Hold a glass to the wall and listen: next door is a world of muffled noise and unknown inhabitants. The occasional crack of laughter but extremely quiet, mostly. You hear it in the evenings when the sky is pink. Sometimes, what sound like spells spoken in a lost language. Incoherent.
‘Ridiculous,’ you mutter in the direction of the wall when you realise how long you’ve been listening (twenty seven minutes today), but the wall is thick and the glass is on the table now and no one replies.
Weeks pass and still there’s no one else in the building, no one you recognise, so you sift through the post on the table in the hall. Among the charity bin bags and pizza flyers, a series of brown envelopes from the DWP (return: Blackpool) all made out to an Mx Green. Typo, obviously, but your neighbour’s address. Scrounger. You turn and see a faint burgundy light glowing through the small still eye of the keyhole. Next door, you decide, must exist at the far red end of the visible spectrum, the barely perceptible realm of the reptiles. Cold blooded Mr or Miss Green.
Back inside, through one end of your empty glass, you hear a faint pattering, the stapedian bones of your middle ear drumming an old tattoo like rain, like a fetal heartbeat. You picture next door clinging to a bookshelf and swivelling their eyes at a passing cricket. Once you’ve tuned into the faint rhythm, you carry it in your chest. It’s permanent. Old knowledge. Well, that’s an uncomfortable thought so you take the glass and turn it on end, press to the wall. Listen. Nothing changes.
Over the months that follow you step up your surveillance, casually interviewing people in the street outside, possible neighbours, trying to learn something about next door, but nothing. You return home each evening and put the glass to the wall, and there is the sound of the lost language and stapedian tattoo and the heartbeat: you recognise it all now, irritatingly, along with a stream of words that sound completely invented.
You could knock at the door of course, introduce yourself, but why should you? You were here first, weren’t you?
It doesn’t matter. Glass to the wall, one end or the other, alternating night by night or sometimes chosen randomly according to whim, one of two, nice and simple as methods go. Straightforward and sensible.
It’s like this throughout the winter and well into spring, glass to the wall, the drumming of tiny bones and then one night, expecting nothing but routine, listen: something’s changed. Something has gained momentum like the swell of a chorus. A tide. A sort of... rushing. Like several tributaries meeting, like rainclouds merging, elementals moving, a deep boom and clap and then like one of those summer storms that sweeps from mountain to prairie in two feral hours it arrives abruptly, smelling of cut grass and blood, of ozone and electricity
and it is us.
The ancient animals you’ve spent your whole life denying and now we are sweeping the floor, rushing from the hall into your room and pooling at the seams of your well-made shoes, your ankles, higher, and without looking down you sense us, you feel us, swimming and crawling and flying and tumbling, rainclouds and tributaries, capillaries and arteries, the deep red end of the visible spectrum spilling a flash flood across ground too hard to drink, and you brace against our current as we arrive, as we have always arrived, with our new words for our old language swallowing your pant leg your belt your shirtsleeves and you set your jaw and you narrow your eye and you press your empty glass to the wall,
Hyperacusis is a debilitating hearing disorder in which sound sensitivity is so heightened as to be physically painful. It can be accompanied by other sensory issues like photophobia - light sensitivity.
Text and image commissioned by The Birley for their newspaper inspired by the working class suffragette newspaper, The Woman's Dreadnought