Sarah spends the meditation, moment by moment, boundless in a kaleidoscope of images. Her chest rises and falls to the rhythm of Pranayama. On the in breath, the images recede slightly as if being pulled back to flirt with a black curtain. On the out breath, color seeps beneath and light emerges from around the edges. Her mind fills with photographic fragments that play like vintage film on flesh screens. The light diffuse; manufactured memory passes in sepia, faded yellows, and dusky lo-fi blues.
The class is instructed to move into cat pose. Without checking for a visual cue she transitions into the next posture. In the beginning she would count out each movement. Now, the rhythm of the class is second nature. On hands and knees, her eyes now open, she imagines the figure of a man in front of her. For a moment he is corporeal and wears an expression of frightened susceptibility. When the time comes to raise her right arm, left leg – stretch. She falters with the image as he fades from reach.
A hand arrives gently, almost imperceptibly, to the small of her back; an attempt to help her return to balance. She startles anyway; glances up. Her eyes read the words: “Come back, return to the breath,” from the lips of the instructor. She doesn’t want to and again closes her eyes. She wants the images to run down her skin like sweat pooled in the emptiness the hand left behind. She imagines the images rolling down through the valley of her breasts as gravity tugs at them.
The Pranayama frustrates the ability to maintain the spectacle of her mind’s inventions. The breathing fills her mind with smoke; the images fade, become distorted. She wants vivid color and arresting sensations so the images might better sustain her, but they are always ashen and waver like intangible wisps of gray and memory. Synapses feel starved as she drifts back into the black.
* * *
The silence presses in on me like he once did; faintly and full of something I could never seem to name. At times I felt as though he could inhabit the silence with me. Fully, as if he, like me, had been born into the absolute quietude of this world without sound.
When she is alone, Sarah imagines that her silence is more complete. She measures sound in terms of objects and bodies and their proximity to her at any given moment. The yoga class, with its forty or so attendees, was noisy though she is what the hearing call profoundly deaf. Amid the relative emptiness of her sparsely furnished apartment the silence is thick and comforting. It presses in on her like a welcome companion, a cat around the ankles, or the darkness as she waits.
When she thinks his name her lips move reflexively and a soft unintelligible murmur escapes into the room. Though she can easily read lips, she is Deaf – capital ‘D’ – and non-verbal. Oralism, to her, is philosophically analogous to the concept of colonialism. A way for the hearing world to force assimilation; the proxy by which another marginalized culture is slowly and insidiously eradicated.
As she moves through the routines of eating and bathing her mind flits from Jeremy to a wonderwall of images that have skewed his meaning in her life. A shocked expression that changes a man’s countenance and eyes illuminated by confusion enkindle an inexplicable euphoria that has usurped his significance.
I am sorry. I know you love me but this, you and I, is no longer right for me. I do love you but… I can’t explain it…
As her reflection emerges from a fading mist on the glass before her, she recites the denouement of her relationship and watches her lips as they mimic speech. This renders the image of another mouth. Jeremy disappears in the sensations induced by the fantasy. He is drowned by the sensuality of this other mouth and it’s formation of the perfect O.
But Jeremy was not one to give up so easily. She could see his image wavering just below the surface of the others causing ripples and fractures in the fragile veneer of her new reality. He reached out via text and email under the pretense of remaining friends. He materialized in odd places – as a stargazer lily, her favorite flower, shouting its presence in fragrance and color on a footpath she wandered, or a previously unnoticed snippet of verse slipped curiously into the inner fold of a frequented planner…
“Let night come
with its austere grandeur,
It can do us no harm.
We’ll put some music on,
open the curtains, let things darken,
as they will.”
While fingering the edges of a scrap she couldn’t place or paused to drink a scent, she had the habit of looking for him; of letting her eyes rake the landscape half in expectation and half out of a desire to resurrect him. Though he refused to be buried, he is still a ghost; liminal with the ability to slip in and out of her existence.
She pulls a white dress over her head then looks away from her reflections momentarily to adjust the thick straps that stroke her shoulders. They flow solidly into a buttoned bodice that cradles her breasts affectionately. Jeremy emerges again in the contrast of white against rose-brown skin. The fleeting recollection of their legs entwined, her hand a flitter across his abdomen, her mouth tracing the uppermost edge of a prominent ‘V’ that whispers out of the top of his jeans attempt to compete with the other feeling. The inscrutable gnawing at her insides for more of something she doesn’t know how not to want. When she enters her bedroom and notices the light of day retreating into soft shadows Jeremy once more recedes. His ghost again dematerializes into the air of interminable silences.
* * *
Addiction bewilders; it is an affliction more meticulous than love. Nothing outside of grace can stop it.
Sarah had posed a hypothetical question to her now former therapist months before. What if a woman experienced this and soon after she became addicted to this? The therapist had considered her response for a long time. So long that Sarah had to ask if she had understood what had been signed. Another pause, and then the therapist responded by leaning forward with a very concerned look on her face, asking, “Has something happened Sarah?”
“No, nothing has happened,” she had lied after her own pause, “but I would like you to answer.”
After waiting again, the therapist had smiled and signed, “I am sorry Sarah, but we are out of time.”
And they were altogether. She hadn’t returned and intended not to. When the first this happened, months before that exchange, inaction had stolen the secret of the incident. She had remained on the bench unmoving while the night retracted; retreated from itself and became something unknown. In an instant her ability to feel had been deformed and in the void an unfathomable need had slowly taken root.
