Saturday, September 11, 2010

How To Lose Your Voice Without Screaming

How To Lose Your Voice Without Screaming is the seventh chapter of Alistair Avery Vogan's novel How To Lose Your Voice Without Screaming.

That evening after he had locked up Laundry-Land, Kingsley carried an old typewriter he’d purchased from a pawnshop, and the stack of paper piled on top of it, to the dining room table. He stood before the table while Mrs. Filmon talked cheerfully in the otherwise quiet room:

"...all alone, he thought about his dilemma. It occurred to the fluffy blue jay Nick, as the wind whistled and the rain poured down upon his soggy backside... the lonely field, that the First National Bank at the..."

She was like filthy wallpaper you might pull away from in a window-less room. Although it caused him great anxiety, especially when he thought about it, had he been another person listening in he would have concluded that the woman speaking was gentle, loving. That she meant no harm. But, it was the inescapable quality that tormented him. Feeling he was powerless.

He dropped the typewriter and the paper on the table loudly and heard her pause, as if regaining her composure. And then she started up again. He opened up the lid of the typewriter and saw an official-looking paper folded beneath a thin, clear plastic case. “Schreibkontrolle,” he read aloud.

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s A Taste Of Honey, floated through the wall separating his apartment from hers. Next door Miss Martha was dancing, he fancied, or else, perhaps, moving furniture…

He smiled longingly then, focusing, lifted the package and looked closely at the Adler J-4 typewriter. On the left of the machine at the top of the paddle, like a shining stainless steal shoehorn, stuck out. There were switches, levers, buttons and deep inside its guts, tiny little pieces of metal laid side-by-side like the handles of cutlery all packed up. It was overwhelming. He peered in closely and could make out the tine engravings on each piece of thin metal. He’d need a college degree to operate this thing. There were symbols he couldn’t recognize. On the outside he noted the rows of keys, possessing the same shape as the heal of a shoe. On these were the letters of his alphabet. He put the palm of his hand on the keys and pushed. The metal cutlery handles with the foreign symbols shot up and lodge themselves before a rolling pin-like cylinder embedded in the device. Great. He’d broken it. Mrs. Filmon seemed to grow louder.

At a loss, he opened up the clear plastic package with “Schreibkontrolle” written inside and pulled out the Adler J2 and J4 Instructional Manual.  It was in English.

Writing on J2 and J4
In buying your portable typewriter you have chosen well. The fully operational instructions are intended to serve you as guide enabling you to fully enjoy the various advantages offered by this typewriter. The essential points to be observed when typing with “J2” or “J4” are briefly described hereafter.

Feeling reassured, he read on, noting the five additional features that his Adler Nr. J43906762 possessed compared to the Adler Nr. J2 model. He congratulated himself for purchasing such a fine machine, though noting on some level that he’d most likely never use those features. Still, like purchasing just a little extra life insurance for safe measure, he indeed felt safer. He reached for a pencil and made notes along the manual and parts he might forget, underlying crucial points, sometimes twice.

When Kingsley had completed perusing the manual he confidently freed the jammed keys. Next, he extended the paper support with terminal indicator , and, of course, released the paper bail. He then inserted a crisp sheet of white paper under the rollers and, with his thumb and index finger, turned the platen knob counter clockwise with his right hand before expertly pumping the line space lever. He felt like Harper Lee…

He sat back and waited for Mrs. Filmon to finish the story. He waited relaxed, like a young boxer in his prime, watching his delusional, aged opponent strutting about the ring just before his last match.

He looked down at the keys and noted, somewhat disconcerted, that they were not, as he assumed, in alphabetical order. He listened to the voice,

"…that the First National Bank at the intersection of First Avenue and Finch was the last friendly bank in the courteous and smiling little village not to have installed a security camera monitoring system..."

He realized that he didn’t know how to type.

“Please stop,” he said. But she continued.

The xylophone chimed at the end of the story and Kingsley positioned himself for her to begin again. He looked around to the four corners of the ceiling waiting. He cleared his throat. “I would like you to say the story as slowly as you can,” he said to no-one.

He waited for “Once upon a time.” He sincerely hoped that she would begin slowly, thought she might. However, she began the story at regular speed, and he looked for the letter “O” key. By the time he found it she was on the second sentence and moving on from there.

He slammed his fists into the keys. “I hate this story!” he said petulantly. “I hate it and I hate you!!” His anger turned to anxiety. He could feel himself disassociating. The walls seemed to be undulating slowly around him. He felt like he was at sea. “Please…”

Kingsley rushed to the bathroom and vomited. Her voice was above him. His eyes darted back and forth. Out the window was a darkness he couldn’t remember. The darkness seemed to be seeping in. He saw the colours of the wallpaper, the door frame his hands, but seemed to sense a blackness beneath everything. Terror slowly enveloped him. For the first time in his life, he looked through the physical world around him, and saw that it was all illusion. Nothing was real. Not himself, the water flowing out of the facet, the buzzing of the tungsten light about him. It seemed as if all of humanity had disappeared and he was deep beneath the earth, in a catacomb.

