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Cherri Randall

Cherri Randall is currently Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown.  She has a PhD in Gender Studies from the University of Arkansas where she also holds an MFA in Creative Writing.  Her work has appeared in Mid-America Poetry Review, the rectangle, Lake Effects, Hogtown Creek Review, Paper Street Press, Bewildering Stories, Permafrost Review, Paddlefish, The Potomac Review, Literary Chaos, Main Channel Voices, storySouth and Sojourn.  She has green eyes, fiery red hair, and arms spattered with freckles.  She lives with two teenaged daughters, a Chihuahua named Zora for Zora Neale Hurston, and high hopes for the future. 


Red Herring

Hearing is the ultimate lie. Buying tickets to the charade of sound.


My father used to box my ears when I was a kid. I finally asked my best friend in second grade why those bells kept ringing. She told me they must be angels since I was the only one who could hear them. Always in trouble for not listening, I became a teenager with no stereo speakers but a set of Koss headphones which cost an entire summer's worth of baby-sitting. They were so big and so frequently on my head my mother declared me to be a new species of walleyed arthropod. I bought magazines that printed the lyrics to all my favorite songs. I figured nobody else could hear the words either. Why else did they publish those magazines?

One time the teacher asked us if a tree falls in a deserted forest, does it still make a sound? Technically it does not. Falling makes sound waves vibrate, but the only place sound exists is in the brain. The ears are just receivers, tuned to a specific set of frequencies. Wired for sound. I wondered for the first time if some of my wires were crossed or shorted out.

Grown-up, men whispered in my ear and I would nod, never knowing to what I had given assent. I always waited for movies to come out on video so I could rewind the quiet parts. I took speech lessons. The audiologist also suggested a hearing aid, but it didn't make the sound more distinct, it just made it louder. I said what makes someone become an audiologist anyway, and he said being colorblind; it got him interested in perception until finally one thing led to another. He asked me to describe the color red to him. I honestly tried. I kept thinking of things that were red: roses, a robin's breast, valentines, ripe tomatoes, blood, apples, Coke cans, atomic jawbreakers, cummerbunds, silk ribbons in little girls' ponytails, male cardinals, radishes, foxes, ladybugs, anger, barns in the country, a little boy's wagon, the Red Cross logo, flashy Corvettes, summer sunsets, pimentos, poppies, swirls on candy canes and stripes on flags, balls on Christmas trees, cherries in July, certain shades of lipstick, strawberries on pound cake, stop signs, fire, Santa's clothes; I went on and on and on until I had to stop because he was laughing so hard.

But this is not like being colorblind I told him. He can still see the shape of a stop sign, still bite into a cherry and feel his lips pucker from their tangy tartness. Singing sounds like wind to me, whispering like a slight breeze. Certain decibels are secrets I can never be in on. The waves come in but their signal is the nothingness of air. Glenda or Brenda, I never can tell unless I see the name in writing or someone spells it. I hum along with the radio.

He answered by saying I could "hear" names and words when they were written down. That I can see the words when I can't hear them. He cannot hear the color red.

I asked him how he could be sure we weren't all a bunch of brains plugged into a computer and everything we think is real is just some show going on inside our heads. Is the color red real just because I can see it? In his universe there is no such thing as red. In my world, whispering is just breath.

One night he says I wish you could hear what I just heard. What was it? I asked him. He said the sound of my heart falling -- in love with you. I smiled with my red lips and wondered if he could find them. In the dark he answered. In the middle of a white nuclear winter. Later we went to PTA meetings with our kids and when we came home they would tell me what was said in that crowded auditorium over those tin-can microphones. They tell me the lyrics to all my favorite songs. I don't know who buys the magazines anymore, or if they're still even printed.

Once I said, How do we know if love is real? Maybe it's like red or whispering. Describe love to me I said. He said it's like color. You know it when it's there. He put my hand on his chest and said this is where you perceive love, in the heart. Two cells of heart muscle will beat independently in a petri dish, but once they touch, they will synchronize their rhythm. Truth is love, not the mountain where your heart lives but the mountain that your heart becomes.


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