(Dear ‘Rati Friends,
My husband, Bruce, died yesterday morning, slipping away peacefully in my arms. How can a heart be so full and so shattered at the same time? My words run dry. I had written the following blog post several days ago, unaware that I would have no time to do it today. And unaware that “the other shoe” I was referencing was already dropping. And that my husband’s voice is the sound that isn’t there. Give yourselves a hug today, and send one my way, as well.)
By Louise Ure
Our days are usually filled with sound. Voices, traffic, music, TV, individual ringtones, jackhammers, birds, pots and pans clanging, a dog’s whine. It’s a cacophony that we’ve become used to, an ordered and expected series of sounds that define our day.
Some sounds are more sudden but less common—squealing brakes, a crash of thunder, a child’s cry– but recognizable enough as part of our world.
In my last blog post I used the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop” and it’s that thought—the absence of expected sound–that I was thinking about this week, and how that applies to both lives and our writing.
The term seems to have originated in the mid-20th century, descriptive of a man in a downstairs apartment who is awakened nightly by his upstairs neighbor removing his shoes and dropping them heavily on the floor. The first shoe hits the floor with a loud bang, awakening the sleeping tenant in the lower apartment, who would remain awake until he heard the other shoe drop. In the story my head, (British television? Mid-century American radio?) the upstairs tenant once remembered that he had a sleeping neighbor below, and after dropping the first shoe, took the second shoe off and carefully placed it on the floor, making no noise. The groggy neighbor would then yell, “For God’s sake, drop the other shoe!”
It is the absence of expected sound—the absence of an expected ritual—that gives the phrase such a frisson of power.
In literature, no one used it better than Conan Doyle in the story “Silver Blaze,” which hinged on the famed “curious incident of the dog in the night-time”:
Scotland Yard Detective: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Detective: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”
The sound that wasn’t there.
I can imagine other actions and plot points that would tweak that tendon waiting for an expected outcome. A slap, but no sound of surprise or pain. What’s going on in there? Is the victim gagged? Is the victim used to such abuse? Or is it nothing more that the thumping swat of a buzzing fly?
A crash outside in the street, but no horns or sirens or voices raised in alarm. Are they dead inside the car? Is the town deserted? Or was it simply a parking brake that didn’t hold on the steep hill?
Like a bolt of lightening without a following peal of thunder, the absence of sound can be as intriguing as what is there. And that goes for dialogue, too. Like real life, what’s left unsaid is sometimes the most important language of all.
What about you ‘Rati out there? Who do you think does a good job of leaving things unsaid, like a shoe waiting to be dropped, in films or books?