Isobel Terry

The sounds of light

He has chosen this day. A sultry day in July. He takes a seat facing the way the train is travelling. He removes his grey sweat shirt, veins protrude from his forearms. A smell of stale air. His bag nestles into his right side. He lowers his eyes on to a hard backed book with a plastic covering ‘The last man in Rome ‘. He holds it in both hands, one cupped over the spine. The pages are creamy grey, worn. He opens his wallet attached to a chain slithering from his trouser pocket. He shows his ticket to the guard.

Suddenly the voice of a woman. She is sitting opposite him. He had not noticed her. He stays transfixed on his book. Is she speaking to him? He hopes not. She says several words before he hears. He rests his book on his lap and looks up. Something in the tone of her voice momentarily anchors him. A strange distraction, of attention.

You want to know about the sounds in my life? Well, it’s mostly silent. I don’t even whistle. The sounds I hear are from somewhere else. The man in the flat below plays his jazz pieces on the piano. It drives me crazy. The ice cracks melting in the fridge. The thermostat broke. The murmur of traffic I keep out by pulling the curtains and keeping the windows closed. I can’t tolerate the sound of light. And the sound of my own voice. Strange for me, speaking these words to you. He blows out a deep breath. Oh I made a sigh then didn’t I? You ask about sounds and more sounds appear. He looks down, his eye lids flicker. He rubs his right thigh firmly with the flat of his hand. She wonders what he is brushing away. A sensation of tingling lingers in his palm.

Suddenly a vortex of wind. The daylight is shattered. It is the long tunnel through the hill. The lights come on dimly. A roar of sound. In the gloom a deep frown appears between his sunken eyes. A veil of grey drops over his retinas, his skin turns an ashen yellow. She feels cold, zips up her jacket. He becomes completely still. The window catches their reflections both suspended in another silence, looking in different directions. He catches a glimpse of himself on the other side, death is the glass. It seems to last for ever.

Then abruptly, light. From the window he sees the canal. It runs parallel through the hill. A echo of watery darkness, strangely ponderous. His heart beats fast, drops of sweat gather on his forehead, saliva drains from his mouth. A sensation in his head, of a band of steel tightening around it. A line of tension pulls him towards the door. The train is still moving. He stands up. He walks along the line to the door, his eyes focusing on the open button he must press to exit. She follows him. Are you OK? The membranes in his ears have closed over, her voice is faint. A gentle hand, firm and steady, is pushing him towards something. First he feels the heat of it, her right hand on his upper back. At the back of his heart. He closes his eyes. A space opens up between his lungs and fills with an undulating breath. It is a place of translucence, of a lateral dimension, of no fear. And here there is a voice. Not one he has heard before. A fading voice to be quickly captured. It is quiet and rambling with a shallow breath. She listens attentively, with endocrine attention.

I am lost in a strange landscape. I am falling fast, yet of no speed, in a vortex of no stopping. A time before sound, an infinity, a kind of bliss, of going nowhere. I am a cell, the last cell of all. I am afloat in mineral filled fluids. I am alone implanted by the spirits of souls yet unborn. I am breathing, vigorously for my life. I spiral in a space of buoyancy. My heart beat is imprinted in my pathway of evolution. I am a call of awakening, of redemption. I am in search of air, of oxygen, I refuse to die of my own suffocation. I am what is vital in the darkness of the galaxy, where stardust is in the making.

Silence. She stands beside him looking at him, her head slightly tipped to the side, looking at him. She notices in the flesh on his face blood returning. She takes her hand from his upper back. The train stops. It terminates here. Time for departure. She steps onto the platform. She disappears through the ticket barrier. He turns and sits, facing the other way.

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