A short piece, character study meets horror.
Content Warnings: body horror, self-harm, misogyny.
The politician speaks, and his wife smiles.
She need not speak, he speaks for them both.
Her smile is a closed, tightlipped thing, and she is never seen without it.
At dinner parties, she smiles.
On election day, she smiles.
Visiting overflowing hospital wards, she smiles.
Outside of their home, with all the world’s cameras pointed at her, she smiles.
She smiles, and says nothing.
Reporters ask her: will you forgive him?
Constituents ask her: do you support him?
The public asks her: will you vote for him?
Women scream at her: speak.
She smiles. She does not speak.
She cannot speak.
Her name is Margaret and her surname was stolen. By rules she cannot question, so old and expected that it is madness to question them. The rules make no sense, but there is less sense in thinking.
Sometimes she wonders if he would have let her keep it, had she asked. The shame of abnormality would have prevented it, she is sure. It doesn’t matter. That half of her name is gone, and she cannot whisper it to herself as a comforting reminder. She cannot speak.
Sometimes, she feels she will explode with the pressure of unspoken words building inside of her. Other times she is glad for the silence, a secret relief at the lack of choice.
She begins to doubt whether she can truly recall her voice at all. Perhaps the one she dreams of belongs only in her head. If she could talk now, it would be a croaking rasp of a sound. It’s a flight of fancy at first, wondering what sound she could conjure, given the freedom to do so. But soon, the idea of it consumes her, until she lies awake at night clawing at her face in a bid to let that noise out.
One morning – or perhaps it is afternoon, as the light streams through cracks in the curtains and birds mockingly sing outside the window – she sits in bed, the blankets like a shroud around her.
Her fingers trace the hard line of her lips, and she tries. Tries to find purchase in that lacquered crease and pull. At first it is unyielding but her nails are maniquered into perfect points, sharp enough to scratch a line and from that peel away in flakes. It cracks and splits, soft and fleshy beneath, but no matter how she pulls at her ruined lips her mouth will not open.
She cannot simply will her jaw unclenched. No more easily than she could will her skull split in two. It would require more force than she could muster alone. Nonetheless, she strains in futility for freedom until exhaustion makes that lesson clear.
She is still sitting in her bed, but now darkness peaks through the slice of window exposed by the curtains. There has been no sound of wheels crunching on gravel, no car in the drive, and unsteadily she gets to her feet.
From her room, to the hallway, to the winding stairs downwards. The kitchen is sterile, tiled in blinding white. Her ‘domain’ her husband calls it, although she never feels so cold as when she takes up her station here.
Without pausing, she unlocks the patio doors, slippered feet treading through the mildewy nighttime grass. The outbuilding opens with the twist of a key, the tang of rusted metal and damp wood in the air.
This space is not for her. Forbidden, in fact, by convention if not express demand. In the darkness, her hands find the cold, hard shape they seek. The toolbox. She has not touched it before, and she is not sure if her husband has either. Owning it is symbolic, a symbol of sovereignty as man of the house. Using it is beneath him; menial repair tasks belong to unskilled laborers.
She cracks open the box in eager rebellion, rifling through pristine, unused items before landing on a screwdriver. She hesitates – not at what comes next, but a moment to enjoy the weight of the tool in her hand. Briefly, it makes her feel powerful.
Without fear, she turns the screwdriver on herself, plunging it into the crack she’d peeled away in her mouth. It sinks in – only a little further than what she had chipped herself – before being stopped. The cement-like glue that held her voice captive was as solid as brick.
No matter, she refused to be stopped. Tools were designed for splitting stone when needed. She drove the screwdriver in again. Again. Again. Hacking away at a block of ice with a pick. Cracking, oh so slowly, through her prison. Chips of debris and flecks of blood decorate her dressing gown, medals awarded for her progress.
Too long, it takes too long – and she silently screams against her restraints. There are cracks now, chunks broken away, but it is not enough to let even a whisper of sound escape, as she wrenches her jaw uselessly and her throat burns.
The rage of twenty years ripped through her, in soundless agony. She stabbed the screwdriver into the workbench, envisioning it skewering her husband’s eye. It dents the solid wood, but no more, and she sends it clattering onto the floor in exchange for the disappointment. Unsatisfied, the rest of the toolbox follows with a crash – screws skittering over concrete, spanners clanging against one another in a cacophony that she envies.
The hammer lands on her slippered foot, and there is no noise of pain to acknowledge this.
It feels like an answer, to the plea she cannot utter.
Bending down she takes a hold of the hammer, and hefting all her strength into the swing she slams it into her jaw.
Pain as the bone cracks. Pain and she cannot scream. Pain.
She swings again, tears stream over her cheeks but she is not sad, they are a simple answer to that pain, the scream she cannot give it.
Again, again. Crack. Pain. Again. Blood and bone splatter to the ground, her slippers wearing her face.
The stifled cry transforms into giddy hiccuping laughter. Letting the hammer drop she begins tearing away at the bloodied, fleshy mess, excavating her voice in handfuls of ruined meat and bone shards.
The remainder of her jaw hangs in strings now, bloody streamers celebrating freedom. The rest, a pulpy mess on the floor.
Eyes wet with joy, and hands slick with blood, she laughs. The sound is hers. She laughs and her throat burns, and she lets the noise grow louder into a joyous c.
She cannot speak.
But she can scream.