Nonfiction / Faye Srala


:: Unspoken ::

            Sis­ter, can I come in? The door opens slight­ly, par­tial­ly obstruct­ed by fur­ni­ture behind it. Yap­ping dogs come run­ning. Down, DOWN! STOP IT, you yell. Some­where inside a TV blares a com­mer­cial and the par­rot who learned how to bark long ago adds to the cacoph­o­ny. The cats arrive, their lethar­gy hav­ing been defeat­ed by their curios­i­ty. I take small steps into your house, care­ful not to step on lit­tle paws; they are not so care­ful with me. I try to get clos­er to you for a hug but give up in the brown and black eddy swirling below my knees.

            Can we talk? My mind is mud­dled. Wispy images flick­er, like a pho­to aban­doned in a damp base­ment. Water spots obscure por­tions, and the edges blur. Shards of bro­ken glass pulse frac­tured images; a man, legs plant­ed wide, his fists clenched, leans into a woman scream­ing. Nei­ther are whole, they are dis­tort­ed by fuzzy edges of the same torn pic­ture, pieces are miss­ing. Can you remem­ber? I ask, was it real? Stop it, you yell – the dogs are chas­ing the cats. Stop it, stop it,the par­rot chimes in from her perch in the cor­ner. Frag­ments of improb­a­ble scenes flick­er in my mind. They seethe and froth, just out of the cor­ner of my eye, slink­ing, sneak­ing, and sulk­ing. They want out – you open the door and four­teen ani­mals sprint for the back­yard. You fix your­self a drink and ask if I want one too.

            I sit at the din­ing table and fid­get while I wait, care­ful­ly craft­ing my open­ing words. I part the drapes beside me a lit­tle. A wel­come blade of sun­light cuts a yel­low swath through the dim­ness illu­mi­nat­ing float­ing par­ti­cles of dirt and fur rear­rang­ing them­selves. Unopened UPS deliv­er­ies lin­ing the walls come into focus; throw rugs and pre­car­i­ous­ly stacked junk mail com­plete the tow­ers, and I won­der in what way the for­got­ten specters of our past man­i­fest them­selves in my life. Nei­ther of us sleep. I was well into my twen­ties when I real­ized the gaunt dark and hol­low eyes of insom­nia wasn’t just a genet­ic attribute. I take a sip of the drink you hand me and wince at the glass of iced vod­ka with a splash of orange juice.

            I need to know. We can speak about it now, can’t we? Sure­ly you can explain why my child­hood is veiled behind a shroud, like a body unfit for view­ing. Do you know how hun­gry I was, or that I was four going on five when our father asked me to kiss his…, That’s enough, STOP IT, you rise to break up a cat fight. The par­rot starts to sing her ABCs in a crack­ling falsetto. 

            Your pets, they found sanc­tu­ary with you after mis­treat­ment and neglect. My splin­tered mem­o­ries, like these ani­mals, need res­cu­ing. They need to find a home too, some­where they can be safe from harm and learn to be them­selves. Some­where they can run, with­out judge­ment. Just one place of com­fort. Can they have a home with you too? You’re the only oth­er one that knows them.

            Let’s rem­i­nis­cence, sis­ter, pre­tend we’re just like every­one else. Let’s talk about our fam­i­ly tra­di­tions; except when we get to the part about what dad did, instead of in stitch­es at his antics, like nor­mal peo­ple, we’ll talk about the time mom need­ed stitch­es. Instead of crack­ing up at his pranks, we’ll talk about mom’s cracked ribs. WILL YOU STOPYou scold Pro­fes­sor Jame­son for gnaw­ing on Cook­ie. STOP IT STOP IT, the par­rot can’t help herself.

            Was mom very bold or just naïve when she gave our father his walk­ing papers? Did she know what await­ed her? Was it nor­mal to watch our mom raise her fists in the air and scream at an impo­tent sky, then drop to her knees and pound the floor in fury hop­ing the phys­i­cal pain replaced the emo­tion­al. God and the dev­il were house guests that nev­er left; we fed them, but not our­selves. As the hands of jus­tice hov­ered above us unde­cid­ed whether or not to snatch us up in the rap­ture, depraved pul­sat­ing pais­leys of flame nipped at our heels. Pros­per­i­ty preach­ers con­vinced her their offer­ing plates on our table was all that was need­ed to tip the scale. “Sow what you have in order to reap what you need. God will pro­vide,” the TV preach­er would bel­low. “Plant the seed and it will grow. The Lord mul­ti­plies the reward for a faith­ful fol­low­er.” Delight­ed to be the con­duit, his voice would cul­mi­nate in a crescen­do to encour­age the hes­i­tant. Mom gave. She gave until the cock­roach­es fled in search of spoils else­where. She blamed her­self for our dif­fi­cul­ties. Her faith was not strong enough. Maybe it was nor­mal to pre­pare din­ner from a few crack­ers and moldy cheese. Maybe that’s why mom liked wine so much, it kills the taste of cheese mold. It does.

