Fighting the Silence
The sunrise over the harbour that morning was almost purple. The chink of moored boats was the only sound she could hear. But a part of her couldn’t hear even that, there was a part of her that would always be silent. The deep silence within dulled the glorious sunrise set before her. Her legs dangled over the harbour wall as she absently threw small pebbles into the dark water below. As the world began to awake, other sounds began to creep into the air around her. But they were not heard. The steps of early rising passers by were not heard. The chatter of the fishermen preparing their nets and boats were dim and distant. The lapping of the water would not even register in her wounded state. But silence is made to be broken.
She hadn’t realised until today that her daily walk to the harbour before work had become a ritual. When she saw Rachel’s bags though, she knew it was. And knew why she kept the ritual. She kept it in order to retain the distance. The distance was her defence, her lifeline. It kept her alone and she liked it that way. For at least alone you could not be left. She knew how intensely the fires of abandonment could burn and had promised herself she would never feel them again. And of course as if to prove her point here was another friend leaving. The leaving would not take its toll this once. She had guaranteed that when she created the distance between them. There was affection, certainly, but friendship? No. And never again she had promised. But she would not admit the promise was slowly destroying her.
Rachel stepped lightly into the kitchen and waved. One of those weak waves that no-one means. One of those waves by someone who has been shown only affection, never friendship. The wave of an acquaintance. “Morning Sarah. Just wanted to make sure I said a proper goodbye before you trot off to work.” It was politeness only. Both of them knew. The ‘done’ thing. Sarah stood slowly, her still steaming brew abandoned only for a moment. “Good luck in the ‘States Rachel,” she said and hugged her soon to be ex-housemate. A lifeless, empty, pat on the back kind of hug. The kind of hug you’d rather not have had. But it was only polite to hug your housemate, certainly in their circle. The cold hug ended, each one went back to their routine; Rachel still feeling the need to tidy the kitchen despite the fact she practically didn’t live there any more and Sarah hunched over her breakfast, blocking out the world before venturing to work.
Sarah’s inner world hadn’t always been one of silence. It was a self imposed torture. One of protection. Protection because she had watched those she loved leave one by one, each one like a slow death. Only two were lost to an actual death, yet to her it felt worse to know the ones she lost were still alive out there somewhere and she still would never see them. The logical side of her knew it wasn’t about her. No, each one had a legitimate reason for living as far as they possibly could from Sarah Jones. It had still hurt. And when her sister had finally succumbed to the Cancer that had eaten through her entire body that was the day she had brought down the curtain and introduced the silence to her life. But silence is made to be broken.
The first time he spoke to her was the day she came into work late. Returning from a long sabbatical with a broken arm hadn’t endeared him to management and he was taking out his frustrations on the Coke machine. The girl was trying to slip in anonymously but knew she’d been seen. Even so, she saw his seeming struggle and turned aside to ask if she could help. His first words to her were harsh, defensive. Not the kind of words he would have wanted once he knew her later. But first contact is always difficult. Once he had spurned her he struggled to his desk with too many things in his only active arm. He sat and stared at the computer before him, its black lifeless screen a mirror of his own silence. A silence that had consumed him for the last three years. A silence that had come from a betrayal. A silence that he was aching to end.
The next day before he left for work he gazed longingly at the silent instrument in his room. The strings were slack, the neck dusty. But why play when he couldn’t even hear the music? He turned away and headed for work. Again he stopped at the Coke machine, frustratingly banging buttons and waiting for the little treasure to drop from the dark opening. Again she saw him struggling. She turned away. He caught the movement out of the corner of his eye as he bent to retrieve his purchase. Regret clutched at him. Calling after her he apologised. “Hey, er…Sarah?” he began, dragging her name from the memory banks. They’d never worked together and never spoken but she had a reputation as person of influence within the office and even the lowliest clerk knew her at least by sight. It helped, that he knew her name. “I’m sorry I snapped at you yesterday,” he continued. “I’ve just come back, been away quite a while. Thought I was all refreshed. But this place gets you down after five minutes.” His reward for that was a smile. Not the great beaming smile he would soon come to love. It was a tired, almost polite smile; but a smile nonetheless. “I’m Connor. I’m in R&D. You know, the room with too much heat.” Another smile. It was bigger this time. She was warming to him. “Enjoy your drink. See you round the office perhaps.” He watched her walk up the stairs and hummed to himself as he slipped the bottle into the crook of his uninjured arm.
Connor sat at his dead computer, the machine waiting for him to bring it to life. As he pressed the on button he wondered whether he too had been brought to life. A dim melody began to play deep inside him. A melody he thought never to hear; he assumed all the music had been torn from him along with trust. And yet, here he was, humming to himself again, as if it were all those years ago when he was the man of music. He noted to himself that he should endeavour to see this girl Sarah again.
