A Thing Heard
(From Real, a novella)
Years previous she had listened to tape cassettes through the family hi-fi system. Once the audio had ceased it was not uncommon for the listener to forget to turn off the hi-fi. A small indication of difference: the power button was either pressed in or out. The amplifier at the heart of the hi-fi was perhaps the most important part, containing essential controls: the power button, volume control, equaliser, and input selector. All else: record deck, tape deck, radio deck and two speakers served as limbs. Together they constituted the whole of the machine. A small input selector switch could be slid left or right respective to notches under corresponding words: tuner, phono, tape, and aux.
She was stood before the mirror set above the mantel piece in the living room, dragging a brush through her hair. Her eyes would water occasionally as the brush caught at unexpected and stubborn lugs. One refused to be pulled apart so she gave up. Frustrated. Silent and alone she remained before the mirror unable to rest upon her own image, suspecting a reciprocal gaze beyond. She attempted to see through the glass, squinting with rigor; attempting to disfigure her own reflection. She longed to turn the returned image invisible; the solid of the mirror to transparent.
Her fixation was broken by an indeterminable noise entering the room, instantly diverting her attention. A strange noise. One not connected to anything immediately recognisable. Booming and distorted. It came again. Recognising it as a voice she panicked. Heat rushed to her face and pricked her cheeks. Her heart pounded pushing fear to the furthest parts of her limbs. Her eyes watered and darted about the room. Unable to attach The Voice to a source she fled up to her bedroom and under her quilt. Slowly she poked her head out from beneath the safety of the quilt and slid off the the bed to the floor. Very slowly, she crawled to the edge of the stairs. She peaked down through the bannister and then further through the crack in the living room door. She had to see. She was scared but she had to look. Curiosity was a part of her fear and fear would subside with a simple rational explanation. Where is the body? Where is The Voice? It could no longer be heard and slowly she brought her legs forward and slid down the stairs, stroking the banister along the way. The living room was empty. The Voice had gone. She was disappointed and searched for its source with no success.
After this first instance she took every opportunity to sit in the living room, alone, in silence, each time in the same armchair. Disciplined she anticipated the arrival of The Voice. Patient until it penetrated her expectant silence the following week. She wanted to flee but was pinned to the chair, fingers pressed into the worn fabric on each arm. She promised herself she would not move until she heard what it had to say; until its source was revealed. So she remained. Immediately apparent was the maleness of The Voice. The words spoken were too distorted to decipher. She made a small circle with her mouth and mimicing it, widening then closing then widening then closing then widening then closing. The shape of the mouth placed a ‘w’ before each word, hushed harsh consonants and occasionally suffered interruption from a scratching effect: Wyehoo schh wanyeye weeschhhwhah schhhhweyherf, wyoer sch. Its strangeness lay in its machine like tone. Something. Something capable of replicating a human voice but lacking life. A state of living and deadness: The Voice of the living dead. And she then felt it coming through the carpeted surface below. Beyond. Several feet under. Vibrations beneath her feet. She lifted her legs and began to shake. Words rose through her body it almost felt as if The Voice was inside her. Unclear. Must stay put. But instead she leapt from her chair, up the stairs, into her bedroom and under her quilt. She was again safe. Her heart pounded; audible. Her breath heavy. She could still hear The Voice. Behind her eye lids she saw its rounded mouth. Between walls and bedding it became all the more obscure. The Voice was directly below her. She clutched tighter at her quilt feeling slightly safer for it. Out of sight was not necessarily out of mind. The Voice was still heard and felt in the vibrations of her body.
She never sat in silence again. Always noise surrounding her. Always the television on or music playing through the family hi-fi. Always her mother: turn it down or make sure you turn the stereo off properly once you’re finished or put the records back in the right place when you’re done and so on.
The Voice had ceased, noise protected her from the undead frequency to which the living room seemed attuned. Not dead not alive: somewhere in between. But The Voice had not been banished it merely bided its time.
Listening to The Beatles’ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ on tape cassette, side A was near through. ‘I Am The Walrus’ built up a crescendo of chants and utterances; layered voices each one different, requiring skilled selective hearing to decipher what any one particular voice was saying at any one particular moment: OompahoompahstickitupyerjumpereverybodysgotoneeverybodysgotoneoompahoompahstickitupyourjumpereverybodysgotoneeverybodysgotoneburymybodyhereAAAAAAAGHburymybodyhereIknowtheewellaserviceblevillianasbadnesswoulddesirewhatishedeadsitdownfatherrestyouOhuntimelyDeath. As the voices escalated and multiplied, her head filled with panic in anticipation of the moment’s silence when the stereo would automatically flip to side B. In that moment the mechanism clunked and whirred into action, she covered her ears releasing them only to the the sound of ‘Hello, Goodbye’, more conventional than the previous song. Her panic shifted. This behaviour had become the norm since the second occurrence of The Voice.
If we see something we do not like we shut it out by closing our eyelids; but ears do not have lids. When something is heard detached from a body we demand a source. Once the eye has confirmed the source we then have the option to shut out the sound through the closing of eyelids. If the eye is unable to confirm a physical presence then The Voice is attributed to something else: something other-worldly; something divine; and we are either enlightened or terrified. She is constantly exposed to noise, her hands offer little protection from it.
At two minutes thirty into the final song on side B, ‘All You Need Is Love’, Paul called the words: “All together now”; this coincided with a vision of a rounded mouth spitting out words unclear. All she can see. “Everybody”. She turned up the volume determined not to panic not to flee and most importantly to drown out The Voice. But The Voice too increased its volume. Violins began their ascent and the orchestra split and diverged; some into ‘Greensleeves’ some into Glenn Miller’s ‘I’m In The Mood’, The Beatles too changed melody and began to sing “she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” all simultaneously audible one on top of another, competing for attention. Louder still. The Voice was all she could hear and beneath its volume the tape clicked finished. The Voice was the only sound present at an incredible volume. Felt through her entire body. Her gut shook. The living room too rattled in an attempt to contain it. She covered her ears with her hands and sat cross legged before the stereo rocking slowly back and forth. Whou whan whi, whe whar whe wherth whanyo whanyo whoer and again whou whan whi whe, whar whwrth, whonyer and again the same message. Her eyes tight shut tears escaped from their corners. Hands pressed ever tighter over her ears, barely muffling The Voice: wywho aynd wheye, we ahre herath, whoyver. And somehow through her palms came a sort of clarity. Wyou wyand I, her eyes opened fully, we ware ye eawth. Ower. She heard it and felt its source. It was not coming from the ground beneath.
She crawled closer to the stereo and slowly turned the volume down. The Voice obeyed the command of the stereo and lowed its volume. Then she pressed the power switch shutting it up completely. The Voice was interference. She turned it back on and there it was again wen shweye whar whyke wherth, ohyer. She flicked the input selector over to ‘phono’, The Voice was silenced. To ‘tuner’, the pop smash of the time but no Voice. To ‘tape’ and there it was again. The Voice was amplified by the stereo when in the position of ‘tape’. The stereo was picking up some external source: a voice duplicated then condensed through wave or phase. But who did The Voice belong to?