“Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.”
Five-year-old Daniel cowered upon the flagstone hearth, his arms held in front of the scared little face. Tears sprung from his brown eyes.
“You are the worst child I’ve ever watched. Shut up now before I shut you up forever.”
Daniel screamed again, even louder than before.
“That’s it. I’ll fix you for good now.”
Janet opened the six-foot tall glass display case that housed the boy’s mother’s collection of antique inkwells and inkbottles. She passed over the pontiled dark olive 12-sided Stoddard Inkwell, David’s Fountain Inkwell, the Figural Shoe Inkwell, and took the tall blue Carter’s Cathedral-style master inkbottle. The babysitter clutched the bottle, removed the pour spout, knelt, and grabbed Daniel by the collar.
“Demon child,” she said, “I’m going to remove your voice so you’ll never bother anyone again.”
Janet forced the end of the bottle into the boy’s mouth and summoned: “God of Silence I beseech thee to act now and remove the hideous voice from this child forever and ever. Veeeesh! It is done.” She jammed the pour spout back into the blue bottle and carried it out onto the north deck of the lake house. Daniel watched in horror as she flung it out into the waves of Lake Ontario’s Irondequoit Bay.
Janet sneered at her charge and said: “Go to your room, now.”
The terrified boy ran to his room, jumped onto his bed, and cried until he collapsed into sleep.
Howard and Marsha, Daniel’s parents, returned from their daylong excursion to Rochester after midnight. Marsha immediately went to her son’s bedroom where she confirmed that her little boy was safe and asleep. She returned with a smile and her husband gave the nursing student two fifty-dollar bills and a grateful handshake. The young woman walked down the stairs on the south side of the house, got into her car, and drove away.
The couple arose early the following morning for fresh brewed coffee and the Sunday edition of the Democrat and Chronicle. At eight Marsha quietly opened Daniel’s bedroom door and affectionately watched him as he slept for several moments before she sat beside him on the bed. She placed her hand gently on his upturned shoulder and gave it a shake.
“Danny, It’s time to wake up.”
Daniel opened his eyes and anxiously wrapped both arms around his Mother’s neck. As she arose from the bed he kept both arms tight and wrapped his legs around her waist. She carried him to the kitchen where her husband had set plates of maple sausages and his special homemade sweet-potato pancakes on the breakfast table. She lowered her son into his chair, pried his arms off, and sat next to him.
“Danny,” she asked the unhappy boy, “How are you feeling this morning?”
The boy stared at his mother, placed his fingers upon his lip, and shook his head sadly.
“Does your throat hurt?”
Daniel shook his head.
“Then tell me what’s wrong.”
Daniel shook his head again and slapped his lips.
“Can you please tell me what’s wrong?”
Marsha watched helplessly as tears fell from her little boy’s eyes as he continued to shake his head and slap his lips.
He did not speak all that Sunday nor on the morning that followed. The worried mother called Daniel’s pediatrician, explained the problem, and made an appointment for eleven that very morning. On Tuesday she took him to a child psychologist in downtown Rochester. In the days and weeks that followed she took him to specialists in Buffalo, then Syracuse, then New York City, and lastly Boston. The doctors tested, speculated, prescribed, and shrugged. Daniel remained silent.
For the first grade Daniel was placed in a Special Day Class at the DeWitt Road Elementary School where he learned the rudiments of sign language. In the second grade he was mainstreamed into Mrs. Harkins’ class, a teacher competent in American Sign Language. For the third grade he was placed in Mr. Phillips class, a caring man who learned the important signs, which Daniel supplemented with handwritten notes.
His father drove the family of three to the small town of Alexandria Bay for a Fourth of July week vacation after he completed the third grade. His mother planned to visit the antique shops and hoped to add another piece to her collection of inkwells and inkbottles and, perhaps, even find a replacement for the bottle that had mysteriously disappeared.
The family arrived at the Riveredge Resort Hotel in time for dinner in the Jacques Cartier Room overlooking the St. Lawrence River. After eating they retreated to their balcony overlooking Alexandria Bay Harbor and watched the concert of pleasure boats and commercial freighters. Daniel sat upon the deck with his face pinned silent against the rails and watched the harbor activity with curious interest. His parents sat at the wrought-iron café table, shared a bottle of Pinot Noir, and watched their son.
After breakfast on the following morning at the Windows on the Bay restaurant the family walked into the village of Alexandria Bay. Marsha’s first target was The Magical Swan Antique Store located at the corner of James and Market Streets. She held her son’s hand as she guided him into the Magical Swan. She nodded to the proprietor and then the mother and son walked through the narrow isles followed closely by Howard. Near the rear of the store Marsha noticed a cobalt teakettle inkwell sitting alone on a small wooden table. She reached for the inkwell but was stopped by Daniel who grabbed her arm and tugged excitedly. He pointed to the top shelf of a glass display case where Marsha saw the Carter’s inkbottle, an exact duplicate of the one that had gone missing three years before. Daniel continued to tug at her arm and Marsha looked down to see him sign, “Voice, bottle, voice, bottle, voice, bottle.”
She opened the display case, removed the Carter’s inkbottle and knelt beside her son. The boy grabbed at the bottle and pulled it towards him. While she grasp the bottle firmly her son removed the pour spout, sucked from the mouth of the bottle, and immediately gasped, wheezed, and coughed. His mother panicked when her son’s eyes rolled up and he went limp. She screamed to her husband to call 9-1-1. Howard jerked open his cell phone, pushed the 9, then folded his phone with a sigh when he heard: “Mommy, voice back.”
This short story appeared in the May 2013 issue of Fresh Ink, the journal of the California Writers Club, Inland Empire Branch.