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No, I Cannot Talk

March 5, 2010

Last weekend a friend and I found a girl collapsed outside a loft entrance gate. It’s haunted us ever since. This story is inspired by that experience.

Their voices are so far away. Muffled, as if I were underwater. Am I underwater?

“Ma’m, do you need help?”

Do I need help? I parse the question, searching for meaning in the component parts.

“Ma’m!” My eyes open. Startle. Reflex. Sound. So sharp now. She’s staring at me intently. Blue eyes. She has blue eyes.

“Can you talk?” I open my mouth, paste lining the inside.  I breathe in. Nothing comes out.

She’s waiting.

I close my eyes. Running. I was running.

“Ma’m, do you remember what happened to you?”

I remember Harrison’s. Sitting at the bar, Bruce averting his eyes as he sometimes does.

A different voice. “Do you remember—?” Eternal pause. “She’s not responding. Do you think we should call 911?”

Did I forget to shake my head? Yes? No?

Shots. Different kinds.

“What if she’s just high—or drunk?”

“She needs help. I’m calling.”

Who are they calling?

I lift my arm. Dragging weightlessness. I am underwater!

Billy shows up. Wanting money. Twist of arm, push out door. “Bitch! You lie!”

I don’t lie. Slow night. Crack. Something cracked.

Bruce saw it.

No, that was earlier.

Seasick. If you are under the sea, you get seasick. Something’s in my throat. I can’t breathe. Hands. My head turns and spills its contents.

“ I didn’t lie!” My hands ball into fists. I raise one.

He doubles-over, laughing.

Someone is wiping my face. Holding it out of the sea. I will my eyes. Open. Blue eyes. Another pair. Dark brown. “You are so kind, my husband is kind, you are so kind…”

Bruce. Through the door. “Billy, go home.”

He’s going home—with me.

The gun. By Bruce’s side. Raised.

I’ve seen this once before.

“Go home.”


The gun, to the ground.

I pick it up. It’s heavy. So heavy.

“Shhh…it’ll be okay.” A voice is singing to me.

“They’ll be here any minute.”


“They’re sending an ambulance?”


An ambulance? No! I can’t go to Grady! I need my husband.


“Did she say something?”

“I need my husband!”

“I think she said she needs her husband.”

The singing voice. “Honey, where is your husband?”

I hit something. The wall.

The men have white faces.

“Pamela, give me the gun.” Bruce.

I turn, point. “Leave my husband alone.”

“Pamela, we’re going home.” Billy reaches for the gun.

One lone firework.

“They’re here.”

“No, we just found her here, sprawled right outside the gate. We were scared she’d been assaulted. Seemed traumatized.”

“Ma’m?” I open my eyes. Different eyes. “Do you know what day it is?”

“July 4th?”

31 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    March 5, 2010 3:50 pm

    friday flash
    You’ve taken a real experience and turned it into a fascinating piece of fiction!
    Great use of dialogue and internal monologue for reader to learn of backstory.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    March 5, 2010 3:54 pm

    I like how you combined the dialogue and monologue to create a sense of confusion. Really well done.

    • Anonymous permalink
      March 5, 2010 3:56 pm

      Re: Nice
      Sorry, my comment went in as anonymous. My open ID isn’t working
      ~ Laurita

    • March 6, 2010 3:30 am

      Re: Nice
      Thank you. When I first had this idea I wanted to write it this way but shied away, thinking it would be too confusing for readers…but I ended up doing it anyway. Couldn’t stop myself. An experiment of sorts, to see if I could carry it off.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    March 5, 2010 3:57 pm

    The sense of temporal distortion is uber real in this piece Melissa. Her confusion, the ‘rescuers’ (your?) confusion. The assembled fragments that make a story, or a life, pop into relief. And the visuals – of course – your visuals are always so lovely. The fireworks, July 4th. What a story. Great work.

    • March 6, 2010 3:33 am

      Re: Distortion
      Thanks, Simon!! Yes, the confusion is not just the girl’s, but the “rescuers'” (“us”). We still don’t know exactly what happened.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    March 5, 2010 4:03 pm
    Very well done! I’m feeling disoriented now!
    The monologue switching to dialogue works well to take you through the different settings/times in this piece

  5. Anonymous permalink
    March 5, 2010 4:59 pm

    I did get a bit confused by the names and the back and forth, but I think I was supposed to, as that is the experience of the character. This felt interactive, I must say. Well done. The writing technique you used gives this added depth.

    • March 6, 2010 3:35 am

      I did want it to be confusing, or, rather, I wanted it to reflect her state of mind, which is confused–as you say. 🙂 I wanted the reader to experience it, but not get too lost…

  6. Anonymous permalink
    March 5, 2010 6:42 pm

    multiple lives
    It felt like there were at least three different phases of her life that were colliding here. A complex and haunting piece – nice.

