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A Word Uncharted

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She’s still not used to the appearance of the little gifts and trinkets on her window sill. This morning it was the hollow shell of a river clam, no bigger than the tip of Milly’s index finger, its insides coated in a pearlescent sheen so perfect she could see every curl of her hair reflected in it.

She turns it over again in her hand as she writes the previous day’s entry of the journal for Mrs. Sherman. Yesterday, she’d found a four-leaf clover weighed down with a rock - faithfully stored in a box with everything else Eric has left her, but omitted from her journal.

“Milly!” Lewis’ voice booms up the stairs. “Eric’s here.”

It’s more a warning than a request to come downstairs; since learning the contours of her house, Eric has taken to wandering it freely.

In a matter of moments, Milly’s stashed her journal under a stack of magazines and propped the shell on the dresser by her bird cage.

By the time Eric has made it up the stairs, she’s pulled her door open.

“Hi, come in!”

He’s still not said anything to her, but every day Milly feels he tells her more and more, even without words a smile, a nod, a ball caught, a picture pointed out. He communicates with her in ways he doesn’t with others and she finds herself doing the same with him.

Yes, she’s still persistent with her words: tells him childhood secrets sitting cross legged on her bed, reads to him at school, asks him questions at every turn. But their silences are never uncomfortable they’re familiar, like the warm air in a dark room at night.

Milly shouts goodnight through the open window when he’s perched on his own side of the divide, flying, and Eric’s eyes track her.

Whether he ever takes off, she doesn’t know, and the more time passes, the less the truth matters. Sometimes, she thinks it’s the only way to explain the gifts he leaves her. Other times, the notion is so implausible, she struggles to hide an embarrassed smile for ever having believed a person could conquer the skies.

That Eric has a fascination for it is undeniable though. The hours in his window, the mountains of paper planes. He’s taken to her bird like no one else, always stood by the cage with a finger between the bars when he comes over.

Today is no different; he walks right past her to inspect her parakeet.

Milly, used to this by now, keeps talking.

“They’re starting to plan the fair. My mom thinks it’d be good for me to get involved in it.” She doesn’t mention it’s because her mom thinks she could make some more friends. “What do you think?”

Anyone else might assume Eric isn’t listening, but Milly has learned he never disregards a word she says, no matter where his attention appears to be.

“Sign-ups for the planning committee close this Friday, so I have to decide pretty soon if I wanna do it and, well, I don’t wanna do it alone.”

It’s as close as she’ll come to asking. If he doesn’t answer, she won’t push. Either they’ll put their names on the list before class on Friday or they won’t, but she’s happy to leave the choice with him until then.

Propped up on her bed, Milly says, “I got a new cassette the other day.”

She fishes it out of her nightstand. When she holds it out, Eric steps away from the bird to reach for it. He sits down at the foot of her bed to inspect the black and white cover of Kate Bush with her hair teased high.

Last week, Milly spent an entire afternoon playing him her favourite tapes, the music only made more soulful by the intensity with which she watched for his reaction. With Eric, time and space take on a new shape. So much of it is silent and yet Milly hears more, sees more, because of him.

Never before has she so keenly followed someone’s line of sight or spent so much time puzzling over the inner life of another person. Why should she have to when she can just ask ? It seems silly and intrusive now, to demand something so blatantly when a smidge of quiet devotion can reveal much more than a person could ever express in words.

When Eric puts the tape in the cassette player, she knows he’s curious curious about her interests, curious about the music. There are no questions and answers between them and, thus, no permissions or rejections that have to be uttered, their uncertainties a neutral emotion that can never be transformed to hurt.

“I’m gonna get a drink. You want anything?”

Eric shakes his head.

Not only is their relationship one that doesn’t need words, Milly doesn’t have any for it. What she feels waking up to a speckled feather on her window sill doesn’t have a name. Neither does Eric’s smile or the gentle touch of his fingers on her arm when he wants her to look at something. There is no word for the warm, dry feeling of his hand in hers when they sit quietly at the downstairs table, Milly doing homework while Eric watches Lewis and Max play out in the yard.

His finger pointing to where she should fold the page when they’re making paper planes isn’t something that could be captured in a sound.

When Milly thinks of Eric, it’s the feeling of gust of wind on her face, the tickling sensation of tracing the delicate edge of a feather or petal. He reminds her of that sense of peace one feels when stroking a smooth pebble on the beach. He’s an entity of his own, someone who’s carved himself a new language that transforms the way one sees life.

And in that new world the one where Milly will never again hear her father’s voice, where her best friends might never speak to her she grows wings and rises.