Her words spilled before she could catch them. They rushed up from somewhere inside her and each time her lips parted, they leaked out like water through cupped hands. Spilth she could not wash away or mop up, pooling into puddles that never dried. 

She wished there was some sort of warning she could be aware of each time she came too close to saying something she would later regret. Some sort of an alarm or a placard that her mind could hold up for her to notice. Then, she would remember to bite her lips until she bled, or press her hands against her mouth, murdering those wrong words; stop them from crawling up her throat and sliding out her tongue. 

Sometimes, she came home and found a mess of words everywhere. Her words. The ones she knew she must not have spoken. They hung from the ceiling in long strings, draping themselves around the neck of her ceiling fan like feather boas. They festooned themselves around the living room like party streamers. They tied themselves tight around her TV and furniture like snakes ruthlessly suffocating their prey. They piled themselves in high stacks in her sink like dirty dishes and taunted her to wash them clean. And for fun, they sometimes hid inside drawers and sprang out unexpectedly to scare her.

But, some of her words escaped. They leapt around her neighborhood playfully, spreading news that she did not want other people knowing about. Escaped words were dangerous. They had to be caught as quickly as possible and boxed in. So, at night, after all the lights went out, she prowled the empty streets in search of them. Sometimes, she carried a flashlight with her but the light scared the words away. So, she learnt to be brave in the darkness. It was hard finding the fugitive words. In order to catch them, she had to creep gingerly in the shadows and snatch them from behind. Even the slightest sounds made them aware. She approached them barefooted, on her tip toes, careful not to stir them. She learnt to bear the bruises of stones and thorny shrubs which pricked the soles of her unguarded feet.

After catching them, she flung them furiously inside cardboard boxes, taped them shut, and locked them up in her attic. 

As time passed, she was running out of words to speak. Now, whenever she opened her mouth, only silence gurgled out. No matter how far she reached down her throat, her fingers found no words, not even a stray letter or two, leftover or hiding in the corners. Only empty space. Had she exhausted her entire store of words? 

Once in a while, her gaze turned to the attic from where sounds of rattling cardboard boxes sounded like possessed things; they trembled and quaked on their own. The words threatened to fly out and wreak havoc. The attic was now filled with rows and rows of cardboard boxes brimming with misspoken words. 

Sooner or later, she knew she would have to revisit the attic. Sooner or later, she would have to tear open those cardboard boxes and look at all the words she had stowed away. It would be her choice to decide whether she wanted to form them into newer words and string better sentences out of them. Or, spare herself all that trouble and swallow them simply to be able to speak again.

Betsy Selvam

Betsy is a 22-year-old artist from India. She loves to write and paint, often taking inspiration from nature and dreams. She has been previously published in After the Pause, Oyster River Pages and Door is A Jar, among other places.