The Listener

The family had finally gotten their new house built. One of the first things they did was to throw a housewarming party and bring in the Listener.

It was a good party – a bit rowdy at times, but such was the way of parties. The house was full of folk, some enjoying themselves on the makeshift dance floor, some sitting in remote rooms and talking, just enjoying each others’ company. There were even the stirrings of a hesitating romance or two, taking root between some of the guests.

The Listener came in during the early hours of the party, and stayed the whole night. She walked back and forth in the house, letting her instincts guide her way. She didn’t speak to anyone, but she studied the house and the party with all her senses. She tasted the cheese that was being offered, savoring the taste of each crumb in her mouth. She let her fingers glide across the sturdy wooden supports, remembering the great oaks she’d watched being felled to make the supports. She drew in the smell of all the people, gathered together in such a small space, and she watched as they smiled and danced.

But most of all, she listened. Listened to people talking, laughing, yelling. Listened to the wind blowing outside, listened to the faint breathing of the house. She’d heard all these sounds before, back when she’d stood at the forest clearing the house would eventually be built on. She’d wandered across the clearing, touching the grass and breathing in the air, and she’d listened to the birds, the animals and the wind. And as a faint echo, an aural aftertaste almost too quiet to be heard, she had heard the sounds of this party. She had listened, then, until she had ascertained that the tone was a merry one, without any tinges of sadness. Then she had known that there would be no serious accidents while the house was being built.

Now, intertwined in all the merriment, she could still make out echoes of that day in the forest, of the birdsong she had listened to. But now she could also make out more distant sounds, ones stretching all the way to the distant future. Sounds of daily life in the house, children being raised and elderly grandparents being attended to. Even she could not have heard them before, for the house had still been but a remote possibility, one future among many. Now that it had been built, it was an anchor in time, entirely new possibilities stretching out from it.

Many of the guests at the party would glance at her every now and then, anxious to see her expressions. And mostly, they were met with relief, for the Listener was smiling gently to herself. At the door to one room, she could hear the laughter of children not even born yet, as clearly as if they’d already been there. At another room, the sounds of those children being conceived. And at one room, she thought she could almost hear one of the children as an old man, gently telling his own grandchildren of his youth.

The Listener spoke for the first time after the guests had left. She spoke to the adults in the family, telling them about the things to expect. They would have a good life here, though of course there would also be quarrels, fights and misfortunes. Here she had to choose her words carefully, for to be a Listener, being able to hear the echoes of the future wasn’t enough. During the party, she had also heard snippets of angry conversations, drunken confessions and tearful apologies. She had heard people reveal long-held secrets, ones that were the true reasons for many of the arguments yet to come. It would have been unwise and needlessly hurtful to reveal them now, before things had naturally reached that point. So she spoke her assurances but also her warnings, carefully worded not to say too much, but also not to be vague to the point of uselessness. With some, she spoke to in private, making gentle suggestions of what needed to be said, and of what would be better off unsaid.

When it was all said and done, she slept the night at the house and ate one last meal. Then it was time to leave, for there were other places and houses to visit, other families needing the advice of a Listener. As she was walking down the road, she stopped and turned, looking at the house one last time and smiling.

It would be a good home.

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