|Click to "embiggen"|
A full-throated moan it rises unbearably. Fear and panic ring as the voice cracks as it reaches its height..
The sound is on the other side of the wall at night in the hospital.
A child is suffering. My heartbeat quickens, my throat is tight to hear it.
There is a low murmur - is someone else there? Again the voice rises, wailing with pain and fear, to break again, rough and splintered on high, a broken whine, a crying yodel. The murmur soothes, pleads.
Who is this child, and what agony is borne on the other side of the wall? The voice rises again, rough this time roars, with a slapping, a beat on something flat - the table, the wall. "No, no!" "Want!" "Don't want!" Are there other words or just sounds?
The voice rises now with fury, demands, grievance. The murmur placates, now; wheedles, promises, begs, bargains, scolds.
I didn't think of it then, in the middle of the night, but now in the light of the next day, I am reminded of Shirley Jackson's masterpiece horror novel "The Haunting of Hill House." In one of the creepiest scenes ever written in modern literature, two roommates wake in the dark to hear ghostly manifestations on the other side of the door. As the women clutch hands in the darkness, they hear the voices of a crying child and the steady low voice of a babbling, unsympathetic tormenter:
Eleanor...heard a little soft cry which broke her heart, a little infinitely sad cry, a little sweet moan of wild sadness. It is a child, she thought with disbelief, a child is crying somewhere, and then, upon that thought, came the wild shrieking voice she had never heard before and yet knew she had heard always in her nightmares. "Go away!" it screamed. "Go away, go away, don't hurt me," and, after, sobbing. "Please don't hurt me. Please let me go home," and then the little sad crying again.Until Eleanor shouts out "Stop!" to wake, and discovers herself alone in her bed, lights brightly on, the roommate across the room safe in the other
I can't stand it, Eleanor thought concretely. This is monstrous, this is cruel, they have been hurting a child and I won't let anyone hurt a child, and the babbling went on, low and steady, on and on and on, the voice rising a little and falling a little, going on and on...
"God God - Whose hand was I holding?" she cries.
|Thanks to dear friend Robert Rosen for allowing me to photograph this folk art piece. Click to "embiggen"|
The child here at this hospital is not a ghost. There is a real child in the room next door, in unknown pain and distress. The mother is there to comfort - and plead. But what else goes on here? Is it pain or petulance. Panic or peevishness? Terror or tantrum?
The cries go on all night, interrupting my sleep. Pity balances with annoyance, compassion with resentment, care with guilt.