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Voice

Ron Segal (2019)

A young girl from Ra’anana whose been told all her life, first by her parents and later by her friends and teachers, that she has an outstanding gift for writing, received a first review from a senior critic, who meant her no harm as he didn’t know her except for the story she published in HAARETZ Newspaper, in which he himself had been publishing his reviews for the past two decades.

“Each and every one of us speaks but one sentence, interrupted only by death”, he opened.

The young girl was very excited, for this was a very promising preface for a very promising review of her story, which, if there is one word which could describe it, it would be ‘promising’ – or so she was told by everyone who read it.

However, as she continued reading, doubt started settling inside of her: “I do not recall the name of the linguist who uttered these beautiful and troubling words”, the critic went on, “however, there is no doubt that the young author’s story executes that sentence”.

Now the young girl was utterly confused. Did the critic mean to say that her story executes that sentence by no fault of its own? In other words: that her story is one of the worst he’s ever read? Or, is he saying that her story has a strength matched only by death; the nearer you get to the end, the more you understand the course of your life; in other words: that her story is not only promising, it also delivers?

She kept on reading the review, which incessantly zigzagged here and there, like a sniper whose target goes in and out of his sight and he refuses to pull the trigger, and all the while her pulse rising, the back of her neck covered with cold sweat, until she got to the final sentence, and she recalled how a publisher who once had her in his office told her that the final sentence of a review is in fact the bottom line.

“Hence, there is no doubt that the young author is speaking her voice for the first time. However, in the humble opinion of this critic, it is not a voice of considerable uniqueness”.

This time the girl was quite desperate. She wanted to shout into the newspaper, tear it, crumble it into a ball and throw it against the wall. Instead, she kept on reading, fingers somewhat trembling, the two other reviews published below hers on the same section, which was called “Three’s Company”, in which the critic likewise didn’t praise the authors of her age, by saying about one: “…and it is a shame that he is not able to keep the plot’s inner tension throughout the story…”, and about the other: “…who sees in language only a tool…”, without mentioning a single word about their “voice”.

The young girl was determined that she would be able to persuade this critic – and only him; the streets were empty of other critics now – that she indeed has a considerably unique voice which one cannot doubt, such a voice which will cause the critic to publish, for the first time in his long career, a second review, opposed to the first one and even apologetic.

 

She immediately sat down to write another story (for the first one she needed months on end whereas the second one was written in one afternoon) and sent it to the same newspaper. On the padded envelope she wrote the critic’s name in bold letters and inside of it the story, which she simply titled “Voice”.

The young girl counted the next five days until the weekend edition like an inmate counting his time: four slits and a fifth crossing them diagonally. And when the weekend arrived she rushed to the local convenience store and leafed through the paper before even paying for it. However, even after going through it three times, she couldn’t find a mention of her story. The critic went on as usual, reviewing three stories in “Three’s Company”, finding fault in them as always, without mentioning anything about their “voice”.

The embarrassed girl then had to pay for the paper she was already crumpling in front of everyone and as she was rummaging through her pockets for change she heard the radio program “Books people, books!” which was playing on the convenience store speakers: Zippi Gon Gross, the narrator, was introducing her guest, who was none other than her critic, who said in his baritone voice whose edges are round: “Thank you for this warm introduction, Zippora. How nice it is to be sitting here with you again”.

The young girl froze like on that day when she was reading the newspaper, awaiting his words. And indeed, as the program neared its end, the critic was asked about “promising young authors we should keep an eye on” and he mentioned, among two others, her name, but only about her he went on saying, that she is “indeed speaking a voice of considerate…” and the rest of the sentence was lost in the rattle of the cash register.

Now the young girl was convinced more than ever that the critic will hear her voice, but this time she wasn’t hoping to persuade him rather than to prove him wrong, and by the time she got back home she had but to put in writing the story which was already rustling in her head from beginning to end, very similar to its predecessor but also quite different, which she titled “A Voice of One’s Own”, and she knew that the critic would have to contemplate on this title, on the volume of meaning within it, for the story opens up instantly towards a question: whose voice is it? The author’s? The author as Virginia Woolf? Both, or neither? A question of profound importance in its own right – a promising title for a promising story.

The young girl sent the story to the critic’s address which she got from that publisher who had her in his office once, and on the padded envelope she wrote the critic’s name in her own handwriting, for she felt that to some extent she already knew him, so much so that she would be able to recognize him if he walked past her in a group of ten critics, even when in fact she had never met him before, and she knew he would recognize her, too.

In the passing week the girl didn’t leave her house but sat in front of the TV, glued to the radio set, except for brief trips to the local convenience store where she would buy not only HAARETZ Newspaper, even on week days, but also all the other newspapers and magazines, though she knew it would be beneath the critic’s dignity to publish his reviews in them. But her name was not mentioned even once.

 

The young girl remembered that the publisher told her that any review is a good review and she started worrying that the lack of review actually meant that the critic found her story even worse than before; silently awful.

The young girl was then convinced beyond any doubt that she did in fact have a voice, not only an important and worthy one, but a critical one, clinically urgent, and that the only way she could voice her emergent tone would be in a provocative act, like those people in China who lit themselves on fire to protest against their government’s conduct, for now she was no longer hoping to persuade the critic or prove him wrong, but to punish him in equal measures; an eye for an eye, a voice for a voice.

Once again she prepared the padded envelope, this time cutting out the letters from the critic’s review with scissors and glueing them back together to form his address. She licked the big stamp and shoved the envelope in the inner pocket of her jacket.

She carried it to the top of a hill in a forest clearing, far out enough so she would be alone but not too far from a postbox. She dug a deep hole in the ground and bent over it as if she was about to throw up. There she screamed and screamed like the princess in a folk-tale she once read; not whispering a secret but corrupting her voice, shouting until her screams turned to wild ass brays, high-pitched kettle shrieks and finally to gusts of warm breath. Only like that, by losing her physical voice, would she be able to connect to her inner voice and write a story with its own original and unique voice, “the voice of a generation”, the voice of a young writer who does not only promise – she also delivers.

However, as she suspected, this deed wasn’t enough to rid her of her voice; ‘clicks’ still echoed in her throat when she thrashed her tongue against her lower palate like a tongue of a bell.

She looked around for a flat rock and next to it, conveniently, laid a sharp stone. She laid her chin on the ground and flattened her tongue to its root on the cool rock and with a momentous blow she struck the big rock with the small one. Her mouth instantly filled up with warm blood which she frequently spat out while also swallowing a little. At first she felt immense pain, then slight dizziness and finally the throbbing pain in her mouth subsided, she recovered, stood erect and took out the padded envelope from the inner pocket of her jacket.

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