At first his parents didn’t know what to make of it.
“He’s two years old, and he doesn’t make a sound, Howard,” Edna wailed. Baby Jonas was playing on the floor with the new wooden blocks his father had given him. He glanced up at his mother for a moment, appeared as if he were about to speak, and then seemed to change his mind and returned to his blocks.
“There, there Edna. There, there.” Howard took his wife in his arms and stared at his small son on the floor, noiselessly stacking the bright colored blocks on top of each other.
They tried all kinds of things. Edna tried shaking bells, Howard would make fish faces at him. Once they even brought home a small, yellow puppy and placed it helplessly in front of their son. “Here dear, say something, say anything, and momma will give you a cookie,” Edna would plead.
Still Jonas said nothing.
And the days passed and the parents scratched their heads.
“Maybe he needs friends his age? Maybe he needs color stimulation? Maybe he needs music…” his grandparents would say, and the neighbors would say, and long lost friends of Edna’s from childhood would say as she called them sobbing at night.
Finally they took him to a specialist. A child specialist with bright yellow walls and trays of sand on the floor. And the specialist offered him a toy car and poked him in the ribs and talked with finger puppets.
And still Jonas said nothing.
“He’s a mute,” the specialist concluded with a tone of confidence, “I’m afraid your son will never speak.”
And as the years passed, her conclusion appeared to be correct. Jonas did not speak.
At school, Jonas was given an assistant named Mary, a speech specialist who wanted to teach him sign language. Everyday she would go over the alphabet or the sign for “cat” or “boy,” and Jonas would stare at her. She tried to get him to point to objects that he wanted and tried bringing him books with bright pictures. But Jonas was not interested.
Mary would call his parents in exasperation, “What do you think it is? I’ve taught eight other children to speak, but Jonas won’t seem to learn! Do you think he understands? Do you think he understands what people are saying?”
Edna thought Jonas did understand. It was certainly true that he would respond to a sharp “No!” from his mother when he reached for one too many cookies. He would even follow simple instructions to get in the car or turn off the light. Sometimes (but Edna didn’t mention this) she would get the feeling that Jonas wasn’t playing with his toys at all, but listening intently to his parent’s conversation. She wasn’t sure why she got this feeling, but she was convinced it was true. Howard disagreed. Secretly, he would think to himself, that it was no wonder that mute’s were called dumb. “Completely dumb,” he would mutter with a sigh of exasperation.
Eventually the school gave up, Mary was reassigned to a girl with a lisp, and Jonas was left to sit in the back of the classroom, quietly watching the rest of the kids.
And so the years passed. And Jonas grew. And eventually everyone came to accept his silence. In fact, most people seemed to find it rather comforting after a time. His mother would chatter to him about all the town gossip while picking up around the house. His father discussed business matters that included his clients’ lack of investment sense. His teachers would complain about the other pupils and the sweethearts they once loved. Even the other students would come to him and whisper their secrets in his ear.
“Jonas,” a small girl with yellow hair once whispered, “Today I cheated on three tests and then kissed John Willow behind the playground wall,” and then she turned and ran off to join her friends in the lunchroom.
And the whole town whispered their secrets.
Until one day, when Jonas was not quite eighteen.
The family was outside. Edna was sunning herself and drinking tea and Howard was practicing his putting on the lawn. Jonas was sitting on the doorsteps watching the ants carry off the last crumbs of his sandwich. He watched them swirl around each other, scurrying and hurrying. He tapped at them with his foot, but they paid him no mind. Then, quite simply and without explanation, Jonas looked up and then stood up; feet squarely planted shoulder length apart, and cleared his throat:
“Geri Rosewood is getting fatter by the minute, I swear!…”
Edna jumped. She had almost fallen asleep, and the unfamiliar noise startled her. She looked around the yard and saw Howard standing in the middle of the lawn, putter in hand, his mouth hanging wide open. She followed Howard’s gaze until her eyes rested on her son standing firmly on the pavement, orating loud enough for the neighborhood to hear.
