Reading Time: 8 minutes
Photo Credit: flickr/Phil Beard
This is Bill. Well, William. Well, no one really knows his name. That’s how it goes with Bill.
His brown shaggy hair is longer than normal right now. He should get a haircut. Soonish that is, a few more weeks won’t hurt but, I mean, it doesn’t look great. His eyes are dark and vaguely eye shaped and his skin is vaguely skin color. I’ve found that such things don’t matter so much. With Bill, appearance isn’t the thing. Appearance is like the little bit of flour left on the counter after you roll out your pizza dough. Appearance is like the box of books that has been in your basement for 3 years but you don’t want to get rid of it because they are good books and you will totally read them someday.
No one knows his name because he’s not telling. I assume he has a name, but he hasn’t ever shared it. But it’s not just his name. He won’t speak – at all. Not one word since he was found in that shipping container however many years ago. He’s been to all the doctors, psychiatrists and whatnot. They said he’s fine, he’s healthy and happy. Just doesn’t talk. Doesn’t have the knack. Maybe the desire, who knows.
Don’t misunderstand. He’s not dumb. He doesn’t speak but can he listen! He can understand and he can relate and empathize. He is a great friend. And he cares. He has lots of passion and he works as hard as anyone.
His silence has led to a lot of confusion. Reporters and activists and the like. They come and try to puzzle out why he is so quiet. “Are you protesting the consolidation of power in the American elite class?” “Are you saying silent until the rainforests are given a voice”, “We are having a 24-hour silent vigil for Shamu, and we’d like for you to lead it.”
That kind of thing. Bill just smiles and shakes his head. That’s not his thing. He’s not silent for the attention. I always try to explain this but rarely do I get through. They all *want* something. And they won’t leave until they *get* something. They want Bill to *save* or *occupy* or *fight* or *stand up*. I can’t keep it all straight. But everybody wants a piece of Bill. They think he is this great guy. This saint. But he’s just a normal guy who just doesn’t want to talk. I try to help him out of these situations. Everybody needs an advocate. If Bill won’t speak for himself, then I guess it’s up to me.
I’m the one who found him. I was 17 at the time and I was wandering the pier. I heard a clank and flashed my iPhone flashlight into this big white crate that had been abandoned by one of the docks. And there was Bill, just sitting there smiling at me. He wasn’t hurt, he wasn’t scared or anything. He was just there, sitting cross-legged under the “William And Company” logo. I called to him and he waved and smiled and shook my hand, but he didn’t say anything. I asked if he wanted to come home with me and he thought about it and then nodded. We’ve lived together since. I probably could have thought of a better name, but Bill seemed to fit and he seemed to like it. At first, I thought that he was afraid, or that maybe he was embarrassed by his voice, like it was super high or croaky or something. But eventually I realized that he just didn’t want to talk. And that’s fine with me. I have lots of friends that talk. Hanging out with Bill is peaceful, no worries about having to carry the conversation, small talk, none of that bs.
Sometimes I play a game with myself. I wonder what his first words will be. He *will* speak you know. E-ven-tu-ally. He kind of has to right? No one can just not talk their whole lives. So I write down my guesses and let people vote. I realize that by doing this I’m probably influencing the actual first words or something. But I don’t care about that because it’s fun.
“I come in peace.” Seems classic and unassuming. I actually thought he might be an alien for a while. You know, he took over a human body but didn’t have the appropriate head space to form human words. Didn’t have a tongue in alien form or something. I thought perhaps he was sent to observe and report and that one day he would just beam out and the body would collapse into bones and muscles on the floor. If he’s an alien he might very well figure it out eventually and I could be the first one to converse with a secondary intelligence. I don’t think its likely, but fun to daydream about. Bill the Alien.
“Excuse me.” Seems simple but it might have to be something unassuming like that. He can’t just start talking! No one would be paying attention. He will likely have to wave his arms and signal us to pay attention to the profundity. I wonder if that would technically count, if he had to say something to get our attention for the big moment. Kind of a bummer, when you save all of your words for one big soliloquy and then you have to cough and grunt to get anyone to notice, so you can start. I think it would be ok, we could ignore the preamble. We could forgive him his necessities.
“What the fuck is wrong with you people.” That’s my favorite actually, I’m really pulling for profanity. It just seems like these words have been piling up behind that freckled face for so long, it has to erupt when it comes. A volcano of word and will. Imagine if you just sat there not talking for a day! Just a day! When the timer went off you would be fuck this and shit that. I know I would. I can’t keep my mouth shut for more than a few minutes. Not that he seems to take offense with the shit show around him. He is usually cheerful and chipper, all toothy smiles and eyebrowy grins. I just think that it will take some kind of snap for it to happen. The speaking I mean. It won’t be until he breaks. Until his shit eating grin gets wiped off his face. Then he will have something to say, bet on it. He’ll be all fucks and fists.
