So I slipped off my perch, over the railing, down the pipe, around the bushes, and back into the alley, chased by confusion, before it hit me, all of a sudden, with sharp clarity: her voice is his. So is mine. In the process of writing, he has crossed a line, crossed it into an altogether different reality, which is all made up. He has come to consider us his characters, characters with no claim to privacy. In his mind, our thoughts are his for the taking.
That, I believe, is the only explanation to his tape collection, the voices he owns. As an author, he wishes to capture us—as genuinely as language can—in the most touching, most vulnerable of moments. He cannot help but invade our mind, our heart, our guts, because he needs to feel us inside, refine our voices, perhaps even guide us from one scene to the next. He aims to determine how our story would end. In his madness, he puts faith only in himself. He is God.
From time to time, in spite of himself, he welcomes our rebellious nature, because it offers him a new, unforeseen twist in his tale. Which is not to say he enjoys his power. Quite the opposite. I come there often to watch him, and I can tell you that as this long winter bores on, he seems to plunge deeper and deeper into despair—especially when hearing me, I mean, my voice ranting on tape.
Lately, his wrist seems to be painfully tired, because of the incessant typing. But somehow he presses on. Play. He listens to me—breath fluttering in his throat, as if to hold himself back from a fit of crying—then he takes a short pause, and Rewind, he listens again.
Meanwhile, immobile in the shadows, I cannot ask him to stop. I feel exhausted slouching here, motionless, against the bars. I cannot even bring myself to clap my hands over my ears. A thousand times over, here it comes, here it is, trembling with a rising inflection. I try not to hear it, but carried over to me by a light breeze is my voice, betraying my secret. It says:
And through the wall, the space, the wall, can Anita hear the pounding, the loud pounding of my heart? Can she feel me, breathing her name? Does she whisper back to me, Stop it, stop it right now?
For the author in him, this, I figure, should be considered pure gold. He must be terribly pleased at the opportunity to take what I said and mold it anew, reducing here, embellishing there, channeling every turn, every twist in the flow of my passion. But then, for the lover in him, trying to place his trust in the hands of those he holds dear—his wife, his son—every word must be driving a dagger into his heart.
And yet, despite the pain, I see him pressing on, forcing himself to listen, then to write. His new character—a paper version of me—starts taking shape. It is given a voice, which is drawn out of my throat. Every word makes me a touch weaker. Soon I will be completely drained of breath.
I look at my father across the divide, and for the first time in my life, I wish for uncertainty. I wish I would have a doubt left in me. If I did, I could still wonder if he might, one day, want me back.
I could still hope.
It does not even matter that he cannot see me at this moment, because now, after so many Play, Play, Play repetitions, we both know—we cannot avoid knowing—that we are on opposite sides. We are rivals, regarding each other with deep suspicion, because we can no longer look into each other’s eyes. I am waiting here, longing for my dad. He is waiting over there, writing my voice.
Ben in The White Piano
★ Love reading? Treat yourself to a family saga ★
The complete series:
Volume I & II, woven together: