A lost child. A failed business. A lost love. Meredeth heard the pain.
Every person she passed carried a weight. Carried a secret. And somehow they went on about their business. Lived their life. But Meredeth couldn't live her life. So many Voices. So much pain.
She hurried down the sidewalk. My wife cheats. She turned the corner. My mother has cancer. She hurried into her building past the ground apartment. My husband beats me. She rushed into her apartment, trying again to shut out the Voices, shut out the pain.
She hurried to the liquor cabinet, pouring solace. I didn't get the promotion. It didn't so much quiet as dim the voices. We lost our medical insurance. She poured another glass, dimming the Voices. As the outer Voices lowered, her inner voice became clearer. And she remembered.
Perspicacious. It was a word her freshman high school teacher had written on the board. Every day they came in and sat in Mrs. Frame's class and found dozens of words meticulously written on the chalk board. They must have taken forever to write. They were an "H" class. Honors. Those destined for college. The SAT was half English, most of that verbal, so words and words of vocabulary were drilled into their heads. The first day of class they found "abash", "abdicate", "admonish", dozens of "a" words in Mrs. Frame's concise writing. By November it was "parsimonious", "perdition", "perspicacious"...
Meredith saw that word and didn't know its definition, but she felt what it meant. She felt it in her bones.
She had already stopped reading the paper, stopped watching the news. Wars. Floods. Car crashes. She cried over every story, feeling the pain of those who suffered, the loss of those left behind. That worked for a little while. Then the Voices started.
It was only a whisper at first, a faint echo. Smiling happy people blithely chatting about their day, but underneath, the whisper of loss. Of pain. Of mourning. She dismissed it as her imagination, but as she got older the whispers became louder, turning into the Voices.
And there was no escape from it. In college she hoped to find happy people, people without pain. But everywhere she found it. The richest. The prettiest. The most successful. They all had the Voice. Some were louder than others, but it was there. She couldn't escape it.
We can't have children. She poured another glass, trying to quiet the Voices further. And she remembered the one time she heard something different.
It was 1999. She saw a flier on a bulletin board by the liquor store. Someone who might quiet the voices was coming to the U.S. Two cities. One of them Los Angeles, her city. Thousands would be there. She wasn't sure if she could brave the crowds with all the Voices, but maybe. Maybe there would be silence. Maybe there would be peace.
She didn't drink before going. No, she had to know if what she felt, if anything, was real or not. She moved her way into the crowd of thousands and thousands of Voices, silently calling out in pain, verbally shouting out in excitement. All calling out to the man who hobbled up to the platform and spoke in an accent. He was old. He was stooped. Meredeth pushed her way into the crowd hoping to get closer to him. She had to know.
She was stll pushing her way through the crowd, getting lost in the Voices when the man was finished and whisked off the platform into a car. She was going to miss him. Men starting pushing people aside to make way for the car, and Meredeth found herself next to a makeshift road parted in the sea of people. The car starting passing by and she found herself looking directly into man's eyes.
For that brief moment Meredeth heard...it wasn't exactly silence. The pain of the world still existed, that could never stop, but looking into this man's eyes she felt all the pain acknowledged and understood. She knew in that brief moment the Voices were only one part of a chorus that people carry. She heard the pain while ignoring the joy, she saw the sorrow while overlooking hope.
The man nodded at her and his car moved forward through the crowd. Meredeth tried running after the car, but was caught up as hundreds more tried to do the same thing. The feeling she felt starting fading. The whispers of hope and joy that were mixed in with the cries of pain started to recede. Like the newspapers she used to read, only the dread, the fear, and the despair remained.