            Years have van­ished between this per­vert­ed parade of night­mares that flair in bits of strobe light and dis­si­pate upon wak­ing. This miss­ing time, is this the rea­son nei­ther of us had chil­dren, or why you live block­ad­ed in per­pet­u­al twi­light, or for my for­mer youth­ful pow­er­less­ness to thwart unwant­ed male atten­tion? I tried once, remem­ber? I asked if you were hun­gry, too. The next day you gift­ed me two cats, res­cued from abuse. Like I need­ed a dis­trac­tion. I was think­ing too much. Please, talk to me. Hmmm? You say, as your eyes swing back from the menagerie of fos­ter fails.

            They tum­ble, swirl and curl. They need to be let out, they ask you to go out, they can’t escape on their own, they need your help, your con­sent. You open the door and a rotat­ing vor­tex of mad­ness races away.  But you’re hap­pi­er when they’re in, bet­ter than when they’re out. It’s safe to keep them in, so no one can see how many there are, or how unac­cept­able they are, even though they need to get out occa­sion­al­ly, but once they do, peo­ple will see, they’re too exposed, you’re too exposed. Bet­ter to bring them back in, where it’s more com­fort­able. You close the slight part in the cur­tains, end­ing the dance of the dust.

            The par­rot bab­bles her full reper­toire in her pierc­ing scratch; hel­lo, good­bye, A B C D E F G, peanut mm mm, bad bird bad bird whatcha gonna do (to the tune of the TV show “Cops” theme song), hel­lo, good­bye, A B C… All this inter­spers­es with bark­ing and hissing.

            My drink is fin­ished. The ani­mals come run­ning when I stand up. Wag­ging tails fol­low swarm­ing teeth and claws. I pick my way care­ful­ly through them and the cats mount­ed on box­es like sen­tries man­ning a tur­ret over­look­ing a fortress. You move the small table behind the door so I can leave eas­i­er. The parrot’s acrid voice ris­es above the rest, good­bye.

            Unspo­ken doesn’t mean nev­er hap­pened, dear Sis.

From the writer


:: Account ::

Unspo­ken” is true in its entire­ty, except for the part about the cock­roach­es, they actu­al­ly stayed. I’ve writ­ten a series of poems and prose pieces in an attempt to under­stand, and heal, a painful child­hood. In all of my work, my intent is to place the raw ache, humil­i­a­tion, and rage on the paper while still hon­or­ing my moth­er for her brav­ery and unwa­ver­ing mater­nal instincts, who nev­er expect­ed to be a sin­gle moth­er in the 1970s. It’s not easy to be hon­est after a life­time of try­ing to sup­press mem­o­ries, and some­times cre­ative choic­es can help explain the inex­plic­a­ble. This is why I chose a metaphor – the dis­trac­tion of a house full of ani­mals is used to avoid con­fronting the past. It is an apt choice to describe the rela­tion­ship between my sis­ter and I, who is old­er and suf­fered through those extra years with our abu­sive father. My cre­ative lib­er­ties are inspired by Bren­da Miller’s “A Case Against Courage in Cre­ative Non­fic­tion,” which appeared in AWP Writer’s Chron­i­cle, Oct/Nov 2011. In her essay, Miller makes the argu­ment that some­times courage doesn’t always pay off in CNF, some­times cow­ardice in the form of metaphor, syn­tax, imagery, or using a con­tain­er, much like a her­mit crab uses a shell for pro­tec­tion, pro­duces bet­ter literature.


Faye Srala is a retired chemist liv­ing in Ida­ho pur­su­ing a cre­ative out­let with writ­ing. She earned a BS in Chem­istry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Col­orado at Col­orado Springs, an MBA from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Utah, and is a cur­rent Eng­lish major with the cre­ative writ­ing empha­sis at Ida­ho State Uni­ver­si­ty. She wait­ed until retire­ment to pur­sue an artis­tic out­let because her career was both reward­ing and demand­ing, and because she didn’t trust her cre­ativ­i­ty enough make a switch. When not busy with class­es, she bakes deca­dent desserts, drinks wine, and hikes off those calo­ries in the exten­sive Ida­ho wilderness.