Oslo watched the second-hand race around the clock, counting down to midnight on the eve of his 25th birthday, and imagined he could still hear the ticking. Sound-waves crashed against his cochlear sea, he felt the vibration, but that was all it was. Feeling. Sensation, but no noise. His head hummed in silence. Fingers pressed flat against the table, he knew it rained outside by the patter that rattled along his palms. He sniffed, and smelled Rosco, their black Labrador, scratching around in the backyard. Based on the strong ammonia odor, it would not be long until he found his way back to their door, scratching to demand entry and—presumably—whining. The young man picked up a pen in brown hands and wrote the last lines of prose, the final story inspired by his year in meditation.
They say that deafness is like sleep, and sound like a world we can never wake into. That a Writer’s world digs ever inward, that we plumb the soul while Talkers ascend to the heavens. But here, inside my head, I may have found a heaven that is all my own. My only fear is that—if I remain trapped here long enough—I will find it was hell all along.
It was then the young man, trapped by indecision, had the choice made for him by time. Sound rushed around him, over him, through him, from the far off cries of babes to the beating wings of a nearby insect. He looked down at the words he had just written, and it did not matter when later they became smudged illegible with tears: after all, no matter how clear they were, he would never again be able to read them.
And so the Writer was damned to Listen.
Could I live like this? Forever? He asked himself, replacing the pen on the desk. He had wondered this again and again over the past year, growing accustomed to interacting with the world by sight and smell and touch alone, reading along to his favorite movies, nose deep in book after book, looking friends in the face as those who had chosen to speak spoke, and following the fast hand gestures of the ones who had not. Oslo closed his eyes, wide grey pools rippling with doubt, and leaned back in his chair. Interlocking his fingers in his frizzy hair, now buzzed close to his head, he imagined he could distinguish each individual stubble. He thought that if he concentrated he might even feel it growing, however slowly, from his scalp. Heightened senses were the gift to every man and woman who came of majority age. He opened his eyes. They found the clock again, inexorably ticking towards the moment of decision. 60, 59, 58 seconds away. Soon, there would be no turning back.
He was reflecting on this same moment a year prior, when he finished testing life as a Talker, relishing the richness of laughter—how full the world felt when you could hear and yet how empty became your head, looking at row after row of novel and tome, knowing their contents, their worlds, were never to be yours—when his Mother ascended the steps to his attic room. She waited a moment on the stairs, not wanting to interrupt his reverie, his collection of sensory data. The young ones must consider every experience and every sensation, in order to best decide what they could do without.
Then the clock struck 12, each bell a silent tremor. At their end, like a man rising from the sea a moment before drowning, the world of sound came crying back to the young man. He heard the rain, heard Roscoe barking, the laughter and chatter of the assembled party guests awaiting his decision. Tonight was his Sense Fete. Where his manhood would be celebrated and his loss mourned; where he would be carried across the threshold into the world where some spoke and listened but could not read, and others wrote and studied text but could not hear. His mother finished climbing the stairs as the final bell rang and Oslo turned 25 in truth. Her eyes were dry, but red, and, still in the waning throes of Writerdom, Oslo could smell that the handkerchief in her back pocket was damp with salty tears.
“Well Oslo, have you made a decision?” Her voice trembled as she feared what she was about to lose. Would her beloved son never speak to her again, and be destined to a life of the mind? Would he become a recluse who gradually recedes from the only world she can understand? Or would he sacrifice the books he loved? The academic pursuits that sustained his youth? Would he choose to remain drowning in humanity’s flow?
The young man did not answer right away, racing through his memories of this year and the one prior. When had he felt the most joy? Was it hearing his friend tell a favorite joke? Or those long nights spent discovering forgotten wonders in a basement library? Was it in movies? Or the quiet moments of meditation where the world seemed bright in clear? Was it surrounded by friends and loved ones? Or isolation?
He closed his eyes and remembered…
She brushed her hand against his, catching his attention, and smiled. Her eyes were bright, those of one who had consumed a hundred worlds and then a hundred more. Who had heard everything worth saying and found it wanting. Who had wisdom to offer in text… and in touch. In sight and in smell. And in that moment, with that gesture and that grin and those beckoning eyes, she said more than he remembered hearing said by a man with a hundred thousand spoken words at his disposal.
Oslo opened his eyes and smiled—a poor imitation of that girl’s own, she whose name he had never learned nor needed to—and took his pen in hand. His Mother’s gentle sobs faded into the haze of a chosen silence.
Yes, I have.