In March, Julia Bueno '23 became the only student from a Miami private school to receive the distinct honor of receiving the Gold Key National Scholastic Award for her writing. She will travel to Carnegie Hall in June to receive her award.
Julia wrote a short story, Phonophobia, winning the Gold Key National Scholastic Award. (Her story previously won the Gold Key Regional Scholastic Writing Award.) Phonophobia is a flash fiction story of a teenage girl's personal everyday experience and details how she uses music to block out the unknown, the uncomfortable and the unfamiliar. The story ends when she encounters someone who is the opposite of what she avoids. Below is the full version of Phonophobia.
Kat not Kate, of the height too tall to be short and too short to be tall, gently closed the door of her mid sized home in a mid sized suburban neighborhood, stepped onto the sidewalk, slammed her headphones over her ears, and listened. The soft droning noise filled her ears, her mind, her thoughts, until all that remained was the pouring white noise, obscuring her from the rest of the world. And in the semi-silence, there was peace.
The noise coming from her headphones was too soft, and she pressed the volume up louder. It filled her like water in a cup, completed her, and kept the thoughts at bay. It was the wall against the storm, the weapon that she wielded, the solution to the emptiness of hallways in that mid sized home; the house that smiled without happiness, keeping shut the secret wars.
Shifting her backpack, she made her way down the red brick pathway in front of her home. On the outside: white walls, clean windows, carefully cared-for hedges. Just another house, passed by in an instant, another blur out of the car window in a sea of color. And on the inside: quiet spaces, empty hallways, broken glass. Like the reflection of a shattered mirror, fragments torn apart.
As she walked down the street, there were people all around her, moving their lips in the way they did when they spoke. Noise poured out of their mouths just like from her headphones, but it was a sharp, striking sound, loud and ugly and uneven. The cacophony was like a bullet to her blockade, the swing of an enemy sword, and to listen was to step before the firing squad. It was the only thing to permeate the ever-present hallways, the angry words shouted between her parents and the shatter of a glass projectile that had happened to be close at hand. But the white noise was her shield, and in the semi-silence there was protection.
The cacophony was no better once she reached the school, but now it pressed up against her at all sides in the form of a back or an elbow. She waded amidst the others and made her way to a bench at the back, a formless shadow slipping between silent bodies. The white noise continued to drone in her ears as she sat down and looked at the uniformity of the student body huddling in the front court of the gray school building.
Someone started walking toward Kat, or at least toward the bench. He was different from the others, a splash of neon yellow on a gray canvas, with a slight, soundless smile. He reached the bench, sat down, turned to her, and spoke.
It terrified her. She could not read his lips, and the white noise drowned out anything he said, but the way he looked at her in the eyes and talked to her filled her with apprehension and dread. She liked the semi-silence, wanted the semi-silence, wanted to forget the emptiness, the shattering, the screaming. She wished again for his words to end. He was a flaw and a fear and a dissonant chord in her straightforward melody and---
He was still smiling in that impish way. He had stopped talking, but the look in his eyes said he had asked a question and was waiting for a response. He seemed oblivious to the headphones or the white noise that continued to stream into her ears.
She was suddenly very confused. His words were not sharp nor loud, his expression placid, his body language relaxed. He opened his mouth again and more words poured forth. They were not the words that reverberated through the empty hallway, not the ones she was used to.
Kat not Kate, of the semi-silence and the white noise, of the words and the fear, stopped the sound coming from her headphones, pulled them off her ears, and listened.