Sounds beyond the ringing

This piece came about as part of an exercise I did at uni. We were sent out to explore the area focusing on one sense. I chose hearing...

Tinnitus sucks. Tinnitus especially sucks if it hits you suddenly, after a lifetime of almost bat like hearing and a love of playing ACDC at full blast. Ok perhaps it’s not such a surprise. Stress can trigger it. Too many sounds confuse the brain, making my ear throb. My hearing goes from acutely sensitive, picking up on the slightest crumple, whine or squeak, to cotton wool, dampening everything and missing so much. Open plan offices, train carriages, supermarkets on a Sunday morning can all trigger the incessant ringing. The countryside is now my saviour, my safe space, my silent escape.

But of course, the countryside isn’t silent. Concentrating too hard on sounds causes me pain. So instead I start to walk. Slow and purposeful. A chill air clings to my arms, tiny hairs rise in response, trying to grasp at any remaining warmth. My body wants to move, to warm up. A rock, hidden beneath rotting leaves catches my foot as if to say, slow down.

A noise. Rubber soles suctioning to the hard-packed mud path, peeling away, schloop, schloop, schloop. I look down bemused that my own feet are making this odd sound. I stop. Rocking back and forth. Left foot, then right. Schloop, schloop, schloop.

Then tip tap, tip tap, tip tap. A white terrier with black tipped ears and skinny legs dances its way to my side. It stops, sits down and lifts its right paw. “He thinks you have food,” a female voice muffled by the breeze, “he thinks everyone has food.” The dog tips its head to the side, decides I’m not a source of treats and tip taps off down the path.

The next sound is a leaf. Although at the start it does not make a noise. It drifts on the wind, silent, until it hits the pile of its already rotting kin and where it makes an almost inaudible crunch as it settles in to decompose.

Small birds are playing in the hedges, hunting for berries and bugs. The sounds of smaller birds are just chirps, tweets and whistles. My ears are not yet tuned into their distinctive calls or are dismissing the high-pitched trills as a malfunction of the connections between my ear and brain.

Larger birds are cawing and screeching at the tops of the trees. The familiar sound of magpies. I have a family of five who visit my garden every day, the mother calls for me to bring more mealworms and suet pellets, the juveniles argue over who gets the first peck of the fat ball. I often have conversations with them, my neighbours by now used to me yelling “alright, alright, I’m on my way,” to the gawping beaks feigning starvation and indignation if I have a lie in. I listen to the magpies above, their cries recognisable but not my magpies, like a mother hearing a baby cry but realising it’s not her own, I smile and walk on.

Another dog appears. This time much larger. As it jumps along the path its dog tags tinkle. Its owner is standing behind a tree, loud and arrogant on his phone, ignoring the fun being had with a pile of leaves and the last splash of a puddle. Eventually he shouts goodbye to the, I assume, deaf person on the other end of the line and with a high-pitched whistle summons the suddenly sullen dog to his side. And with that irritating interference from humanity the ringing is back. Not the countryside peal of the bells at St Bartholomew’s. Just a high-pitched monotone pointlessness. Yep, tinnitus sucks.

This piece came about as part of an exercise I did at uni. We were sent out to explore the area focusing on one sense. I chose hearing.

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