Volume Control. By Matthew Fazakerly
When your world becomes silent, things seem so isolating at first. A world without sound encloses and quarantines our own chaotic kingdoms, makes them prisons. Day-to day life is missing the normal osmosis of misheard conversations once taken for granted; the sound of petty arguments between neighbours; the wailing precious child that really, no, really must have the latest new toy or the world will end. It really is profoundly strange and unsettling when the general music of our own personal universes colliding and intertwining together is suddenly absent. But it’s something you can live through. Live through and flourish. And as I found out, it’s definitely for the better.
It all began when my good eardrum exploded with an involuntary spasm of pain, and a sickening drizzle of ooze. It was a relief, believe it or not. Out of the blue a few hours before, the earache had started. The torture had been like nothing I had ever felt before. It had grown and stabbed and throbbed until all I could do was whimper in helplessness. It was as if some sort of parasite had crawled into my head and started burrowing away, deeper and deeper inwards, all the while you can hear it getting closer, but there was nothing you could do to stop it. A sound was in my head; a pressure building, quiet at first then growing steadily until suddenly the crescendo, fully blown, mind-blowing and overwhelming. The pain diminished to a dull throb that I could have fallen in love with, compared to what had plagued minutes earlier. I lay my head down exhausted and drifted off to a deep sleep devoid, strangely enough, of my usual dreams.
The next morning when I awoke to a pillow soaked in a pool of yellowish brown – surely that amount of fluid could not possibly come out of my ear? – I knew that something was wrong. Filtered and sunlight was pouring through my window. I could feel the cool breeze of the central air processors lightly blowing through my bedroom. But there was something missing. It didn’t strike me at first, so I eased my way out of bed with my afflicted pillowcase, threw it in the dirty washing hamper and headed to the kitchenette to prepare some breakfast. I still felt a bit miserable, but there was a lightness in my step that bespoke of a man who had journeyed through his own personal hell and come out the other side.
“GovNet please, House.” Nothing so much as a croak came out of my mouth, and the first thing that struck me was that I must have lost my voice. I went to manually turn on the vid screen, but it responded to my command and turned itself on. Dirty and very scruffy outlanders, cuffed and cowed were marched toward a helicopter on screen. “Separatist Terrorists caught and interred, awaiting rehabilitation” scrolled across the screen, GovNet links indicating further related feeds. There was no sound.
“House, please increase volume,” I asked. When I spoke I still couldn’t hear my voice. An icon appeared on screen, increasing from fourteen bars twenty. There was very little difference as far as I could tell. I moved to the vid screen and scrolled it up to maximum volume. I could feel the vibration through my feet, but could only vaguely discern a dull fuzz of sound. I had always had poor hearing with my right ear, ever since I was a child. My parents had been some of the few who had felt that what we were dealt was how we should be in this life, and, to be quite honest, I had never known anything different. I could hear, I could experience, I could enjoy music and life as it was. Just not in the perfect surround sound of your average citizen. But now I began to panic. My brain was telling me ‘Don’t worry – it’s just temporary, you need time to heal, that’s all!’ But my heart was losing it. When you realise that something that had just been there, taken for granted for your entire life was gone, well, you panic a little.
Despair welled up and I sat and cradled my head in my hands, slowly banging my recently perforated ear to see if I could dislodge some kind of sound. I know, it’s silly. But I didn’t know what to do. So I did the only thing that was in my power to do right at that very moment. I went back to bed and cried.