Here, Where the World Is Quiet

By Kristen

Sem was never afraid. The world was not scary, because it was bright and full of vibrations, and beautiful. Like right now. Right now, when he banged a spoon on the floor with all of his strength, swinging his arm up over his head and then bringing it down, elbow locked in toddler-like coordination, Sem could feel the vibrations from the floor in his splayed legs and up the base of his spine. It made him laugh, that slight tingle of sensation, and raise the spoon up above his head to another go. It didn’t work on the rug, he had found, so he had to sit where the floor was hardest for this game. Fortunately, his mother had given him the biggest spoon in the drawer, so the vibrations were much more satisfactory than with a smaller utensil.

Pausing with the spoon held up in front of him like a standard, the child turned his head, eyes seeking out his mother. He felt her before he saw her--she was a gentle caress against the outside of his thoughts, reassuring and warm. Orange. That was the color of Sem’s mother.

She came into view a moment later, rounding the corner from the kitchen and padded over to her. He watched her hips roll and smiled as he began to feel the pound of her bare feet drawing closer. He laughed when she knelt beside her and swung the spoon toward her to share his game.

She had to lean back a bit to avoid being smacked in the face, and then she put a pale hand on the spoon, fingers curling around and sliding down the handle until they rested against his. Her mouth moved, and he mimicked her, smacking his lips and clicking his teeth together, but it was a pointless exercise. Whatever meaning she seemed to derive from this habit of hers, he couldn’t figure it out. He only did it to tease her and make her smile.

When she smiled, it was like electricity in his head. He’d seen electricity like that once before, just before Teyen’s ears and nose and mouth had started leaking. He knew what blood was, but hadn’t been afraid. His mother’s mind spooning against his had precluded all need for fear; his mom and Teyen would never let him be hurt.

It wasn’t that he knew the name Teyen. Names were things he didn’t understand, although his mother had told him in color-bright whispers that his name was Sem and her name was Cross and his father’s name was Caine and the cat was Ash. In a world without sound, and without a concept of writing and reading, he identified faces and touches and warmth, but he didn’t need any names to accompany them.

A brief touch against the top of his head and he tilted his face back to look at his mother.

Hungry? The query wasn’t words per se, but a questioning sensation, accompanied by a vague feeling that was “kitchen” and “macaroni” and the flavor-scent of processed cheese all rolled together.

He giggled, although he couldn’t hear it himself, and kicked his legs. He liked the way macaroni felt when they slid and wriggled in his throat, and the bright yellow color that even he somehow knew was in no way a natural occurrence.

She let him hold onto the spoon as she slid her hands under his arms and lifted him to his feet. He didn’t need any further prompting and stomped toward the kitchen. Each step reverberated up the opposite leg for just an instant before he lifted his foot off of the floor; it meant slow progress toward the food, but it was a game he enjoyed. The end of the spoon in his hand trailed on the floor behind him for several steps, then he swung it around and tapped it on the floor in front of him in an odd parody of a blind man’s cane.

He stopped at the kitchen doorway. The air current had changed, touching his cheek like a kiss. He considered for a moment. The door had opened; mom was already home. The obvious conclusion was that sleepy-eyed, mussed-haired dad had come back. He shrieked in delight and altered course, barreling toward the front door before his father even had the chance to come inside.

Running headlong into the man’s legs, he bounced in excitement and gripped his jeans, rubbing his face against the rough material. Hands--longer than his mother’s, and calloused in odd places--found him, hooking under his armpits, and there was a brief moment of vertigo as he was lifted.

Firmly positioned on his father’s hip, cheek resting against the man’s T-shirt, and dangling his spoon precariously in one hand, he closed his eyes. He could feel that they were moving--the door was shut, and then he was jostled slightly as his father walked--but he ignored this in favor of the vibration in his father’s chest. He must be making the same mouth movements that mom made. There might be something to that that he was missing.

Were they communicating? It seemed like a silly way to go about it. Everyone would have to be looking directly at each other all the time, and Sem himself was too easily distracted by flashes of light and motion and bright colors to ever be able to do that. It would be better if they waved their hands at each other, or, better yet, if they just did was his mother did, and pressed against each other’s minds in lingering, nestling touches.

When he opened his eyes again, they were in the kitchen and his father was setting him in his chair, securing the tray in front of him and trying to wrest the spoon away from him. Sem curled his fingers more tightly around the handle, grinning, until his father smiled. His eyes crinkled around the edges, and he lifted Sem’s fisted hand to his lips and pressed a gentle kiss against his chubby knuckles.

Sem released the spoon and wriggled in his seat, hands splayed against the smooth surface in front of him. It was cool, but warming beneath his touch. He liked that; that he could change the things around him, and make them feel differently from how they had felt when he first touched them. His father disappeared from in front of him and was replaced only a moment later by his mother.

