Notes: Watch as I take the term 'silent protagonist' too literally. And Dear Game Freak; give the mother a freakin' name. It's just a little bit hard to write a story about a nameless character. Also: Pop-culture PokéPuns. I make them. (and what is it with kids going off on their own at ten years old like seriously)
Additional: I know it's set in Kanto, but I used American Sign Language in this story. It's just the one I'm most familiar with. But please let me know if I use anything incorrectly.
Verse: Game - Yellow Version.
Of Guns and Chrysanthemums
Don't miss our exclusive interview with Kotone, the new Pokémon Champion from Johto, tonight at 11:00!
The background noise of the television buzzed against the woman's ears as she set her coffee mug down on the coaster.
Next: DragoniteForce – are the rumors of them splitting up true?
The woman shifted her weight over to reach for her book – a simple story of a dysfunctional family adopting a growlithe…typical heartwarming stuff. She could already tell you the entire plot of the story; the first chapter would only function to show the parents arguing, the older kids disobeying, and the youngest child crying about his or her incredibly horrid life. The littlest child will most likely be the one to strike the idea of adopting a pokémon. Everyone will harshly turn the child down, but eventually circumstances force them to take it in. They will hate the poor growlithe at first, but then after a few chapters and saving someone's life, it will teach them the meaning of family and they will all live happily ever after. At least until they put it down in the last chapter.
Lady Gligar showed up at Lilycove's Master Rank Pokémon Beauty Contest last weekend wearing what could only be described as mudkip mania…
She opened her book and licked her finger to turn to the first page.
Scandal! Almost two years have passed since accusations from women all across the country hit Tyrogue Woods after an accident outside of his home. How has he fared since then? Find out after this commercial break, on P! A True Pokémon Story.
It barely took a whole paragraph before the husband character threatened to slap his wife. Giving a heavy sigh, the woman closed the book disdainfully and stood up from her couch – she was not exactly in the mood for domestic violence – and went up to bed for the night after turning off the TV.
The next day was a local holiday, so there was no need for the woman to dress up and go to work. Instead she wrapped herself comfortably in her robe and sat at the kitchen table, sipping away at the freshly brewed coffee and reflecting upon the upcoming week. Let's see, she mused, I'll have to go out and get groceries soon. Daisy's birthday is also coming up, so I should get her a little something. I could also have a chat with the Professor then, too…
She toyed with a letter in her hands, eyeballing the words scribbled by the family doctor instructing her and her son to journey up to Viridian City for their yearly checkup. As if he really thinks that is going to happen, she thought. At this point, the letter had become a simple formality. The woman and the doctor both knew that she would be traveling up to Viridian City alone, and explain that her son was not with her this year. Again.
The mother let out a sharp breath. Just how long has it been since she's seen him? To describe the amount of stress she felt every single day, unaware of her son's whereabouts, felt like it would take months.
He's young; someone will kidnap him.
He's small; someone will mug him.
He's innocent; someone will trick him.
He's mute; no one will know he's in trouble.
…And it was that last part that just killed her.
It wasn't that no one will ever know what he's thinking. If he were lost in a city, he would be able to ask for directions with no trouble at all. But if someone were to nab him…it's just that he can't shout for help.
The mother tucked her hair behind her ears and rested her head on her palm as she gazed into space, thinking about her son.
There was just something about him. Despite raising him for eleven years, she could never figure out just what it was that made him so…chatty…for a silent boy.
Red may have been born a mute child, but he was always talking. Always.
She remembered the moments after she had given birth to him. Throughout the pregnancy she prepared herself for the wails and screams of a newborn infant ringing in her ears after it was all over and done with; however in the seconds after the doctor shouted success, the only sounds she heard was the rustling and bustling of nurses.
Her heart froze.
She remembered the panic she felt as she darted her head this way and that, asking where the infant was.
Her question was answered a minute later as a wriggling bundle was handed to her. She grasped the blanket and gazed down to the baby, its mouth agape – but no sound came out.
