By Shayla Frandsen
Radio low. NPR on a rainy day, sky the color of static on a television screen. My daughter’s head was tilted toward the window, nearly straitjacketed as she was in her car seat. We were on the way to her dad’s house.
“Look,” she said.
My daughter spoke slowly back then. I felt like I was watching her brain learn how to form complex sentences in real time. Sometimes she spoke so slowly that she’d drift off mid sentence and go quiet completely, having forgotten what she was even talking about. I thought this was something delightfully specific to my daughter until I joined TikTok, where I discovered that there was a popular meme that addressed the laborious task of listening to a child tell an excruciatingly meandering story.
“The fog,” my daughter said. “It’s cutting off the top of that mountain. See it? Over there?” I did. A mountain range tore up the land like the fin of a deep-sea creature breaking the surface of the water. A gorgeous view, practically in our backyard.
“What if the fog was so powerful that it could really cut off a mountaintop?” my daughter said. “Like…whatever you couldn’t see…”
I waited. The therapist told us to resist the urge to finish our daughter’s sentences for her. A normal step of child development, she said. The windshield wipers dragged across the window, making a bloaty noise that sounded like a low whale call.
“…whatever the fog covered up was gone forever?” my daughter finally said.
The rest of what my daughter said trickled like snowmelt down a mountaintop. I’ll spare you the play-by-play and give you the greatest hits in grown-up words:
My daughter imagined fog as a type of erosive layer that eliminated everything it covered: a streetlamp, a treetop, an airplane unfortunate enough to fly directly into it. I was about to ask her what happened to birds, but stopped myself just in time.
She devoted the most time to picturing the way fog might cut off the top of a house, leaving its inhabitants roofless and exposed to the elements. And, she said, because fog sometimes sits on the grass, it could actually cut off the house at the foundation, leaving a blank space between the house and the dirt.
“Would the house float, though?” I asked. The steering wheel was a firm curve under my hands. “Or would it fall to the ground and collapse?”
“It would…” my daughter began.
I heard her reach into her sandwich baggie. A moment later I heard the crunch of goldfish crackers between little Tic-Tac sized teeth. The rain fell harder, and I turned up the windshield wipers. More nibbles from the back seat.
Her words evaporated. Neither of us spoke until I pulled up to the curb and told her we’d made it to her father’s house.
“The conversation at the center of [Silence and Fog] is loosely based on an actual discussion I had with my son–one of those conversations you have with a child that starts out innocent and fun but by the end makes you question your entire existence.”
Shayla Frandsen earned an MFA degree in fiction in Utah. She previously earned an MA in English in New York City. Her writing is found in Under the Sun, Blood Orange Review, Needle Poetry, Literary Mama, and others. She received first place in the 2023 Plentitudes Prize in Fiction.