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Fullness of Sound

September 24, 2010

She always hated the sound of the screen door slamming, a sound at once metallic and hollow. He was right behind her. She could hear his breath with its slight, but loud and insistent wheeze.

“Renee!” She turned her head and caught a glimpse of Cam’s sweaty red face as she rounded the corner. Just five more yards. Please, God, please.

Her fingers fumbled with the knob to her bedroom door before she opened and slammed it so hard that the walls vibrated thunder. Cam’s hands were beginning to turn the knob as she clicked the lock into place.


“Cam, stop!”

Whack! Boom!

Cam’s swing of the broom handle on her bedroom door reverberated like a wooden mallet on a tin roof. Renee crouched and covered her ears. “Dad will kill you if you break the door.”

Cam stopped.

Too late. The headache was already rising from the base of her skull. She wiped tears and pulled back the covers of her bed. Gingerly, she lowered herself into them and wished the world to disappear.

“Am I dreaming?” She turned her head, the pain ricocheting along the right side. She thought she might throw up.

“No, my dear, you aren’t dreaming.” It was a woman. The late afternoon sun glowed orange and red behind her.

“Who are you?”

“Shhh…” The woman raised her forefinger to her lips. “Listen.”

“I can’t listen. I already hear too much,” Renee thought, wishing to God she wasn’t so sensitive to sound and vibration.

“But it’s a gift, my dear.”

“You can hear my thoughts?”

The woman smiled. “Listen.”

Renee suddenly felt afraid. Listening would amplify the thunderstorm in her head into a hurricane.

“Don’t be afraid. You must go in more deeply. Then you shall hear.”

“Hear what?”

“The fullness of sound.”

The first thing she heard was the mosquito buzz of a neighbor’s weed eater. She went in deep, distinguishing different tones. She explored other sounds: the squeal of a distant siren, the shrill call of the birds on the electric wires, the static of central heating, and the slight whistle in her breathing caused by a partially clogged nose. She felt the space around each individual thing and began to feel that space as one. That space had sound. And that sound—Renee found tears in her eyes. It was beautiful.

Her dad got home late that night. “What is this shit?” he asked Renee’s mom, scowling at the plate in the microwave.

“It’s your favorite, dear. Aunt Sarah’s meatloaf.”

He looked at her as if she were stupid. “I know what the fuck it is. But don’t you know I’m on a goddamned diet and can’t eat this?” He jerked the plate out and hurled it towards the wall.

Renee watched, frozen, from the den. Cam walked in behind her but abruptly stopped when the plate crashed.

Her dad lunged towards her mom, gripped the back of her collar, and pushed her towards the open refrigerator. As her mom steadied herself, he said, “Now fix me something I can eat, bitch.”

Renee ran to her room before the blows came. The sound of them shocked her body every time. They seemed to fill the entire world. As always, she went to the darkest, but safest place she knew, her closet. Crouching with the hems of dresses tickling her nose, Renee began to feel faint and sick. “Breathe,” she told herself.

“Listen,” she heard.

She went into the sound of every blow. She heard the heavy staccato answered with crescendo and decrescendo cries. She heard the space around them. She heard the crickets outside.

“Renee?” Cam’s voice was uncharacteristically soft. “I’m scared.” She’d never heard her twelve year-old brother say this. Renee opened the closet door and stood up. On the bed they silently held each other, the moonlight creating their shadows on the walls.

“Did you know that moonlight has a sound?” she asked Cam.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2010 1:00 am

    I was pretty confuse by this, I think primarily because of the large number of characters in here and the way they morph. For instance at first I thought Cam was an abusive boyfriend/husband. Then a drunk older brother. Then finally a younger brother. This did not help with the confusion. Then I felt like the woman’s voice kinda came out of nowhere. Plus you had the Mom, Dad, and technically Aunt Sarah.

    But while that did take away from the story, I have to say that this is a very good piece on the power of sensory details. I know that far too often I (and many other writesr) neglect those details. It was refreshing to see the sense of sound done so well. That and I LOVE the last line.

    • September 24, 2010 9:32 am

      Hi Michael, thanks for your comments. I’m sorry the story was so confusing. I actually wanted some there because living in situation like this *is* that chaotic and confusing for those in it. Even your comment about characters morphing is somewhat true to the psychological feel of a situation like that (Cam’s actions being not so different from the father’s…Violence has a strange consistency as it spreads through different characters/people even in different actions). As for the woman–she was meant to come out of nowhere and the reader is left open to decide just what she is. This I think I could make clearer as to description and not making it so sudden. For the reader: Is she a hallucination brought on by too much pain (or a migraine’s effect?)? Is she an angel? An inner guide? A touch of the fantastic or supernatural is in several of my stories. Those events tend to happen suddenly and unexpectedly. My stories with this element are not necessarily meant to be read straight as “slice of life” (unless interpreted metaphorically).

