In Hannah’s Voice, when six-year-old Hannah’s brutal honesty is mistaken for lying, she stops speaking. Her family, her community, and eventually, the entire nation struggle to find meaning in her silence. Hannah stands at the intersection of anarchists and fundamentalists, between power politics and an FBI investigation. All she wants is to find her momma, a little peace and quiet, and maybe some pancakes.
With that one word, I broke my silence of a dozen years.
“I said I want the goddamn pancakes.”
Finally, I got what I really wanted. Not the pancakes, but some silence. Everyone else shut up. Finally.
I hadn’t decided to stop talking forever, or even for twelve years. I’d just chosen not to speak at a moment in time.
Sometimes decisions have a way of forging your future, setting a path before you that you must travel, even if you’re only six years old when you make the choice.
CHAPTER ONE (TWELVE YEARS EARLIER)
“Hannah, did you clean your room?”
Yes. I’d already answered Momma twice. I always answered the same question more than once, and always told the truth, so there was no need to keep asking, checking to see if I’d trip up and change my answer. Some kids are born with lies in their mouths, but I didn’t know how. Why make up a different answer other than the one I knew in my head or could see with my eyes? I remembered cleaning my room.
She could have looked rather than asking me three or four or twenty times. She always did that, whether about cleaning my room or brushing my teeth or studying my Sunday School lesson on Saturday night. She had to ask the same questions over and over.
“Hannah, I asked if you cleaned your room. Answer me. Don’t just stand there like you’re deaf and dumb.”
It wouldn’t do any good to answer her. She’d just ask again in a few minutes. Answering her wouldn’t make it any cleaner, but I wouldn’t get supper until she knew it was spotless. Every day I cleaned my room. Every day I used the feather duster and the can of furniture polish and the vacuum cleaner that was taller than me, even under the bed and behind the dresser.
Momma didn’t want the devil hiding in the dust under the bed. That was what had taken Daddy. Since Daddy was a Christian man, the devil couldn’t keep him, so Satan had put the dust in his lungs and made him go to sleep forever, leaving Momma and me alone. I kept the dust out of my room because I wanted to wake up in the morning. Mostly. Some nights I prayed to God to let me be with Daddy, but then I’d pray for forgiveness, because it wouldn’t be right to leave Momma all alone.
“Hannah, has the devil got your tongue? I asked if you’ve cleaned your room.”
I took her hand, led her down the hallway and pointed to my room.
“Oh my, what a lovely job you’ve done.” She leaned down and gave me a kiss on the forehead, her glasses falling off her nose and hitting me on top of the head. “Why didn’t you just say so?”
She hugged and kissed me and was very proud of the job I’d done.
“Such a good little girl deserves a special dinner. How about pancakes tonight?”
“Hannah, did you brush your teeth?”
“Good. Now come give me a kiss goodnight and let’s say your prayers.”
I crawled into her lap and leaned in to give her a peck on the lips. My nose would always bump against her reading glasses, the half-glasses that sat on the end of her nose with a chain holding them around her neck so she wouldn’t lose them when they fell off.
“I’m too young for my eyesight to be getting so bad,” she always said. “And if I don’t have these around my neck, I can’t ever remember where I put ‘em.”
Just as my lips were about to meet hers, she pulled back, disgusted.
“Hannah, did you brush your teeth? You’re not kissing me goodnight with those nasty teeth and bad breath.”
“I did already, Momma.”
“Don’t you lie to me, young lady. Now go brush those nasty little teeth before that lie sticks to them and they rot out of your head.” She acted like she would throw her Sunday School lesson book at me, but she wouldn’t.
I hopped off her lap and ran to the bathroom to brush my teeth again, and brushed the devil out of them this time.
I crawled back into her lap, curled my lips up to show her how white and shiny they were, and exhaled my minty fresh breath for her to smell.
Her blue eyes sparkled behind her glasses like the biggest jewels in a treasure chest. “Oh lovely, what lovely teeth you have. You have your father’s teeth.”
I didn’t have my father’s teeth. His were still in his mouth, his lips closed tight over them. I’d kissed him goodnight last year at the church. Momma said he was going to sleep and would wake up with Jesus and the angels.