It was supposed to be a gift.
But she hadn’t spoken for five years now, and that was a curse.
She remembered that summer day in Central Park. She had stopped for a moment to drink from her water bottle in the 90-degree shade.
“Spare a drink for a stranger?” asked a weak voice from a few feet away. Mina looked toward the voice’s owner, a small woman in ratty clothing, dirtier than the ground beneath her. Then she looked dubiously at her water bottle, imagining the swarms of bacteria on the woman’s lips.
But it was hot, and the woman was old. The least she could do was help. So Mina gave her the bottle and watched her drink greedily.
Passing the bottle back, the woman wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and said in a voice somehow both stronger and lighter, “Thank you. You are kind indeed. For this kindness I shall bestow upon you a marvelous gift.”
“You don’t really need to—”
The old woman swept to her feet, suddenly radiating power as she held up her hand to silence Mina. “This is your gift: The words that fall from your lips shall fall in jewels.”
Mina gaped in horror. She reached out in supplication, but the sun broke through the trees, momentarily blinding her. When she could see again, the woman had vanished. She cupped her hands to her mouth. “Please no,” she whispered, and two small objects dropped from her lips.
A ruby. An emerald.
She knew how this would work in a fairy tale, of course. A handsome prince would ride up on a white horse and declare his everlasting devotion. He would carry her off into the sunset to live happily ever after.
But this was not a fairy tale, and in her world a woman whose words produced jewels could never be safe—not from science or the press, not even from a prince who might declare his love. She would never be sure of anyone’s true intentions. She would never know whom to trust.
So she stopped talking. Her voice became a rusty memory. Even a cough creaked like an unoiled hinge. The words she would not speak began, instead, to pour out of her onto paper. Her passions, her fears, her hopes, her dreams—they spilled from her like blood, saturating the pages with her life. Pages became chapters became novels became bestsellers. Money flowed into Mina’s bank accounts. In her nightmares, it flowed in sapphires and garnets, opals and amethysts.
She hid inside her books. She used signing when required, but her refuge was a profound silence in which both her lips and her hands were still.
Then she met Daniel. Kind, funny, smart, handsome. Everything she’d always wanted. As the cold winter sun warmed to spring light, she felt the tightness within her begin to relax. She began to hope. And fear. She plucked petals from a daisy in her heart: He loves me. He loves my money. He loves me. And no matter which petal dropped last, the daisy always fell to the floor with the same question: But what if he knew about the curse?
It could not go on forever, she realized. So as spring edged toward the brightness of summer, she decided she would no longer live imprisoned by her cursed gift. “I have something to tell you,” she signed to him, unable to meet his eyes. They sat together on the very bench the old woman had occupied so long ago.
“I do too,” he said, smiling.
She gestured toward him. You first.
He took her hands, his eyes warm and bright. “I love you, Mina. I want to marry you.”
Her heart sped as a smile rose unbidden to her lips. How she had longed for this, prayed for it. Maybe his love would be strong enough to keep her secret safe. She shook with the hope of it.
She took a shuddering breath and opened her mouth to form forsaken words. “I love you too.” Her voice creaked from disuse, and his eyes widened in surprise. They widened even further as she put her hand to her mouth and spit.
Tiny objects glittered in the sun, lustrous and pure as true love in the fairy tales. She held them out for him to see: diamonds and pearls.
She raised her eyes to meet his. The light in them was brighter than jewels.