I’ve come to love the silence. It wasn’t always this way. I fought it at first, but that was long ago. I am an old woman now, a crone in the forest. I may be alone, but I still know things, things you wouldn’t expect me to know.
Once, I was young like you. Reckless and stubborn, I thought I knew best. I was just eighteen when I ran away. You see, I was angry at my misfortunes.
Does that sound familiar?
There is no need to dwell on all of that, though. Suffice it to say that a sickness had left me partially deaf and I was told the silence would take over completely one day.
I’m sure you of all people can imagine how I felt.
Back then, deafness was a life sentence and I had no intention of living at home forever. In a desperate flurry of youthful angst, I packed a few necessities, jumped on one of the horses and rode away into the night. I was a girl of means, you understand. I wouldn’t want for anything out there – out here – in the world. But still, I was young and alone.
I rode for hours at first, not stopping until I was far enough away to avoid being recognized. Over the coming days, I navigated forests darker than this one, their gnarled branches forming faces in the leaves. I crossed open lands under vast skies, where towering clouds chased me until I was so frightened I buried my head in my horse’s mane and wept. Along the way, I rested at inns, always covering enough ground between each to remain anonymous.
When eventually the smell of the sea began to permeate the more familiar scents of earth, blooming heather and hearth fires, I realized I had gone far enough. I had outrun the land and I had even outrun my anger. I had nowhere left to go.
Although it was mid-afternoon, the steady rain and heavy fog made it seem more like evening. I was wondering where to take shelter when I spied a small stone building at the side of the deserted, tree-lined road. Through the gloom, I could see a faint light in the windows and could smell the smoke curling from its chimney. A sign over the door said it was an inn, though there didn’t seem to be anyone about. I was hungry and cold, and my horse needed to rest. I decided this would be the place I would end my journey.
As I approached the building, a figure emerged from the trees. Her worn white dress and long, white hair billowed slightly, diaphanous like cobwebs in the mist. When she spoke, her voice barely rose above the whispering wind.
“Come with me instead,” she said, “I will feed you and give you a soft bed.”
I turned away from the inn as though in a trance and followed her into the woods, leading my horse behind me. She brought me to a log cabin hidden amongst the trees. She fed me then showed me to my room. Warm and comfortable, I fell asleep immediately. When I awoke the following morning, she was gone and all was quiet with a silence more complete than solitude. I don’t know when I realized I had lost all hearing. Alone as I was, it didn’t seem to matter anymore.
I have lived here ever since but now my time is coming to an end. I can feel it. And as sure as I know that, I also know that you are headed this way. You are just as I was; young and impulsive, in search of a different life. At least, that’s what you think you want. Before you decide to follow me, to take your place in the cycle, you must think carefully. Can you learn to love the silence as I have?
* * *
I let the cracked, leather-bound book drop back onto the table with a thud, sending up a cloud of dust. Grappling with my own tragedy, I had been drawn to this abandoned cabin in the woods, but the voice of the mysterious woman sent me running from it in fear.
Surely her faded, spidery words were too ancient to have been meant for me. And yet, sometimes I think they were. At those times, when everything seems overwhelming, I consider returning to take my place in the cycle of silence.