Out of the darkness a large gloved hand stretched towards him. He could make out the figure of an interplanetary traveler, its head encased in a large egg shaped helmet. Just barely he could make out the eyes blinking behind the copper tinted visor, looking at him. The vision dissolved before him and for a moment, it was utterly silent. He became aware of his heart pumping. It built up speed pounding louder and louder. His heart was going to explode. Frantically, he reached for his new shower curtain and ripped it from the rings.

He ran out into his bedroom and spun around trying to strike the voice. He could hear Mrs. Filmon’s voice patiently rising over the high-pitched shrieking of an insane woman. He swung the shower curtain to the left and right and caught his face in the mirror for fraction of a second. His mouth was opened in a scream. Sweat poured down his forehead, tears filled his eyes. He whipped around and around. With a series of movements not his own he found himself in the living room rushing over the coffee table and up the couch. Suddenly, without warning, it seemed as though someone had kicked his legs out from under him, when in fact, while attempting to move in two opposing directions he had tripped over his own legs. He found both these legs in the air before him. He saw his socked feet ever so slowly eclipsing the dining room lights hanging from the ceiling. He hovered a moment then descended like a wingless Daedalus onto the back of the couch and crashed into the wood of the floor.

A sharp pain issued from behind one ear. On his back, Kingsley’s elbows slid over his torso and thumped wetly on the floor. His forearms and the palms of his hands followed, his body behaving like a carcass on a butcher’s table. Gradually he grew aware of a grey rectangle before him. It was his ceiling above, framed by the back of the couch and the wall.

He closed his eyes and turned what was left of his focus to the dull pain behind his ear. It was his right ear. For some time he thought only of the pain. It was the only thing he knew for certain, the only thing he could count on. Somehow, it was grounding. From the certainty of this pain he expanded his focus. He was behind the couch. The wall was to his right. He was lying on his back. He was Kingsley Kuchner. He lived at 177 East-Seventh Street. He was forty-six… A woman was near. He couldn’t see her. She was speaking to him. He felt a pang of anxiety, but swallowed it. He knew the pain was close at hand to retreat to if that darkness descended. Slowly all the broken pieces of Kingsley returned to their proper spots.

He listened to Mrs. Filmon. She was talking about a First National Bank. He wondered if she even knew he was there… “Who are you?” he whispered. He waited but there was no reply. He was alone. He sat up, then looked over the side of the couch. The shredded shower curtain lay in different locations across the room. A chair lay on its back, a picture on the opposite wall rested at an angle, the rug had been pushed up – and was curving in on itself – against the wall. The stack of paper, the cover of the Adler J4 and the J2 itself existed undisturbed where they had been, as if waiting.

The light above the table shone like a spotlight.

He picked himself up and approached the table.

He pulled the jammed metal on the inside the typewriter. He would, rather than wait for Mrs. Filmon finish her story, begin with what he did know. Painstakingly, he punched the keys with his index fingers

"Once upon a time…"

And to his surprise, discovered he knew all the words.

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We would like to gratefully acknowledge assistance provided by 
DonkeyJacket, Safia Adam, Sport68, Robert Bodrog, Bob Studholme, Brian Borgford, Craig Lauzon, Patreshia Tkach,  Chi Diep, Anum Siddiqui, Sara Ryan, Hannah Taha, Shaikha Alain, Ayesha Sayed, Leanne Wherret, Bruce McCullouch, Susan Cavan, Tanya Nguyen, Margaret Lambert, Peggy Vogan, Mahmood Farra, Barbara Vogan, ZeBeDee, Paul Marlow, Alison Belsham, Brian L, Melyat, Jagermeister8 and Sir William Newman, editors and story consultants at The Ivan Von Noshrilgram Foundation, Amman, Jordan.)    

Copyright 2000 (Alistair Avery Vogan / the Von  Noshrilgram Foundation)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How Did I Get Here? - Our Operation In The Middle East

From the Editor's Desk
at the Von Noshrilgram Foundation

The Middle East. Noon. Sun exploding directly overhead in a pale blue sky. Feel it, as if through a large magnifying glass hovering just over your head and shoulders. See a bustling market place, skinned animal limbs hanging, stacked jars of Omani honey, three goats in the back seat of a Mercedes Benz zipping past, leaning towers of cleansers and mounds of vegetables. Honking and haggling. It's all there. So is a white man, “too much white,” who stands with arms outstretched, shoes beginning to melt into the searing heat of the asphalt like cheese from a grilled sandwich as he glares at a map, slowly rotating it clockwise. He glances up, lost in the blur of heads and shoulders drifting past in all directions around him. His lips move silently. He estimates the total kilometers from his present location to his hometown, counting on his fingers. The map falls to the ground and is trampled…

Our Operation in the Middle East

What motivates one to embark on a life overseas? How does one benefit from being that ‘fish out of water’? Will we ever be the same once we’ve fully come to terms with this world’s charms and sorrows? And will these experiences alter us beyond recognition?... 

