The concept of sound didn't exist until roughly the 1870s, when the gramophone was invented. -- RecklessPrudence
"A listening engine?" Clara repeated.
"To aid the deaf, I initially thought. Something to translate the noises we make into a visual medium, and thereby aid understanding. Of course, its spelling would be atrocious, but the message should get through." Montague tweaked his latest contraption. There was an ear trumpet, and a progression of springs, and a pencil balanced carefully against a roll of paper. "So far, I've been analysing the vibrations of the human voice. Watch."
He wound the machine up and pressed a switch. Then recited, "You look wonderful, today, my dearest Clara," into the trumpet. Things jiggled. The pencil moved as if it were possessed. It all stopped again when Montague flipped the switch the other way.
There were squiggly lines on the paper. Jagged mountains and valleys in a bizarre landscape. It didn't look like words at all. "That's illegible," protested Clara. "It certainly isn't any kind of handwriting."
"Not unless one is Russian, no. This is the shape the air makes when we speak. Waves of air, turning into words."
Again, an objection. "Air doesn't travel in waves... Monty, you should get some sunshine. All this work is turning your head."
"We shall take the air together, my dear." He tore off the latest... phonautograph... from his machine and took it and a spare pencil with him. As Clara brought him his coat and his hat, he marked lines between the hills. Montague did, however, fold up the paper into his coat pocket when Clara pointedly took his arm.
Clara lead him away from their usual route, forcing him to keep his head in the real world and his eyes on where he was going. She kept up a stream of well-meaning chatter. "Honestly, Monty. Obsessions can be dangerous. You need to take more time to just be normal."
"Normal is an abstract concept, my love," he said. "You knew that I was a little... strange... when you said 'yes' to me."
Clara sighed. "I did, and for the most part you can at least pretend normalcy for sociability's sake. But this? Why this?"
"The deaf are outcast, Clara. So much of society as we know it depends entirely on these... vibrations of communication. I know I've isolated the words... but the sounds elude me, and..." Montague trailed off, staring out across the road at a small plot of land.
Someone, another eccentric like her Monty, had planted a field of wheat. The tall, green stalks were waving in the breeze like the ocean waves. Certainly nothing that either of them hadn't seen a thousand times or more.
"Monty?" Clara squeaked.
"Look at it," said Montague. "Look at the wheat."
She looked again, and realised what her beloved was seeing. Wheat... moving in the breeze. Moving in waves. "Oh," she whispered. "Oh, it does move in waves..."
"If I could make an engraving with a vertical stylus, to match the graphical portions of the notation..." Monty fell silent, his lips moving in response to visions only he could see. "Might just be the breakthrough in proper annotation and decoding that I need." Another long moment in which his brain was in another reality. "The initial apparatus is going to be enormous."
Clara chuckled. "You need to name this air-wave phenomenon," she told him, subtly leading him away from the hypnotising wheat. "Everyone will be talking about it."
"Making waves," Montague joked.
Clara giggled at that one. "Very droll, my love. But on to the business of your new phenomenon. We can't keep calling it 'vocal waves'. I'm certain all things that make noise do so without our throats behind it."
"Round like a wave," as they walked on, Montague made sinuous motions with his free hand. "Sibilant like the wind... Soft and round. Soft and round..."
Clara let him ponder the two words as they walked. He kept repeating, "Soft and round," over and over again. She let her mind wander, because her beloved husband was in another realm. His physical body was with her, true, but his mind was far away from her body. Off, as her Mama was wont to say, with the fairies.
She wandered off inside her head with Montague's softs and rounds merging into a mess in her ears. Clara could not, eventually, tell the words apart. They merged into one. Which eventually struck her as a fit of brilliance.
"Sound," she said. "Sound. The word is perfect."
Montague, startled out of his reverie, boggled at her. "My darling Clara... you are a genius."
: Russian cursive is... very strange to western eyes.
[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / dolgachov]
If you like my stories, please Check out my blog and Follow me.
Send me a prompt [13 remaining prompts!]