{ Self-Burial in the Bedroom }
David C. Madden
illustration by Pat Lewis

good griefAt the end of four days the blankets were stacked almost to the headboard, and I still felt restless and uneasy. My body couldn't relax. I kept feeling the muscles of my upper legs and midsection pull inward and tighten, readying me to sit up and throw off the covers. But she had made a deal, and so I had made a deal, and I fought these eager muscles by always remembering this. I won't get out of this bed until she moves away from that television. And as she, meaning well, called out the endless scores and commentary that satellite television afforded, I tried to come up with more effective ways to shut out her voice. I pulled her unused pillow over the side of my head. I sang songs aloud that she truly hated and I pretended to like. I had long closed the bedroom door and now considered asking one of the twins to seal up its floor crack with a nearby sweater. But none of these reactive strategies worked. Our house echoed; she was always heard. I remained a slave to my ever-listening ears. The only solution was what I, at the end of four days, had come to call a shutting of the ears—the blind faith of my body's ability to carry the strengths and attributes of one sensory receptor over to another, thus expanding the latter's capabilities, filling in the cracks of its flawed make-up.
   The reasoning was simple. When confronted with something I did not want to see (say, the face of a wife determined to spend seven continuous days in front of a television watching the World Series and commentary thereupon, self-involved, absent, neglecting her duties as a wife and mother), I could simply shut my eyes and see it no longer. So, when confronted with something I did not want to hear, it followed that I should simply shut my ears and hear nothing. I had spent the larger half of four days looking for this ear-shutting mechanism in the inner regions of my brain and ear canal and had found nothing. How could I stop listening? How could I run away from sound? I was skilled at forbidding my eyes to function, but what about my ears? How could I shut my ears? At the end of four days, with no one else to turn to, I simply asked them.
   "You don't actually think you can stop us from hearing," they said.
   "I do," I said. "I do think that."
   "Have you ever heard of anyone 'shutting their ears,' as you call it?" they asked.
   "No," I said. "But that doesn't mean I can't."
   "You can't," they said.
   "Teach me how," I said, looking up at the ceiling, which seemed the only place I could possibly catch the nonexistent eye of my ears.
   "Why do you want to know?" they asked.
   "I need to block out the sound of her voice," I said. "I want to forget her. I want to forget what she's doing."
   "And why should we help you?" they asked. "What if we like her voice?"
   "You don't," I said. "You couldn't. You're my ears and you should do what I tell you. I could be the next Van Gogh, you know. I could do that."
   "You couldn't," they said.
   I paused and rubbed my eyes. My contacts had been in their cases for four days and my vision was gauzy and tiring. Even with them in place, I constantly rub my eyes—always trying, I suppose, to clear away the decades of impairment. It's an old habit. "Please," I said.
   "Look," they said. "What if someone were to come in here with a chainsaw and try to kill you? And you were so busy trying to shut out the woman who loves you that you didn't hear him break the door down, death-machine a-rumbling?"
   "That wouldn't happen," I said.
   "But it could," they said. "And where would we all be then? You wouldn't have to worry about hearing anything after that happened."
   "You're being silly," I said. "It's a simple request."
   "Hardly," they said, with a new smug tone I didn't recognize from any part of me. It took me by surprise. Who the hell did they think they were?
   "Just fucking do what I tell you to!" I yelled. "Just, just...."
   My ears said nothing. There was a knock on the bedroom door.
   "Daddy?" a voice said behind it. It was either Jonah or Jacob; the two were sonically indistinguishable.
   "Yeah," I called. "Come in."
   I heard the door squeak on its hinges and turned to face the bedroom's entryway, my eyes blurred enough to mask the identity of my son. I smiled anyway as he approached the bed and used my catchall for instances just like this.
   "What's up, sport?" I said.
   "Mommy wanted me to tell you her team's up four-three in the sixth," he said.
   "That's fine," I said.
   "Daddy, who were you talking to?" he asked.
   "Huh?" I asked. "No one," I said. "I was just thinking out loud."
   "You said the bad word again," he said.
   "I know," I said. "But you're still not allowed to say that word, ever. Understand?"
   "Yes," he said, drawing out the vowel for the hundredth compliant time.
   "Good," I said. "Otherwise your mom and I will be forced to eat you."
   This got a smile out of him, which exposed his missing upper tooth, thus identifying him: Jacob. "Not if you can't catch me," he said, running off—a line he picked up from his sister, no doubt.