A speech disability was what the doctor called it a few hours later - caused by a deformity of the throat. Before releasing her from the hospital, the doctor handed her a business card of the local learning center for those with such disabilities. "They will teach you and your son sign language," he explained.
And that was precisely what she did. Before the boy had the opportunity to sit up and crawl, she began taking him up to Viridian City twice a week to sit down and have a private instructor demonstrate basic sign language words.
"His brain is like a sponge at this stage," the instructor explained to her at the first session, "so he won't have any problem learning – instead of learning how to speak with his mouth, he'll speak with his body. You may have some trouble, however – because you've grown up using your voice, but that's ok – feel free to ask any questions you have. I will help you until you're completely confident in your ability to communicate with your son."
She knew he meant well, but it still felt like a hot knife stabbed her chest upon hearing those words.
What kind of a mother gives birth to a child who won't be able to communicate with everyone?
She knew it wasn't her fault – that she shouldn't blame herself – but still. If he ever came to resent her upon growing up…she wouldn't blame him.
Even so, it only took a few years of lessons before she realized that Red never really needed sign language in the first place.
"Honey, lunch!" the mother called out to the back of the couch behind her.
She heard the rustling of fabric before the thundering footsteps, and a small four year old boy came running on the tips of his toes over to her.
"What do you want to drink – milk?" she held her fist up and outstretched her fingers, before clamping them shut into a ball again (and repeat), "Or water?" she formed the letter 'W' and touched her lips with it. She knew her boy understood what she meant without her signing, but it was more of a practice opportunity to her – and at this point, a habit.
He stared at her, deep in thought. But before he had the chance to raise his hands, his mother smiled at him.
"Orange juice, Red? Well, all right then," she took a plastic cup down from the cupboard and reached over for a newly opened carton of juice, and began pouring a glass, "Normally you never ask for orange juice, but you're being a good boy for trying new things! I am very proud of –"
She abruptly stopped and looked over to Red, her eyebrows curved downward in slight confusion.
He looked a little confused too.
"I…I'm sorry, honey. I poured you some without thinking…would you like to have the orange juice?"
He blinked, but slowly nodded.
"G-Good for you!" the mother finished pouring the plastic cup and leaned down to hand it over to her son, "I hope you like it. Mommy's very proud of you for trying a new drink."
Red grasped the cup and beamed at his mom. He managed to keep the cup steady with one hand and use the other to cover his mouth and then outstretched it toward her. 'Thank you.'
He turned around and made his way over to the kitchen table and began eating, but the woman stood back eyeballing him.
He asked her for orange juice. She knew he did. She knew because she could feel apprehensiveness, as if he said, 'I wonder if I should try orange juice this time.' But how did he ask her without moving his hands?
The mother decided that she only made a lucky guess that afternoon, and continued to simultaneously speak and sign to him whenever communicating. That summer, he began to learn how to form complete sentences.
"Come on, darling, let's go to the center," said the woman as she pulled over a black tee shirt over the boy's head. Imprinted on the shirt were the characters of Red's favorite morning cartoon – Teenage Mutant Ninja Squirtles. The mother had…a lucky guess that he wanted the shirt upon passing the store with him earlier that week.
"Are you ready to go?"
"Now, now," she said, "Your teacher would want you to use your hands while we're there. So," she crouched down to his eye-level, "Let's practice. Show mommy how you say 'yes.'"
A raised fist rhythmically moved up and down.
Red grinned, and his mother had a lucky guess that he was hoping the session would end early that day.
A few hours later, the mother and her son were walking hand in hand along the sidewalk of a busy Viridian City street. Several cars sped by, and the woman increased her grip on the child's hand every time she felt any resistance. As a walking innocent child, he wanted to explore every nook and cranny, but she was not about to let him stroll along in a city without a firm grasp on him – even if it slightly irritated Red (which she made a lucky guess he was, after looking into his eyes and smiling).
Before too long the boy started tugging at his mother's sleeves, and signed that he needed to go to the bathroom. A public restroom stood across the street, so she decided to go ahead and stop and let him use the toilet.
"What do we do before crossing the street?" she asked him.
He sharply turned his head left and right.
