She thrusts her fists against the posts & still insists she sees the ghosts

The Postscript short fiction contest’s second place entry by ArtSci ’09 Kaitlyn Hillier

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You don’t even need to look at the menu. You’ve been here so many times that you have it memorized. Tonight you want something simple: a burger and fries. Of course they have to name it something complicated like “The Muskoka Three Cheese Burger.” Damn them.

You open the menu and study those five words. You tell yourself that you’re only trying to remember what it’s called but you know that’s bull. You somehow think that if you read the words enough times everything will be okay. You rehearse it in your head: I’ll have the Muskoka Three Cheese Burger with fries and no garnish please. Fries and no garnish. No garnish. Muskoka. Three Cheese. What the hell was the matter with just calling it a cheeseburger anyway?

“All set to order?”

You gesture to your mother to go first. You peek at the menu one more time. Muskoka Three Cheese Burger. Fries. No garnish. After your mother places her order, your sister quickly pipes up. You wish Dad wouldn’t be such a gentleman and go next, but instead he gestures to you. “And for you?” The server asks.

Spit it out, woman. It’s not rocket science.

“I’ll have the Muskoka Three Cheese Burger-”

“Fries, side salad, baked potato...”

You resist the urge to shut your eyes and count to three. Interruptions always make things harder.

“Fries, please. An-an..”

Shit. Here it comes.

“And...And...c-c-could...I...”

You made it all day without it happening once. Of course it has to come and bite you in the ass at the day’s end. You try to get the word ‘have’ out but your brain has already finished the sentence and your mouth is still stuck on ‘I’. You can’t even make the ‘h’ sound. It just keeps hitting that annoying, metaphorical brick wall that only appears the minute you think you’re in the clear.

They’re starting to look at you now. Your mother looks concerned, your sister looks annoyed and your father sits there patiently, more than willing to wait until Kingdom Come for you to finish your sentence. You finally take a deep breath, stare at the table and throw the rest of the sentence out at warp ten. “havethatwithnogarnishplease?” “Excuse me?”

You take another deep breath and fire the words out staccato. “No. Garnish. Please.”

“No problem!” The waiter takes your father’s order and then leaves as if nothing happened. Everything returns to normal. It was a mild attack and it didn’t last long; they barely noticed. You noticed though and that’s all that matters. It will happen again, maybe the same, maybe better, maybe worse, but it will happen again.

Ordering food has no right to be this difficult.

———

You don’t think there’s anything wrong with you until you’re put in preschool. Mommy and Daddy can say words properly because they’re Grown-Ups. Grown-Ups don’t repeat sounds and Grown-Ups don’t have to force sounds out. Grown-Ups don’t have to switch words. Only Grown-Ups can speak well.

Of course preschool has to go and burst that little bubble. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon you are surrounded by other kids who speak as clearly and crisply as your father. Even the kid who’s just learning English has an easier time with his sounds than you do.

Soon enough you and the whole class are given hearing tests. You wear the headphones, you tell them that you can hear their stupid beeps and demand to go play on the swings.

They declare you have excellent hearing but you have a persistent stutter. You’re sentenced to Speech Therapy. May God have mercy on your soul.

———

You stand up in front of your Grade 11 English class armed with a copy of “The Hollow Men.” You take a breath, calm yourself and open your mouth to speak. You manage to get the first few words out without any real issue and you pat yourself on the back for that. The second that triumphant thought finishes resounding, you fail spectacularly at quoting one of the finest lines of English verse ever penned. Somewhere, T.S. Eliot is rolling in his grave.

When you finish your teacher asks you if you have a speech impediment in front of the entire class. You reply in the affirmative and take in each look of pity with disgust and each look of malice with vengeance.

You’ll get yours, you promise them all. You don’t know how to deliver on that promise but you know you’ve never been more serious in all your 16 years.

———

Your speech therapist is a woman named Sue who reminds you of Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz. You’re expecting her to rant about the dog you don’t have instead of her showing you pictures of another dog and asking you to say his name slowly.

Sssssspppppoooooottttt, she says.

S-s-pot.

No. Spot. Ssssssppppppoooot. See?

Sp-Sp-Sp. Breath. Spo-Spo-

No, No. Listen closely…

And they wonder why you escape one of the following sessions in a stolen wheelchair. ———

Your first job interview takes place over the phone. You’re anxious and happy and must sound like a right nutter to them. Your mother shakes her head from the seat across from you and you duck your head down and away from her. She knows you’re rubbish on the phone and with people watching you it’s even worse.

You force out a thank you and hang up the phone. W-w-w- you try to tell her.

Wednesday, she finishes for you.

You tell her that you just said that and your emotionless glare dares her to contradict you.

She doesn’t.

-———

Slow talking. Your mother always tells you. Sllllooooowwwww taaaaaalllllkkking. Let’s speak to her like she’s a complete moron and maybe she’ll be fixed. That d-d-doesn’t help! I-It

nev-nev-never did!

Slow talking.

I’ll talk a-a-as fast as I bl-bloody well want!

Slow talking.

Ta gueule!

Slow talking.

I AM TRYING!

Good girl.

I’m t-twenty one not two. I’m a human being not a d- a d- a d- Dog?

You storm out of the room.

———

Your father asks you one day why you stutter. You’re damned if you know but you tell him it’s because your brain goes faster than your mouth. He does the dance of victory, pleased with himself that he divined the reason for your disability. He was right. Mom was wrong.

The word ‘disability’ is all you hear.

———

You Emcee at your last high school band concert to prove to yourself and the world that you can. You managed one minor slip but your massive vocabulary from years of reading allows you to switch to a new word flawlessly. You know you’ve reached the point where only you know that you do it. You could never mention it and the world would never know.

It’s the most personal of personal victories and nothing ever pales it.

———

You go out for dinner with your friend and it’s a terrible day. No combination of syllables wants to come out today. Every letter is forced from your lips like a confession or a grudging apology. It seems as if the entire English language has failed you. You laugh it off despite your growing rage. Your friend is worried for you and you explain your situation.

“Oh, I never noticed.” He tells you. You know he’s being honest but you can scarcely believe it. How can he not notice? Not a day goes by where you don’t have to fight for your right to speech.

“You’re the most articulate person I know.”

Even now, years later, you still hold that compliment as the highest one you have ever received.

———

You come home for Thanksgiving and your excitement has you blocking and stuttering like it’s going out of style. Your father says, when you finally finish, that you should consider going back to speech therapy.

You’re 19 and you have no problems telling him no. There’s nothing wrong with you.

It would make your life easier is what he tells you. What you hear is it will make everybody else’s life easier. We don’t want to wait for you.

The world has never waited for you, a limping stutterer who’d rather watch movies at home than go to the club. It’s not something you need to be reminded of.

Your father always told you—as you sat there make-up-less and alone watching Spock’s cool logic put McCoy in his place—that there was a price to pay for being outside the norm. That it was a hard road.

You’ve always hated to be told things you already know. Besides, you enjoy beating your own path and it infuriates you that no one seems to believe you when you say that.

———

You’re not nervous. You’re not stupid. You’ve just been cursed with a quick mind and a slow tongue. Anyone who doesn’t realize that can go to Hell or to Satan. Where they go all depends on which consonant you’re able to use today. Either way, the message is still the same.

Stutterers are seldom stupid. Usually, stutterers are smarter than people who don’t stutter according to all the fact sheets you’ve read. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

———

You stutter? I never would have guessed, they say.

You’re not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing anymore.

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