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Silence Is Golden
Michael D. Conley

 

The automatic doors to the waiting room opened with a smooth, mechanical swish, as a man in the terminal stages of old age shuffled slowly and wheezily in from the cold, each light thud of his rubber-tipped wooden stick branding temporary halfmoons into the fuzz of the red and gold carpet. He laboured to the very centre of the room, and the doors closed behind him with the same dispassionate sigh that had opened them.   He let out a nasty, scratchy, sharp cough and slicked back his oily, Brylcreemed hair with two shaking fingers, flattening it to his papery scalp with a gentle pat. His gaze fell upon the sliding window that was set back into the interior wall directly opposite him, but as he reached it and laid his hands lightly upon the grimy sill, he saw nothing on the other side of the glass but an empty darkness that could only offer him his own blurred reflection. Turning, he stepped away and gave himself up to the cold embrace of one of the indistinguishable plastic chairs that were scattered haphazardly across the otherwise unfurnished room. 

 
When he opened his eyes with an involuntary grunt, he was unsure of how long he had been dozing. He was still woozy as the automatic doors that had woken him admitted a tall, skinny youth with a long nose and pinched features. The man carried a cane and was wearing a perfectly tailored black velvet suit; but the most striking thing about his appearance was that he was a mime, complete with the painted, shock-white clown face and jauntily angled black beret. He strode into the room, and, with no more than a cursory glance at the still-unmanned window, sat down with his legs crossed at the knees, an elegant mass of sharp angles. 

When the two made eye contact, the older man smiled warmly, and the mime’s response of a thin, polite smile was more the enough to encourage conversation. 

“So what are you in for, then?” The mime gave a sheepish grimace, and placed his long hands in a lattice over his triangular Adam’s apple. The other gave a puzzled scratch of the head at this reaction, until a flash of understanding crossed his face. 

“Ah, sore throat, sore throat! Very good. I’ve a bad knee.” Immediately, the mime pulled a theatrical frown of sympathy, which seemed to please the old man greatly. 

“I’m Brian, by the way.”  

 
After a short pause, during which he appeared to be deep in thought, the mime suddenly leapt out of his chair and knelt on the floor, causing the old man to jump back in amused surprise. The mime stayed in this position for quite some time, with an expectant look on his face, until the penny again dropped. 

“What’s this?Oh! N..Neil? Your name is Neil?” The mime nodded and sat down again with a smile. 

“Oh, very good, very good”, the old man chuckled to himself with childlike glee.  

 
Brian lapsed into silence again, his eyes glazing over and the smile still frozen across his lips. After a short while, a bell rang, and a slender, well-manicured female hand pulled the window glass across to open it. Expecting some kind of call, the old man and the mime looked at each other again, but when no more movement was forthcoming, Brian’s old-fashioned English manners prevailed. 

“After you…Neil”, he smiled, with amused collusive emphasis upon the last word. The mime smiled gratefully and approached the window, producing a fistful of coins from the tight back pocket of his velvet trousers and placing them carefully, theatrically, one by one upon the ledge. After another short pause, in which he rocked impatiently back and forth on his Cuban heels, the hand reappeared, swiftly gathering up the money and replacing it with a large red and white pill. Puzzled, the mime picked it up and inspected it and then, looking at Brian with an amused shrug, placed it into his mouth and swallowed. Almost instantaneously, another huge grin faded onto the tall man’s lips, and he pointed excitedly at his throat, indicating that it was much better. With a spring in his step, he warmly lifted his beret in acknowledgement and stomped towards the automatic doors. 

 
As he reached the threshold, Brian stopped him short with an embarrassed cough. 

“Actually, Neil, this is a little embarrassing, but…would you mind sitting with me until I get mine? Only…I’m a little nervous, and…” He trailed off, and was rewarded with a sympathetic look, followed by another wide smile and thumbs-up sign. The old man seemed touched at this act of unexpected kindness, and it was not long before the bell rang again. He raised himself feebly with shaking arms, picked up his stick and retraced the steps of his new acquaintance. He placed his money upon the flat white surface, and the disembodied hand appeared again to collect it, putting in its place not a pill this time but a large, rectangular mechanical device with a red light on the end and nothing on the front but a small numbered dial, which was currently set at five. Puzzled, he picked the device up, and the mime, equally intrigued, stood up and held out his hand, into which the old man gratefully placed the machine. 

With Brian’s silent assent, Neil switched the device carefully from five to four. The old man dropped his eyes for a short while, and then raised his head again slowly, with a look of slight surprise on his weathered face. 

“Actually, you know, that’s feeling a little better”, he said, lightly rubbing his right knee. Encouraged, the mime slowly moved the dial again, down through the numbers until the pointer came to rest upon the open mouth of a tiny zero, and he placed it carefully back upon the windowsill. The improvement in the old man was immediate, and he tentatively swung his leg at the hinge two or three times before jumping up and down for joy, singing and shouting at the top of his lungs. 

“I’m cured! I’m cured! I don’t believe it! It’s not felt this good for years! Thank you Neil, thank you.” He embraced the mime and, throwing his stick across the room, began to jig towards the door.

As the stick clattered noisily against the wall, a nasty look crossed the younger man’s features. Edging towards the sill, he surreptitiously picked up the strange little box and, holding it innocently behind his back, moved the dial slowly back up to five. The old man, still running, suddenly pulled up and fell with a graceless, sickening crunch onto the white floor. His rubbery face registered a look of uncomprehending panic, and he turned back to the mime, whose eyes were now blazing with an inhuman sadism. 

“Neil…what are you doing?”, he groaned in agonized bewilderment from his prone position. The mime slowly and tantalizingly brought the machine back into view, and roughly turned the dial up to six, laughing silently as the old man doubled over in pain. The groans grew louder and turned to uncontrollable sobs as the dial moved further, through seven, eight and nine, until, with a final flourish, the mime snapped the device to its maximum number and dropped it on the floor, crushing it under his heel like a flamenco dancer. Through his choking gasps, and streaming, screwed up eyes, the old man stuttered, 

“But Neil…why…?” 

He did not even have time to finish his sentence before the mime, his features now restored to studied neutrality, silently stepped over his helpless form and out through the automatic doors, which closed with an impartial click.