Authors: Rita Leganski
Tags: #Fiction, #General
SILENCE IS THE PERFECTEST HERALD OF JOY.
Arrow didn’t make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. But the child was only listening, placing sound inside quiet and gaining his bearings because everything had suddenly changed. The water chant was gone, as was the oxygen whisper and the comforting beat of his mother’s steady heart. Where were the voices? Where were the dream tones? Where was the hum of the ever-present night? Bonaventure didn’t know what to do with all that loss. The world he’d known had vanished. Been swallowed up whole by harsh light and shocking coldness and a terrible, hurtful, clamoring dissonance. He shivered when the doctor handed him over, but he gave no hearty newborn cry. Instead, Bonaventure listened hard as he could for that missing steady heart.
The heartbeat was lost in a lot of other sounds now, but was strong enough to bring forth a calmness that allowed him to be wide-eyed and hopeful. His mother, Dancy Arrow, thought she heard him cry from a long way off, but that was nothing more than a trick of the anesthesia.
Bonaventure stayed like that, all wide-eyed and hopeful, and continued to keep his silence. People worried about it right away. Except for Dancy. She was too taken up with what else was missing to grasp that her baby was quiet all the time.
Bonaventure settled into the hospital nursery, finding comfort in his swaddling blankets and coziness in the confines of his bassinet cocoon. He matched voices to touches, and footsteps to nurses, and formed a great fondness for the ticking of clocks. His silence gave pause to the experts who examined him; here was a curiosity beyond their expertise. (They could never have explained Bonaventure anyway because there is no scientific word for
.) They knew nothing of Bonaventure’s rarefied hearing, the acuity of which was an extraordinary grace and an unearthly symptom of the mystery behind his silence. They didn’t know that through his remarkable hearing he would bring salvation to the souls of those who loved him. Nor did they know that Bonaventure’s silence was full of sound that came to him in the same way it had come to the universe when space expanded to form nebulae and novas and all things celestial out of a divine and loving pulse.
All told, Dancy and Bonaventure spent a week in the hospital, as mothers and babies did in 1950, and then they were discharged. It had been determined that they were hale and hearty and that this silent situation was not the end of the world.
“Mrs. Arrow,” the doctor said, “you have a fine healthy boy, though we are greatly concerned that he has yet to make a sound. You must pay special attention to the matter and come back to see me in six weeks or so.”
To which Dancy smiled and said, “Thank you. I will,” and though her heartbeat stumbled, she said no more than that. In the deepest places inside herself she was joyful and jubilant and over-the-moon about her quiet baby boy. It was just the numbness that kept her subdued, like a sleepwalker who puts one foot in front of the other on a journey she won’t even remember.
Luckily, Bonaventure heard one small sound of his mother’s dormant joy, and that small sound was enough.
The nursery at home on Christopher Street in Bayou Cymbaline held all the receiving blankets, diaper pins, and talcum powder anyone could want, as well as a rocking chair right next to the window. It was an altogether fitting place for twinkling stars and lullabies and dishes that ran off with spoons—there was no hint of unusual circumstance, no visible trace of tragedy.
Bonaventure managed the breathing sounds that all infants make, but they had nothing to do with larynx or vocal cords or deliberate intentions. Nevertheless, his mother was in love with those unintended noises and with everything else about him: the translucency of his eyelids and the lilting look of his brows, his tiny feet and toes, each perfect little nail, the plumpness of his sweet bottom lip. Sometimes a look passed over Bonaventure’s face while he slept, as if he’d seen something spectacular in his dreams, and Dancy would try to imagine what it could possibly have been.
Six weeks went by and Bonaventure maintained his silence. Without even realizing it, Dancy gave up listening in favor of watching and did the best she could.
“Has he made any sound at all?” the doctor asked. “Any crying, any fussing?”
“Well, no crying, but he does fuss some,” Dancy told him.
“How do you mean?”
“I mean if he’s hungry he scrunches up his face and kicks his legs and stretches his arms up over his head. And if he’s wet or he’s messed in his diaper, he squirms around until he gets cleaned up.”
The doctor lowered his head and smiled the kind of smile one puts on pity. Then he gave that smile to Dancy and said, “We need to do some tests.”
“Maybe he just needs a little more time. After all, he was born two weeks early.”
“I’d like to do them soon, Mrs. Arrow.”
Dancy nodded and held Bonaventure closer, kissing the soft spot on the top of his head.
A physical examination showed no irregularities, and auditory tests established that Bonaventure could definitely hear. In fact, it was obvious that he responded strongly to even the faintest sounds. This was believed to be connected to his muteness in some way, but no one could quite say how. It became a matter of much speculation. There were those who were certain his condition was a blessing, and those who feared it might be a curse. Dancy Arrow wondered fearfully which one it was. She was wondering about it on a Wednesday afternoon when Bonaventure was five months old. She was rocking him to sleep in the chair by the window when the suggestion of blame smoked in through the keyhole, for even a shut door won’t keep blame away. Dancy continued her to and fro rocking, an unspoken apology sitting on her lips. Had she abandoned her child for the sake of her loss? Had she failed to pay attention when she held him in her womb? Was Bonaventure’s absent voice her fault, too?
She sang a song to him then and put a kiss on his forehead; he lay in her arms looking up and directly into her eyes. Then he knitted his brow in a serious way, which gave him the look of a very old soul. He slowly breathed in and breathed out three times, then smiled up at her with all the strength he had.
Dancy had been wandering ever deeper into mourning, and Bonaventure had beckoned her back. And that became the moment in which Dancy Arrow knew there was something more to her little one’s silence; knew it as surely as if some talkative angel had come into the room and told her so. She wasn’t sure what to do with this realization, so she set it down in the back of her mind and turned her thoughts away. She moved to the daybed, lay down on her side, and wrapped her arm around her baby as if to put him back inside her.
Dancy had missed the other side of Bonaventure’s silence. She did not realize he could hear her heartbeat whenever he wanted to. She was unaware he could find the sound of her blood flowing and of the inflation and deflation of her lungs no matter how far away she was. She had no idea he could hear a bluesy trumpet in a French Quarter alley, or the shuffling of tarot cards in a Bogalusa sanctum, or the echoes of footsteps made by the Acolapissa more than three hundred years before, or the fog rolling over Saint Anthony’s Garden some fourteen miles away.