In the City of Screaming Ropes by Tara Campbell

In the City of Screaming Ropes

It’s not fair, really, the name our town has been given. First off, we’re not even a city. And we used to have a completely different name, but no one remembers it, and every time we read it in the old records, we forget it again. So we remain the City of Screaming Ropes. 

The unfair part of it is the Screaming – very few of our ropes do. And they don’t scream because they’re in pain – how can a rope feel pain? They scream because they’re channeling the outrage they’ve been asked to contain. Plus, we don’t even use those ropes anymore, the screamers. 

No, most of our ropes grumble holding open a gate, or moan when we tie our boats to the dock. And we’re compassionate people – we passed an ordinance against tire swings once we acknowledged the ache of trees. Sure, some of the purists tsked at the new playgrounds which, they argued, were also made of wood. Wasn’t it better, they asked, to hear a rope give voice to the grunt of a living tree than to send kids scrambling all over the sanded-down bones of a dead one? 

Well, we don’t all agree on everything in the City of Screaming Ropes. But we do agree on the screaming: we don’t want to hear it. Once a rope has been used to lead a goat, it’s useless. Have you heard a goat scream? The whole reason you’re using a rope is to get the animal to go somewhere it doesn’t want to go. Its outrage lingers. It’s uncanny. 

Most of us will do pretty much anything to avoid touching ropes. There was a time, though, before they began screaming, when we used them for all manner of things, day and night, benign and — not. More than a few of us loved the utility of a thing that could be used to swing one boy over a swimming hole by day, and another boy from a stout, dark tree in the dead of night. So practical, we would think. So versatile. 

When the ropes first began making their utterances, we never knew when we touched one which sound to expect; why certain ropes would not choose to giggle at the thrill of flight and the joy of release into cool waters on a hot day; why they instead screamed and moaned, gurgled and gagged. When we discovered an unpleasant one, we tried to override its sonic burden with more auspicious memories, using it to raise our flag up the flagpole every morning, or to hoist a new sign into place on Main Street, or to build a ladder up to a treehouse in the generous shade of an old oak. 

Despite our efforts, certain recalcitrant ropes insisted on screaming when we touched them. One by one, we picked them up with shovels or pitchforks, tossed them into the darkest corner of old Harley’s tumbledown barn, and left them there to gather dust and rot, never to be touched again. 

Those ropes, however, refused to cooperate. Over time they began murmuring again, all on their own. Harley said he’d hear mumbling and grumbling from the barn at all hours, even had the sheriff come out to investigate, but there was nothing there but those old ropes. We told him to ignore them, and for a while that was enough. But the longer we left those unruly ropes be, moldering in the dank corners of the barn, the louder they got. Pretty soon you could hear them if you came anywhere near Harley’s property, much less anywhere close to the barn. Fortunately for Harley, he was going deaf by then. 

But what about the rest of us? We can hear the ropes’ wailing and carrying on clear into town these days. What are we to do? We can’t go back and change the past. Plenty of folks want to go out there and burn the whole barn down, ropes and all, but Harley won’t stand for any fires on his property. His boobytraps and his loaded shotgun have settled the matter. 

And so we continue playing with our children, raising our animals, hoisting our flags, and running our businesses using only our most pleasant, dependable ropes. We go on humming and whistling, trying not to hear those old, untouched, unexamined ropes howling and moaning in the musty gloom of Harley’s barn. 

If we keep on laughing, we barely hear them scream. 

Tara Campbell is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction co-editor at Barrelhouse. She received her MFA from American University. Previous publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and CRAFT Literary. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, and four collections: Circe’s Bicycle, Midnight at the Organporium, Political AF: A Rage Collection, and Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection. Connect with her at www.taracampbell.com or on Twitter: @TaraCampbellCom or IG: @thetreevolution 

More by Tara Campbell You, Commuter / Firehawk Lullaby / Big Bird / Loss Loop

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