021 - Muted Words, Chapter 2

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Chapter 1: Introduced Mara

Night distractions

"Normally these stories begin with "I remember this day just like it was yesterday". But that would be lying. To whom I'll be lying is an unexplored question, but a lie for sure.

I don't remember the day. I don't remember making the decision. It just happened. I stopped smiling. I see the question popping out of your eyes, young Maud. Never laughed? you are wondering.

Of course, I laughed. And smiled. I'm a socially well-adjusted human being after all. I know what is supposed to be funny, when and how to slowly make a smile grow on my face. But most humans are too much in their phones to recognize a real smile. Thanks to generative art and deep fake videos, most haven't seen a real smile for several years.”

Mara paused for a second and looked at her young listener. 

“I’m talking about smiling with my heart. I know you don’t know that expression, your parents never taught you. I’ll promise you the day you smile with your heart, you will know that you are truly smiling. You'll feel it. It's more of a feeling than a muscle movement. The observable smile is just contractions of a specific series of muscles. You can train that. You can train everything: Muscles, mind and machines. But what you can't train is to feel fake emotions. Sensations are real.

Neuroscientists will tell you that emotions are just a brain signal. Your fear, ecstasy, thrill, pain, and love. All just electronic signals in your brain. Put an electrode at the right point, smash some electricity into your brain, and you'll feel the same thing. They tricked enough people into this lie. Because a lie it is. It helps sell their pills and hats and apps. A pill to lift you up, a downer to fake depression - gets you out of boring sex with your bland partner or punching holographic keys on your non-existing keyboard for your narcissistic boss."

Mara laughed, wrinkles criss-crossing her face. It sounded like a thousand glass pearls falling to the ground. “Don’t tell your parents I said that.”

Mara paused and looked outside the window. A new scene just appeared. Waves rolling softly onto the beach, some birds flying in the sky without moving forwards and a lonely palm tree at the left edge of the window. The sky is artificially deep blue, the sand golden yellow. Perfected to the last detail to mirror happiness, success and the abstract idea of "I made it".

"How do you know that you don't smile?" Maud asked. Her parents dropped her off at Mara, the old neighbor. Like every time Maud was half-sitting, half-lying in the nook of the old couch. Behind her a tower of pillows. It always takes some time to arrange them in a comfortable position. Her parents' couch was soft and smooth. As soon as you sit on it, its shape morphs adapting to your body. At home, there was no resistance, no friction. But at Mara’s, Maud always struggled a bit to get it right. Every time, one pillow falls off. After some huffing and ruffling, she finally sinks in them with a smile. One that has glitter in the eyes and comes from the heart.

Mara looked at Maud, not yet a teenager but not anymore a girl. That weird time where nothing fits, nothing works, nothing seems right, everything unreachable. "I couldn't write," Mara answered. " To be precise, the words that appeared on the screen blinked but remained silent. They didn't speak to me!"

"But letters don't speak!" Maud exclaimed

"Ah, child of this age, letters do speak. Your hands are just a vehicle, a tool, for your mind. And even your mind is just a vehicle, a tool, for thoughts to pass through. Your mind is like a blender where all these thoughts are mixed up, chopped up and re-arranged to a new soup..." 

Mara paused for a moment. "No, that's the wrong image. Point is, words speak, or used to speak to me. The day I realized they remained muted is the day I realized I hadn't smiled in a long time.” 

Apparently changing the subject, Mara asked “Do you know The Neverending Story?".

"yeah, I saw the movie."

Mara scoffed, "No not the movie! The book you digitized illiterate child! Did you never read the book in school? What about Momo from Michael Ende?"

Maud, too scared to reply, barely shook her head.

Mara slowly got off her grandmother’s chair, an old wooden instrument that creaked with every movement Mara made. For Maud it looked like an ancient toy. You can rock yourself forwards and backwards on it, without pressing a button. Like by magic after putting some pressure on the little piece of wood at the bottom of it. The more pressure you put, the harder you went forward and backward. Mara told her these aren't produced anymore. Too dangerous. Could fall off and hurt yourself. She said that with a strict, sarcastic voice, the voice she used to make fun of rules and adults.

When Mara came back she had a book in her hand. It had a yellow cover with a black and white painting. You could see a girl on it. After rearranging her pillow, Mara looked at her watch "Your parents said 2 hours, didn't they? We both know it's gonna be more and you'll be sleeping here tonight" Maud nodded. Mara was right. It would be a miracle if her parents would come back after 2 hours. She had everything she needed in Mara's place to spend a night or two here.

"When someone reads you a story, you listen carefully to the words. You make a world inside of your mind. You picture Momo and her friends. And most importantly: You interrupt and ask questions about the story."

After those instructions, Mara opened the book and began reading.

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#fiction#muted words