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Silent Creatures

Jade T. Woodridge 

She does not speak. Doesn’t make a sound.

Not a cry of pain, though her face twists and her eyes bulge and clench. Sweat drips from her brows to mix with the salt of her tears, and her gnashing teeth draw blood.

Yet she makes not a sound.


    She knows her name is Bark, the word, rough like a growl and as short as a pop. Her father named her such because her skin was like that of the bark of a tree. Ugly and dry. Stripped of dignity and strength. A utility to be owned and shaped. This name was far different from her mother, Ocean, who was named so for the ocean of tears she would weep throughout her life.

    And her mother was named Burden for that was what she was and Burden did she shoulder until her death.

    Bark knows the word “woman.” The man she was given to often called her this, spitting the word with disdain. Striking her with it in disgust. He moaned the word from above her, grunting it with his thrusts. She lay there without a sound.

    She knew the word “leave.” He said it often when he could not stand to see her repulsive face. When he finished with her in the night, Bark limped from his bed battered and bleeding.

    She obeyed, as always, but as she left his room for the last time, she found her feet unable to stop. She left his house. Down the road she went, belly as round as the moon that watched her from above, echoing his words. Leave. Bark was nothing if not obedient.


    Her silence was a blessing. It was because of it that he was unable to find her. As the sun rose and fell, and the terrain shifted beneath her feet, Bark walked on. Where? She did not know.


    She knows that she is alone, a word that came when her mother went. A word that persisted in her days and nights. Bark dug her fingers into the cool soil beneath the bush she lay beneath, alone, mouth gaping in a scream that would not come. She’d felt pain before— when her father took the whip to her back— when the man took her into his bed. Never like this. She wondered if the pain would be better if she could just cry out. If her body would allow her to release all that she held within. But she didn't think her body knew how to make such sounds.

Women were silent creatures, after all. She would bear it alone.


    Her mother never spoke. She went about her routines with downcast eyes. While the men laughed and sang, creating words and giving names, women did not speak. Women were born silent, Bark knew. They did not laugh. They did not cry. They did not sing.

    Bark wondered if her mother had felt the same urges she did now— the urge to shout! To scream in pain and growl in anger— He did this to her! He caused her this pain! Had her mother felt such rage?

    She’d walked along the road until the moon sank beyond the trees and the sky brightened into morning. She’d heard the man looking for her on the road with anger and annoyance. His loathful snarl of her name— Bark felt such a surge of rage unlike any she’d felt before. She’d sank beneath the bushes and picked up a rock, ready to strike him down. Ready to hear his cries, his screams, and sweet words as he begged. But she did not. The pain in her belly grew too great.


    The women had their own private language. Touches of the hand that gave her comfort. Gazes that gave her strength, but there were no glances or touches to tell her what to expect from her changing body. There were none of these to warn her about what was to come.

    The baby entered the world angrily wailing its woes. Surely an infant wouldn’t have such woes, but it did. It was born a girl. Bark reached between her legs and lifted the baby to her breast, shocked by such lungs that forced a very large sound from its tiny frame. She checked again and again. Perhaps she’d missed something. Perhaps the thick cord wrapped around its legs was something else. Perhaps her baby was deformed and missing its boy-parts.

Women were silent creatures. They were born silent… weren't they?

    Bark covered her ears. The baby wailed so loud it frightened birds from their nests and sent snakes slithering into their holes. Cries so earnest, it broke Bark’s heart. Did she know what life she would lead? Had she seen it and felt it through Bark’s own belly? Were the woes she cried, cried for Bark? This poor baby girl who knew nothing of the world, not even what it meant to stay silent.

    The baby latched onto Bark’s breast. She held her the way she’d seen the other mothers do, a gentle rocking motion to soothe baby to peace. And, though the baby drank, she was far from silent. Little gurgles and hiccups, whimpers, and squeaks set Bark’s heart aflutter. She was in love.

   Bark lay back against the brush, exhausted to the point of shivers. Her body had gone numb and cool. Her heavy-lidded eyes, unable to remain open. As she stroked her baby’s soft skin, listening to the beautiful sounds she made, Bark dreamed.


    No other word or name came close to the power that was Loud. What life would Loud lead? It had to be better than Bark’s and her mother’s and grandmother's. All the mothers before her. Her voice would remain a powerful force as she grew— A force that would dare all who encountered it to think twice. It would be both alluring and frightening. Exciting and awful.

    Beautiful and biting. And what would become of Bark?

    Loud bestowed upon Bark a new name: Mama. The name was smooth to the tongue and soft to the ears. ‘Mama’ was strength that puffed her swollen breasts and lifted her chin. It was the armor she wore and the elixir to her loneliness. To Loud, no other was as strong or beautiful as Mama.

    Loud could sing and laugh. The trill of her voice, like bells. Her voice would carry far and wide and whisper to Mama to let her go into the world. Loud would meet a man so surprised by her voice— so entranced by her words— that he would fall in love. He would never strive to douse the fire of her tongue but float on the clouds of her whispers and dance in the melody of her songs. Loud would love this man, too, but she wouldn't need him. Her voice was strong enough to drive away wild beasts, after all. Strong enough to give Bark a name.

   Loud would have children whom she’d call Torrent and Tempest, for the rage and beautiful chaos they would cause. Their storms would stir the lives of man and move them with their power. Their rains would wash away the soot and waves, and flood the villages, the towns, and the cities. They would be the bitter panacea that would bring this world to life.


    Mama rocked Loud and dreamed of Hope, the great great great granddaughter she would never meet but knew only through the eyes of her daughter. A silent creature she would never be, but a voice to the voiceless who dreamed.

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Jade T. Woodridge

Jade T. Woodridge was born in Naples, Italy to military parents. She holds a Bachelor's in English Literature from Seton Hill University and a Master's in Library and Information Sciences from the University of Maryland. Her work has appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Midnight & Indigo, Coffin Bell Journal, The Great Lakes Review, and elsewhere, with a forthcoming piece in Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora. She currently lives in Southwest Michigan and works as a librarian.

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