Thursday, 12 June 2014
Reading For Two - Friday Flash
She was once a prodigious reader. But now her eyes are almost permanently sealed. They say hearing is the last sense to go. I would have thought the more primal sense of smell would persist, but of course other than a wrinkling of the nostrils perhaps, there was no way for her to convey any response to a smell, either pleasant or acrid.
I had tried audio-books for her. But seeing as the Royal Shakespeare Company actors with the most mellifluous voices sent me off to sleep, this wasn’t something I felt conducive to her getting the full benefit of the words.
So I picked up the mantle. Even though not a reader myself, I sat down by the side of her bed and resolved to read to her. The first snag had been which book to pick. I didn’t dare buy a new one that I ventured she might not have read before, because I was afraid I’d choose wrong. I wasn’t familiar enough with literature to match her taste ranged across the bookshelves running above our bed. She would have to forgive me, I would read one she had doubtlessly finished cover to cover before. I had no idea if it had been a success first time round or not. Maybe she might glean something different in the telling on this reading.
The second conundrum was how much to read at any one sitting. I idly assumed I would read a nice round thirty minutes’ worth at a sitting. But on the first occasion that left me mid-chapter and so clearly didn’t make much sense. I flicked through the pages of the book to see if the chapters were of similar length, for then I could apportion a set number of them to each of our sessions. Then I realised the chapters were listed in the beginning of the book, complete with page numbers and reproached myself for my philistinism that meant I hadn’t even been aware of this. I returned to the shelves and sifted for a book with approximately equal length chapters. Not the most sophisticated method of choosing one’s reading matter.
So I commenced reading the story. I concentrated very hard on the printed words. I didn’t want to mispronounce any, or get the flow of the sentence all confounded in my desperation to get through the lengthy sentences. I gripped the book so tight, the pages shook as the blood drained from my fingers, making reading the damn words all the harder. I was certain that I was unlikely to be putting the right expressiveness int the words. Reading them as they were meant to be read. As she might have read them. Yet I was so wrapped up in my performance, I had no comprehension of how my efforts were being received. Was the faintest flicker of a smile playing across her lips? Had her breathing slowed a glimmer, or softened in volume by a notch? I couldn’t bring myself to raise my head from the pages in case I lost my place. I had no idea if this was even working.
I steeled myself that i was reading for two now. So eventually I grew more confident and began to ease myself into the words themselves. I suddenly appreciated I was now also reading this story to myself. I began to follow the twists and turns of the characters and their relationships. But then I also took myself back out of their travails and tribulations as I checked on her for any response. Any indication that she was able to take in my voiced rendition of the book. Some days her sleep was restive, others she seemed utterly reposed. I surmised it bore no correlation with my reading to her whatsoever. No judgement of either me or the book. Or my choice of reading for her.
What was I supposed to do? Such absented moments thinking about her meant I lost the thread of the story. Should I go back and re-read them? But what if she’d grasped them unadulterated in the first reading? I resolved to catch back up in my own time during the breaks between reading sessions. But then I got to considering what if her own diverse states meant she too wasn’t able to steadily absorb the narrative? But there was simply no way I could penetrate the true state of affairs there as she was unresponsive to verbal inquiry.
There were days when i felt I was just reading into a void. When even I felt alienated from the sound of my droning voice. I prayed for just one reaction, one single confirmation that what I was doing made some sense. Served some purpose. I resented the author for putting both me and my wife through this ordeal, even though that was plainly preposterous. I held the book with one hand and her fingers with my other, which broke up my rhythm as at the end of each page I had to fumble with my chin to try and turn over the page without disturbing the stroke of my fingers kneading hers. I’d stopped listening to the story long previous to this stage. Still she listened on uncritically.
And then we were approaching the end of the book. Mounting panic filled me. Could I face going through all this again? Which book would I choose? What if it turned out to be worse than this one? What if it turned out to be superior, what shadow would that cast over the paucity and ignorance of my original choice of this tome? She spared me these minor terrors by drawing her final breath after I enunciated the final full stop on the last page. I was still holding her hand in mine.