The Mouth in Front of Him

The walls are a pastel grey-blue. Or a muted grey-blue. He recalled the hue from the Sherwin-Williams color wheel fanned out on his coffee table at home. “Respite Blue” — ‘The lingering haze in the sky as clouds cleared out’ … ‘An evocation of peace or serenity’. Or so the designer had told him. He couldn’t help but think of the hospital rooms and doctors’ offices coated in Respite or another synonym of comfort or calm. A color. Every time he saw it, all he could think of was distraction. Covering cold concrete and listless plaster with vestigial mimeographs of something beyond. Something else, at least. After all the copies, that ersatz approximation disintegrated into static and became the primary association. The beyond was just that. When did he stop seeing the sky?

He soon (or, maybe not entirely) realized the mouth in front of him continued to move while his ears registered an oscillating see-saw pivoted around 7500Hz. A slight phasing—not quite a monotone—of a B♭ only the best hi-fis could faithfully reproduce. He should feel so lucky. Slowly, sounds fell into congruence with the mouth before him. It helped to concentrate on the movement, then tie sounds to it. A man’s lows and mids came into the aural spectrum.

The sounds were inconsequential, though. He’d already decided he wasn’t going to hear anything. No—today or anymore—he wasn’t sure. His gaze drifted from the mouth in front of him and the slight phase of B♭ refilled his mind (or his ear?—he wasn’t sure what the difference was). The sounds of the mouth in front of him weren’t lost on him, though; in some way they added to (his) swirling noises: the words he’d heard, those he wished he hadn’t, the ones he’d always hoped for. All stewed with the cacophony of acquired ambient sounds of a lifetime of exposure. Sometimes he thought they synced up—he wanted to believe this was some sort of realization, although he’d never admit it. You have to rewind the tape every once in a while, after all.

He found his gaze focused on the nondescript Respite of the wall behind the mouth in front of him. Occasionally, the wall’s continuity was belied by a crack or a chip. A small but distinct aberration of texture or space. Slow streaks manifested and travelled. He soon saw two portrait windows bisected imaginary demarcations of thirds. He laughed to himself at the thought of the sky.

The oscillation in his ears changed timbre. The envelope shifted and he found it was his turn to open it and read. That’s all it was. Reading. Reciting. Rote repetition. No thinking. From the mess of collected sounds in his mind, he sought to find the right order—what he was trying to say or what should be heard didn’t really matter.

It seemed to work. Noises volleyed in the air and filled the envelope. He thought about how much stayed with him, with the ears surely attached to the mouth in front of him; absorbed into the Respite on plaster, or filtered through the window to alter the portrait beyond.

Those withering tones mirrored—begot—his own. That envelope filled and soon filed away along with the rest of them. Where that was, he didn’t really know. Or, maybe he did and didn’t want to say. When he first stopped seeing the sky, he realized he was in a place, apart.

In a place; apart. That’s how it always is, though: looking above—seeing the sky—but always out of reach. With all of those seemingly meaningful noises bouncing off each other—affect and influence. To know that it’s a blanket wrapped from above was always comfort. There, protective. To be apart, though, made it seem to be something to fall into—after falling too far away—than be made safe. Thus, his delicate pace of reticence and lowered eyes.

He brought his gaze back to the windows. Portraits of the sky, definitively framed. To see that expanse in something more digestible—sealed and bordered—it seemed he could feel that blanket again. The withering tones had more life—he had more life. In a moment, chorus. Viability. A distinct grab onto the ethereal world above and around, and that distant symphony of ephemerality far too close to him to hear with assurance.