Upon arriving at the separation of men and women's doors, the mother looked at Red and asked, "Do you need me there with you?"
The boy thought for a moment before taking his thumb, index finger, and middle finger and clamping them shut. 'No.'
The mother softly smiled. "That's right; are you going to be a big boy? Well ok then, I'll be right here."
Almost as soon as the child disappeared behind the door, an old colleague of the mother tapped her shoulder and the two of them shouted in surprise and amazement. "I can't believe it's you!" Immediately the two began catching up; explaining where they were now, how they were living, and remarking upon old memories.
"Well, I've told you about my daughter," said the dear friend after some time of talking, "What about you? Made any spawn yet?" she laughed jokingly.
"Yes, actually I have," the mother laughed with her friend, "A son – he's turning five soon. In fact; I'm just waiting out here for him to come out of the bathroom," she turned her head over to the bathroom door donning the 'men' symbol.
"All by himself?"
"He's fine – I'm out here if he needs me."
"Well, yeah, but…" the woman cranked her neck over to the door, "Haven't we been talking for nearly ten minutes? And aren't there going to be other people in there? Strangers?"
"Red! Red, are you done in there? Can you come out? Come on out, Red!" the woman jumped over to the door and began yelling into the restroom.
"Lady, it's just me in here, and I can't really go with you yelling like a banshee," came a gruff voice from inside.
The mother's heart sank all the way to her stomach as she whipped around.
"Excuse me, you're looking for Red?" a high-pitched voice came over from the left, "Don't worry, I've got him!"
The woman turned around and saw her boy quietly licking away at a pika-popsicle, as if he had not a care in the world. She ran over and grabbed him, tightly squeezing him against her chest – he only seemed concerned for the well-being of his popsicle, however.
"Red, just where did you run off to? Why didn't you come right back to me – ?"
"Oh, he's fine," the high pitched voice once again interrupted her thoughts, "He said he saw you talking to someone and didn't want to bother you – I think the little guy was just being bashful," the voice-owning teenager laughed, "So I offered to get him some ice cream while he waited, he really likes the pika-pop," she gestured toward the treat in his hands shaped like the head of a pikachu, "But I'm really sorry to scare you, I made sure to keep you in the corner of my eye the whole time…guess I got distracted when you didn't see him with you. Again, I'm really sorry about that."
The teenager went on and on, but the mother barely heard a thing she said after the first sentence.
"But he's so adorable! He was telling me all about his favorite sweets and shows and pokémon –"
"He said that?"
"Red," the woman breathed, "told you…I was talking to someone?"
"Sure did," the girl answered lightheartedly, "He told me his name, and his favorite sweets and shows –"
"How?" the mother didn't mean to bark, but the word came out with incredible sharpness.
"H-How?" She replied, confusion setting into her face, "W-Well, I mean, you know, he just…wait…actually, I don't think he really…then, how did I…" her face only became more scrunched up with every word. Even though she spoke in broken sentences, the mother could tell exactly what was going on in her mind.
He never spoke a single word. How did I know his name and everything else?
"Well, you know, my family and friends always told me I had a way with kids!" the teenager bounced up after a few stiff seconds, "I never really believed them 'cause I'm not around little ones all that much, but hey! I should really put those skills to use and become like, a babysitter or something! Haha, anyway," she leaned down and patted Red on the head, "it was nice, er…hanging out with you buddy," she obviously caught herself wanting to say 'talking,' "But I have to get on my way here, and so do you, so see you around!"
And with that, she gave a lively wave and ran off. The mother could still hear a panicked sense of bewilderment emanating from the poor girl.
"…So, this is Red!"
Oh, that's right; her long-time friend was still there.
Sitting at the kitchen table, the coffee now almost empty, the mother had to cover her mouth from laughing at the memory. That poor girl!
Standing up and walking over to refill her mug, the mother smiled to herself as she went through the memories of the years with Red. After that incident, she realized that it was not only her that seemed to unconsciously understand the boy. Plenty of the neighbors seemed to be able to converse with him – without even realizing that he wasn't uttering a single word. She also realized that it was not telepathy he was using – there were not any vocal words from inside her mind. Another thing the woman figured out was that the strange communication only worked if a person had direct eye contact with Red. If a person was turned away from him, he was as mute as he was meant to be. But if you were to stare right into his face, it seemed like he never stopped talking.
