I was never one to talk while love was happening. Words seemed clumsy; sharp interruptions of a natural rhythm. And forget silly porn-style mantras: give it to me, here I come, fuck me harder, oh-baby-oh-baby-oh-baby. They had a place in raunchy jokes with the girlfriends, but not in bed. Not with Patrick.
Still, there had been talk. Before and afterwards. During. An I love you, six sounds, diphthongs and glides and liquids with only a single turbulent v, a soft consonant in so many ways, appropriate to the setting. Our names, whispered. Patrick. Jean.
Tonight, with the children in bed and Patrick in me, his steady breathing close and heavy in my ear, my eyes shut to the glint of moon refracting off the dresser mirror, I consider what I’d prefer. Would I be happier if he shared my silence? Or do I need his words to fill the gaps in the room and inside me?
He stops, touching the scar at my throat, my reminder of what I’ve lost. “What’s wrong, babe?” There’s concern in his voice, but also a trace of otherness, a tone I never want to hear. It sounds like pity.
I reach up, palms against the side of his face, and pull his mouth to mine. In the kiss, I talk, make assurances, spell out how every little thing will be all right. It’s a lie, but a fitting lie for the moment. He doesn’t speak again.
Tonight, let it be all quiet. Full silence. A void, outside and in.
I am in two places, divided. I am here, under Patrick, his weight suspended above my skin, part of him and also separate. I am, in my other self, fumbling with prom dress buttons in the back seat of Jimmy Reed’s Grand National, a sex car if there ever was one. I’m laughing and high on spiked punch while Jimmy gropes and grabs. Then I’m singing in the choir, giving the valedictory address at college graduation, shouting obscenities at Patrick when he tells me to pant and push one more time, babe before our firstborn’s head crowns.
I think about the parts of my body that still work. Once, I asked my gynecologist if she enjoyed sex more than the rest of us, or whether she got lost in the clinical nature of the act. Did she lie back thinking, oh, now my labia are engorged, now my clitoris retracts into its hood, now my vaginal walls contract, one pulse every eight-tenths of a second?
While I’m calculating the beats of my quiet climax, Patrick orgasms and collapses on me, kissing my ears and throat.
I wonder what other survivors do after surgery steals their voices. How they cope. Do they still find something to enjoy? Do they love their partners in the same way? Do they hate them, just a little, but never say the words?
Christina Dalcher is a theoretical linguist from the Land of Styron and Barbecue, where she writes, teaches, and channels Shirley Jackson. Recognitions include The Bath Flash Award’s Short List, nominations for Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions, and second place in Bartleby Snopes’ Dialogue-Only Contest. Find her work in The Airgonaut, The Nottingham Review, and New South Journal, among others. Find Christina at www.christinadalcher.com, @CVDalcher. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents her novels. In 2018 she published the best-selling, dystopian novel VOX.