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9 August 2010

By Laura Joyce | 2010 August 09

I don’t buy cotton buds but if I am in someone else’s bathroom I will use them to pull out orangey strings of wax, ignoring the instructions to the contrary. There remains a distant ringing with low fuzz underneath. Early onset tinnitus. The walk to the shops was difficult. The noise of the street zinged past my left ear. 

My maternal great-uncle, Ifan, always talked to us about a ringing in his ears. Not a constant ringing but one that arrived infrequently and drove him to his bed. The noise sledged through him, violent drilling tones that wouldn’t let him rest. Within the week, he’d tell us, one of us will be dead. And he was always right, by the end of the week a member of my huge extended family would have slipped from a coma into a deeper silence. By the time the funeral came around we would see Ifan, in a holy ecstacy of quiet, enunciating every word of Bread of Heaven, enjoying the counterpoint. His own passing was quiet, unannounced. We were all disappointed with that.

I thought of Ifan often now, wondering if the ringing were a precursor to this gift. It made me feel better, as though it had some purpose. The doctor would look at me and say, has there been a death in the family?

The low moan in my ears meant that the violence of street noise was difficult, I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, I nodded and looked blank. Colours, smells, lights upset me too so I searched for something muted. I’m looking for a shirt, I told them, not white, off-white, ivory, cream. I’m looking for the perfect shade. They thought I was weird anyway and they left me alone, trying on faux-fur coats even though we’re in the middle of June. The good ones always sell out early, the shop assistant had said. They ate it up. So I went into the changing room with ten shirts, the maximum they allow you, in pearl grey, satin white, moonshine etc. I lay the shirts in a heap on the floor and climbed in among them, like a soft, white den, to try and muffle the noise. This is what it would be like, I thought, to be dead.

Ear, Funeral, Death bell, Hiding

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