This piece is a personal response to the short story “Voices from Near and Far”, that I read over the winter break. The original story is about a mother who yearns to hear the voices of her deployed sons so that she may be assured that they are safe. Interestingly, she has somebody write these letters for her, for I believe that she herself cannot read or write; thus causing her to ask her scribe to “read them [the letters] out loud to [her],” although he never does. In my response I wrote about a young girl who has never met the woman who gave birth to her, but yearns to connect with her through the letters she hides within a box under the sand. The young girl eventually hears the voice of her lineage, but through an unexpected unravelling of events.
The Voice Inside the Box
I must wait until all of the other girls have fallen asleep, and the noises made by the Matrons no longer drifts up the stairs and echoes into the bedroom. I must wait until the light from the hallway no longer casts shadows onto the wall, and only once I have heard the sounds of three pairs of feet climb up the stairs shall I hear the closing of three doors; then the silence ensues. I lay in my bed and count to one thousand – waiting for the house to drift away into the unconscious state that allows me to slip away.
When I return the red and orange morning threatens to split the space between the earth and the sky, and the moon has began to fade back into the receding night sky. My bed is cold from my absence, and my shoes that now sit beside the bed are still wet from my trek across the dewy grass. Sand, still clinging to my hair, falls and dusts across my pillow. Now I can sleep.
This goes on. Night to day. My escape never expected and my return never even noticed. I cycle through these motions each night, and the thought of stopping has never even occurred to me. This routine has established a reputation for me in the home. Last to be woken by the knocking on the doors and the slowest eater from the table of seven girls – all staring at me wondering why my eyes refuse to stay open after a presumed ten hours rest. But this is the home in which I live, amongst the girls who are my “sisters”, each of us left with nobody who can take care of us – so we now take care of each other. The Matrons too are like family, their voices reassuring and their touch is one of love, and I often wonder how well they would compare to my own mother. Though I may never know.
That is where I go when the noise is no longer made and the light is no longer on and the feet have come and the doors have closed – to my mother.
To the box hidden under the sand where all of my letters to the woman I have never known, but have created in my mind. The place where I write to her, hoping that one day I might actually hear her voice in response. Accompanying the letters is a cassette tape of a woman singing Dream a Little Dream of Me, the voice I imagine that would have lulled me to sleep each night; a now dead and dried lilac, the comforting scent I foresee clinging to her warm, ivory skin that matches mine; and a sketch of a woman I once saw on a train who I believed looked as if my mother would – for she had the same eyes as me.
It is in this box that I have created the voice of my mother. It is this box that I visit each night, and this box that I bury with the warm air of the sea that tells me it is almost morning.
Tonight as I approach my box I realize someone has found it. The sand is loose, as if it has just recently been dug up, and once I have opened it I see the letters have been moved, yet remain unopened. I become frightened that a scavenger, a thief, has disrupted my secret chest – my buried treasure. I spend that whole night turning over the contents of the box in my hands, grateful that they have not been stolen by the stranger, though now they seem tainted by the touch of someone they were not intended for. I leave that morning, my box in a new place, with the fear of my box once again being pried open by the hands of somebody I do not know. Afraid they would let out the ghost of the woman trapped under its lid.
I approach the next night and he is there. The scavenger, the thief, sitting on the sand with my box laying open in front of him. I do not approach him immediately, but stand and observe him. He is old, older than the Matrons, and sits hunched breathing deeply. He too holds each of the objects in his hands, much larger than my own, and turns the pieces of my imagined mother over and over, as if caressing them. I am not frightened as I was the night before, but curious as to who is visiting my box. He appears peaceful – unable to cause my box any harm.
I cannot bring myself to disrupt him and turn to leave when I hear someone call out.
“You’re early,” he says. I freeze.
“Usually ya donna come until 11 o’clock,” he continues calmly, and I realize he has a heavy Scottish accent.
I approach him now, and sit beside him on the cool sand. He has yet to look directly at me, and plays with the sand between his fingers.
“Will ya read em’ to meh?” he asks, “the letters.”
I would expect this to startle me, yet instead I find myself warmed by the idea of sharing my letters to this quiet old man. And so I reach for the letter I wrote to my mother on my first day of middle school, last September. As I read to him he smiles, sometimes laughs, frowns, and at the end of the letter I wrote the day I saw the women on the train he mumbles, his words incoherent.
I then realize the air is warm and the sun has risen. I am late. Startled I collect the letters and put them back within the box, and the stranger – my new friend – helps me hide it away once again under the sand.
“Here,” he says, “let me walk you.”
I take his hand and together we walk back to the home. They are warm and calloused, his hands. He is tall, and I can imagine that he was handsome when he was young. I cannot draw myself away from looking at him, though he continues to avoid my gaze. I squeeze his hand.
“We’re here kid,” he says with a sigh.
He lets go of my hand and nods in the direction of the front door, he still does not look right at me. I then leave him standing on the sidewalk, I walk up the stairs, onto the porch and quietly sneak through the front door. I silently creep up the stairs and slip, unheard, into my bedroom. I leave my shoes beside the bed, but I do not crawl in. Instead I go to the desk in the corner of the room full of my sleeping sisters and draw the eyes of the old man- for they were the same as mine.