      Thanks for the comments about sound. I’m usually a very visual writer so it was fun to take up another sense and explore it. 🙂 I do think I could clear up the confusions a bit in a longer piece, with more time, although I don’t know that I’ll come back to it. It served its purpose as my weekly writing exercise. 😉 Thanks for reading.

  2. September 24, 2010 1:18 am

    I like starting right in the middle of something, action leading into the story. The sound descriptions getting at Renee are great. Disorienting for a bit. Things fall into place at the end, but still leave some ambiguity about what all is going on, like the start of something longer.

    • September 24, 2010 9:45 am

      Glad things fell into place at the end. I knew that would be the case and hoped it would work when it finally came together. The ambiguity is partly because I was trying to keep my piece around 650 words and partly because there simply is no unambiguous ending to stories like these. Or at least usually. I think I overdid the confusion of a household like this and continued it a little too far into the ending. But there is no ending to this and maybe a sister first hearing her brother (who’d been chasing her in the beginning and slamming her door violently with a broom handle) first say he’s scared (compare to exp of violence before) and their being able to hold each other (despite that?) is important in and of itself. Maybe learning to hear changes things. ? I don’t know if it will stop his next chasing of her (or whatever else he will try), though…at least not immediately. They both would need to do a lot more hearing, learning, feeling. I do think this piece may fare better longer–it would give the reader time to adjust to the different characters and the situation–give me more description room even within the scenes here. As I said before, though, I doubt I’ll revisit it. It’s certainly functioned well as a weekly practice (learning) tool, though-maybe the best learning flash yet. Lol!

  3. Deanna Schrayer permalink
    September 24, 2010 3:18 am

    Melissa, considering Michael and David’s comments, I feel I’m all alone here. I not only understood this from the get go, I felt it, heavily. Maybe because I’ve been there. I know exactly how she feels. When those sounds magnified for me I would put my headphones on and turn the volume to full blast. And I still heard it. And I held my sister when she cried.

    This brought a tear. Great job.

    • September 24, 2010 9:53 am

      Deanna, thank you so much for your comment. I actually thought of you when I wrote this, not because I knew your family background but because of your sensitivity (which we’d discussed) in general–so that part wouldn’t be weird to you as it would be for some. (It’d be matter of fact, a matter of experience–although I didn’t know if you were sensitive to sound as well.) The magnification of violent sounds (and any other sensory experience of it) seems to register doubly for those who are sensitive, so I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for you. The confusion must have been incredibly real as well. I’m so glad you were able to hold your sister. It’s small, but important. Sometimes even that doesn’t happen, which to me feels even more tragic. 😦

  4. Deanna Schrayer permalink
    September 24, 2010 3:18 am

    By the way, I should’ve mentioned – we, as a family, got help and everything was righted eventually. Though those sounds do still magnify for me when I hear them from strangers.

    • September 24, 2010 9:56 am

      I’m so glad to hear this!! That’s amazing. I understand about those sounds now, though. Hard.

      • Deanna Schrayer permalink
        September 24, 2010 10:35 am

        Just one reason I appreciate you so much Melissa. 🙂 Thank you.

  5. yearzerowriters permalink
    September 24, 2010 10:33 am

    I think the ‘hallucination’ works perfectly as some sort of synethesia whereby the strength of the transmission from one sense (in this case sound) is strong enough to create the impression of a figure addressing you as the brain struggles to make sense of the input it’s being bombarded by.

    I liked this a lot.

    Marc Nash

    • Deanna Schrayer permalink
      September 24, 2010 10:36 am

      Marc, your comment cracked me up. A whole bunch of philosophical…blurbs? and then “I like this a lot.” You’re so funny.

      Excuse me Melissa for hijacking your comments.

      • September 24, 2010 10:51 am

        You are welcome to highjack my comments anytime. 😉 I’m very happy that somehow I happened to know what synesthesia was because of my own brain quirks (I have something else, but it got me interested into researching how the brain works), or I would’ve characterized his comment the same way, but not quite so funnily (can I borrow your sense of humor in writing?).

