Karen and her daughter Emma have not spoken to one another in eight years, six months, thirteen days, eight hours, forty-three minutes, and fifty-eight seconds. Neither woman can swallow her pride and admit that this whole thing is silly, admit that they are acting like children. Instead, they go about all interaction with one another in total silence, which is made especially difficult by their living situation. Ever since her husband passed away twelve years ago, Karen has lived in the in-law apartment of Emma’s house.
The mornings are particularly difficult; both Karen and Emma keep similar schedules and they have a tendency to hold one another up. However, after a point, they part ways with Emma heading off to work and Karen free to spend her retirement as she sees fit.
The world outside of the house is deafening to Karen, especially. Because she rarely has cause to leave home, she often feels overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices. Most often, Karen prefers to stay at home making watercolor recreations of old TV Guide covers. She finds the silence comforting.
Emma does not share her mother’s worldview; as soon as she steps out the door for work in the morning, she feels rejuvenated. Being in that house, silent and echoing, drives her insane. She also fully believes that her mother’s stubbornness and resistance to change is to blame for their current situation.
In reality, this is a shared blame. They had last spoken on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. On that day, they attended a matinee showing of A Thousand Words, starring Eddie Murphy as a man who only has a thousand words left to say before he dies.. In the hours following their viewing, Karen was silent, sitting in her chair staring pensively at a TV Guide cover featuring the cast of Friends. Emma attempted to engage her mother in conversation, only to be repeatedly shushed. Finally, exasperated, Emma demanded answers. Karen explained that A Thousand Words, the Eddie Murphy documentary they had walked out on earlier in the day, made her realize that she must have said nearly a thousand words already in her life and that she must not have many words left. She resolved to no longer speak in order to prolong both her own life and indirectly her daughter’s life.
Emma tried to explain the truth to her mother several times, but she was constantly shot down. After a time, she stopped trying. What began as an attempt to wait out her mother’s vow of silence quickly became a bitter, resentful silence. If Karen was not going to speak to Emma, Emma most certainly was not going to speak to Karen.
And so, eight years, six months, thirteen days, eight hours, forty-three minutes, and fifty-eight seconds since they last spoke, Emma decides that she is done with silence. She attempts to talk to her mother, at first mumbling a simple greeting when she walks in the door from work. She tries to offer her a drink of water, and Karen shushes her. Emma knows now that this is it: her mother is never going to speak to her again. If after all these years she couldn’t get through to her, she was going to believe that A Thousand Words was a documentary until the day she died.
Karen knows the same truth, that they will never speak again. But she also knows another truth: A Thousand Words is not a documentary. She never believed that. She just prefers it this way. She finds the silence comforting.