Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Rapture in Silence

*Inspired in part by "A Violent Quiet" and Alan Burnett's "I Brush My Teeth With a Tooth Brush"

It is quiet up here, the sensation of falling numbing all other sensations. Those already on the ground deafened by the very thing that inadvertently provides solace for those still in the air. Even heat - solar, geothermal, mechanical... it matters not - fails to register in a mind subconsciously waiting for an impact that will return the ability to hear.

Listening is accomplished through eyes, not due to the matter of decibel, but due to the matter of subject. It is not its volume, but its volume. Overwhelming individual perceptions combine to overwhelm the individual. Defensively, ears turn themselves off. They need not recognize the sound of gunfire, for the eyes perceive muzzle flash just fine. The almost cartoonish sound of small pieces of metal flying by only serve to make the experience more unbelievable. What does it matter if being killed can be heard? It will be felt, regardless. And the disgusting splash that punctured flesh makes will one day finally be recognized for what it was.

Until then, there is a naive ignorance of the furor. Fingers shake far too rapidly to safely hold the detonator for very long. With the realization that everything here is an enemy, there is a smile. The very air reeks of murderous intention. In a few moments it will even feel of it. The tumbling whistle of random ricochet goes unnoticed until the infinite calculations of fate cross its path with that of a baby's finger-sized blasting cap.

For an instant the explosion is heard.

And then... nothing.


He did not hear the blood-curdling screams of the other survivors caught in the blast. He did not hear their curses - at him; at war; at life in general. He did not hear anything.

Because he cannot.

A medevac flight was never so peaceful.


It's hard, she says. Or so he sees. He tries to keep his frustration from being deaf away from her. She's only doing her job. But lip-reading is not coming easy to him. Taking a deep breath, he nods in acknowledgment, knowing she will smile in return. It's a beautiful smile and, truth be told, it's one of the few reasons he bothers coming to this lip-reading class. As soldiers often do - albeit typically with nurses - he has fallen in love with a caretaker. Perhaps it's her perfume. Perhaps it's the softness of her touch when she tries to reassure her students of their progress. Perhaps it's the way she places her tongue on her upper lip when lost in thought. Probably all three.

He feels his own sigh and resolves to impress her today.

She moves to the front of class and continues the day's lesson. He smiles as she exaggerates the motions of speaking - her mouth moves with, he gathers, the flourish of a Shakespearean actress. Pointing to a female soldier in the front row of chairs, the instructor mouths a phrase and asks the student what was said. Though he cannot hear the response, the accompanying actions of the instructor make it obvious: "I brush my teeth with a toothbrush."

Moving to another student, another phrase is mouthed - this one accompanied by a hand sweeping over a head. "I brush my hair with a hairbrush."

So far, these seem to be easy and he can wait no longer. His hand goes up, eagerly volunteering for the next phrase. The instructor smiles a wry smile - the way her lip upturns only on the right side of her face betrays a sense of pride in her student... or, perhaps, something else - and she again moves towards him. She mouths the new phrase, making a delicate brushing motion across her legs and allowing a look a deep satisfaction to cross her face.

He almost frowns, completely unsure of what she said. He asks her to repeat it and she does so, with even more emphasis. In deep thought he purses his lips. The resolve to impress her threatens to overwhelm him. He responds, "I brush my thighs with a pastry brush."

She laughs and the embarrassment washes over him like a tide in the Bay of Fundy. Momentarily unaware that no one else in the room could hear his response, he storms out of class, intent on fading away. Surprisingly - then again, probably not - a hand grabs his shoulder in the hallway. He turns, still red-faced from the incident, and the instructor beckons him to return to class. "It's all right," she mouths.

Frustration still painted on his face, he remains hesitant. But she pulls him in. "You're cute when you're embarrassed," she says. He can't help it. He returns to his seat, full of borrowed resolve. Such is the case with a soldier's misguided love.


Weeks later, upon graduating the class, the instructor presents him with a gift after the other students have left. A small box. Inside, a pastry brush and a note with her email address. She smiles; kisses him on the cheek - it is only then that a long-forgotten reaction takes place... he checks her left hand. It is devoid of ring.

He can't hear her and can only imagine the loveliness of her voice. "Call me," she says, complete with accompanying hand - thumb and pinky finger extended - to her ear.

A pantomime was never so loud.


Harnett-Hargrove said...

Interesting that his works so well in the new angle. Alan's, ...mouthed with all the flourish of a Shakespearean actress... got me again. -J

Alan Burnett said...

I feel like Mona Lisa after she had acted as inspiration for Leonardo.

x said...

nice. i like the progression of this one. the vivid imagery of the battle...the sensual way in which he had to watch her to understand...then the gift...none too subtle.

Liza Ursu said...

for some reason Lionel Ritchie's Hello started playing in my head as I was reading this! LOL!
"Perhaps it's the way she places her tongue on her upper lip when lost in thought"
when you notice that stuff, yep, it's love.
great imagery!

Tom said...

aw damn. this is tremendous.

Maha said...

that was really beautiful; especially the first paragraph where you describe an explosion... maybe you are gonna consider me sick, but my favorite part in any movie would be when something explodes. there is one thing however, at the end I was like "that's it?!" I just felt like you could have extended the part before she tells him to call her, make it more twisted.

Tess Kincaid said...

This is wonderful. I remember Alan's charming post.

"Call me," she says, complete with accompanying hand - thumb and pinky finger extended - to her ear." (Love this)

Tina said...

Love that last line, "A pantomime was never so loud." Your descriptions of the battle are brutally good, reminiscent of "Finding Private Ryan". I did feel like you could flesh it out more, you have a great subject, and perhaps other effects of the war could be addressed as well. I'd certainly would love to know more of this story, though it can stand alone just fine.


like tina, i love your last line! great reading over here - i've just come across your blog via maha - perhaps you'd care to drop by my poetry blog at the gypsy on words unspoken - again, great reading here - i'll be back, for sure!

the half-life of linoleum said...

I love the poetry in this:

and then. . . nothing.

it's quiet up here

listening eyes

i love how the lip-reading gets more risque.

and thanks for reciprocated curiosity - that was really nice.

Not For Jellyfish said...

This is my favorite of the three entries. I'm a sucker though.

PattiKen said...

Nice love story, and I really like the ending. But if he couldn't get the words in the classroom before being flooded with embarrassment, how did he ever get the "You're cute when you're embarrassed" in the hall afterward? Or did he correctly understand the thighs/pastry brush thing?

BeMistified said...

Very nice. I am glad that I wasn't the only one with the song "Hello" in my head when reading this. Thank you for sharing.

Katelyn Likes This said...

Very flowery.

On a side note, let's go to the Bay of Funday...I haven't been there in ages!

hvninhell said...

hmmm, think I'm way into Merlot and Coffee.

She Writes said...

What? I really didn't comment here? I am losing it.

She Writes said...

Oh, I know what happened. I sidetracked and went to one of the links afterward.

Amanda said...

oh, this was fine. and poignant. you paint a world of deafness and a world of sound that's damn visceral. you put us inside your soldier.... and that phrase

the disgusting splash that punctured flesh makes

good stuff, really good stuff.

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