As if he was speaking to you with the fire in his eyes.
In fact, the mother wasn't sure if anyone else had ever caught on to the fact that he was technically mute. As he grew older and made friends with the local boys (striking up a particular rivalry with a certain Green), no one – at least publically – brought out his speech disability to attention. They probably knew something about him was special…but it was never a topic of gossip. The mother liked that.
As the years went by, the mother and her son slowly stopped using sign language. The only situations in which Red signed to her was whenever he was at a particularly hard boss on the SNES and he couldn't turn from the television and risk losing the fight. The mother would laugh and lean back in her chair, watching her son getting frustrated with the over-powered digital fiend. Her mind would then once more wander to the strange communication he possessed.
As a matter of fact, she would probably still be contemplating Red's special ability at this moment – if it weren't for the fateful meeting the Professor granted her all those years ago.
"Come right on in, Professor," the mother shouted behind her as she raised a pan sheet from the oven, "I was just finishing up these banana bread loaves – would you like some?" she asked upon hearing the door open and close and the shuffling of feet kicking off shoes.
"That sounds rather lovely; I'd love to try one," Professor Oak replied, "Thank you."
She nodded and took a knife, slicing up a few corners before placing a plate in front of the 'Pokémon Prof.' "So," she said as she took her seat in front of him and rest her head on her hands, "You wanted to speak with me about Red, right?"
"That is right," he answered, picking up a banana bread slice and smoothing some jam over the sides, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but he is turning eleven soon, yes?"
"That's right," she replied, "This coming month, in fact."
The old man leaned back in his chair, in deep thought about how to explain what was on his mind. Instead he asked more questions.
"How is he?"
"In…terms of what?"
"Ah," the man held his hands out and smiled, "Life."
"That's…incredibly vague," the mother raised her eyebrow, but continued, "But, he's doing fine. He has some good friends he likes to hang out with, they like to go out and play with bug pokémon. He also has a pretty healthy relationship with your grandson, if I'm not mistaken," she added, laughing, "In terms of school, he's not much of a literature person, but he does like life science."
"They teach about pokémon during that year, yes?"
"Right – pokémon ecosystems, lifestyles, food, and some lessons on taking care of them."
Professor Oak's gaze fell to the bread in his hands.
"Sounds like Red really has a knack for pokémon."
The mother blinked. "Yes," she slowly said, "He really…loves them."
"I'm sure that's all he ever really thinks about?" the man chortled.
"Well…I suppose you could say that…" the woman's gaze fell to the plate before her as she tucked her hair behind her ears. For some reason, she had a feeling of what his real intentions coming there were for…Asking about Red's age, noting on his love for pokémon…
"Listen," Professor Oak suddenly began speaking with a great intensity, "I know you're not going to like what I'm about to suggest, but please hear me out."
"You can't possibly –"
"Please allow me to assign Red a starter and let him go on a journey," said the Pokémon Prof. in one fluid breath of air.
… "Excuse me?"
"That is to say, if he agrees," the man said, "Please allow me to give him a starter pokémon so he can start a journey around Kanto –"
The mother stood up in her seat.
"Let me get this straight," she slowly said, her fingertips touching her forehead, "because my son – my mute son – has an affinity for pokémon – pokémon in general – you want to give him a starter and send him packing off to the country."
"I firmly believe it will do him good," he replied confidently.
"Professor, with all due respect, how do you think that will do him 'good'?" the mother wanted to shout, however held her volume under a thin line, "What part of sending a child who cannot speak off alone to fend for himself sounds good?"
"I do not want to sound rude, but it's not just an affinity for pokémon – it's a passion. I've personally seen the boy enough times to know that it's not just some petty hobby to him. He has the makings to become a Pokémon Champion! Right now at this very moment, children his age around the world are setting off on their journey, and Red doesn't deserve to be left out of that – you can't keep him forever! By the way, this banana bread is delicious!"
