Character: Little Toby (and associated Zieglers)
Word Count: 500
Sound is the language of Toby's childhood. His earliest memories are taxi horns blaring, children screeching, his bed shaking when the couple through the wall bang doors or the headboard. In the mornings he stirs at the sizzle of something overcooking in a pan, and drifts back into dreams of burning, until being woken irrevocably by a shriek from a sister.
He understands tone, cadence and inflection before he can recognise his own name. He learns to read more easily than he learns to distinguish spoken words, but those are incidental to what's being said. The family never stops speaking, in full orchestral din, and Toby always knows what they mean.
He doesn't know talking over others is frowned upon until he goes to school (and gets sent home again). It's there he first hears speeches that don't match the delivery. He tries to point out that what Mr Gorman is saying isn't what he means. Mr Gorman responds with a textbook slammed onto Toby's desk. The echo, the flutter of pages, and the searing pain through Toby's little finger are unambiguous enough. Toby finds school unimpressive.
After Dad leaves, a voice is missing.
Mom's quieter; David is almost silent, except in his sleep. In compensation, the girls turn up the radio and clatter their heels and prattle so relentlessly that Toby feels all the air he breathes has been used by them first. They only rest when the boys have been packed off to bed, on pain of creative feminine brutality should they attempt to rise.
Toby tosses restlessly, listening to David mutter out his dreams. The apartment is so aberrantly quiet, it's like trying to sleep in a strange bed. He puts his ear to the wall, more for comfort than curiosity. He feels betrayed by the captivating titbits that passed between his parents, or his father and midnight guests. The words were never quite clear, but their outlines floated in his mind until he put them together.
He pulls the covers back to check David for fresh bruises. The neighbourhood kids used to be just scared enough of people Dad knew.
Toby should do something. Any one of the girls would break their bones, but David hasn't sunk that low. Toby should do something. David's the math geek, but Toby knows the odds aren't on their side.
Dad would have smoothed David's hair and whispered soft proverbs to a boy who had never believed. He told them to learn to get along with people. Dad always seemed too quiet - too capable of sitting on his secrets - to be one of the family. He's not anymore.
Toby can't remember what honesty sounds like. Blood pounds loud in his ears, filling the avenues until there's room for only one thought, and it's a scream.
Toby has a new voice, one his family can't hear. The orange street light filtering through the cracked blinds is adequate, just. He pulls the notebook from his schoolbag and begins to roar.