My voice is coming from inside this box. That’s why it strikes your ear askew. Brim full and empty, almost gone, its syllables never sound, but resound merely. Or so I’m told. For myself I can’t speak, of course, having never been without it. The box, I mean. Within, the sensations are pronounced, sonorous as a shower stall, all reverberating surfaces, tile and porcelain, if you know the echo I have in mind, but anyhow, a noise like no other, the resonance, you could say, of its own name. If names resounded, if bodies intoned them. My own name is immaterial. The voice comes first, then this box, and only later, if at all, the name, which makes for some frustration. Once we’re better acquainted, I hope you can ignore it, but for now, you’ve probably got your hands full just trying to hold your tongue. Anyway, the sound from the box isn’t my name, and at the start it’s the box that occupies us.
Closets are something else. I’ve tried living in a closet, passed my everlasting adolescence in one, groping through strangers’ pockets, lights out, mothballs corroding every sinus. But a voice in a closet is muffled, gagged, the sound of its stifling, and that sensation is another one, short-lived, less hollow. Inside the box, by contrast, my voice is too replete, chock-full, or just insufficiently farfetched, to smother. It stays with you, like the flu. Let me tell you, before being boxed I often rambled in my sleep and awoke more than once to hear my gist rebound. My voice then struck me as outlandish, the nasal mutterings of an exile. None of its clamor seemed mine or, for that matter, anyone else’s. Phrases returned like bad pennies, familiar currency, little sense. Maybe they hadn’t been coined. Maybe I’ve forgotten to take my pill. Anyway, I like the phrase, his words hung in the air, and would use it now, I mean to describe this sensation in my box, if my box had air. Which I suppose it must. A vacuum is silent. I don’t mean the carpet cleaners, which are, of course, very noisy. But outer space, the universe. A box is like that, no atmosphere, perfectly abandoned, emptiness filling all. That and the darkness are its most notable features, of which more presently.
The reason I’m boxed is I saw me happen. That is, though not exactly at peace, I can’t really wish to flee, could only wish not to have seen, which I don’t exactly do. What I wish is for whatever’s to come and, in a manner of speaking, you, faceless at any account, but I’m rarely hopeful, having found this box too narrow for it. Which, of course, starts out all wrong, for being boxed isn’t being anywhere, and wasn’t hope always six-sided, always a suffocation? But I suppose I’ve got to start some place, and if one day it happens…well, there you are! So. This box, my voice, what I’ve seen. Others have had more, but then I’m hardly them.
I saw me happen on a parched flat when strange humors oozed from my skin. I don’t recall the circumstances, but I do recall the sensations. The light was unforgiving, but when isn’t light unforgiving? I remember my face baking, heard tumors sizzle like rashers beneath the dermis. At any instant I was expecting my flesh to rupture, set this old heart free, when I noticed something forming on the back of my hand. There seemed to be globules, or not quite globules, where I’d never noticed not quite globules before. A glistening of hairs, watery beads, one rivulet. Who’s this? I thought, putting my tongue to the place, tasting salt. Had I turned piquant, melted to a sauce? And then it occurred to me, exactly what it’s impossible to say, in the merest whisper of wind. Oh, I’ll never forget that coolness! I fell into a rapture, saw vapors rising. It was my bodily assumption. Whether the change was miraculous I still can’t tell, but I immediately put aside former preoccupations. There was only afterwards now. What was happening had never happened to anyone before.
I surmise from your blankness that you’re not amazed. It’s to be understood. My voice rarely strikes anyone at first, or only in passing, and even then more often on reflection, like a comeback or belated rejoinder. Without this box the air could be torrid, as frantic as a sirocco, thoughts consumed in perfect incandescence, while these reverberations, regardless how fulsome, take an eternity to alight. Only silence could attune the ear to within, and who’s to say if mere vibrations would amuse you? In the box all such assurances sound hollow. Not that I speak from experience, mind, but I’ve confused myself with this echo often enough, mistaken the dying of my own voice for others, and I know how prone I am to lie, or perhaps imagine things. If hordes were without would it be any different? I’ve dreamt of groans, children sobbing, and although I know it’s just this box, the sound of myself recoiling, still it’s no mean feat to keep all within. Why, even this now could be part of it! Let’s be frank. Nothing I’ve recounted so far is anything you haven’t been listening to forever. I could be utterly absent, my flesh a mirage, this box unbound, and how would either of us tell? See. What could be simpler? It’s this that gives rise to my voice.
Berry is the author of Leonardo's Horse, a New York Times "notable book" of 1998.
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