   "Jacob," I called out to him as he got to the doorway. "Run and get me another blanket, would you?"
   "There are no more blankets," he said.
   "Did you check the laundry room?" I asked.
   "Yeah," he said.
   "Did you check the shed?" I asked.
   "No," he said. "I'm not allowed to go in the shed."
   "Well go in the shed and get me the army blanket on top of your grandfather's trunk."
   "Okay," he said, charged with authorized delinquency and running out the door.
   I turned my head and looked back at the ceiling. "Please," I repeated. "Please do this."
   "What's in it for us?" they asked.
   "Um," I started, unprepared. "Well. Well, for one thing you wouldn't have to listen to that television."
   "What if we like hearing the television?" they asked.
   "Well, um," I said. "Well, I could buy earmuffs in the winter, and wear them."
   They were silent for a while—thinking it over, I imagined. Were they talking to each other in a language I couldn't hear, much less understand? If my ears were the physical instruments of my hearing, was it impossible for me to hear their words (one can't taste one's tongue, can they?) or did it follow naturally that I could, creating a sort of self-made feedback like seeing my eyes in a mirror, looking at them looking at themselves? "Okay," my ears said. "That's a start. What else?"
   "No more Q-tips," I offered, "only the doctor-recommended serums and things. And no more loud music. I'll never turn my headphones above five."
   "And no more rock 'n' roll," they said, "and no more swear words. It's to be classical music and polite conversation or it's to be nothing."
   "Are you crazy?" I shouted. "Those are ridiculous demands. I can't agree to those."
   "Then I think we have nothing more to say," they said, with that same alien smugness of before.
   "Fine," I said. "And forget...no fuck what I said about earmuffs."
   We three lay in silence for a while, me looking anywhere but up, punctuating the time by rubbing my eyes and trying to focus on the room's limited number of objects. Everything seemed subtly disturbed enough to call out for my immediate attention. The low black-finish dresser was greyed with a layer of dust. My slippers next to the bed were lying side-by-side on the floor, with the left one turned upside-down. The closet door was opened a crack. I could stare at the ceiling or close my eyes and imagine this room in a state of orderly calm, but I could look anywhere else and have that fantasy refuted. Everything was different at the end of four days, but I didn't want to change it back. I simply wanted the ability to deny it. Laying under, at last count, seventeen blankets and sheets allowed me some limited and admittedly delusional ability to remove myself from this room, this house, and the inexorable objects within them. If I could amass enough blankets and will, maybe I could bury myself inside this mess and effectively cut myself off from it all. Maybe I could scare my family, make them sorry. But it wasn't likely, for soon I heard a voice from downstairs. "Honey!" it called. "Honey, it's tied! The game's tied now in the seventh."
   "Okay!" I yelled to my ears. "Fine. Classical music, earmuffs, whatever you want, just please. Please."
   The television downstairs got louder. I heard the muted roar of a crowd and the odd inflections of baseball commentary. Then: "Honey, you're going to miss this!"
   "Okay," they said. "But we call the shots. We decide when we shut off and when we turn on."
   "What? But—"
   "Are you sure you're not sick?" my wife called out.
   "Yes, okay," I said. "Just please."
   "Okay," they said. "Done."
   "What, now?" I asked. I waited. "But.... But I can.... You bastards, I can still—" and then silence. The words continued in my mouth but never hit my ears, not even muffled and distant as if I had plugged them. Simple silence. I couldn't even hear the rickety whir of our heating unit. I looked skyward, as if to heaven, and said, aloud but silent: Thank you. Oh, God, thank you. Let me live in this forever. Let me never have to listen again. I didn't care if my ears heard this or not, I was too grateful. I closed my eyes and plugged my nose and rolled on my side and, for the first time of my life, experienced nothing.
   When I opened my eyes, I saw that Jacob was standing next to my bed and looking down at me. Hey, Jake, I tried to say, or maybe I did say. I felt my throat vibrate but heard nothing. Jacob mouthed something but I couldn't hear. I voiced, What? and he mouthed: Something something something. I looked in his arms, he was carrying two heavy blankets and I ventured a guess. Pile them on, I voiced, hoping the words came out confident and clear. Make sure they're spread out even. Jacob opened the blankets and threw them on the pile, and I closed my eyes and sank deeper under their weight.

back home.