“Nothing is as deafening as the sound of silence; except, maybe, for the sound of your heart beating, its echo filling your eardrums with a slow thumping and nothing else,” Ruth whispered to herself. She laid in a numb state. Her quilt scrunched up under her chin. Quietly she spanned the ceiling for shadows that didn’t exist. An all too consuming silence filled every nook and crevice of her room. Not even the sound of the autumn waves on Lake Catherine could express the emptiness. She wanted desperately to stay in bed, to not face another dreadful day. But life must go on, or so they say.
It was October 19, 1965. Ruth had just had her 49th Birthday a week earlier. That day was filled with friends, family, and masks of all kind, pretending there wasn’t anyone missing. But there was. Ruth and Howard’s eldest daughter, Marie, was staying at a convent in Texas waiting for her baby to arrive. Marie was 23, unwed, and under prepared to be giving birth. By the time October 19th approached, like a head on collision you couldn’t avoid, the baby boy was already given up for adoption.
Their youngest daughter, Amy, was 16. She felt abandoned by her older sister, left to fend for herself in a house of madness. Their mother’s dire mental state lay in pieces, like ill fitted puzzle pieces left lying around, not belonging together, but coerced into place.
Marie’s scandal kicked up dark clouds of shame and indignity that now swirled around the family, leaving a stench of uncertainty and depression especially for Ruth.
Tornados of emotion spun through the house. And yet a day or two before, Amy had peered into her mother’s bright blue eyes and saw a calm, stoic gaze. She could never tell which mother she was going to get. One minute Ruth would be frantically painting the doorknobs gold on a high of creative juices, and the next you’d find her comatose in a pile of rust and yellow leaves somewhere in the backyard. Ruth’s mood swings were unpredictable and frightening.
On that morning of October 19, 1965, Amy and Ruth had had an argument about the upcoming homecoming dance. Amy’s dress, a beautiful light green bodice with a darker green velvet skirt, needed mending. Her mother was supposed to have it done by the weekend. But Ruth, overwhelmed with intense emptiness, forgot about the dress altogether. She told Amy to ask her Grandma Mattie to do it. She wasn’t going to have time.
Amy left the house in a huff, as teenagers often do, without kissing her mother on the cheek goodbye.
A rush of pink came over Ruth. The house was quiet. Knitting needles tapped off beat in the background, as her mother Mattie was knitting a blanket for the baby that would never come.
Mattie announced that she needed more yarn, and asked Ruth if she needed anything from the store. Ruth stared vacantly out the kitchen window, through the billowing trees, onto the beach in the distance. Lake Catherine was alive with waves, and Ruth was mesmerized by its white crests. Her thoughts, covered in seaweed, were carried away with each crest, and then drowned where the water remained calm. Wearily she shook her head indicating she needed nothing.
Mattie patted her daughter on the shoulder, gave her an encouraging squeeze, and whispered gently “We’re going to be okay.”
Mattie put on her fox fur collared, brown wool coat, and ventured out. The metal screen door screeched shut behind her.
The sound broke the gloomy silence for a second. Ruth palmed her husband’s shot glass. His bottle of Ten High Whiskey sat half full in its rightful place. She rubbed her thumb against the cool beveled letters, toying with the notion of drinking the rest of the bottle. The rich caramel color looked so inviting. But she settled on one shot for courage.
The warmth of the liquid inflamed her throat. The pain made her feel somewhat human. Before, the pain felt invisible, but now there was a burning that made everything feel real. She let out an exasperated cough and fell to her knees sobbing. The mask came off.
Ruth lifted her unsteady body, walked out the front entrance, letting the screen door flap aggressively in the rushing wind. The skirt of her knee length, navy blue dress twirled upward, showing a white ruffled slip underneath. Ruth carefully walked along the cracked cement sidewalk, arms folded in front of her, to the detached garage. A pile of rust and yellow leaves rustled with the breeze, whispering, “We’re going to be okay.” But Ruth didn’t believe them…it wasn’t.
She rummaged through a grease-stained box her husband kept of winter car care accessories. She gripped tightly to the cold tow chain and dragged it heavily behind her. The chain clamored against each obstructing surface it met, echoing through the empty house, and down the eerie steps to the musty basement. The distinct smell mingled sweetly with the lavender pouches she kept in her dress pockets.
Ruth stopped in front of the old 1920’s slot machine her husband had bought for $50 from a friend who needed money. She put a nickel in its slot. “If I get all lemons, I won’t go through with it.”
She pulled the lever to her fate. Lemon. Lemon. Plum.
Ruth slung the chain over the overhead beam, and created a noose. “Nothing is as deafening as the sound of silence; except, maybe, for the sound of your heart beating for the last time, its echo filling your eardrums with a slow thump and nothing else.” Ruth whispered her last words to herself.