“…You’re telling me! You didn’t have to sit with her last Sunday at church! She nearly took up the whole pew! And the sweating, Matilda —the sweating! It’s unnatural the way that woman sweats. It’s like there’s a sprinkler system coming out of her pores!”
“HOWARD!” Edna shrieked, “Its Jonas! He’s talking!” She rose clumsily from her chaise lounge, and stood next to her husband, mouth agape.
Jonas had been reciting in a high-pitched female voice, but he suddenly switched into a low, distinctly masculine tone, “Daryl, if you don’t have the money, then I’m afraid that we’re not going to be doing business together anymore.” Jonas paused and took a deep breath, “but then, I might be willing to make some sort of arrangement…” Howard’s face went pale as he recognized his own words coming out of his son’s mouth.
Jonas started speaking faster and faster, his face darkening as the words spilled out. Edna, still shaking from the shock, grew concerned by the reddening of Jonas’ face and tried to quiet him, “Jonas dear, hush now. That’s enough, darling, please stop.” But Jonas couldn’t stop. Once started, the words seemed to spill forth beyond his control.
Mrs. Gillroy leaned over the fence, straw hat on and garden trowel in hand, “Edna, your boy, he’s talking!” Howard and Edna didn’t respond. Mrs. Gillroy listened incredulously as secret after secret came spilling out of Jonas’ mouth. She turned and ran to her house to call everyone she knew.
And quickly the word spread and quickly half of the town was gathered outside Jonas’ yard waiting with terrible apprehension for what he might say.
“I’ve been miserable my whole life,” Jonas wailed, “and I think David is my one chance at happiness. I know it’s not right, and I don’t want to hurt Bob. But I’ve a right to happiness, haven’t I? Is it really so wrong, Jonas? Is it wrong what I’m doing?”
Mrs. Linderson, Jonas’ history teacher gasped. Her faced turned red and she backed slowly away to the edge of the crowd.
And as one secret came out, another would push and shove, rolling its way out of Jonas’ mouth. His face turned redder and redder as the words kept coming, huffing and puffing, twisting and twirling. “Howard, do something, help me! Make him stop.” Edna shrieked. Howard rushed over and clapped his hand over his son’s mouth, but the words erupted like steam from a kettle, shooting his hand away.
“What do we do, what do we do?” Edna moaned. Howard sped inside and came back out with the car keys. With Jonas between them, Edna and Howard piled into the station wagon. The townspeople parted way for them to pass, and the family sped off towards the hospital.
Jonas was admitted to the emergency room, shrieking about a kitten that had been drowned last November.
“Doctor, do something for my son,” Howard pleaded, as eight doctors rushed into the room, taking Jonas from his parents’ arms. His face was bright purple by now and his body limp as the words continued to pour forth faster and louder.
One of the doctors plunged a needle in Jonas’ arm, and the boy’s voice grew quiet and restrained. His body relaxed and soon he was in a deep sleep softly reciting someone’s old love letter.
The doctors consulted in their offices for several hours while the boy slept. Neighbors and townspeople crowded into the wing where Jonas was being sedated; anxiety creased their brows. A petition was passed around demanding that Jonas be silenced or held indefinitely. A young boy turned to his mother, “But I want to hear what he has to say,” he whispered.
“Hush dear,” his mother chided softly.
Several members of city counsel were eventually allowed into the consultation room with the doctors, where, two hours later, the conclusion was reached that Jonas was a danger to himself and unless something was done, it was highly possible that he would talk himself to death. Jonas’ safety was their only concern, the doctors told Howard and Edna. Many ideas were thrown around and phone calls were made to the best specialists in the country. It was finally decided that the only thing to do would be to stitch his mouth shut. The doctors brought in thick metal threads and making a sort of “X” pattern, placed eight stitches over Jonas’ lips.
And hearing the news, the townspeople returned to their children, and returned to their spouses, and returned to their homes, and returned to their jobs, and returned to their lives, and they didn’t say a word.
Howard and Edna waited anxiously at the hospital for two days. Finally Jonas was released to them, and they held him in their arms and ushered him to the car. It was a quiet ride home. And Howard and Edna felt quite comfortable with this.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED