Photo by Guillaume Paumier (copied from Flickr)

The anechoic chamber lay at the heart of six concrete onion layers, a nesting of rooms within rooms, each room with twelve-inch thick walls. The chamber made no contact with the rest of the building around it, floating on damping springs mounted on a separate foundation slab of pure white alabaster. It was as though the chamber swung on nothing, a haunted space.

Since the slightest of sounds produced a small echo in the things around them, many technicians disliked working in the chamber. When the valves of the last door closed behind them like stone they would at once hear the blood pulsing in their veins, the squelch of their eyes in their sockets skewing inside their skull, the grinding of every bony joint. Overhearing the softest inhalation of another, the sly gurgle of a stomach, how each nervous swallow clarified as a saliva Niagara, some visitors to the chamber became sick and dizzy inside.

The craving for a perfect silence can drive a person mad.

It didn’t upset Emily. She enjoyed her lonesome hour in the chamber, the stillness in the room.

But leaving it was what she liked best. How, the instant she pushed open the last door, that waterfall of sound came rushing to smack against her skin, washing clean across her limbs. Then it was she heard birdsong she never had before, shrill lark cry and mockingbird hew, her senses set to reeling by the sudden sonic input. Emily stepped out of that chamber into a world ajar.

She realized there is no such thing as silence. Silence can be heard. Inside the chamber, floating on an eiderdown of the mind alone, Emily listened to its voice. Beneath the beating of her small heart, a little to the left, four chambers locked inside another, she dwelt on the possibility of sounds being lost to us forever. No more the chimes of cash registers, socks scrunched on washboards, click of a camera shutter, the wheezes of a pump, tiny clinking of milk bottles, a squeak of saddlebags, eerie creak of a kerosene lamp slid on its hinge, smooth stropping of a razor. Soon enough there would be no hum of bumblebee round a carnation’s pollen chamber or that butterfly flutter up, oars seamlessly parting a slash of molten blue!

Were these sounds lost forever, Emily wondered, or did they extend out through dimensions of time? Every wave dissipates. Did the sounds’ forgotten echo still in the vacuum of space, slip hushed and unnoticed through the arc and scoop of distant planets and maelstrom of crushing galaxies, only to die at the very edge of the universe?

Floating in the chamber soundless, delighting in some flight of thoughts no mere technician would entertain, Emily pushed on into the soft plush of the infinite, touched the hem of the universe, and it gave.

Her body became an ear, and filled with a crescent of white heat, and she knew she was finished knowing then —

Rob Smith

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