Mildred Macrae was born mute. She never cried. Never spoke. But her mother’s guidance counselor had looked at Mildred and smiled. “This little one will have a powerful voice.”
“But she cannot speak at all.”
“No. Not yet. Trust me, though. Her time will come to shine and when it does…” Her smile grew. “Oh, when it does, she will shine like silver.”
“What do you mean?”
“Be patient, my dear. Time will show you my meaning.”
Time passed and Mildred grew like any other child. But silent. They had her hearing tested numerous times, but each time she proved that she could hear just fine. She had all of the necessary anatomy for speech and none of it was malformed. But she stayed silent. A silent, stubborn mystery.
They tried to teach her sign language, but she refused to learn it. No amount of begging or bribing could convince her to try.
They tried to teach her to write. She wouldn’t even touch the pencil or the pen or even the keyboard.
She eventually caved in and learned how to write numbers and do math problems. Yet, she refused to write a single letter. As soon as they told her to write her name, she would drop her pen and mentally shut down.
Neither the psychiatrist nor the psychologist had a name or a reason for what was wrong with her.
The teachers called her autistic and difficult and stubborn and willful and impossible. No matter what they called her, she kept her silence.
And her mother wondered why.
Mildred had three great loves: her mother, reading, and music. Music was her passion. She would listen to her mother’s cds and read the liner notes as if she had to memorize them. Nothing disappointed her more than a cd without liner notes. She would scowl and bash her fist on the jewel case. Yet, an angry look or a harsh word from her mother was all that it took to make her stop.
She loved her mother in silence with joyful smiles and heartfelt hugs.
And her mother loved her. She held close to her heart the words of her guidance counselor, “This little one will have a powerful voice” and she believed in them.
Mildred managed to make it through childhood in one piece. She had few friends, but the ones she had were fiercely protective of her. Bullies learned the hard way not to mess around with Mildred Macrae.
Then, she turned thirteen.
That’s when everything changed.
It was a wonderful day. Sunshine, blue skies, and two new piano cds.
Mildred walked down Main Street with her mother. They held hands. Mildred clutched her plastic Music Maniacs bag in her other hand. She couldn’t wait to get home and open the cds and read the liner notes. What would they tell her about the music? Who would the piano player thank in his acknowledgments? She looked up at her mother’s face and smiled love at her.
Her mother returned that love with a smile and a kiss. That smile disappeared as a group of men in dirty tank tops and scuffed up shorts surrounded them.
“Well. Look at what we have here, boys. Two lovely young ladies.”
“Out for a stroll, huh?”
“Hahaha! Where’s your parasols?”
Her mother frowned. “Leave us alone.”
“Ooo. You hear that, boys. She wants us to leave her alone.”
“Sounds like she’s mad at us.”
“Oh, no! Not that! Hahaha!”
The leader of the group strutted over to her mother with a dirty switchblade in his hand. “So, here’s the deal. Give us all of your money and we’ll let you get on your way.”
Mildred gave her mother an imploring look.
“It’s all right.” She handed her purse to him. “There. Take it and go.”
He took it and dropped it on the ground. “Thanks. Now, what should we do next? What do you think, boys? Should we leave the little damsels be?”
The other men didn’t reply. They crowded around Mildred and her mother with cruelty in their eyes and horrible thoughts inside their heads.
Mildred clung tight to her mother as their coarse hands reached and grabbed for her.
Her mother tried to fight them off, but she was only one person.
They grabbed her and pulled her away from Mildred.
“No! Get your hands off me!”
Mildred stood still in shock for a full minute.
Then, she opened her mouth.
And she sang in a small, thin voice,
“Sail on, silver girl,
Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine.”
As she sang, the men released her mother and reeled back as if they’d all been soundly punched.
Her voice grew stronger.
“Oh, if you need a friend,
I’m sailing right behind.”
Some of the men doubled over in pain.
“Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will ease your mind.”
A couple fell to the ground completely unconscious. The remaining three freaked out and ran away.
Mildred stopped singing and ran to her mother. “You ‘kay?”
Her mother knelt in front of her and hugged her strong. “My little girl.”
“Mama? You ‘kay?”
She laughed through her tears. “Yes, baby. Mama’s okay.”