Coals of Fire: The Golem (IV)

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Coals of Fire: Kindling

The Golem: Part IV

I hear a voice in the darkness.

It’s quiet, right on the very edge of hearing, and at first I assume I am hallucinating. But as time goes by I know I am not. The voice is singing, snatched tunes and stuttering lyrics, like a person trying to remember the words. It falters often, the words trailing off into a meaningless muttering, but I can hear enough to know that the songs are not from my memory, and so I conclude the voice is real.

I try to locate it, creeping around my room with my ears alert, gauging whether I am nearer or further, and eventually I light upon one wall through which I can hear the singing more clearly. I press my ear against the cold plaster and listen: … Yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me: the Bible tells me so …

I press my cheek against the wall. “Hello?” My voice echoes in my empty room, but the singing does not stop. There are no words now: just a school-room tune of five or six notes, up and down, over and over.

“Hello?” I press my cheek harder against the wall, as if by my efforts I might thrust myself through. But the surface is unyielding, and though I flatten myself up against it, it will not let me through.

The singing continues, wandering between songs for a while until it picks up another refrain: … there is a green hill far away, outside a city wall, where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all …

I lean up against the wall, listening to the song, drinking in the sound of a real live human being. I feel as if it has been months since I have heard a real voice, not just a recording. I notice the difference now. It is hard to tell, for those who don’t know the darkness like I do, and the quality of the speakers and the sound system in my room had made me feel as though there could have been someone there, if I imagined hard enough; but now I hear the qualities unavailable in a recording: the rounded edge that is just not there, as if between them the CD, the laser, the wires and processors and magnets can manage no more than a perfectly dissected cross-section of a human voice, rather than the whole, imperfect, unlovely thing itself. She is no actor, this woman I am listening to through my wall, no professional singer; her voice wavers on the high notes, and struggles to plumb the deep ones. But I love her anyway. I could listen to her all day.

… we may not know, we cannot tell the pain he had to bear; but we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there …

I want to ask her who she is, why she is there, how long she has been there, if she is a prisoner like me. But I am enthralled by her song, like a long-forgotten lullabye:

… o dearly, dearly has he loved, and we must love him too; and trust in his redeeming blood, and try his works to do …

The last words trail away feebly as door opens somewhere there on the other side of the wall; I hear booted footsteps, a sudden scuffle, a cry, muttered voices; silence; then a loud smack as of flesh striking flesh, and a scream that tears the silence apart. I shuffle away from the wall and stare in its direction, panting in the darkness. Another smack, another scream; and another; and another; over and over, unrelenting, until the screams turn to choking cries which turn to sobs: No, no, no, I don’t know, I don’t know, I can’t tell you any more, please, please listen, please don’t hurt me I can’t tell you I can’t tell you I’m sorry I don’t know anything …

I sit and I stare. I want to do something, to shout out for them to stop, to intervene, to ask for mercy.

But I do nothing. I cannot. I sit and stare ahead into the darkness, and listen until her voice gives out and she can say no more. There are a few more wet slaps, and the thud of something heavy hitting the floor. Then voices in muted discussion, then footsteps retreating, then the door closing, then silence.

*

Eventually I crawl up to the wall again.

“Hello?”

I press my ear against it, and hear nothing.

“Are you all right? Hello? Can you hear me?”

A scrape, like a shoe on concrete, then a sniff. “Leave me alone.”

My heartbeat quickens. I sit up a little straighter. Her voice is faint and weak, but I can hear it. It is like oxygen to a drowning man.

“What’s your name?” I say.

There is no reply.

“My name’s Colin. Colin … something. I don’t know. That’s all I remember. What’s your name?”

“Please leave me alone.”

“Why? What’s wrong? I’ve waited so long to hear a voice, any voice that’s not on a CD. What about you? How long have you been here?”

She sighs. “I know what you’re doing. Or trying to do.” There is defeat in her words. “You can try all you like. I’m not telling you. I can’t — I don’t have the information you want.”

“I don’t want any information. I just want to know your name.”

“You know my name already. Why ask? Just leave me alone.”

I lean against the wall. This is crazy. The first human I’ve spoken to in … however long, and she doesn’t trust me.

“Look,” I say. “I’m in the same position as you. They’ve got me locked up in here in the dark. I’ve been here for so long I can’t remember how I got here. I just want to know your name. Just a name. That’s it.”

There is silence on the other side of the wall. Then, faintly at first but growing stronger, the trembling notes of a children’s song: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so …

I stand and walk back to my bed. It’s all right. I understand. She’s hurt, and she’s scared, and she doesn’t trust anyone.

Tomorrow. I’ll try again tomorrow.

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