Thursday, May 9, 2013

Senseless Challenge: Sound

This week's senseless challenge is Sound. Here's my contribution for #fridayflash and #flashsense. 

Deaf Ears

Jack kept his eyes closed and listened to the ocean. Not the ocean from his childhood,  with the roar and whimper, crescendo and crash. Gulls squawking, snatches of honky-tonk carried on the sea breeze, squeals from the carnival, the train horn of the Boston-to-Portland as the conductor sped through Old Orchard. On Thursday nights, the boom and crackle of fireworks. No, what he heard was a constant hum, a facsimile sound of the ocean, like a conch shell against his ear.

The watery sound lulled him. Despite himself, he sniffed, hoping for salty air laced with coconut oil and grilled hamburgers, but all he smelled was antiseptic. Jack opened his eyes.

The wall clock's hands pointed to two-thirty. He hadn't heard the ocean, couldn't hear it at all. It was his mind playing a trick on him. Though he had a right to hope. Dr. Patil said the prognosis was good, almost seventy-percent good. He'd done many of these inner ear operations. In a few short hours, Jack should hear again.

Jack wished Dr. Patil had said would.

Jack eased the hospital bed's rail down, slipped out of bed. The tile floor chilled his bare feet. He found his robe and slippers, then walked the few steps to the bathroom. God damn, if he couldn't still hear that ocean-like murmur. It swelled then faded as he relieved himself, then swelled again. The murmuring changed into whispers.

Come on, Scott, I saw you deal from the bottom—

No daddy, it doesn't hurt—

Mares eat oats and does eat oats and damn I hate the IV—

Jack whipped his head around. He was alone in the tiny hospital bathroom. He stepped back into his room. Empty.

The male voice shouted Scott you fuckin' cheater.

Jack covered his ears, formed a suction, then pulled his hands away.

Nothing popped—not that he expected it to—but the child-like voice screamed Daaadddyyyy and a female voice sing-songed Needle-ee dee and bumble-ee bee and oh, fuck is me.

The nurses station was empty. The door to the nurses' break room was ajar. Jack saw legs clad in scrubs, sensible shoes. He hurried past, hoped he didn't make any noise, then stopped at the elevators. The door opened. He didn't hear a ping.

He rode the elevator down a floor, got out at ICU. Here there was more activity. A nurse was on the phone, another nurse pushed a cart into a patient's room. An orderly frowned at him. He smiled and slipped into the next room.  

The sing-song voice got louder inside his head. A woman lay on the bed, hooked up to several machines, tubes in nose, on her arms. Jack watched one monitor that seemed to pulse in time to her breathing. Another one must of tracked her heart rate.

Hi-dee ho!

Jack whipped around, but no one stood behind him. The woman on the bed did not move.

Mares eat oats and I does eat oats and damn I hate the IV, needly dee and bumbley bee and oh, fuck is me.

Jack touched her arm. The sing-song stopped. Aren't you going to say hello?

Jack thought, Hello.

Oh my goodness you hear me? You really hear me?

I guess I do.

Well slap my ass and call me Sally!

You're Sally?

Nah, I'm Annabelle. And you are?


You really hear me?

Her lips did not move. Her eyelids did not flutter. Nothing twitched, nothing moved. Jack moved to her chart, learned she was in a coma. Diabetic coma.

A hand descended upon his shoulder. He jumped. He read the nurses lips, "May I help you?"

Jack put down the chart, made the motions to show he was deaf. He then pointed at the woman, raised his eyebrows. The nurse shrugged, then exaggerated "Go back to your room."

The woman's voice shouted in his head. Don't go! Why can't anyone else hear me?

The nurse grabbed his arm firmly and led him to the doorway.  


I'll come again.

In the hallway, Jack heard the other two voices again. He let the nurse bring him to the elevator. The door opened, revealing a security guard. He led Jack to his own floor.

His nurse settled him in, gave him medication. He heard Annabelle's sing-song again. And the man's voice shouting Scott was liar and a cheater. The child-like voice told her daddy she could be brave.

Damn, he had communicated with a coma patient. All this time he'd been deaf and never heard anything. Tonight, of all nights, he heard someone. Someone that no one else could hear. He concentrated on the ocean-like murmur. It separated into the voices again. He could hear three someones that no one else could hear.

Why now? Easy, he told himself. It was because he hadn't been in a hospital before now. He was only here to, well, to hear again. Middle ear operation, nine am. Later this morning, he should hear again. Dr. Patil said.

As the drowsiness overcame him, Jack wondered if he'd still hear those other voices tomorrow. He wondered if he should.


Helen said...

Hi Peggy nice to see you back in friday flash!

Wonderful story, I felt for him, I wonder if he'll really hear normal people or whether he's doomed to here those no one else can...

Sulci Collective said...

I'm fascinated by the varying levels of 'hearing' a voice. When we read we are soundlessly 'hearing' the author's words inside our heads. I think other voices also exist at that soundless level. I dream not in pictures but in 'voiced' narratives, as if I'm narrating my dream to myself...

Your patient seems like he's almost being punished for hearing the 'wrong' voices. Interesting and provoking stuff

marc nash said...

Powerful, I really liked that. The repetition of "should" at the end really got me.

Deanna Schrayer said...

I agree, powerful is the word! This is so eerie Peg, it wasn't until the nurse led him back to his room that I believed he wasn't there to hurt the woman. Outstanding story!

Larry Kollar said...

Loved this! I wondered at first if he was out of his body, but the nurse scotched that thought. I have a little experience (familial not personal) with diabetic comas, and she'll come out of it once they get her glucose sorted. ;-)

The big question is: can he convince anyone that he really communicated with her?

Oh, loved some of the lines in here. "damn I hate the IV" is my fave!

Timothy P. Remp said...

Wonderful work! I also enjoyed the various sounds in your piece.


Eric J. Krause said...

Good story! Quite an interesting concept. Maybe it'll be better when he gets all fixed up that he can't hear these voices anymore. Or maybe he could have done a lot of good in getting them out of their comas...

Shelli said...

I love the exploration of "hearing." I loved the beach imagery, too, it brought back my favorite childhood memories.

John Wiswell said...

He probably can listen in if he wants to. But does he want more of this?

Kelly Stapleton said...

So many different ways to hear...great story!

Icy Sedgwick said...

I feel more sorry for Annabelle than I do for Jack, I think. After all, she's essentially imprisoned in her own body.

Chuck Allen said...

What a captivating story. Great job!

Brinda said...

Great flash Peggy! Loved the whole play on the sound theme, hope he does continue to hear the isolated coma patients, but its got to be so hard on him.