The Sound of Silence

An acquaintance observed, before I left the Land of the Living and departed for the Outpost, and during an exchange in which I articulated faint, nagging worries about impending, crushing isolation, ‘Oh but just think of all the time you’ll have to write!’.

Time. Yes. I have a lot of that. Sometimes my shoulders ache from the weight of it. I want to be able to say, ‘God, I’m rushed off my feet, no time for anything’. But that would be a lie. Time lies heavy in my hands; I have gathered armfuls of it since I got here and sometimes I sag beneath its load.

But time to write? Ah, time isn’t the only essential ingredient to conjuring words. You need inspiration. Integration. Conversation.

The silence is deafening.

Except, of course, that nothing is ever so quiet you could hear a pin drop (what would that sound like, I wonder, a pin falling stealthily to the floor?).

I hear the pantechnicon roar of thunder. I thought it was a truck until I knew better, a highway bound truck. Only there are none where I live: no highways. Only dirt roads which – at this time of year – mire and still the rush of wheels. I hear the fleeting beat of an aeroplane’s engine, the whir of propellers. High. High above me and winging its way east. My other children are in the east. And I wish that I was a bird.

But not a crow. I hear those as well. They are late risers and only descend, cawing indignantly, rudely (is that why they are common? No manners?) upon my garden as the afternoon tips to evening, to torment the cats and steal the dogs’ food. Their greed sated this week, one of the dogs has lost her appetite. Her single puppy was born dead. She tried valiantly to revive it, licking its little black lifeless body (the one Hat and I had felt squirm and kick in a belly turned towards us to be rubbed just days before) until its coat shone with a cruelly healthy gleam. She carted it from room to room and then, defeated, she buried it under a bed for me to retrieve and plant in a tiny garden grave. Hat cried. Hat would have liked a small black puppy. She would have called it Sparrow, she said, and it would have helped to alleviate her own noisy silences.

Even when I swim I can’t hear the quiet. Even with my ears full of water I can still hear the splash of my limbs, the comforting rhythm of my breathing. In. Out. In. Out. The sound of Keeping Going. I concentrate on the bottom of the pool as I plough up and down. I can see the sky reflected there. So I know that the sun is slipping behind big black clouds driven forth by thunder in pantechnicons. I know that when I surface a nicotine light will seep and stain where I had hoped for blushing dusk. I watch the debris dance along the bottom of the pool too. A twist of tiny drowned leaves choreographed by my passing stroke. I think I ought to clean it then – the cool blue pool – and lighten my burden of time , for the chore would swallow a little.

I hear the rain on the roof at night. I hear its drip drip through the ceiling and onto the floor. I lay down a towel, to smother the sound so that I can sleep. But I don’t. Instead I worry about spreading tea stains above me and I wonder if I will ever manage to plug them. Or will my home be reduced to veritable sieve. Or tea strainer, come to think of it?

I hear my phone beep. A girlfriend:

Thnx urs. No time now. Will resp l8er.

I hear myself scowl.

And later another. Not her. Not she who promised. My husband:

Shall we got out tonight

So we do. And I hear the sound of other voices. The plinkety plink of a tinkling African band somberly plucking guitar strings and tickling piano keys. And my husband ordering two cold beers. And a coke for Hat.

And it’s ok then. The raucous silence that crowds my head loudly is broken.

For a bit.

silence-and-sunsets

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24 Responses to “The Sound of Silence”

  1. nuttycow Says:

    Yet another fantastic post RM. For a moment I was transported from the sunny but cold Thames and plonked, slap bang in the middle of Africa.

    Sorry to hear about the puppy’s demise. Always sad when that happens. Any chance of her having another?

  2. Dumdad Says:

    I can hear your silence from here. Great post. Yes, that time thing. Too much, too little, never just right. But that’s the way it it.

  3. The Finely Tuned Woman Says:

    I am very fond of silence myself, but I am wondering now if my silence is punctuated all the time by small sounds that I am not consciously aware of. I think not, but I may be wrong. My silence is the silence of a quiet suburb that is sometimes interrupted by the sound of traffic and children on their way to and from school. When that is done, there is silence again and I think I would hear a pin drop. I purposely play no music and I don’t talk to myself. Sometimes I sit by the dining table and I can almost hear my own heart beat. I swallow my coffee and inhale my cigarettes. Those are my sounds. The dog snores and sometimes a cat sits with me and purrs. The sounds of silence. I would like to hear a dove call or an owl. The birds around here stand out in their absence. No pretty bird song. Not even a sparrow that will tweet. But I can find noise if I want to. A ten minute trip on the bus takes me downtown and you don’t have that privilege. I can unload my silence all at once, where as you can walk for half an hour and still be steeped in it. That’s the difference.

  4. French Fancy Says:

    True silence is very oppressing, isn’t it. I think I have silence here but it is probably nothing like your silence. I suppose I mean there is no traffic noise but I do have two noisy dogs and a man working in the basement (I mean my husband and his office, not a workman – although I guess he is the workman)

    I’m glad you all went out that night.

  5. Mapesbury Mum Says:

    I remember living in Africa when about 16 and this London lad came to stay with neighbours and I was tasked to ‘entertain’ him. We went swimming and as we sat on the jetty drying off he commented on the sound of silence – with a tractor labouring its way across the fields and the water birds talking to each other, I had no idea what he was on about!! I do now and often yearn to hear that silent sound!!

