Last night I heard my fatherʼs voice.
I had my headphones on, the ear-covering, padded, noise-canceling Sony headphones I had bought more than a year ago at Samʼs Club. I was listening to Robert Frippʼs new-age-ish At The End of Time, Churchscapes — Live in England & Estonia, 2006, so I couldn’t actually hear the voice as it really was.
My tinnitus has been peaking in recent weeks, basically since the new year began, squealing away like pain (interestingly, unironically, in the back of my head and my neck).* So I have made efforts, as the otolaryngologist suggested back in late fall of 2011 that I should, to fill the (otherwise) silence that supposedly inspires my delusions of ceaseless inhuman screaming. Thus the headphones and music at bedtime.
In fact, although I was lying in bed with The Lovely One, I couldnʼt hear her at all — the noise-canceling feature really does kind of work. But I heard that voice, intoning words from a book.
It wasnʼt really my father — nowhere nearly as rich, resonant, or deep as I remember his voice to be. This was thinner, pitched higher, more nasal. It was my voice, and I was reading aloud to Janet from the final paragraphs of the first chapter of John Irvingʼs Last Night in Twisted River.
My dad used to read aloud at bedtime to my mother, and this recent experience gave me a little shudder of parallelism. At least, I thought with a kind of mildly exultant relief, this book isnʼt Ayn Rand, which I know small I heard my dad reciting, both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In my childhood and youth, his voice was a deep, vague murmur of almost completely indeterminate rumblings. Maybe I could catch a word or phrase periodically, but mostly it was a deep, calm stream of sound that probably lulled me to sleep.
My nighttime reading sends Janet to dreamland. For a while, even before my retirement, she has made noises about me reading to her before sleep (I have a very bad habit of reading at bedtime, as back in the teaching days that often was the only opportunity I had to read anything for months at a time — anything other than student essays, journals, quizzes, tests, and other even more dreary work-related texts). So shortly before Christmas I began reading to her most nights, working our way through Rumpole at Christmas. Then we quit the nocturnal reading aloud once I finished that book (having had to reread most of the longest story three times, as she slipped off into unconsciousness far more quickly than I realized several nights in a row). However, when I discovered that Mr. Irving would have yet another new book out in the spring this year, I figured it was time I read the now-current book, which I had purchased roughly when I retired and hadnʼt yet read.**
And Janet, who is further behind than I, holding partway through Until I Find You (among my favorite Irvings, by the way), was very interested in having us read Last Night in Twisted River “together.” So we began to get acquainted with logging in New Hampshire (and all those really hard-to-pronounce Indian-named rivers and places), accidental death, fathers and sons.
And then my fatherʼs voice phoenixed in my head through through the shrill squall of unreal shrieking and Frippertastic jazzoid noodlings…
* Woefully, my research indicates that both aspirin and aspartame may contribute. Time to stop drinking diet pop? Or do you call it “soda?”
** Along with The Childrenʼs Hour, the Connie Willis two-volume WWII time-travel book(s), Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins… and a dozen more (more), all still unread, on the shelf, patient, waiting…
Weʼll return to Budapest shortly, folks.