Broken silence

Alan struggles as he stumbles into the kitchen carrying the large platter of dirty if dishes. Merr doesn’t even look up from the sink full of soapy water and dirty dishes not finished from his previous trip. Alan continues to struggle as he takes the dishes over to the sink.

As he nears the sink, one of the dishes starts to slip off the platter. Desperately trying to keep it from hitting the floor, he quickly shifts. But his foot slips in some water on the wet stone floor causing him to windmill his arms trying to keep his feet. Dirty dishes go in many directions, but most of them go right into the soapy water with a splash, drenching Merr completely.

“Sorry,” Alan says.

Merr glares hard at him.

“Shoud I…”

Merr just points over to the hearth. Alan wasn’t sure whether she meant for him to clean out the ashes or scrub the big pot. To be safe, he would do both.

Walking over to the hearth, he placed his hands above the coals and ashes. Still warm, he decides to start with the large pot where the monks’ daily lentil stew was cooked.

As he started scrubbing with the brush, he begins humming a childhood favorite. This was definitely not the experience he expected when he signed up for a six-week retreat. Scrubbing dishes and floors for a bunch of monks who had all taken vows of silence.

“For goodness sake, if you are going to hum that tune, at least do it in key.”

The foreign voice caused Alan to stop and look around. He hadn’t heard a human voice other than his own for two weeks.

“Excuse me?” he asks the room.

Merr turns to him. “You are butchering that tune.”

A million questions run through Alan’s mind and he doesn’t know where to start. Merr turns and returns to the dishes.

“Wait! You can talk?” he says getting up and walking over towards her.

“Of course I can talk,” she says without stopping her chore.

“What about the vow of silence?”

“Do I look like a monk?”

“But I have been here for two weeks!”

She turns to look him in the eye. “And?”

“Why didn’t you say something? We could have been talking this whole time.”

“You just answered your own question.” Merr turns back and returns to scrubbing the bowls.

Alan stares silently for several moments, his mouth hanging there.

Finally, he turns and goes back to the large pot. Annoyed, he begins humming the same tune again.