This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence.
No story is ever the same. And no tree has the same names carved into it.
The silence was killing all of us. None of us had experienced this level of awkwardness. Glances were made, followed by the looks returning to the table, a glass, or anywhere other than someone’s eyes. Someone was fiddling with his fork. Another person was looking at her watch every other second. There were seven people at the table.
It was April 5th. Family dinner. 19:23.
Everyone was done eating, still, there were some leftovers shoved to the edge of plates. Candles slowly burning out. It smelled like overcooked chicken and wet coats. An occasional car drove by, its headlights going through the blinds, illuminating the room. The soft wind made the leaves rustle. And some sort of long deep buzzing could be heard only when everything was really quiet; Like this evening.
Suddenly the silence broke, like shattered glass. At first, no one could place this sound; A whispered dry sob was coming from someone who was sitting on the left, next to someone who didn’t look at this person throughout the evening. Not even now.
The sobbing was like a hiccup; Short moments of sadness glitched in the room. The person tried to keep it in, nearly choking on the tears. Almost everyone was looking at the sobbing person, still not saying anything. It was like they were trying to set a world record: longest awkward silence at a family dinner.
The tears weren’t meant to stay inside, they rolled down the cheeks, making them red and flushed. The crying family member tried to hide behind a napkin.
Suddenly the person stood up — pushing the chair back — and hurried to the hallway. No one followed her. Everyone was looking for the one that was going to stand up first, and then someone did; A man with curly light brown hair that would look orange in the sun, followed the person to the hallway. Everyone else looked at each other now, asking questions in their minds, thinking they could communicate with their eyes. The only person who still looking at his glass was now looking at the blinds, as the lights passed by.
And as time passed, thoughts arrived and left, like the people in their lives. As time passed, the crying person who was no longer crying returned to the dining table. Where tears once were, makeup trails took their place. The man came around the corner of the hallway next, no longer wearing his lime blazer — which he gave to the woman — and sat down again. The no-longer-crying person / the woman with makeup trails down her cheeks / the lime blazer-wearing family member sat down even though everyone was already done eating.
The end of something is the start of something greater.
Or something worse.
The silence was broken again, this time with a phrase that changed the whole evening.
“Beatrice, I know what you did.” The words echoed in the room, like a clock striking eight times. The only one who hasn’t looked into the eyes of the others finally looked deeply into the eyes of Beatrice. Then he stood up and walked to the hallway where the earlier conversation took place, that anyone — besides the two people that were there — may never know. He tilted his head slightly while Beatrice was looking. And Beatrice knew she had to follow him, she always did the same when she wanted someone to follow her.
Beatrice adjusted the big lime blazer her husband gave her and arrived in the hallway. There was no door or anything that could keep the conversations between two siblings a secret. The man looked at the front door like he was waiting for something. Or someone. Stained-glass made the world outside blurry and the world inside a mystery. Everybody who had walked in here wouldn’t know what would take place soon, nor do any of us.
“What are you talking about?” Beatrice started the scene, still a little sad but mostly agitated and surprised.
“When we were kids, you, me, Ben, and,” he doubted for a second.
“Edith.” This simple name unleashed something much more difficult.
“That afternoon in the forest, you didn’t like it and wanted to go back home. Then you heard something behind you,” he paused. Tension had changed the mood in the hallway like a dense mist. Beatrice’s eyes were starting to get watery, but mostly she felt exactly the way she did that late afternoon in the forest.
“And you took the knife. MY knife. And you KILLED her!” Beatrice’s brother finished the tale that had been haunting the two siblings ever since. Nevertheless, this story changed countless times as memories faded and certain people never spoke again.
“I didn’t kill her,” Beatrice tried to whisper while a tear escaped like a well-kept secret. Even though Beatrice was arguing quietly, anyone who hasn’t already heard her brother talk would’ve been so lost in their thought they were somewhere else completely.
“YOU did,” she continued.
“You were there too! The knife was yours, you never would’ve let me take it.” Beatrice said.
“That’s because you stole it! You killed Edith! You just won’t remember it. You never even liked her.” He said.
“I loved her.” Beatrice quietly said, her face full of tears that made a part of a memory come back.
“Just try to remember.” Her brother suddenly said calmly while holding her hand. Sometimes a small action can make someone remember something, like where they left their keys, or something terrible that happened in the past.
“No.” Beatrice softly cried. And almost found comfort in her brother’s arms. Then there was a knock on the door.
“It’s going to be fine.” He strangely said and opened the door.
“You called the cops?!” Beatrice quickly dried her tears and fled back to the dining room where everyone was looking worried. Some people were already standing, others only stood up when they saw the cops invading the house.
“You killed Edith, it’s for your own good.” The brother sounded sad.
“I didn’t mean to! I turned around, and she was there and…” Beatrice suddenly stopped while she looked at everyone who was looking at her. She returned her glance to her brother.
“How could you do this? The secret was supposed to stay with you, me, and Ben.” She said while a pair of handcuffs stripped her from her freedom of ever having adventures again, good or bad.
“Mom, what’s going on?” A young boy asked, looking at Beatrice, afraid.
“Everything is going to be fine. I promise.” She lied, then looked at Ben.
“Ben. Help me. Please.” Beatrice tried to find the love in his eyes she found a long time ago, in a forest where four kids carved their names into a tree.
The story of Beatrice may be over, but there are still so many trees to carve and so many stories that will be told at a family dinner. Or in the hallway, where secrets will be spilled next to dripping wet coats.
Inspired by Reedsy Prompts: Start your story with someone breaking an awkward silence at a family dinner.
(Contest #163: Leo Tolstoy)