I believe in the mysteries of communication as all grown children must, by which I mean adults who recall first stories. Even the most destitute among us have narrative memories, perhaps stories told by disreputable friends or suspect adults. The lucky among us had mothers or fathers who read to us since soul-work starts early. I say lucky because if you play your cards right good stories don’t stop until your last breath.
The stories that first charmed us were whispers.
Whisper comes from Old English “hwisprian” which has a Germanic origin “wispein”—to whistle. A whisper is a call.
When I was four years old and living with my parents in Finland I was madly in love with two toys—a stuffed monkey and a wooden top. They were my only playthings. It was an austere world. Scandinavia was recovering from WWII. There were no supermarkets. My mother and I stood in long lines in the shops. Milk shop. Bakery. How my mother found that monkey I’ll never know.
I’d spin my top and it whistled. My monkey stood very straight like Abraham Lincoln and gave little speeches. Wind pushed branches against the windows. I remember the monkey favored banana ice cream. He knew the bright red banners of the street corner ice cream stands. I had blunted sight. My father read to me a story about dogs in a forest where, yes, the wind whistled.
Blind kid, strange city, dissolving figures, objects indistinct, my father reading bedtime stories after dark.
Whispers are calls. Stories still rely on them.
The world “worlds” as Heidegger said. Whispers whistle.
Stories commence with a blade of grass and a solitary child.
Certainly two people can also be solitary. Huck and Jim floating down the Mississippi on their raft at night. They whisper-whistle under stars.
We whistle softly because that story was a doozy. Because we must pass a graveyard. Whisper a slight exhalation as we start a tough story. Phew. This will be difficult.
Helen Oyeyemi writes: “I know of witches who whistle at different pitches, calling things that don't have names.”
Stories. Songs. Poems. Childhood. Lips almost touching but not quite. We are, even now, calling things that don't have names.
The whisper whistle is not the stadium whistle. Not the construction workers hassling a woman. Not the insufferable co-worker.
It's softer. The voice of someone reading to herself.
It's soft alright. Soft as the tender flesh inside our ears.