She pulled her own chair over and sat facing him with a steaming bowl in one hand and a much smaller spoon in the other. Behind her, his father leaned against the countertop with something pressed against his ear. His mouth was still moving, but it didn’t seem like the motions were directed at his mother. That was just as well; she had her back to him.

Sem watched her blow the steam away from his macaroni, and then obediently opened his mouth when she held the spoon out toward him. Eating was no-nonsense for Sem. Even when his mother let him hold the food himself--which she did increasingly these days, so that she could eat and talk to father and clean up--he got as much of it as possible in his mouth. Food, he had discovered, was much more interesting in his mouth than outside of it, and as much as he enjoyed the textures, he enjoyed the tastes better. There were plenty of other things in the house to rub between his fingers, and they didn’t leave slimy or sticky residues on him when he was done.

He smiled as he swallowed without chewing, and felt the cheese-slick warmth of the macaroni sliding all the way down into his belly. His mother rubbed her mind against his, partially chiding. It wasn’t good not to chew, apparently. He responded with open amusement and smacked one hand on his tray, mouth open and demanding. She didn’t press the issue, but held out another spoonful of lunch.

It was near the end of the meal that her mind, always flickering around the edge of his in affectionate concern, pressed an idea into him: Teyen.

Sem stopped in the process of leaning forward for one last bite of macaroni and looked up at her, eyes round. She smiled and pressed the idea into him again, this time with a questioning tingle attached to it: you’d like that, wouldn’t you?

Sem squealed and his hands flailed in glee. Teyen had been away a long time, ever since father had appeared. If it weren’t for his mother’s insistence to the contrary, and the different feeling of his father--serenity where Teyen was anxiety, and proximity where Teyen was distance--Sem would have just imagined that Teyen had simply turned into father when the man took his electricity away. That made sense to the child: Teyen was electric, and if that was removed, he couldn’t possibly be Teyen anymore, could he?

His mind jabbered against his mother’s, image-and-sensation-babble expressing his excitement at this idea, and he looked at her expectantly, as though she might produce the man at any moment, pulling him out of her pocket or from inside the refrigerator.

No such thing happened. She gave him the somewhat disappointing impression soon and fed him the rest of his lunch. That wasn’t very fair, he wanted to point out, but had no thoughts or feelings yet to express the idea of fairness. He only knew that he wasn’t getting what he wanted, and he gave her a petulant scowl.

She smiled and kissed his forehead before standing up. Soon she repeated, and went to put his bowl in the sink. This reassurance was followed by a much more complex idea that he had to sit still and process for several moments. It was Teyen, but Teyen who was far away: Teyen who wore a big coat and held lightning in his fingers, not Teyen who let him pet the giant fluff-cat and held him secure as he slept on his chest so that he could hear his heartbeat.

After some quiet consideration, Sem gave his reluctant assent. Any Teyen was better than no Teyen at all, even if he had to wait. He’d had to wait for father, after all, and that had gone on quite awhile, in his somewhat warped reckoning of time.

Sleep? his mother asked, when he had told her his decision, but it wasn’t a word. It was him, pressed between his mother and father, safe and warm and heavy. It was the feeling of synthetic fibers soft against his face and of the tickle of breath in his hair, the reassurance of two heartbeats besides his own.

Sem liked to dream, but falling asleep alone was no fun. He liked the pulse of another heart beside him and the heat from other skin. With his eyes closed, the world seemed very cold and far away. Another body up against his was a welcome reminder of everything that was good.

He pushed at the tray and held his arms up. A nap would be satisfactory. His belly was full and warm, and both mother and father were there to breathe him in as he slept.

It was father who removed him from the chair and he smiled, nuzzling against him as he was lifted, and breathing in the smells of gray-and-brown and of soap and of age and of time. Mother followed them to the bedroom and lay down first; then Sem was set against her, and then father nestled in on the other side.

Father and mother were strange things, he thought. They and Teyen were very strange. They stretched out a long way--that was how he thought of it. They stretched out a long way, but Sem wasn’t sure he could ever reach as far as they did. It hadn’t seemed strange until he had met the brown one and the big one, who also didn’t feel like they were as far-reaching as his usual people. They felt much more now, like bubbles and butterflies and drops of water sliding down a pane of glass. That was always how Sem felt, too.

It wasn’t a concern, though, or even something he was fully equipped to grasp just yet. If the heartbeats pressing against him on either side were forever, then so was the feeling of them. If their warmth seeped into him, then it was his warmth too. Mother and father were with him always. Teyen was with him always, even when he was Teyen-who-is-far-away. And that was why Sem was never afraid.

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