There’s a bunch of possibilities here, but you get the idea. If I’m being completely honest, it probably won’t ever happen. If it hasn’t happened by now I mean. Not likely. He’s just Bill. Wordless, windless bill.
You’re actually his second visitor today. The first left like an hour ago. She wanted him to sponsor her deodorant or lotion or whatever. Can you imagine! Some kind of hippy skin cream. She was a real save the planet type and wanted to call the stuff “silent beauty.” Thought Bill could be on the label or something. He was polite but I think he just wanted to get rid of her. Didn’t want the whole sales pitch you know. She said she’d be back with paperwork and specifics but I don’t think she’ll come back herself. I think she was the vanguard of the masses. They will line up to get Bill to slather his silence with *quiet running motors* and *stealth bombers* and *effervescent shower heads*. They will drain him of his silence. They will sap it like maple syrup from a tree, until all that is left of him is a pile of unspoken sorrow.
That’s the real tragedy of Bill’s life. He just wants to hang out and not talk. But everyone demands him. They see him as some kind of ce-leb-ri-ty, some modern Joan of Arc or Alexander the Great. Some crusader. They want him *here* and *there *and to do *this* and *that*. And he does it, smiling all the time. He cuts the stupid ribbons at museums with the cartoonish scissors. He passes out the commemorative gags at library grand openings and cough drops at the symphony and he doesn’t seem to mind. But I don’t buy it. I know him best of anyone. And I see the smiles for what they are. I see his plastic face molded just so, perfect emotions writ for all to take quiet from. He takes all of our talking upon himself, and bears the silence. He probably is a saint, you know. A bloody saint.
So that’s where you come in I guess. I don’t think…he’s ever… You know. I thought perhaps you could give the ole’ vocal chords some lubrication. I think he would feel better if he could just have done with it. There’s so much pressure on him. He bears it, he takes all of our tellings and toilings and smiles his silent smile, but he needs release. He needs to yell, he needs to scream away the silence into oblivion.
It would be best if you tried to get to know him a bit first. Tell a joke or something. I don’t know. You’re a professional, I’m sure you can handle Bill. But keep in mind…he’s not going to *want* to talk. Not at all. He’s not going to *intend* to say a word. To him, words are like port-a-pot-ties at a state fair. They are like jello salad at a church potluck. Don’t come out and try to get him to talk. He’ll just smile at your childishness, at your sweet, salty innocence. You can’t *convince* Bill to talk. You have to just be yourself and hopefully that’s enough. Hopefully he will be satisfied that his calling is complete, that his silence is sown.
Don’t feel badly though. Don’t think you are destroying something beautiful or something. It’s not like that. His silence is not beautiful. It is just soft. It’s just absence. Absence can not be beautiful, only presence can. It is empty space where could lie trophies and taglines. The lack of white is not the same as the presence of black. Not at all.
I like Bill. But he is kind of the *bad* guy in this story. *Bill* is the one not talking. *Bill* is the one trapped in his own peace. *Bill* is the one behind the insufferable veil of serendipity. *Bill* is the one that needs the speaking. Stay focused on the problem. On *Bill*. On his absurd, happy, quiet. He’s the one that needs help. The rest of us are all fine and speaking and sounding and scraping by. We are all great. Don’t be afraid to be a bit aggressive. It might come to shoving words down his throat. I don’t want to do that, but it’s in his best interest. Like an intervention, a wake up call. He *needs* the words. He has to speak them or they will wallow in his gut and fester. They have to come out. They have to bloom or splash or wither, whatever his words will do. That part is up to him I guess, but they have to come out. We will pry them out with the jaws of life if we have to. Because we care about Bill. We want what’s best for him. You and me. We are his last hope, even if he doesn’t realize it. He will fade and falter and wither unless we act. Think of the words unspoken, the thought never given life, never given a chance to grow, the aborted truths and tales! That is why we do this. That is why we can’t look back, why we will seize him by the mouth and inseminate the words as delicately, but forcefully, as we can. We have to succeed, for Bill’s sake.
I guess that’s it. I’ll leave you to it. I’ll be upstairs if you need me. There’s the bathroom, through that hall on the left. There’s microbrew beer and maybe a little organic wine left in the fridge. There is a baguette somewhere and some cheese I think. If you’re hungry I mean. I don’t know how long it will take, so if you need a break, feel free to just leave Bill wherever he is and take care of business. He won’t get angry or anything.
I appreciate your prompt service, I’ll be sure to leave a good review, I can tell you are a real professional, a real talker, a true conversation starter. I’ll make sure the world knows it.
© 2016, Aaron Zimmerman. All rights reserved.