“All I have is a voice…” Breakthrough Challenge for the week of 5/1/2017

Musicians and dancers face their audience and visual artists can spy on them, but reading is mostly as private as writing. Writing is lonely, it’s an intimate talk with the dead, with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with the readers who may never come to be and who even if they read you will do so weeks, years, decades later. An essay, a book, is one statement in a long conversation you could call culture or history; you are answering something or questioning something that may have fallen silent long ago, and the response to your words may come long after you’re gone and never reach your ears, if anyone hears you in the first place. — Rebecca Solnit
So, why write? You know the answer to that question. But, if you don’t, or have once known the answer and feeling hammered by recent events both political and/or personal, have given up, here is a voice from the past which rings clear as a crystal bell:
“All I have is a voice,” wrote W.H. Auden in September 1, 1939, his agonized attempt to comprehend, and oppose, the triumph of radical evil. “Who can reach the deaf?” he asked despairingly. “Who can speak to the dumb?” At about the same time, the German-Jewish future Nobelist Nelly Sachs found that the appearance of Hitler had caused her to become literally speechless, robbed of her very voice by the stark negation of all values.  —the late Christopher Hitchens, in Mortality

Your voice? Please take advantage of the opportunity to sound your voice in next week’s Breakthrough Writing. You don’t know who may need your words. Note: Hitchens wrote Mortality as he was living his dying. The book is his generous gift to us, the still-living.

Thank you, Cin Norris:

“It’s no one’s fault,” he said.

She sat down cross-legged on her side of the bed with an old, favorite blanket hugging her shoulders, refusing to give more ground.

Nick had followed her from room to room, routing her from her studied intention upon the dishes and the denial buried in the laundry basket.

“Katie, this is not going away. We have to talk about it.”

But Katie did not want to. She hitched the old blanket, smelling of fabric softener and scratchy in a familiar way, up closer to her neck.

“It’s not anyone’s fault,” Nick repeated. He was not going to be shut out.

The cat, sleek and golden jumped up on the faded blue and white quilted coverlet. Katie gathered him to her, his soft, warm body unresisting. She buried her face in his fur and inhaled deeply. Katie maintained that Oscar Wild smelled like dust and sunshine. Nick had agreed but she suspected he thought Oscar just smelled like cat.

“You have a disease, Katie,” Nick tried again. He knelt down on his side of the bed, red-eyed, hands trembling.

“I am the disease,” Katie murmured into Oscar’s neck.

Nick shifted, obviously dismayed by her statement but relieved that she had begun to engage.

Oscar squirmed and she released him. He didn’t go far, sniffing Nick’s outstretched fingers then returning to lay down next to Katie. She stroked him lightly, watching the way some of his fine hairs caught on her fingertips.

When no further information was forthcoming, Nick gently prodded, “How are you the disease?”

Katie stopped petting the cat, startled at his phrasing. Not ‘why did you say’ or ‘what did you mean’, but ‘how are you the disease’. He wanted to know? She would tell him.

“Everything I touch goes wrong. Bad wrong. The job, the cooking, even simple vacuuming. I broke the vacuum!” Her voice held a note of shrillness that even she heard. With effort, she moderated her tone.

“And every time it happens, I hurt more. Then I hurt you more. I drag us lower every day.”

Nick scratched his forehead, then leaned forward to rub Oscar’s ears.

Katie knew her plaints sounded thin; they were weak to her own ears, but true nonetheless.

“Katie,” Nick began, then stopped, clearly not knowing what to do with such vague information.

She ran her hands through her own hair, mixing Oscar’s golden with her darker locks. Heaving a heavy sigh, she pulled the blanket up further and looked around the room.

A framed photograph on the wall caught her attention. It was one of their favorite wedding pictures, taken at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The photographer had setup a beautiful shot with the serene Colorado River and the variegated striations in the canyon wall behind them.

At the time, Nick has just said something that made her laugh and the photo caught the two of them holding on to each other, unable to catch their breaths.

Her weary eye caught something in the picture she had never noticed before. Katie rose from the bed, to Oscar’s disgruntlement, and took the framed photo off the wall.

Behind their laughing forms, Katie could see a diagonal line in the rock wall; the layers somehow a little off from each other. It was a fault line there, visible at the bottom of the canyon. It had been with them from the beginning, but it wasn’t hers or even his. Nick was right. It was no one’s fault. It just was what it was. If they could be so happy in the photo with the fault so close they could have touched it, they should be able to be happy with it 800 miles away. Anyway, it was just a fault, minding its own business and clearly not breaking the vacuum.

“You’re right,” she murmured, turning to look at Nick. She smiled a lopsided and rather weak smile and held out the picture.

Nick caught her drift immediately, he was so clever like that. His smile was stronger as he pulled her close.

“Let the fault stay where we found it,” he whispered into her hair. “It doesn’t belong to either of us.”


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