Luke Wiget is a writer and musician born and raised in Santa Cruz, California, who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He has stories in Hobart and SmokeLong Quarterly and forthcoming in H.O.W. Journal and is at work on a collection called “December Water.” For questions and/or complaints find Luke on Twitter @godsteethandme.
Last Saturday night I started transcribing my father’s sermons from cassette tapes. My mother said, you will be able to practice your typing. It will be good for your writing.
My father has done too much of the thinking for her over the years so she says things like that. To me typing someone else’s words is about as helpful as playing a guitar that hasn’t got any strings on it.
My father assumes that after four-plus years of college I’m decent at taking down what I hear. I need the money and have the time.
He is writing a book on hope, I think. Eternal hope in an ephemeral world is the tagline. He needs the sermons typed so he can cut and paste bits into what he’s already gotten down.
But he hates the sound of his voice so he can’t attend to the messages. What he hears is the hollow in the voice, the result of the microphone registering his voice and the echo of his voice.
This phenomenon is called phasing. Whole chunks of frequency are scooped out when a sound and its echo collide. The most severe example of phasing would result in silence.
If you could play a violin and its clone at the exact same time, the tandem notes would cancel one another and the violins would be silent.
Years ago my mother made my father take voice classes. He hated it. The teacher touched his torso and he doesn’t enjoy being the learner all that much. I have seen my mother mime the kind of support you need to talk to five hundred believers. She makes it look like she is dead-lifting the foundation of our house. The voicebox is delicate as a wick.
She’s tried to get me to take the classes. I don’t talk the way he does, I say.
Maybe not, she says, but you both are too much throat and not enough from here, she pats my gut.
On the tapes my father pauses a lot. It’s like he is listening to what he says before he says it. Or maybe the stops are when he hears his voice instead of simply using it.
Once I get going on a sermon I don’t have to think in order to take it down and my own story emerges in bullets on one of my father’s notepads that was left next to the tape machine.
So I start and stop the tapes, going between his work and my own.
• Mrs. Crowe is so close to acing the SAT. If Huey Lewis can, she can. Last week she had a practice-go and was one away from 800. She is an AP English teacher. Her hair is not the right blonde, it is butter yellow.
• She’s known for weeks that she is pregnant. She and her husband can only be described as poor in looks. The child will grow to be ugly. That is its inheritance. She knows now more than ever that looks will hold a kid back more than stupidity or money or anything. She sees that truth in the flesh every day at her school. There is no hope.
• He can never find out, she tells the clothes in her closet the next morning. She redoes an SAT test or two to feel better. It’s so harmless and it soothes her. She is saving kids, the ones just at the brink, from janitor jobs and jail. She quietly erases their answers and bubbles in her own.
• I’m going for the weekend to a conference, she tells her too-thick husband, his neck the size of her waist. It is a manual vacuum aspiration procedure and it goes fine. Any longer and it would have been more invasive, the doctor says. In her hotel room she watches television and reads through her SAT study guide that is as annotated as a minister’s Bible.
• She goes home and her husband is cooking Sunday dinner like he always does. Tomorrow is the first day of spring, he says.
I’m working from a rented office in an office building because we need the room at the church for Sunday school. A good thing, my mother says, because it means that we’re growing. She spends her time most Sundays juggling toddlers, the kids of the kids I grew up with. That’s what they’re doing now, having kids and careers.
At night this place is all characters.
In #34 a man talks to his dog about Excel.
In #56 a woman is studying for the bar. Her office smells of gas station coffee and her eyes are flat and opened-up too much.
A woman from another office and I talk in the parking lot over cigarettes. She is tall and hunched and always holding her keys which she jingles like she is calling for a dog to come.
She writes how-to articles for a website. Tonight, it’s how to refurbish a sideboard table. I ask her if she had one in her office and she doesn’t. She imagines a table in her head. The articles are just the branches from which the site hangs ads, she says. It’s all about the ads.
Each article earns her a cool $25. She is working on a book too, a memoir. I don’t say anything about being a writer. Even with a stranger I can’t.
Back at the desk I look at the rest of the tapes. My father has them filed together in what looks like a shadow box.
I start up the next tape but it’s silent. I wait awhile before I fast-forward. I keep trying for the voice but all I get is the sound of the tape breathing across the playback heads. After several goes I give up, figuring it for a blank one thrown in the box. I reach for another, and I do and don’t hope there’s something there.