Quiet seems more complete when the heater’s blowers die, and the outside noises that our inside noises erase suddenly become audible—the L roaring past, tires crushing snow, a whoop of laughter into a cell phone. Inside, everything is still but an insulating film over the fireplace, a covering my wife added during bitter cold two weeks ago. It bellows with drafts and winds, and I imagine it as a giant eardrum, sighing on its own as it gathers every vibration and variation of pressure.
The house is so still this morning, I see myself in every object and perceive them as companionable. My family shares our home with things we admired, wanted, needed, received, surrendered to. Sometimes these things have their own voices, announcing their provenance as your eye falls on them:
- a drawing an art teacher at my old school gave me, a casual doodle that once seemed the dissected limb of an alien but now, sun worn, returns to whiteness again.
- my daughter’s backpack beached beside the chair we threw it out of
- boots and shoes on a mat by the door, speaking the desperation with which they were thrown off, home at last—their hulls bump as if some unseen current moved them
- the cutting board squeezed between the drainer and the sink wall in the part we never use, the board’s face scratched and scarred with incidental art
- a nearly finished sweater, a Christmas present from mother to daughter—green nearly black in the twilight this time of day—draped over the back of the couch and trailing yarn to the floor. It looks marine to me, a sinuous creature attenuated by life in the sea and unsuited to gravity
- a badly stacked pile of folded New York Times Book Reviews, all unread, their half-faces staring up blankly
Meanwhile, as I create this list, the day stirs. Three floors down, someone scrapes the sidewalk of last night’s snow. Upstairs, my wife clicks the computer mouse. These noises don’t advance time as a watch ticking does, but, irregular as they are, they mark moments as well, alerting me to the doing I ought to start too. The L passes. The heater kicks to life—the blower followed by the throat-clearing ignition of flames to heat air. No silence will stay. I can’t stay. Light, even the gray light of an overcast day, demands motion.
Maybe things watch me as I do them, each of us having our instant of visibility, our utterance, our place, our beginning, our purpose. Something calls us, and we are. Something prods me on.