When Jeremy found her, he became a stranger. An absence of feeling swallowed the familiarity that had once existed between them. Intimacy was supplanted by awkwardness and a distance too wide and baffling to breach. He did his best to offer comfort, but the gravity of what they shared had gone astray. She became an object out of orbit and could not be reached. She had refused to file a police report. There was no point; the possibility of catching this particular brand of predator was remote and she was fine. When he asked her about how it had made her feel she didn’t know how to respond. It hadn’t made her feel anything at all.
The dreams began at the end of that week. At first the incident would unfold much like it had in reality. She would be sitting on the bench and the stranger would walk up to her and smile. She would smile back before he began to unzip his pants. When he touched himself and the penis grew erect, the world of her dream would change into something surreal. By the time he was ejaculating on her the bench would always morph into something else. The legs would slowly coil around her ankles while the pewter rails would melt, become serpentine as well, and wrap around her wrists.
She would awaken to a sense of restlessness augmented by the notion that she was missing something; that the dreams contained some vital detail which might explain everything and return her to what life had been before the incident. Out of this, an obsession to return the scene was born. This was accomplished with practiced fabrications; a consuming research project at work, a support group she never attended – that excused her absence in the evenings. The images that absorb her mind were birthed in the hours spent waiting in the darkness for a slippery revelation. They resuscitated days that passed in a monochromatic fugue until they would become the only thing capable of making her feel.
Fantasy allowed her mind to find the missing object, the vital clue the dreams did not contain. Searching for the thing that would restore order out of the chaos a stranger had made was consuming. Everything else was blotted out or moved aside until even Jeremy, once a source of inextricable light, faded and became a shadow that existed only in the peripheral.
* * *
He exists now in the peripheral a shadow stalking the edges of shallow light. He is lost to the sounds I cannot name.
She escapes into the evening following her mind’s flight to a place winnowed out of the night’s furtive temperament. She is a frailty against a fading blue that casts a slit of shadow only intermittently as she passes under a street light. Her heart, tremulous like the leaves of the aspens she seems to float between, beats against what possibility the night may hold as she silently traces her way along what has become a sacred path.
She finds her place and settles upon the bench, wondering for a moment if it will become the thing she dreams. She has waited one hundred and forty-seven nights. If needed, she will wait one hundred and forty-seven more. The question was never, will he return, but when? She slides her fingers along the cool edge of a pewter arm that remains intact. She feels no hint of horror in it and closes her eyes to feel the night held in tension against hope as she waits. It is true that in the absence of one sense the others adjust. Sight, scent, taste, touch – conspire to birth something indefinable. Something extramundane that extraordinary fails to adequately express.
When he enters the clearing she perceives him first with the extra sense born from the absence of sound then next as a scent. It cuts through the night’s held breath and barrels into her. She opens her eyes and the images she has dreamed in every waking hour begin to burst to life. When she smiles, recognition knots his brow as he hesitates. Shock illuminates the eyes while apprehension rests in the language of his movements. When she raises a hand – beckons him to come closer – he stiffens; lets his eyes carefully surveil the scene before they rest again upon her and he then proceeds.
Sarah imagines that the silence she inhabits is like a room. She invites him in; he presses in too tightly, threatens to overwhelm the other senses. He then begins as he did before; as she has imagined a thousand times since. The trousers fall open and he is freed. He swells beneath practiced fingers oblivious to their offense. This time, when he finishes, he places a hand on her shoulder; lets his head rock back as a feeble stream is lost to the whiteness of her dress. When his breathing returns to normal, he stands as if stuck, as if the bench has morphed, snaked out around them and moved to hold him in place. She reaches out to touch him, he holds his breath.
She cradles him with one hand, while the thumb of another strokes the base of what he has made a strange instrument. Her fingers wrap around; gently squeezing until he begins to throb and once again excitement swells beneath veiny skin. She increases the pressure then notices how the skin, taught with excitement, doesn’t resist the blade tucked neatly between her ring and middle finger. She squeezes harder and notices how the opposing sensations cause confusion in his eyes. When the blood begins to rush out in a warm gush, as is if to flee what he has done, she releases him.
He staggers back slightly, but not before a stream of hot red washes over an imperceptible stain that, only moments before, threatened to leave another indelible mark. The blood subdues the subtle violence of an obscure perversion. He is a thief and what he has stolen, the blood has reclaimed. In his eyes, fear dawns like something bright and holy. For the first time in months she is satisfied. Peace descends and it is the grace that will cure her affliction.
He grasps at himself in an attempt to assess the damage as she stands to watch him cower. She pushes him out of the silence he could never inhabit then takes a moment to paint the face onto the canvas of her mind – frightened, contorted, mouth shaping perfect ‘O’s and words she cannot hear – then goes.
Her way back along the path is unhurried. The evening exhales fully and night asks in its particular voice if it may return. She lets it come. No longer austere, it arrives whole, unmarred, and absent any ancient superstitions and fears.
Jeremy is waiting when she returns.
“You inhabit the silence with me. Fully, as if you had been born into the absolute quietude of this world without sound,” she signs.
“Let night come,” he signs back. “It can do us no harm, we’ll put some music on, open the curtains…”
Quotes taken from the poem, “Here and Now” by Stephen Dunn from the collection Here and Now, W.W. Norton 2011.
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Claudine Cain is editor of the literary journal Black Elephant. She is also a visual artist whose work has been featured by Clooch Magazine and others. Recent fiction has appeared in Eunoia Review and Literally Stories while poetry and visual art are forthcoming in Public Pool. She currently resides in North Carolina where she studies literature and philosophy at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.
Photo credit: Direk Dreyer www.dreyerpictures.com