    • September 24, 2010 10:46 am

      To Marc-somehow WordPress placed this response below mine to Deanna and I can’t get it back up under yours. I love this interpretation! And it’s precisely something I think the brain can and does do–and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve been interested in synethesia for a while. Even in my mind I’d left it open as to what the lady was, but I like this. (But, for future readers–I know there are other interpretations I’d like as well.) 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the read. Is it bad to say that some part of me likes to be confusing in order to match the phenomenon/a?

  6. Jim Bronyaur permalink
    September 24, 2010 10:46 am

    Nice story. And the title is so cool too… “The Fullness of Sound” – that alone is powerful.


    • September 24, 2010 10:57 am

      Thanks, Jim! Believe it or not, I was on a run and began trying to listen to my surroundings (didn’t have the iPod-lol) and the phrase came to me as to what I experienced at one point (before I’d ever thought about writing a story).

  7. September 24, 2010 11:40 am

    I love the story, especially the title and the last line. As a migraine sufferer (not so often these days, but a few years ago they came every month) the magnification of noises is very familiar; a lot of the story felt to me very like the strange dreams I often have during migraines.

    • September 24, 2010 3:16 pm

      Thank you! I have friends who have suffered horrible migraines and they’ve told me of their experiences. I’m so glad migraines don’t come as often for you now.

  8. September 25, 2010 2:40 am

    I understood this story from the beginning; I never lived in an abusive home but I’m empathic so instead of sounds disrupting me, it was other people’s emotions. I had to learn how to separate my own from others and then how to block others. It’s not an easy task for a child (or an adult at times). I didn’t think you had too many characters and the chaos seemed normal for that type of family situation. Beautiful descriptions of how she related to the sounds around her.

    • September 27, 2010 5:21 pm

      Thanks. I’m empathic as well and I’m very familiar with getting swamped with others’ emotions. (Still hard to figure out where the boundaries are at times!) Whenever I’m extra sensitive, though, I also become sensitive to sound. That can be quite painful when a weed eater and two leaf blowers are outside your window!

  9. September 25, 2010 9:37 pm

    I too got this from the start… and that sensation of falling into every sound, going into the sounds… I know that sensation…this is an amazing piece. Really hits hard.

    • September 27, 2010 5:23 pm

      Thank you. I’ve only recently been falling into every sound with intention, almost as a type of meditation. It’s pretty amazing.

  10. lauraeno permalink
    September 26, 2010 8:48 am

    I know this sensation as well…maybe from migraines, but I always have ‘noise’ in my head and have to move beyond it. Very moving piece.

    • September 27, 2010 5:25 pm

      Thanks. I’m sorry about the migraines. I’ve had friends who’ve suffered greatly from them. I have my own version of headache that can just about paralyze me. Thank God I don’t get them very often.

  11. September 26, 2010 12:53 pm

    Well, I’m just a little disappointed. I was under the impression you might talk like a pirate this week.

    Having said that, I didn’t find this piece confusing at all. In fact it’s simpler and more straight ahead than some of your others. But I am very sensitive to sound, I know something about domestic abuse (my sister and I comforted one another as children), and as someone who is fascinated by all the arts I’m interested in synesthesia too. There’s a great book by Julian Jaynes called “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” in which he argues that at one time humans did in fact hear voices in their heads. What we now call reasoning and thinking out our problems people used to experience as actual voices telling them what to do. Schizophrenia could be, in part, leftover from that. And sometimes the experience of story-telling feels, at turns, like voices appearing in one’s head and like a form of madness.

    Anyway, very sensitive people sometimes become artists, art is the transformation of pain into pleasure, and I love the last line of your tale.

    • September 27, 2010 5:36 pm

      Lol! I think this story be a little more straightfore than me others as well, but I do think that havin’ had certain types o’ experiences makes it more accessible. I love that you mentioned Jaynes’s book. I’ve read part o’ it. It’s an interestin’ theory–and I would agree about t’ story-tellin’ bein’ like a form o’ madness at times. But, again, it’s what our society calls mad. Thanks for t’ read, mate.

  12. September 28, 2010 12:11 am

    Again, wow. great! Reminds me of how Octavia Butler describes the characters with “hyperempathy syndrome” in her Parable series. Also quite sad- but that’s the point, right? Love it!

  13. September 28, 2010 8:45 pm

    Powerful stuff here. Love how you wove the synesthesia in here, and I did get the story from the beginning. So happy to see you flashing again! Peace…

    • September 29, 2010 12:32 pm

      Thanks, Linda! It’s great to be flashing again. Writing again, for that matter. Lol!

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