Author: Saturnine the Indifferent PM
A glance into the mind of an ordinary woman who is secretly going mad.Rated: Fiction T - English - Suspense/Angst - Words: 1,605 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 08-09-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3049038
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She's a perfectly ordinary girl.
Setting a moderate pace, her medium build and average length hair are modestly attired in unassuming work dress. It is only her too wide eyes and slightly parted lips that betray the truth-that she is going mad. Nobody notices.
The hum that started softly beneath the rumble of the 42 bus is now so loud, only long practice keeps her from clutching her head. To do that would give the game away. So instead she walks-uncommonly common-as more interesting people push past her, and mask her presence with their brightness, movement, loudness.
If only, she thinks, they were loud enough to drown "IT" out too.
She is about ten steps from her front door when A Voice begins to speak. She remains carefully unresponsive.
"Excuse me. Excuse me! Miss!" she continues to walk until something reaches out of the void and pulls her sharply to the left. Slowly, she turns to look past the inexplicable hand to the wrist, arm, and middle-aged body to which it is connected. It is a woman, it seems, and she looks confused.
"Yes." More a statement than a question.
"You're not deaf, are you?" The woman asks. "I've been calling out to you since you got off the bus." She thrusts her other arm out, holding a nondescript wallet. "You dropped this."
"Oh." She says, unperturbed, and accepts the item without feeling. Not sparing a glance at the other woman, she continues her walk forward.
"What an odd girl!" mutters the older woman to herself, loud enough to be overheard. The subject of her musing, in her first show of emotion, grows pale and shaky as she hurries to unlock her door, and slam it decidedly behind her. The lock clicks into place, but the phrase has followed her inside.
She is an odd girl.
She learns her lessons early.
In an apartment fit for a family of three, she is carefully compacted in with her mother and father, her mother's sister and her family of four, her father's cousin—a bachelor, mercifully—and her mother's cantankerous mother. At one point the space is also shared with a baby brother who dies unexpectedly in his sleep, but even at four years old, she knows never to bring that up.
More important than new clothes, room to breathe or silence, she learns, is the value of normalcy. It doesn't do to have people stare. Staring people make a small room smaller, and a daughter of refugees packed into an apartment like a detention centre cannot afford to have her space shrink. Space is precious. The greatest gift she is ever given is being left behind when she is six years old and too young to attend her horrid grandmother's birthday party with her cousins. The tiny space suddenly cavernous and silent, she turns off the lights and sits in the darkness, imagining herself in a room so large she'd never find the walls, even if she walked forever.
That will become her safe-place in her mind when things get worse.
By the time she reaches puberty, she is no longer in that apartment. Her family has extended beyond the walls of the cramped space, out into the suburbs and into progressively larger slices of the dream they left home pursuing. She has much more family here now, and when she tries to count them all she can only be grateful that they have spread so far, to so many houses in so many cities. Still, she feels, with their network of honed gossips, continuously keeping score of their children—primed and trussed like the animals she's seen on TV—to award the title of worst mother and biggest disappointment to each other in their turns, her world is too small. And she must keep them from staring at any cost.
She is grateful for the training when she realizes for the first time that she's the only one who hears it.
It grows so gradually, so constantly, she cannot pinpoint the moment when it starts, though it might be impossible to forget that moment when it first becomes a problem. Awkward and 'foreign' as she is even in her high school classroom, it is the final insult that singles her out as too strange, irredeemable. It's the day she loses her only friend, and never makes another.
It's the first time she really understands what she is hearing, growing suddenly louder, and distinguishable from the ordinary din. Alarmed, she claps her hands over her ears, and her former friend draws one of two conclusions: that the gesture was an unsubtle hint that she doesn't want to listen to her problems, or that she's lost her mind. Her friend never tells her which, and she never asks. When they no longer sit together in the cafeteria, she just assumes it is inevitable and studies her math text. She understands that either way the sound is for her alone, and that makes her odd.
And nothing good ever comes from being odd.
She never tells her parents. They never ask why her teachers keep wanting to meet with them and why she never has friends over like her cousins do. They don't like her teachers, think friends are a gateway into western culture contamination, and are satisfied as long as her studies continue, grades unperturbed. She finishes high school with an honours average—never in the running for top of her class, but respectable, which is precisely what she needs.
She lives at home while she's at university, always choosing tepid social studies courses that will get her through with minimal human interaction. Classes of 1000 indifferent faces, lectured to by a more indifferent professor whose dilettante approach to lecture is completely irrelevant. She attends to show her face, reads the textbook for her exams, and no one remembers her when she isn't there. When she begins to tell people in passing that she's slightly hard of hearing and has to lip read sometimes no one remembers her enough to find it an odd development, and her ailment is middling enough to be uninteresting. And as the sound grows louder, she begins to lose words in conversation as frequently as she loses sleep. Conversations are rare, and she is glad for it. Medium build, moderate clothing, moderate haircut, she learns to find the blind-spot in a crowd, so no one will notice as the sound begins to drive her mad.
It is louder by the time she graduates.
It is louder, still, when she finds her first job in an office. She has pantomimed the moderate hearing impediment so well now, no one questions when she misses entire conversations held directly in front of her. No one wants to engage, and she plays the middle line so well, no one really thinks about how she never comes out for lunches.
And if her home is a wreck of broken glass and torn-up wallpaper, her diploma and family photos a shredded mess strewn across the matted carpet of her dim space, there's no one who has ever thought to come over and see it. There is no one to question the smell of rotting food. And to her, there is only the sound. Her safe-place is a nightly torture now, as "IT" follows her into her dreams, and the darkness seems a cage, trapping her in with the sound that only magnifies as it bounces, echoes, GROWS. She can't tell if she's imagining—she can't tell much of anything anymore—when the sound seems louder the morning after one of those dreams.
She is willing to live this hell as long as she must, as long as they don't stare. Sometimes, she hardly notices the weeks as they claw past her. It's only as she's fighting with the first sound that ever competed with "IT", hanging in the air that the sense of unbearable burden sets in and she thinks she may destroy herself. Over, over, over again she hears the accusation.
She is an odd girl.
It's too much now. The painstakingly unobtrusive life she has built for herself seems to be tumbling around her as her vision blackens around the edges. She has always known the balance is a fragile one, but as the pretense comes apart, she cannot bring herself to grasp at it. She has failed, her life is over, and there's only one thing left to do.
She runs back to the front door and wrenches it open, the hinges crying out but holding firm to their track. She can't hear it with all the other noise in her skull. She strides forward into her walkway and turns to face the woman's retreating form. A quick darting glance tells her the street is filled with her neighbours. The more the better since it's all ruined anyhow, she thinks. She opens her mouth.
And she screams.
There are no words, there is no point. All she can do is watch her walls collapse and let "IT" out. Her voice bounces against the houses and staring people and comes back to her, high, piercing and inhuman. She can no longer tell if it is louder in her head or in her ears, but there is relief in the sight of the others flinching, covering their own. In that moment, for the first time, she knows she is not alone. They hear it too. And when she finally, impossibly runs out of breath, and the sound in her ragged throat falters, she hears it at last.
And crumples to the ground and into her first natural sleep.