    • March 6, 2010 8:34 pm

      Re: multiple lives
      I definitely think it can be read that way. If not phases, then different times coming together, (including her “memories” (flashes) of earlier that night).

  7. Anonymous permalink
    March 5, 2010 6:48 pm

    No I cannot Talk
    Fabulous, fabulous language Melissa. Really evocative leaving us to fill in the space in between what is not said. Beautifully handled.
    marc nash

    • March 6, 2010 8:35 pm

      Re: No I cannot Talk
      Thanks, Marc! I’m glad it invited the reader to fill in the spaces rather than putting him or her off. 🙂

  8. Anonymous permalink
    March 5, 2010 8:38 pm

    Pieces of a puzzle
    Good work, Melissa, loved the different story pieces we had to wave together instead of just giving it all off straight. And your writing is just beautiful! 🙂

    • March 6, 2010 8:36 pm

      Re: Pieces of a puzzle
      Thanks!! The weaving is something we tried to do that night, too, on the other end. It was confusing for all involved. I wanted to portray that.

  9. Anonymous permalink
    March 6, 2010 12:10 am

    I like the way you made the story confusing like her state of mind. I have to confess that the ending confused me though. Perhaps it was meant to?
    You really got into the character’s head. Nicely done.

    • March 6, 2010 8:45 pm

      Thanks! Yeah, I did want it confusing–with the reason why being a little indefinite. She could be traumatized, drunk, have fallen and hit her head…or whatever. The ending: Not sure if you meant about the date or earlier in the piece. If earlier–what exactly happened is unclear because she is unclear. What is clear to her memory is that a gun was involved…About the date–this is an actual question asked of the girl last weekend. The paramedics ask it to determine if someone has hit their head (along with a series of other questions). People who have concussions frequently cannot answer these questions. Actually, last weekend they simply asked the year. (Given five tries, she couldn’t do so. She thought we were still in the 1990s most of the time (she guessed over 2000 once).) I chose July 4 to be her answer not only b/c of her memory of “one lone firework” but also b/c of it’s symbolism (her subconscious choosing the date), depending on how you read her relationship to her husband before. (Of course, it’s meaning could be ironic…)

  10. Anonymous permalink
    March 6, 2010 1:31 am

    Her attempt to reason out her situation – ‘am I under water, what’s it like to be under water?’ – was effective.
    That’s a creative use of a disturbing scene.

    • March 8, 2010 7:51 pm

      Thank you!! I figured that at least some part of the mind would be trying to figure out the current situation even if the rest was dealing with (or not dealing with) trauma (and/or repression) or being high or having a concussion or whatever.

  11. Anonymous permalink
    March 6, 2010 3:01 pm

    Wow! That was a great use of dialogue/monologue to show the confusing aspects of her situation. I really like the perspective you took with this one, it was very powerful!!

  12. Anonymous permalink
    March 6, 2010 3:02 pm

    previous comment was from Anne Tyler Lord – sorry, can’t work this comment system

  13. Anonymous permalink
    March 6, 2010 5:48 pm

    Very well written. The truncated sentences work nicely to convey a sense of detachedness and confusion.

  14. Anonymous permalink
    March 6, 2010 10:22 pm

    Well done
    Very good. It gives the reader a feeling of being disoriented, like the character. I had a little trouble following some of the dialogue, figuring out who said what, but that’s probably an accurate reflection of what’s going on inside her head. Good job.

  15. Anonymous permalink
    March 7, 2010 1:40 am

    blue eyes
    I kept seeing your blue eyes and concerned face hovering over her. Amazingly well done; the pacing, the imagery. This gets a wow from me.
    Karen :0)

  16. Anonymous permalink
    March 7, 2010 2:56 pm

    Wonderful use of dialogue – her inner thoughts are jumbled, surreal, along with a story to piece together. Quite haunting.

  17. Anonymous permalink
    March 9, 2010 2:20 am

    Strong piece
    Wow, what a great story. It is a bit disturbing, as is the circumstance that prompted it. You really captured the confusion and mental miasma of a shocked body and soul. Well done.
    I hope the woman you found got the help she needed.

  18. March 17, 2010 10:29 pm

    I really like this, M.

    Do you know what happened? I hope she is ok.

    • March 18, 2010 8:32 pm

      Thanks, Meg. We don’t know what happened. It turns out she was my friend’s neighbor, but she’s not been seen since. We left her with her husband (we found him) and the ambulance people. She didn’t want to go to the hospital. We think she might just have been really messed up, but I’ve never seen anyone so messed up that they can’t remember the year (when given several chances). Or the president.

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