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Keith Ludden

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The Man Who Had Nothing More To Say 


    When Roger reached his fifty-second birthday, he decided he had said all he wanted to say, and he stopped talking. He wasn't angry at anyone, he just simply figured he didn't have any more to say. For fifty-two years he had engaged in conversations with the neighbors; had said his piece at town meetings. Enough was enough, the world didn't need to hear from him anymore. 

     “Roger, you haven't said a word to me or anybody else in two days,” his wife, Katharine said. “What is it?" Roger just shrugged and stuck his head back in the newspaper. 

Katherine picked up a section of the newspaper, rolled it up, and raised it above his head, and then she

thought of all the times she had prayed to be delivered from Roger's incessant discourses. She lowered the paper and smiled. 

     The silence went on for days. Katharine continued to smile as she watched her favorite soap opera without comment from anyone. The town meetings grew shorter by at least twenty minutes, and at work, papers simply moved steadily from Roger's "in" box to his "out" box in silence. 

     At home, the television went off (except for Katharine's favorite soap opera). Previously it was on constantly. Game shows pitted contestants against each other by the hour. Sitcoms induced chuckles by the half hour. Dramas enthralled by the hour. Reality shows went on and on. Twelve people locked in a house. They had enough to say for everyone. Tammy thinks Bret's a jerk. Barbara has the hots for Jeremy. Howard really is a jerk. 

     Now there was a sense of great relief. Roger could just sit back and let the world wash over him while he thought about really important things. 

     There was a short article in the town newspaper, written by a reporter who noticed the town meetings were suddenly twenty minutes shorter, and figured out why they were twenty minutes shorter. The article was titled, "The Man Who Has Nothing More to Say." Since Roger had nothing more to say, the reporter interviewed Katherine, who told him she didn't know why Roger shut up, he just did. Then she smiled. The report was published on a Friday, and on Monday there was a TV reporter at Roger's door, who wanted an interview. The interview was rather flat, because, of course, Roger had nothing more to say; but there was Roger's face on the TV, saying nothing. He was famous—well, at least semi-famous. It was a local station. Katharine changed the channel, smiled, and watched her soap opera. 

     Two days later, it was a reporter from a metropolitan newspaper at his door. He was a very polished man from the city. He politely asked if he could take Roger's photograph. Roger shrugged and nodded, then there was a flash, and the reporter was gone. Later that afternoon, the reporter could be seen around town, with his skinny notepad, talking to the people in town about The Man Who Has Nothing More to Say. There was a general consensus that town meetings were indeed twenty minutes shorter, and that was a good thing, although the doughnut shop on the town square admitted to losing a little business because coffee breaks were only lasting fifteen minutes instead of the usual half hour. A lot of people came in every day to get a cup of coffee and see what Roger was going to talk about.

     Like Katharine, none of the guys at the doughnut shop knew why Roger went silent. Some of them fell to speculating as to why he had nothing more to say. Bud, who runs the Co-op on the edge of town thought maybe he lost a bet or something, but nobody claimed to have made a bet with him. Phil, who ran the movie house, and perhaps watched too many of them alone, said Roger had probably joined the CIA and had been sworn to secrecy.

     By the end of the week Roger was getting calls from major cable networks. Now he really was getting famous. All of America now wanted to know why he had nothing more to say. Oprah tried to cajole him into revealing the secret. Wolf teamed up with Larry King for a full court blitz and Rush hinted darkly about a massive liberal conspiracy to curb free speech. Katharine smiled and watched her soap opera. 

     Then something strange happened. A movement began developing. First it was just a few people who decided they had nothing more to say, then it was hundreds. Whole towns were falling silent. At great universities, lecture halls were emptied. Entire legislatures began to adjourn sine die, because no one was debating anything. Think tanks began wrapping up their business and closing their doors. Congress tried to launch an investigation, but no one had anything to say about the issue. The radio talk shows tried to hang on, but the callers became fewer and fewer. There was no one left for the talk show hosts to insult. It was a phenomenon. It was a fiasco! The soap operas went off the air and Katherine frowned. 

     "See what you've started?" she complained. 

     Roger took her by the hand and led her out to the front porch. All up and down the street, the neighbors were on their front porches, as if they were tuned in to an unseen wavelength. Their faces had smiles that were positively beatific, as if they had just discovered the very innermost secrets of the universe. It was at that point Roger knew he finally had something important enough to break his silence.

     "Hear that?" he said. 

     “No,” she said, "I don't hear a thing. It's AWFUL!" 

     “It’s silence," he said. "It's the sound of people listening."

Keith Ludden (He/him) is a native of Nebraska and a member of Larksong Writer's Place in Lincoln, NE and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. He lived in Maine for twenty years where he worked for the Maine Arts Commission, managing programs for traditional and community arts.In Nebraska and Missouri he worked as a journalist for fifteen years, including a twelve year stint at Nebraska Public Radio, covering the legislature.

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