When I was a child, I sat in the evening light and picked at loose threads of my sweater, waiting for the voices to cease. The sweater followed the lines of the rainbow, but alternating with the colors were thick bands of gray. I told myself that if I reached the green before the voices died away, then I would suffer from nightmares; I always did.
The walls were perilously thin in the town and the houses set close together. The neighbors fought, loved, and conversed in voices no louder than might be expected, but it seemed to my sensitive ears that they were set upon me.
It never occurred to me to listen; I only, relentlessly, heard.
My fiercest glances changed nothing, though sometimes my mother caught sight of them. Often, she would chide me for my senseless anger:
“Sarah,” she sighed, “You can’t control the sounds of the world. You need to get on with life without being upset by other people living.”
But I know she was only worried at what might become of me, and at other times she would lean down, hold my chin to turn my scowling face towards hers, and kiss me on the forehead. Then, without a word, she would return to the crowded stovetop, and I would return to my sweater.
Falling asleep I atoned for the harm I had wished on the voices in the rooms beyond the wall, breathlessly repeating “I’m sorry” until the nightmares came. In them, I walked the floor of the Cathedral, in the dark, but conscious always of being watched, though when I turned to stare into the darkness I knew that with too much effort, I would succeed only in waking myself. That thought terrified me even more than the solitary procession, because I knew that, no matter how tiring the dream—and I would angrily wince when the breakfast bowls clattered in the kitchen on many mornings, irritable with fatigue from sleep itself—I needed to complete my course through the aisle, to reach the altar at the end of the nave, light the candles, set the mosaics ablaze and read from the book I would find there.
When I turned seventeen, I did, my first and, for years after, only glimpse between its covers. The next night, when the voices rose behind the walls, and crashed through, I recalled what I had seen there as if it was before me. Not wanting to forget or lose hold of the sight that had taken years of sleeping life to possess, I grabbed a pen from my mother’s desk, and, for a frenzied instant searched for paper, a letter, an envelope, anything, until, finding none, I gave into necessity, hunched over the table and, between the plates that had already been set, drew.
My mother, preoccupied in the kitchen, did not notice me for several minutes, and then exploded when she did: “What are you doing? What is wrong with you?” When I did not respond—I had not fully heard, being so lost in the pattern—she said my name, and again, growing panicked and shaking me by the shoulders and then taking hold of my wrist. I screamed, lacking words, most of me still lost in the pattern, a maze without solution, the lines now wavering as I struggled to bring them to a close, and found it within myself to grit my teeth and implore her, “no, no, please” so that she lifted her hands, grabbed her hair, her cheeks, and started sobbing, affording me the time I needed to resume my focus, to see the page from the book in my head, and to finish tracing the design.
As I knew they would, the voices from beneath the walls had subsided, entirely, so that I heard only my mother sobbing into a fist, repeating my name. I sighed, the room coming into focus, the pattern on the table meaning nothing to my eyes, but the sense of relief somehow connecting itself to it when I traced its lines, and the silence through the walls unmistakable. “The voices from next door. I had to. It was so obvious and…” the year that followed found a new routine, our week punctuated by visits to the family counselor. The voices through the wall never returned, though; it was as though the wall had grown thicker, as though a sliver of the world had been sliced out of the space between the apartments, so that sound could no longer travel.
When I dreamed of the Cathedral for the year or two that followed (it was not frequent), I was seated, in an upper gallery, my head resting on the cold stone of the banister, drifting towards a dream within the dream: of running water that I could pluck and hold and pull on like the threads of a sweater. Some time passed until I remembered the book on the altar and grew curious to look at it, again.