I stand beside my large desk, in my air-conditioned office of the Von Noshrilgram Foundation, peering around the curtain into the world outside, that Middle East. Outside on a tree branch, on the limb of a skeleton of a tree, skinny birds chirp lethargically in the midday heat and wipe their brows, looking in through the sheets of glass as if to say “Hey brother, how’s it on the inside.” I feel a pang of guilt. I consider the Middle East Operation, it’s success. The loss...

As I am sure it is a textbook description, the doctor said it would hurt “just a little”, an understatement, or spoken like a veteran movie critic who just doesn’t have the heart to give away the really good ending.  And because of this, I chose local anesthetic. On the day, the doctor used five needles to freeze the dermal layer, and, when he felt that he had been successful at this, began. It was “exploratory”, exploratory in the sense that the deeper he delved with his scalpel the more frequently he encountered the conscious part of me quick to announce with that rapid unicycle-like peddling motion of my legs and one arm and a Doctor Seussish flow of syllables in search of a sentence that I, Von Noshrilgram Jr. began here. Because it was “local”, I could hear everything in, as they say, virtual ‘surround sound’. The cutting and snipping and, at times, ripping. It sounded as though he was cutting fabric to make finger puppets, then giving up and shredding them, like a petulant child, into tiny unrecognizable bits. Also, it sounded like he was de-boning mutton with a dull knife so perhaps he was making his lunch at the same time. I heard it, all: the doctor’s multiple wet burps, the man in a rage screaming at the top of his lungs in the next room and my doctor’s consequent barely concealed chuckling, the nurse’s comments that the things the doctor wanted were not in the cabinet, “not this one either,” “the one over here?”, “I don’t know who stocked the shelves,” “the one over there?” and “check that cupboard then?”, and “no, not that one, that one.” 

And so on...

It was like I was there.

I imagined my life at that moment existing on a VHS tape, and I rewound it noisily – our voices and the ambient sounds rising in pitch comically and presenting itself as a code to be deciphered by those who might care sometime in the future - just to the point where the nurse appeared in the doorway of the waiting room and announced my name, like a foreign capital he’d never been to and wasn’t much interested in visiting, as I read the paper. This time, however, I do not look up spirited and fearless, but watch him from the corner of my eye surreptitiously, watch him waiting for me too patiently, while the other future patients glance up. In this perfect universe I begin to whistle, then remember a dinner date and excuse myself, embarrassed, “Wrong day!” I shake everyone’s hand and leave with some aplomb. People wave.

While lying on the operating table
with my left arm folded beneath my torso and therefore losing all the feeling it once had but gradually being filled with the sensation that little people were angrily hammering stakes into every inch of flesh to secure small pup tents, I attempted to escape to a more comforting place and thought of a pack of dogs two hundred yards away in a valley across the highway who had pursued me with jaws snapping while I ran for my life in a zigzaggy pattern just the week before. At that moment they were most probably resting beneath the one tree in the dry riverbed with their tongues hanging out, waiting. Outside on the road in the back of a pick-up truck several golden brown camels glanced out onto the town in a superior, bored manner and a nurse swung the operating room door open and announced, “Ding DONG! Anyone home!” 

I jerked up to her surprise. 

Oh!” she said, looking to the doctor, “…Local?” 

The doctor nodded.

Afterwards, a strange thing happened. The operation was over. I was in agony. My tumor, the size of an egg, floated to my surprise in the clear plastic container, looking out lonely. I felt the distance between us. Like an ex-girlfriend you still share some closeness with but know it can’t work out and you’ve both decided courageously to go your separate ways, yet… there you both are, both feeling vulnerable, both needing each other... somehow. 

Maybe it was all me, but I felt a sadness permeating the room. I found myself wondering how it had all gone so terribly, terribly wrong. I wondered what I could have done differently. What I could have eaten, said, been. If I’d taken a different route, made a different life choice, would it all have still ended up this way? Then the doctor waved at me, cheerfully to get my attention, or perhaps to confirm for himself that he hadn’t accidentally severed some crucial nerve that rendered it impossible for me to form a new thought, and, seeing the blood on his hands, my blood, I passed out.

Three days later, I still feel the pain. It aches. I look out the window, trying to muster the strength to get back to work, to get back 'into the saddle', for the old me to return home. 

A bird, one in particular, seems to be attempting to lock eyes with me. He glances to his companions. I look down at the palms of my two open hands impotently, as if one more hand might help… If I let a handful of birds in today, what precedent exactly would I be setting? I turn away completely, as many have before today. Out of my vision this bird drive heaves, a particle of sand stuck in its throat. Oblivious, for I’m pondering the Middle East Operation, I know a decision must be made. I feel my hand on the curtain and know what needs to be done. There are some chapters it’s best to simply leave behind. And there is, of course, the memory of Ivan Von Noshrilgram Sr, distinguished philosopher botanist, wild game hunter, exotic animal trainer, extinguished firewalker, linguist, writer and humanist lecturer, to perpetuate. I’m still me, darn it.

 I’ll find my way.

Still, I wonder what my tumor’s doing right now...?

We would like to gratefully acknowledge the special assistance provided by the Middle East Division of The Ivan Von Noshrilgram Foundation Emergencies and Medical Preparedness Department (IVNF - EMPD) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  

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