The following is an excerpt from a short story, in a book I set down and just picked up reading again. The period of the piece is during WWI. I found reading it was like suspending time through this comparison of sound— stillness vs activity.
We weren’t expecting the noise. Could have had no idea how it would be. Not the guns and explosions when near the front; that’s a particular agony. And even when far away, an undertone. But more the constant ruckus, living in a large group of people. The shouting in the camp, the singing and sounds of hammering. Horses and motors and airplanes if they’re near. The racket in the canteen or mess hall, always something. There’s no place for contemplation, no space for it, every waking moment, and even sleeping ones, filled up with sound.
On our last morning at home we woke early and went to sit in the silence on the kitchen porch. A cold morning, the grass rimed with frost that was just beginning to glisten as the sun touched it. The distant line of silent, colored hills. We didn’t speak, just tried to take it in, our stomachs in nagging, queasy knots that eased a little, as the sun reached the spot where we sat. It was completely still, no sound from the sleeping house behind us, no bird or animal.
But then there was a sound, we gradually became aware of it a wrenching, tearing, rattling sound, becoming louder and more constant as we began to listen to it. It sounded like—something, and yet like nothing we’d ever heard before. And then we saw a flicker of movement, and understood what was happening. As the sun warmed the frosted yellow maples that ringed the back garden the leaves began to detach with a snap, fall with an icy clatter. First one, then another, then more and more, a shower. On our last morning we realized that we had been living in a silence so absolute that we could hear the sound each leaf makes as it falls.
It can never be like that again. This is the sound of the modern world, the world we are fighting for. The tramp tramp tramp of a thousand feet marching, the jingle of harness and medals. The shriek of train whistles, the rattle of a clean gun being assembled, the howls of men in pain.
~Excerpt from short story “The Deep” by Mary Swan
Found on pg 39 of The O. Henry Awards 2001 Prize Stories