoming in Eunoia Review. She is currently living in Orlando, FL and can be found on Instagram and Twitter @kiannaelaine.
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