"And not to be rude, Professor," despite the warning, her words did not hide her slight hostility, "in case you've forgotten, my son cannot speak. You expect him to be able to train and raise pokémon without saying a word to them? And thank you, I got the recipe from my mother!"
Professor Oak's expression became heavy. "You know," he said quietly, "just as well as I do, that Red can speak perfectly."
Her blood ran cold.
"I do not know how he has the ability," the man continued, "but I do not find it something that will hold him back from his true potential. At his age, any child that wishes to train pokémon is free to work on his or her dream. Just because Red is technically a mute child…I personally feel that shouldn't hinder him. And you're dearly welcome; I am interested in having Daisy try out the recipe sometime."
The woman wanted to argue back – to continue explaining that Red would face double the hardships that normal trainers face – but instead she leaned back in her seat, her face weary. "I'll give you the recipe right now…" was all she could muster before standing up and handing over a slip of paper over to the Pokémon Prof.
After some more idle chat, Professor Oak thanked her for her time and apologized for upsetting her. After the man left, she turned her head over to the stairs leading to Red's room.
"I know you're up there," she said, "Come down."
Quiet footsteps met her ears and the prepubescent boy slowly appeared from the bottom of the stairs. He awkwardly made his way over to his mother.
"So," she softly murmured, "Sounds to me like someone's been confiding hidden dreams with the Pokémon Professor."
His gaze fell to the floor in embarrassment.
The mother suddenly became exasperated. "Red, if I had known you really wanted to become a trainer, I wouldn't have reacted so badly to his suggestion! I honestly thought that he was coming here because he wanted to throw you a starter and a dex and have you be on your way – as some sort of study or something! To see how a disabled trainer could fare in the world – I don't know! But in reality you really want to do this yourself and even told Professor Oak about it…why didn't you ever tell me?"
The boy's head hung in shame.
The mother looked hurt.
"Look at me, Red."
Slowly, he lifted his gaze up and met his eyes with his mother's.
Upon eye contact, the woman was exposed to the strange communication. He 'told' her that he thought she would be heavily against it. That she would never support his dream because he wouldn't be successful, and could get in trouble much more easily than a vocal trainer. The mother's heart sank upon 'listening' to his words, because frankly, his assumptions were more than likely to be true. She could see herself reacting in the way he expected. So instead of discussing it with his mother, the boy would visit Professor Oak's house and confide his dreams to the Professor. Just a simple I want to become the Pokémon Champion, getting into an argument whenever Green showed up taunting him, saying that he'll never get that far in the world, and eagerly listening to the Professor support his goal…ending with the man telling Red that he was going to visit his mother before too long.
All of that went on without the mother knowing a shred of detail. This time it was her turn to lower her head, in deep thought. She was angry at herself for not becoming a person her own son could feel free to confide his dreams in, frustrated at knowing that she would react negatively upon his revelation, and aggravated at just how foolish she had been. She honestly felt that because he couldn't speak normally, he would never want to go off on his own journey just like everyone else his age. She had false hopes of him staying with her until he was completely grown up…she should have known all along that that wasn't going to stop him at all.
"W-Well," she breathed in after he finished explaining, "If…if that is what you want…more than anything in the world…now, I'm only saying this because you do have a way to converse with people…"
Red's eyes slowly brightened as she spoke.
"I…I see now, that just because you can't speak like normal people…doesn't automatically allow me to keep you by my side forever," she mustered up a soft smile, "Parents everywhere have to let their children go off and follow their dreams…but I should have realized that I'm not excluded from that. I'm sorry for being so foolish as to believe that. You have every right…to work on your goals…as much as everyone else. S-so go out there, you," her throat suddenly began to tighten, "Go out on your journey…and you better damn well become the best Pokémon Champion the world has ever seen, you hear me?"
Before she knew it, Red was positively beaming.
"Oh, come on!" The woman threw her hands about, laughing to prevent herself from breaking out the waterworks, "Can't you at least express a little bit of sadness? I'm letting my baby go, here!"
