I Screamed a Scream

Zoe Norton Lodge, a lifelong screamer, experiments with dignified silence.

Illustration of an exclamation mark with a screaming mouth as its circular point

Illustration: Jon Tjhia

In the early morning light, as the sun rises over Annandale, a boy – about 17 years old – starts hammering the tiles and marble stairs at the front of our house and loading them into a truck.

It’s the hammer that does it. Mama wakes up and runs outside in her nightdress.

‘That’s my marble!’ Mama yells.

The boy freezes.

‘MoJu, no! shouts another voice, a man’s voice, coming from across the street.

That man, it turns out, is Morris. He’s a tiler. He’s meant to be retiling another house in Annandale, but his apprentice and son, Morris Junior – or MoJu – got confused and started destroying the front of our house.

Mama has been relaying this to me in our kitchen and then she says: ‘So I’ve decided to engage Morris and MoJu’s services to officially retile our house.’

‘Mama, employing the people stealing our marble to fix our marble sounds like a very, very bad idea.’ I say, representing the voice of everyone.

‘I told them you’re pregnant,’ says Mama.

Mama loves telling people I’m pregnant.

‘My daughter’s pregnant!’ She yelled, not long ago, at some council workers on the street outside our house.

‘Oh, ok, we’re just here to trim the tree!’ one of them said back.

Mama decides to go through with Morris and MoJu and the retiling. The next day, they come over and smash every remaining tile out the front of our house, load them into their truck and leave. They promise to finish the job by the end of the week, but they don’t come back and they stop answering calls and emails. At the end of the week, the front of our house is an open-cut mine gashed in the face of Annandale.

And I have a very strong compulsion to deal with this the only way I know how. Screaming. Because I’m a screamer. My mama is a screamer; her mama is a screamer. It’s how we get it done.

‘Mama.’ I say, after the week has passed. ‘Mama, how’s about we go round to Morris’s place of business and do some screaming?’

Maybe we’ll get a better result if we don’t scream. Maybe there’s another way.’

Illustration of a screaming mouth

Illustration: Jon Tjhia

‘No,’ Mama says. ‘I think we should try not screaming at this man.’

I stare at her blankly. ‘I don’t get it,’ I say.

‘Maybe we’ll get a better result if we don’t scream. Maybe there’s another way.’

Huh, I think. Not screaming. Novel, but there could be something to it.

Maybe I will quit screaming.

Days and weeks pass and Morris sends the occasional text to say he’ll be around soon, but never comes.

And I don’t scream at him. In fact, I don’t scream at any man.

I don’t scream at the investment scammer who calls me every other day and refuses to take me off his call list.

I don’t scream at the 60-year-old man, marching down the street, who actually grips my shoulders and bundles me out of his way, telling me to ‘learn how to stand’.

I don’t scream at a gig when a man in a cowboy hat calls me ‘cunt’ over and over again, all spitty and up in my face, like a horrid baby who has learned a new word. Cunt! Cunt! Somehow, at this man, I do not scream.

And when I’m out driving with my friends and it takes me a little longer (OK a lot longer) than normal to park, and a man comes up to us, hits the side of the car with his fists, and screams muffled threats through the window, I don’t scream back.

I don’t even scream when we get out the car and he starts filming me and my friends with his phone.

In fact, an unexpected serenity descends. I am still. I am the Dalai Calmer.

‘Can I talk to you?’ I ask.

‘Fuck off!’ he says. Still filming.

‘Listen,’ I say, ‘I’ve only been driving for two weeks.’

And the man looks at me, and then he looks down at the baby inside me, and I can almost see his heart sag low through his shirt and shrivel up like a raisin.

‘You’re pregnant,’ he says.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he says.

I guess everyone has a line – and for this man, intimidating three women in a car is fine, but if one of them is visibly pregnant it is … bad?

I turn my heel and walk away. My friends can’t believe it.

Photo of the handwritten note with a $50 gift card

The note and gift card — Photo: Zoe Norton Lodge

‘You didn’t even scream at him! ‘

‘I know’ I say. ‘I’ve quit screaming.’

When we get back to the car several hours later there is a note on the car. It’s from the guy who shouted at me. He says he is sorry, that he believes he is a good person and that he believes I am going to be an amazing mum. I shudder. Attached to the note is a $50 Coles Myer voucher.

‘Great news!’ Mama says that night, ‘Morris called. He is coming first thing tomorrow morning. He promised.’  

Fifteen minutes later, there’s movement out the front of the house. I open the door.  

It’s Morris. He’s picking up some of his tools or whatever bullshit he’s left there for two months.

‘Have you come to fix the tiles today?’ I ask.

“No I can’t,’ he says. ‘I can’t because of weather.’

I look out into the clear blue sky. A seagull wings lazily past the beating sun and winks to say that he too, a simple bird, knows that this is statistically perfect weather for tiling.

I look back at Morris. And for a moment. Silence.  

'The words turn to magma and burst out of my mouth … I absolutely Pompeii that man.'

And then suddenly I feel the rumblings start in my diaphragm. They move up my lungs to my throat, the words and phrases are mustered at the gates of my tonsils, and as I stare Morris dead in the eyes, the words turn to magma and burst out of my mouth and I absolutely Pompeii that man.

I scream him a new arsehole.

I scream him every scream I haven’t screamed for the past two months.

Mama comes outside.

‘That’s enough, Zoe,’ she says.

But I can’t help it. I could never stop mid-wee and I can’t stop mid-scream. I scream him up, I scream him down; I scream him all around.

Morris’s flesh crackles and withers away as he staggers in the force of my pyroclastic scream. He blushes and leaves. Mama looks at me and says:

‘Your boobs are falling out of your top.’

I stare at Morris’s now necrotic back. ‘I know,’ I say. ‘They came out in the screaming.’

By the end of the next day the front of our house is perfect with brand new tiles and swirling marble steps shining in the glinting sun.

‘Let’s never stop screaming again,’ I say to Mama.

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Portrait of Zoe Norton Lodge

Zoe Norton Lodge is a writer/presenter on The Checkout (ABC1). In 2015 she published her first book, Almost Sincerely, a collection of 'autobiographicalish' short stories. Zoe is also the co-creator of Story Club, a monthly storytelling night, ABC2 TV show and podcast.