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Voice in the Sound of the Rain

From: New England Review
Volume 34, Number 1, 2013
pp. 18-19 | 10.1353/ner.2013.0047

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In his room, he listens to the rain strike the tin roof on the lean-to under his window. Just beyond it stands the little peach tree, with its fruit that never ripens. A warm, summer-night rain, in large drops that sometimes fall one at a time, or several at once, almost. And he listens to this sound, he sets himself adrift on the randomness of chance, till chance becomes his sole reality. Now he feels it well up in all things, erasing belief, figures, memories. He no longer knows who he is himself, and yet it isn’t as if he has ceased to exist. Too happy for that, he has become as one with the slow plops, the brusque leaps forward of the plashing water. Child that he is, lying naked on his bed before the wide-open window, he simply lets himself go: till he is nothing more than this pounding that jumps ahead like a wild animal, this bitter smell of foliage, dark-green verging on black.

But all of a sudden, what alarms him? Why does he prop himself up on one elbow, cocking his ear? Because he seems to hear a brief sequence of notes in the hammering of the drops. He had already noticed it a few moments ago; and now—he can’t tell why—it has come back once more.

And soon after that, here it is again: four or five raps on the tin, divided by an interval, the same each time. A form, in fact, a denial of the randomness I was enjoying so thoroughly, lost in its broadly gliding folds. A form? Is it possible? Has this repetition actually taken place? I listen, in the downpour that never ends—that swells instead, then slackens for a while, only to tumble down again with even greater force. I listen. Yes, right away I hear those same intervals again, without a shadow of a doubt: as if a sign were striving to free itself from happenstance. Am I dreaming? Or is it chance itself—chance, that sleep of matter—which dreams?

This form—this utterance, perhaps—recurs several times throughout the night. For long stretches I fail to hear it anymore: it seems to have drowned in the haphazard thrum of water on the roof. But just when I cease to believe that it was real, I perceive it once again—faintly, now and then, as if absent from itself, but this last time so loud and so close . . . No, I no longer have any doubts. Amid these jumbled noises of the downpour, a musician is molding them into notes, a fragment of rhythm. A musician who loves this newfound motif. Who loves.

Maybe he even desires for someone, in our other world, to hear it too. Except that, almost in a heartbeat, the rain comes to a halt. A few lingering drops, more and more infrequent, then truly nothing at all.


He turns toward the woman sleeping next to him—or who seems to sleep, breathing evenly.

Did you hear? he asks her.

Yes, she says. She turns toward him; and opening her eyes, hardly visible in the dark, she stares deeply into his.

Yes, she says again. One of those prisoners.

And since she sees he is surprised: We’re in prison, as you’re well aware. So where is he? In one of the other cells.

Are you making fun of me?

Oh no . . .

And it’s true: now he lingers over the tambourine someone—he can’t remember who—brought back to him from a country in Asia. A thin sheet of leather, stretched on a frame of copper and wood. Despite his clumsiness, he has tapped that surface countless times, instantly making it vibrate—with his ear almost pressed to the rim, in hopes of recomposing that vanished phrase. It’s as if when writing, he aspired for his words to retreat from their meaning, driven by a will from underneath language itself. He listens. Is it he who plays these notes and arranges their intervals? Or do they come from further away—much further away—if only he could manage to...

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