She hears voices, but not clearly. And not in the other room, either, but from outlying districts. They seed themselves in her mind: Whiny and nasal, like early Woody Allen. Flat and affectless, teenage girls tamping down fires. Rich and scurrilous, rappers choking on alphabets gone rabid.
Sometimes the voices embed in dioramas where, say, she is being reviled and riveted by a wasp-waisted ingénue half her age. They lunge around dusty rooms, recline on velvet settees, boil an egg in the early morning to treat their Absinthe hangovers while hallucinating monstrous dialogues. Their voices register as aspirated hiccups, moans with sly umlauts, guttural migrations.
Sometimes the voices go away entirely, especially in the shower, when the water pounds into her ears, first the right, then the left. That usually knocks some sense into her, and she can go all morning with a clear head, listening attentively as her children string words together into raw sentences.
Amazingly, she can even sit at the dinner table saying things like Listen to this. The Dempsey house? It’s riddled with mold, basement to attic. They’ve got to move in with her parents until it can be totally…well whatever it is those people do.
Eradicate. They eradicate the mold, her husband says.
She herself has never been eradicated. She is known everywhere, smitten with the monikers of wife, mother, shopper. Yesterday she stopped dead in the supermarket, cans and boxes crying out garbled directives in prodigal languages of want and need.
Are you okay? Asked a concerned shopper, a woman about her age with clean lines of thought.
Because there she was, paralyzed in a brightly lit aisle, moving her lips.
Lately she hasgotten quite proficient at talking through the Voices. She thinks of it as chatting calmly over hyperbolic waves of afternoon cartoons where each frame blasts characters zinging, zanging, colliding. Where malformed hybrids of animal, human, object (Sponge Bob Square Pants), speak with exotic accents (English, Aussie, Bronx). Where burps and farts trigger explosions, ignite conflagrations.
When did this all start, begin? When she was a child, she spoke as a child. Nothing interfered with the flow of question and answer, story line and continuity (and then…and then…), zealous structuring of meaning. The building blocks of language were hammered into her through books with pictures, words florid with messages of Community, Comingling, Communication. Use your words. And so words flew in and out, about her like small birds honoring their betters, those higher forms that could put words to their music. She became fluent, limber, a linguistic dancer beloved by adults, admired or bullied by her peers.
At age ten she had an operation on her eyes, which were a little crossed. A little off. Blindfolded she would hear the door softly open, a chirpy greeting, And how’s our girl today? A nurse leaning over her, whispering, hissing. Now, aren’t you lucky to have a room to yourself? Not like some of the children here. She would move quickly from one part of the room to another, a disembodied voice bouncing around, shifting timbre and accent. You need a change of air; it stinks in here. Wheeling her quickly around various halls and sometimes up and down elevators. Disoriented and nauseous, even when she had nothing left in her to come up.
Sometimes she could hear the cries of children having things done to them, she was certain. Their cries were different from the ones who were just woozy and scared–sharper, like the ratcheting of the metal bars on her bed when someone raised or lowered them to clean her up or feed her.
Even now she detects those cries saturating the air, the water boiling for pasta, the end-over-end of her days. She imagines veiled, silent women, bright blue fabric streaming down around them. Their men, who own them, are not allowed to speak their names in public, an act that would render them slimy with recognition. Rather they are called Aunt or Mother of my Children or even by the names of animals, or uses, Milk Giver. They are blank and formless, little known outside the various tents they occupy—home, burka—where their inner voices burn through octaves.
Linda Shapiro is a freelance writer who has published articles, reviews, and essays on dance and the performing arts, architecture, design, and other subjects in numerous Twin Cities and New York publications. In her former life she worked as a dancer and choreographer. Her fiction has appeared in the online journal On the Premises and was recently shortlisted for the Into the Void 2019 Fiction Prize.