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Deniz Ertem

Selling Silence

The people of Desert know that silence is not golden. It is silver. They sell it in the

markets, and for quite a good price. Speech is golden, though. It costs more than silence, so not many citizens talk anymore. They can’t afford it.

     There are, of course, varying degrees. The more talkative you want to be, the more it will cost you. Once I met a girl—the daughter of a millionaire—who talked constantly, as if her mouth was too big for all the words in it. I only stared at her in astonishment, sometimes only letting a “yes” or an “I agree” slide out. I can afford more words than that, but I like saving money. I don’t have anyone to talk to, so why spend money on speech?

     I remember the first time I heard a voice. I think it was when I was around eighteen. Very early for the vast majority of people. I’ve seen old people sit up in shock, gasping, as they hear a voice for the first time in their lives.

     Our kings don’t speak either—not too much, at least. Proclamations are issued by mail, in leaflets made on thin cream-colored paper. We have gone to war against this country, there’s going to be a ball next Tuesday, a minister has just died. We have an alphabet, but it’s only for the rich. By day I sell books in the market, and only the rich come by. The rich love fantasy worlds. My business is very successful. My wife Laren is sick, so I need money for her care. I don't spend money on frivolous things like speech.

     Sometimes, I walk in the markets, passing by the countless stalls selling silence and speech. If everything’s been going well—if Laren is feeling good, and if all our bills are paid—I indulge in talking. My voice probably sounds terrible, because I rarely use it. I don’t know why I buy speech. I don’t even like it that much. But sometimes the silence is unbearable. Sometimes I need to let the words drip out of my mouth, like a leaking kitchen sink.

     I woke up early this morning and walked along the waterfront. A woman and her daughter were there too. Neither of them said hello to me, but that makes sense. We don’t waste money on pleasantries. What if there was an emergency, and the woman had to tell her child to run away? She can’t spend precious words on greetings.


Deniz Ertem has been writing fantasy, sci-fi, and poetry for her entire life. She also writes about being Turkish. She has won a total of seven Scholastic Writing Awards, three of which were Silver Keys, since 2015. She is the cultural affairs editor for her school's diversity magazine.

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