Home Flash Fiction Editor’s Choice—Listening, by Shannon Savvas

Editor’s Choice—Listening, by Shannon Savvas

Bala 19th century
Mandinka people 
 On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 681

Listening, by Shannon Savvas

You tried to tell your secrets over the long days of your dying. I did not listen. I fussed, fed and shushed you.

You tried to whisper the shame and sorries of your childhood while I huffed and tutted, rolled and cleaned you. I left you to rest in the nice clean bed while I bundled away your foul sheets. 

You tried to mumble confessions of youthful sins and foolishness. I missed them because your soiled linen needed to be laundered and pegged. Or so I thought.

You tried to recall the private excesses of our first months when we couldn’t keep our hands off or our clothes on. I didn’t want reminding so I spent hours ironing and folding, sorting the kitchen cupboards.

You tried to tell me how your heart swelled and damn near exploded with love for me and wee Lacy that night she was born after a long, long labour, the one I wanted always to forget.

The gardening needed weeding and the lawn cutting and I let the mower drown the sound of my sobbing.

You tried to describe how that same heart fragmented the morning you found her dead in her cot. I thought it more important to buy incontinence pads and skin moisturiser for your loosening bowels and cracked heels.

You tried to retell your worst jokes, told a hundred times over, but I wasn’t there to help you deliver the punchlines because I had to return your library books.

While you struggled to share your – our – best memories, I tried not to listen. I left you to it and went downstairs to watch Great British Bake-Off reruns with the volume low so I didn’t have to listen to your life rolling by you, not in a flash but in slow motion because my heart did not have the courage to sit beside you, to listen to your hard breaths and fading words. 

Two months ago, the week after your funeral, I read a short story which said that sound never disappears. It travels on and on into space, across the galaxies, beyond the stars and nebulae. That all sound, from the beginning of time echoes until forever. That the cosmos is all about orbits, ellipses, returns, the grand rhythms of planets and meteors, comets and moons. Echoes return.

I thought about that story through the night. 

Time has its own crazy rules but surely, if we wait long enough, listen hard enough we will hear the crash of the continents, the screams of life and death down the eons, the terrors of wars, gunshots, cannon roar, the engines of Enola Gray crossing the Pacific to Hiroshima, the howling of winds and souls? 

I refuse to Google ‘sound’ because I don’t want to know if I am foolish to sit now in your room, by your bed listening, waiting. My ears open, my eyes shut, my heart longing to hear the return of your whispers.

Shannon Savvas is a writer who divides her life between New Zealand, England and Cyprus. A nomad since childhood, she struggles still to find where she belongs and to understand who she is. Winner: Fish Short Story Prize 2021/22, Cuirt New Writing Prize 2019.