…a sound which is loud, which reverberates and which expresses a deep sadness
Oscar was having quite a bit of trouble with the word that his dictionary had randomly offered up to him, because this was no longer an age in which people expressed deep sadness; this wasn’t an age in which people had deep sadness, at least not in his experience. People were slightly sad, a slight sadness which accompanied their every word and action, a slight sadness akin to boredom, a slight sadness which was the background noise, which could be heard bubbling away when you are just about to drop off to sleep, or if you dwell too long on yourself, your place in this world and the fact that you will die alone – a slight sadness which has more or less lost all its sharpness and piquancy through our familiarity with it. There is nothing dramatic about a slight sadness which is unwavering, constant and above all – slight. It is nothing to shout about.
Not that there aren’t tragedies. There are tragic cases – none of which Oscar was personally familiar with – where people may very well cry out and express a relatively deep sadness, a sadness which is marginally deeper than the slight sadness which accompanies our every thought. The newspaper was full of such instances where people were very likely to be relatively sad – murders, horrific accidents or suicides and other such happenings, all of which Oscar had little or no understanding. Oscar did toy with the idea of imagining himself a party to such a murder, horrific accident or suicide – not necessarily the subject of the murder, horrific accident or suicide, but a close friend of the subject, perhaps their father, brother or son. But this exercise didn’t appeal to Oscar, not wanting to imagine himself to be marginally sadder than slightly sad, so he decided to look elsewhere for inspiration.
However, Oscar could not recall one incident where he let out a cry expressing a relatively deep sadness or an incident where he was an intimate witness to such a cry. Perhaps it was simply the case that nobody Oscar knew was capable of suffering a relatively deep sadness – which would be more to do with the fact that nobody Oscar knew was overly attached to anything they owned or anybody they knew, rather than the fact that they were impervious to sadness through transcending this material world and its incidental happenings.
One such example was Henry, the thought of whom, just at this moment, sparked Oscar to recall a situation where he was an intimate party to a cry of relatively deep sadness, a cry which did reverberate, as could be seen by the manner in which the glass of the window on the fifteenth floor of the bank’s offices seemed to vibrate, in response to the shrill cry which Henry’s relatively deep sadness produced.
This was many months ago, when Oscar had been working for the bank, a period of three years in which he had suffered the drudgery of every day speaking to people about rates and percentages and sales points and profits and losses and turnovers – but all that is incidental to the matter at hand – that word; how does one define that word?
Henry had parked his car directly opposite the bank’s building – a matter which was far from incidental to the matter at hand, as it was the first action, in a short sequence of actions and reactions, which occasioned Henry’s cry of relatively deep and sharp sadness.
In terms of its pitch, this cry was beyond anything Oscar had ever experienced. Though he had heard noises which were of a higher volume, he had never heard such a volume issue from the depths of a human being. The sound itself was what he most remembers about the incident, as well, of course the manner in which it seemed to cause the window through which they were looking out at the street to vibrate – Oscar thought that it would shatter, thus occasioning his dismissal from the bank, which he would have accepted afterwards to be a blessing, a release and about time.
Oscar remembered few of the details of what he saw through that widow, fifteen stories down at street level. He did recall that Henry’s new car was a metallic green, but the name of the shade escaped him. He also recalled that the car was less than a month old, that Henry was forever talking about it, that Henry had just cleaned it that morning, that Henry had been reticent about parking it on the street, that Henry had advised some kids to keep their distance when they walked past the car, that Henry was quite vociferous in response to their rude remarks, that Henry quite lost his rag when one of the kids – there were three or four in the group, all in their early teens – threw his drink can over his shoulder in his general direction, almost hitting the car and that Henry had insisted on taking the stairs so that he could look out and check on the car from each landing.
But as to the exact nature of the emotion at the point of origin of that cry – was it an absolute sorrow, a deep lament, a rumbling hatred, a mournful weight, a sense of complete desolation, a sharp feeling of loss? – Oscar found it impossible to tell.
At the time Oscar wasn’t concerned with classifying the emotion at the point of origin of Henry’s actions, nor of the scream which was to come, being caught up in the spectacle being unfurled fifteen stories below, a spectacle which Henry also couldn’t leave behind, despite struggling with what must have been a burning desire to run down the fifteen flights of stairs in order to confront the junior criminals. This inner struggle was illustrated by the manner in which Henry ran backwards and forwards between the window and the door several times before resigning himself to the fate he felt most comfortable with – standing by impotently and watching the one thing in the world he cared about apart from himself being horribly defiled by the soles of the boots of the jumping and kicking youths.
The cry, when it came, was only one element in Oscar’s experience – a multifarious experience which he acknowledged to himself he would recall again and again, playing it back to himself, hoping to retain as many of its intricacies as possible. Therefore, on considering the scream in isolation, trying to play it again in his mind, Oscar simply didn’t have enough data to hand to be sure of the exact sound, nor of the exact sentiment which occasioned it – he could guess, but guessing seemed woefully inadequate; this was a matter of definitions.
And now Oscar recalled the cry which originated in Helen’s bedroom several weeks ago, a cry which stopped the conversation dead – a conversation between himself, Henry and Smith concerned with the best card game they could play – a pause in which each must have acknowledged to themselves the pain and sorrow at its very heart – before they continued to discuss the pros and cons of Gin Rummy, Fat Boy and Forty-Five.