SILENT EUROPE

by Hannah Rose

Vote only once by putting a cross (X) in the box next to your choice. My ballot paper reads like a lover’s ultimatum: Leave or Remain. There is no room on my ballot paper to explain, negotiate with, mediate between. All dialogue between us has ended. Now there is only silence lingering like the smell of damp coats.

Before the silence conversation made us irritable, like trying to slice bread with a blunt knife. Consultation became monologue, sermons to ourselves. The unanswered call, words lost to the wind, until the final peroration. Referendum. Words which stung were delivered without feeling until neither knew what the other was saying. Europe rolled its eyes in provocation, and I understood that it could no longer hear me. So conversation took us nowhere, except the beginning. Resolution, then, was a mountain peak eternally out of reach, a bottomless loch, an ocean with no tide, so we just stopped speaking.

Now there is only silence lingering like the smell of damp coats.

We shrunk back from one another, taking umbrage in the scorn. Waves pulling back from a shingle beach. It was a quiet retreat, gentle steps sideways until our backs were turned, towards a city where the pavements were unpopulated, and the distance between us in seconds became as long as highways. Gathering with those we saw as allies—who nursed hurts and recriminations as if they were trophies—felt like progress. But the city was a chamber of echoes where there was no reason for any kind of redress. We spoke the same language and clipped each other’s wings. We raised fists, came up with names for the enemy, laughed at our opposers, threw rocks instead of words, burned bridges and smashed windows. The cities in Europe grew smaller, darker and became noiseless. Until we forgot why we’d fought.

( Ben McDui )

If there was room on my ballot paper to say more, in the space where silence holds court, then I would say something about language—that there is two-hundred of them spoken in Europe, and isn’t the fact of our union something remarkable? I want to wax lyrical about the names for mountain ranges we came up with: Carpathian, Pyrenees, Lepontine, Cantabrian. The Dolomites which, on a clear blue morning, are visible from the bell tower in Venice. I want to articulate Europe’s bodies of water: The Caspian Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Lake Lovozero, Lake Garda and Buttermere. Roll Andalusia around on my tongue for a while, and name all the volcanoes in Iceland out loud: Katla, Hekla, Eldfell and Laki.

I’d like to announce all the castles, cathedrals, citadels and tunnels. Sing all the rivers, basins, estuaries and coves. These are the landmarks I want to declare, knock down walls for, unlock gates to, so we can share.

We can do all of these things when there is space to communicate.

It’s true that the landmarks we named existed without us. But names gave us latitudes and places to move to. Names call mountains into being, place them in books and make sense of surroundings. From here we can navigate, delineate and in turn become erudite. We can do all of these things when there is space to communicate. If Europe would have me back—turn around to speak to me again—I would say that however fragile, tenuous and in need of mending, that Europe, its union, is something worth saving.

But there is no room on my ballot paper for this.

The empty boxes next to each ‘choice’ stare back at me. Blank faces in a crowd of strangers. I am allowed just two moves of my pen. However did we come to this? I want to ask the deafening silence.

All images © Hannah Rose

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