  6. Potty Mummy Says:

    So sad about the puppy. And sending you lots of positive thoughts, RM…

  7. Mozi Esme's Mommy Says:

    I would give a lot for the sound of silence right now. There is way too much to do and see and be and take in. Somehow we never get just the right comination of things, huh?

  8. Lisa Lawrence Says:

    Just wondering…..how much longer in the Outpost? Or do you know….I feel for you so….I grew up in New Guinea and went to boarding school in Australia. My mother spoke often of the grief she experienced at our being gone..

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks nutty. Probably not. it would have been a happy accident … the puppy.

    Dumdad – isn’t that so true: time, either feast or famine.

    T’hat’s beautiful Finely Tuned. “Sometimes I sit by the dining table and I can almost hear my own heart beat. I swallow my coffee and inhale my cigarettes. Those are my sounds. The dog snores and sometimes a cat sits with me and purrs.” i ought to have added my dogs and cats sounds; they’re very friendly ones aren’t they?

  10. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    a man working in the basement … it sounded ominous at first French. but its quite a happy sound isn’t it: busy husbands in basements. bored ones are quite another thing. harumphing and switching channels in a fury born of cross frustration.

    aw Mapesbury, i loved that: with a tractor labouring its way across the fields and the water birds talking to each other … and sitting on a jetty … i was transported back to happy, happy days. Thanks for that.

    Thank you PM. And I thought your comments in Carol Midgely’s piece in the Times were very interesting. thought provoking article.

  11. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    you’re right Mozi. I wish we could bottle restorative quiet times for the busier ones. and take home some of the bustle for the lonelier times x

    oooooh Lisa. A while yet. its the distance from the rest of the world that is hardest. and the difficulty in accessing that ROW.

  12. Janelle Says:

    beautifully written post anthea. so poignant. but i hear you. babes. why don;t you and hat come and spend some time with me on the hill for a break? for some noise? ? ? and PLEASE SMS ME!???? xxxx

  13. More than Just a Mother Says:

    Such beautiful writing. I crave silence; when the children go to bed I sit in silence, and on my way to work I revel in the absence of chatter. But when I was at my lowest; when my son died, and I couldn’t live with the thoughts in my head, silence was abhorrent to me. News 24 was on constantly in the background, so that when I woke at night – as I did frequently – the sound crowded out the darkness and gave me comfort.

  14. Red Rum Says:

    Agree with More than Just a Mother – you write beautifully and from such an interesting and unusual place. It’s very exotic to me here in England, anyway! Liked your jewellery comment. Yes indeed, the bigger the better – wish I had a special bottom-covering piece – though that would rather draw attention to the bum rather than away from it, wouldn’t it?! RRx

  15. Leigh Says:

    I am in two minds about your post. I appreciate the writing, the images conjured up, but my experience of silence is such that I envy the noises that you have in your silence

  16. Paradiselostintranslation Says:

    Hi RM
    I’ve photo tagged you over at ‘my place’ as they say. Sorry, I got tagged, and am supposed to pass it on. It’s quite a fun one though. When I received an award I failed to pass it on to 8, yes 8 others, so thought I’d better do this photo tag thing.

  17. Supagran Says:

    I decided to come and pay you a visit and I am so glad that I did, you write so well and so descriptively, I am green with envy (hee hee) It must be very difficult for you at times, I have loads of silence since the children left home.

  18. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Janelle x

    More Than: thank you. i wanted to weep when i read your comment. so sad and poignant. i can only imagine that you had to drown the silence out then.

    thanks for dropping in Red Rum. Alas less exotic than it may seem. still means filling washing machines and foraging in a freezer for dinner inspiration.

    Thank you Leigh. I think, perhaps, it is all relative? and perhaps too much of anything, silence or sound, is overload?

    thank you very much Paradise. and i loved the story of your miracle babies. your little boy is beautiful.

    hello supagran! and thanks for dropping by.

  19. Rachel Says:

    lovely post. thinking of you.

  20. kitschen pink Says:

    It sounds very noisy where you are! Shall I mail earplugs?
    Actually I do think silence is a relative thing. When I lived in the city I didn’t hear wailing sirens or early morning lorry traffic or even drunken neighbours returning late. But staying at my mum’s one weekend I lay awake all night cursing screeching owls and barking foxes, and at dawn…. oh the noise!!! Those birds have no consideration!
    Of course now I live in the country the only time I really hear noise is when I go back to the city. Except of course for harvest time – and I quite like listening to the farmer churning up and down at 3am bringing in the fields. t.x

  21. lakeviewer Says:

    Your prose is lyrical and poignant. It was a pleasure visiting with you and reading a few of your blogs. I will return.

  22. ali la loca Says:

    Oh, the bit about the puppy nearly made me cry. What beautiful writing. I could feel all the time.

  23. rosiero Says:

    Such a mood-evoking post. I can almost imagine the hot silence punctuated with random sounds. Your loneliness and often boredom shines through. So sorry to hear about the wee puppy… I can also feel the bitch’s anguish as she carried it from room to room. Such a sad post.

  24. Susie Vereker Says:

    I do empathise and sympathise, though I long for silence.
    Sorry about the puppy – how sad.

    If you set yourself a word count each day, however small, you will eventually end up with a book and that will give you a wonderful sense of achievement. I don’t know if you’re writing non fiction or fiction. Either way, you’ve got what it takes.

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