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  • The Man Who Heard Voices as a Child, and: The Man Who Felt No Pain, and: The Man Who Parted the Red Sea, and: The Man Who Never Existed
  • David Bergman (bio)

The Man Who Heard Voices as a Child

After his mother's kiss came the clickof the door fitting snugly into place,

a thin line of light spilling from below,and a general exchange of shushing from the living room,

as if, by just putting their fingers to their lips,adults could cast the spell of sleep on a little boy.

The boy knew better. He waited, and when it seemedlong enough, he crawled to the top of the stairs

where he'd sit and listen, hidden in the shadows.Rarely could he make out what was said.

The voices were distant and low.Even if one were raised in disbelief or anger,

it was badly muffled. He wasn't bothered, though.For what he loved was the rise and fall

of speech, the waves of language washing upon the shore of his ears, a kind of soothing ointment

rubbed into his frizzled brain. He especiallyloved to hear the grown-ups talking all at once,

and then pairing off and, finally, allowing one to takethe floor and bring them to laughter or groans, [End Page 59]

gasps or murmurs of consolation.It seemed to him that nothing was more beautiful

than the sound of their conversation;it was the music that music aspired to,

and like the 78s his mother playedof Beethoven and Liszt, it crackled and hissed.

He knew even then that he'd always carrytheir lilt and timbre in his head

and that they would find their wayinto every page he'd ever write.

He never knew whether his motherguessed he spied on their late-night talks,

but his father would repeatedly lift himfrom the top of the stairs and lay him

sleeping, limbs sprawled as if loosely scrawledacross the crisp white sheets of his bed. [End Page 60]

The Man Who Felt No Pain

When I say "I am now in pain" I amat any rate justified before myself.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophical Investigations

In the last few weeks while he could still talk,before the cancer had stoppered his larynx like a decanter,

he would say no if asked if he were in pain.Only when his sons altered the wording and asked, "Do you hurt?"

did he acknowledge any discomfort and so justify,in their eyes, the first application of morphine,

which he would take in larger and larger doseseven when he no longer could utter a word.

At the funeral his sons spoke of the differencebetween pain and hurt, a distinction

they would not have made, which seemed so importantto their father. They chalked it up to his innate

modesty and stoicism hewn by his experiencesof D-Day and Sicily, where he was repeatedly

wounded and captured. They, of course,didn't know him then, but they remembered

when he had broken his hip and was askedto rate his pain on a scale of ten,

ten being the highest, he reluctantly,very reluctantly, estimated it at three,

a ridiculously low figure, and thenapologized for giving one so high. [End Page 61]

For when he looked at pain, stared deepinto its dark, ugly heart, it disappeared.

It was only a psychic phenomenon, after all,best if left alone and at peace.

But the body, the body could be hurtby injury, the physical changes made clear

by the crack's jagged X-ray outline.Hurt he could admit, but not pain.

Being in pain was different than beingin Tunis or Palermo or Rheims,

places he'd been stationed during the war.Pain had no place in the body.

Had he known Wittgenstein, a smart guy no doubt,he would have steered him in the right direction:

in this world of so much misery,he couldn't justify claiming pain, especially to himself. [End Page 62]

The Man Who Parted the Red Sea

had more important concerns than howwell children would choose what they...


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pp. 59-67
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