Sounds Not Heard

So there Greg sat, not saying a word, as he slowly turned the pages of The Cat in the Hat for his daughter, Linda, who was snuggled against him. Who would have thought that, at forty-three, Greg would be married for seven years and have a four-year-old daughter? He turned another page and smiled wanly at one of life’s imponderables. Nothing in his twenties and early thirties had foretold – or even remotely hinted – that one day he would have a wife like Julia and a daughter like Linda. But here he was, happily married, and sitting beside a child he dearly loved.

Greg didn’t notice the rain striking the windows sharply like pellets, or even the occasional claps of thunder that presaged more to come. For a mid-morning in June, the sky was exceptionally dark. So much so, in fact, that Greg had turned on the floor lamp beside the sofa where he and Linda sat. Its rays engulfed the book in his lap and dramatized the vivid colors of the illustrations. Out of the corner of his eye, Greg glanced at Linda from time to time and, whenever she looked puzzled, reached over, softly squeezed her hand and gently tightened the arm he had wrapped around her.

During the next hour, the heavens were shaken by additional bursts of thunder, and soon after, several fire engines, their sirens screaming, passed the house. They were responding to a call in the next block where lightening had struck a small ranch house.

Imperturbably, Greg continued turning the pages of The Cat in the Hat with one hand and cuddling Linda against him with the other.

Soon, an ambulance passed the house, the sound of its unmistakable plea adding to the noise of increasing traffic on the street. It was later reported the fire had spread so rapidly, a man had barely escaped unharmed from the building, and his wife and son had to be treated by the paramedics for smoke inhalation. Cars, driven to the site by curious motorists eager to see the blaze before it was put out, moved slowly passed Greg’s house. Some used their horns in an effort to keep the traffic moving. They honked in vain.

Just before lunch, Greg’s doorbell rang. The local precinct captain had stopped by to give Greg the latest information on the candidates slated to run in the next city election. Not a person to give up easily, he rang the bell six times between as many pauses. But receiving no response, he eventually gave up and moved on to the next house.

Linda had graduated from a high chair to a step-stool so Greg had to watch her carefully while he prepared lunch. He was making something they both liked: bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.

While the bacon was frying and Greg was pouring Linda’s milk, the telephone rang. A woman was conducting a phone survey on a new dish liquid. Greg continued slicing the tomato he had started, and the phone rang several additional times until it was automatically transferred to Greg’s answering machine.

When lunch was ready, Greg and Linda ate. With her sandwich, she drank the milk he had poured earlier; with his, he finished the coffee left in the pot from breakfast. When they finished, Linda and Greg stacked the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. She always thought they were playing a game when they pushed the buttons that started it.

Later, after Greg tucked Linda into bed for her afternoon nap, he returned to the living room and sat in the recliner Julia had given him for his fortieth birthday. Leaning back and relaxing, he closed his eyes and allowed his mind to wander.

His thoughts were of Julia and Linda and the many happy events that had brightened the preceding seven years. Greg again saw himself and Julia at their wedding and at her graduation from medical school. Then he reenacted the joyful months of Julia’s pregnancy, the tense moments of Linda’s birth, and the many hours of pleasure they experienced as Linda grew into a small child. More than once, Greg found himself wondering how a virtual lifetime of happiness could be compressed into such a brief span of time – another imponderable.

The pathway Greg’s memories followed, although meandering, was invariably the same. First he saw Julia in his mind, causing him to smile to himself, knowing she was only a few miles away at her office, seeing patients. Then he would revisit, while he half-dozed, happy memories from his childhood. Always the appropriate sounds that fit the images accompanied them.

One day when he was fully awake, Greg reflected on his mind’s proclivity to include exact sounds that matched specific mental images – especially those he would never experience again. There were so many, such as those of people, talking and laughing, bands playing and church bells ringing; those of Nature, late autumn leaves scurrying across sidewalks and streets, waves unfurling on a winter beach. What Greg could never find in his memory, however, no matter how deeply he searched, was the sound of a baby crying.

Unhappily, on this day, his mind led him to recall the sights and sounds from his final years in the army. Unable to resist their power, he temporarily surrendered his consciousness to them. They were sounds of a single terrible kind: the firing and explosions of artillery shells fired in battles that raged week in and week out without respite. Greg had been a member of a crew who methodically loaded shells, fired their gun, quickly covered their ears and winced. Much worse on their ears was the close burst of an enemy shell that caught Greg and his comrades by surprise. That explosion deafened most of them for life.

Opening his eyes and slowly glancing around the room, Greg knew instinctively Linda had slept long enough, so he went to her room to wake her. She never cried when she awoke from a nap but smiled when he softly touched her face, picked her up and kissed her forehead.

As Greg smiled back, he carefully studied Linda’s face and noticed once again how much her small nose and deep brown eyes resembled her mother’s. And, for the hundredth time, he had an intense desire to tell her how beautiful she was and how much he loved her. A trace of bitterness tempered his smile when he remembered Linda wouldn’t hear him. She too was deaf…deaf since birth.