The following weeks were a game of cat and mouse between them. He found all sorts of reasons to visit her area of the office. It was like a daily challenge for him. For her, it was slow torture at first. She could feel his pursuit like a rushing wave behind her. A wave of sound, of music. The kind of music she had shut out of her life in order to aid the distance. Everything within her screamed to run away from him. And yet a small strand of hope, the last remaining ounce, kept her feet like lead whenever he came around. By the end of a month he knew the sounds of music in his soul were a permanent return and he knew it was she who had brought them back. By the end of a month it stopped being torture for her and she was willing for an acquaintance to build between them.
The day he had his arm cast removed was the day he asked her to dinner. She said no of course. Yet within an hour she felt something alien; regret. She felt as if she needed to apologise somehow, and yet could not. An apology would mean connection, and she was resisting connection. By the afternoon he was back under some other pretext. She never knew how he managed to devise to see her more than once a day but a part of her was glad he did. He bent over her desk and smiled. As he placed the documents he had brought into her work tray he accidentally grazed the back of her hand with his newly healed and newly free hand. It was like fire. The conflicting sensations of excitement and the desire to pull away tore at her and she did not even acknowledge to him that she had felt his touch. She watched him leave as she fought the tears for the touch had broken something inside her and a trickle of music could be heard in the depths of her soul.
That evening when he got home he took the instrument from where it had sat for three years. He polished it slowly, lovingly. He tightened the strings and used the telephone dialling tone to tune it up, having misplaced any of his paraphernalia when the betrayal occurred. He even tried a few scales, remembering the feel of it in his hands, the strings, the neck, the bow. But he dared not arouse his hopes, for hope like that had destroyed him once. And yet the silence within him was slowly breaking. The touch had been like fire for him also, but not a fire he had wanted to pull away from. He had wanted to throw himself into the fire and did not care whether he ever stopped burning. He knew he had to ask her again to dinner. He felt the distance from her. It didn’t hurt him. It couldn’t hurt him. For he knew he very presence was slowly fighting the silence within him and his one desire was to help her fight her silence too.
The next month was more ritual circling for them both. They started lunching together, but every day when he asked her to dinner she said no. Every night when he returned home he took out the instrument and slowly rediscovered his talent. He slowly rediscovered how to play. He slowly rediscovered the sounds of music within. Every night when she returned home she ventured to the harbour to seek the distance, but it was beginning to elude her. The touch had seen to that. The fire still smouldered and it was burning the distance and turning it to charcoal within.
She had to admit to herself he made her laugh. She had to admit to herself he made her feel good about herself. She had to admit to herself she really did like him. She had to admit there was an echo of something within her since he came into her life. And so, finally she said yes to dinner.
Dinner was pleasant enough for both of them. Connor fought over whether to ask he to come over to his place. He knew she would resist. A part of him wanted her to resist. Yet he ached to open that door within her soul and let in the music he had prepared. He was pleasantly surprised when she acquiesced to his invitation. And so he took her lightly by the hand, a touch now incessantly burning, and led her slowly through the streets towards his house. Towards his house where the music screamed to be let out.
“I have a confession to make,” he said softly as she made herself comfortable in one of the two seater sofas. She gave him a pensive look and said nervously, “Yes? Go on.” He grinned mischievously. “I’ve been holding something back. I have a talent. Here.” As he said the final word he walked into the next room and returned holding an instrument. A cello. She had always seen it as a feminine instrument, but seeing it in his hands it made so much sense. “Play for me,” she said softly. He nodded and sat, positioning the tall instrument just right. He didn’t play straight away. It seemed to her as if he were listening for something. Then the music began. And deep inside her the music reached down and shattered her own silence. It shattered the distance she had so carefully measured. It shattered the walls she had so carefully built. And as she watched the man she now knew she loved play a simple but beautiful melody she found she was finally able to cry all those tears she had been storing. Tears of loss, tears of fear, tears of love not shared. Tears, because she now accepted that here self imposed distance had not protected her at all, but had left her damaged and alone. And the silence had been fought and defeated.
The sunset over the harbour that evening was almost purple. The chink of moored boats was one of the sounds they enjoyed. Their legs dangled over the harbour wall as they languorously caressed each other’s hands; playfully throwing small pebbles into the deep water below. As the world around them slowly drifted to sleep, other sounds still crept through the air around them. And the sounds were drunk in by the lovers, each thirsty for every sensation shared. The steps of those late to return home brought the memory of their own home. The chatter of the fishermen storing their nets and tidying the boats was a sweet reminder of friendship. The lapping of the water recalled the healing of her wounded state. And so the silence was broken. With ‘I love you’.