As promised, on the day of Red's eleventh birthday, the mother allowed him to go visit Professor Oak and choose his first pokémon.
She didn't accompany him to the building. It would be his first act as an independent trainer. Instead, she sat down at the kitchen table, rubbing a cup of coffee, still wondering if she was doing the right thing.
But when Red stopped by holding a tubby electric rodent in his hands wearing the biggest grin of his life, she decided there was no need to think of such things anymore.
"How adorable! So the Professor gave you a pikachu? That's weird," she cooed as she held the yellow pokémon in her hands examining it, "I thought all starters were only fire, water, and grass type."
He explained that it was a special circumstance.
"Is that so…ow," she flinched after receiving a slight shock from its fur. "By the way, how come it's not in the pokéball?" she asked.
That, too, was a special circumstance.
"I see," she softly smiled as she looked at her son.
"Well…I can't keep you sitting here forever, so…you should get going, my little trainer," she whispered, hesitantly handing over Red's pikachu back. "Just…make sure to come visit sometimes. Or at least give me a call whenever you have the time. And…be careful…stay out of trouble. Ok?"
The boy nodded, and looking into his eyes the mother could tell that he was promising her that.
Then, placing the pikachu on his shoulder, he raised his right fist and outstretched his thumb, index finger, and pinky finger, while leaving the middle and ring finger curled into his palm.
'I love you.'
It was the first time he used a sign to her in years, and the mother couldn't help but feel like he was doing it just to get her to cry. Well, she thought to herself, it worked, and before she knew it the tears were rolling down her cheeks as her eyebrows curved fiercely downwards and her lips scrunched together. She slowly lifted her hand up and mirrored the sign for a few seconds before reaching over and pulling him into the tightest hug she could muster.
As the memory came back to the mother, forcing her to wipe away some moisture at her eye, she had to also remember the harsh fact that Red still hasn't come back.
He also didn't be careful, as she told him to do. Instead she had to wake up one morning to see the local news station reporting the story of a young boy getting rid of a crime syndicate at the Silph Co. building, causing her to lose several already-graying hairs. Then came the story some weeks later describing the same boy challenging and defeating the very leader of said crime syndicate. Throwing in the reports of every time he defeated a Gym Leader and the special story of his rise to Pokémon Champion made the mother feel like she was having a heart attack at every turn. Before she knew it, fans of Red would come knocking at her door in the weeks following his inauguration as the Pokémon Champion, asking to see the famous trainer's room and perhaps take a souvenir. The mother always politely declined, though.
She missed her son – she missed him dearly – but at the same time she could not help but feel just a little bit irritated at him. Two things she instructed him to do – just two things. Stay out of trouble and come visit. But no, not only does he not ever show his face in the house again, but he has to go off and single handily break up a serious gang as well! Kids, she huffed, give them a bit of independence and they suddenly think they're invincible. Then she chuckled to herself, playing with a lock of hair in her fingers. Sometimes she wished that he would get into some more trouble, because as it stood now he was never going to come visit, and whenever he did get in trouble the media was on it like moths to a flame, and she would be able to see a current picture of him on TV. But he apparently decided to lay low, and nothing had been reported of him in the last couple of years. And now, she thought back to the program on the television the previous night, it looks like another trainer has become the champion. What does that make you now, Red…?
The mother started at the sudden sound, and looked up towards the door. It had been a while since a fan club visited, and the mother wasn't currently expecting company. So, who…?
Tightening the robe around her shoulders and placing the coffee mug down on the counter, the mother made her way over to the door and tried looking through the peep hole.
Yellow. Just a blob of yellow. "What the…"
Giving an exasperated sigh, she turned the doorknob and opened the entrance.
A familiar electric mouse greeted her right up in her face, sitting perched comfortably on top of a collared shoulder. The mother's eyes widened at the pikachu after taking a step back in shock, before her eyes followed up the shoulder, to the neck, and finally to the face of her visitor. The owner of the pokémon gave a closed-eyes grin, holding up a fist with the thumb, index finger, and pinky finger outstretched.