At first it seemed like it was the world that was getting quieter: TV’s and radios working on low-running batteries, traffic getting eco-friendlier (scarcer), birds migrating and never coming back… Then someone (was it Andrew?) suggested that it was all about rain. “Rain, – he said, – listen to the rain”. We listened up: yes, it might have been that. There were long, uneventful days when it seemed like the rain would never end. And the biggest thing about rain was that its muffled drumming sucked in our voices and drowned out all our words and conversations.
But – no, we of course knew that the problem had to with what was going on inside. Yesterday as I was lying half-asleep in my bed I thought I heard someone crying. Or maybe I didn’t: maybe it was just this awkward feeling of restlessness one gets in the middle of the night. Maybe I was craving for a pee, and imagined it was something else. Anyway, I got out of the yellow, sweat-stained sheets and stepped outside – just as I was, uncombed and in my ghostly pajamas.
I saw Mary right away. She was crouching on the floor next to my room, her face cuddled in her thin white hands, her back shrugging jerkily against the wall. Why was she shrugging? Though I did of course know why. Mary was crying, and her crying was still remotely audible to my runaway ears. It was a sensation to behold: it was still there, my frustrated hearing, not entirely gone. I sat near Mary and took her hand. She didn’t even look up.
- Mary, – I said. – Don’t worry, it’ s all rain. Andrew was right. You have to understand that.
It was then that she raised her face and stared at me – earnestly, unforgivingly. It meant that she could still discern my words.
- No, – she said, her syllables coming off like cold, distant drops of whispering noise. – It’s not rain. You men, you keep fooling yourselves. You idiots.
I liked it that she called me an idiot. When you see a woman crying (not least because of you), it’s best when she starts calling you names. Idiots, bastards, jerks – men are generally all right with that. Those are the lesser evils. That was the perfect moment to press her against me, stroke her face, kiss her hair…
But suddenly Mary jumped up and pulled at my arm. She wanted me to follow her, and I did. We ran through the dimly lit corridor and into the giant sitting room that was completely dark but still painfully familiar.
- Look, – she said, and dragged me closer to the window.
I didn’t need that, of course. So far the summer had been perfect, cloudless. But before I had a moment to say anything, the lights went on and blinded us to immobility. Yes, of course: the doctors came. We must have been really noisy while thinking we were no louder than silent mice.
As they were putting me to bed, I decided to have my final shot.
- Doctor, are we going deaf?
- Yes, you are. You are old, what would you think. And you are in a nursing home.
Straining to hear those words, I got drained of all my strengths. I really wanted to tell the doctor that I was still 36, but he had already slipped away. Slipping away I was too, into my quiet, innocent sleep that was the only place where you felt comfortable when not hearing a single sound of something huge tumbling down the stairs.