“I’m going to lay down.” Reid said . His eyelids half closed, his cheeks sagging ever slightly.
“Okay. Would you like me to continue reading?” replied Elizabeth.
“Yes, yes. But where does my head go? Near the window or the door?”
“Lay your head by the window, Reid.” Elizabeth patted the sheet covered, institutional mattress, motioning for Reid to follow.
He lay his head flat as he had no pillow with which to rest it. He said this suited him. “A light blanket to cover?” she asked. “No. It’s hot out.”
Elizabeth had been reading aloud to Reid for a full hour. He listened intently from the kitchen slash bedroom chair, but into the third week of heat waves and an achy leg, his eyes betray him. The lids, heavy with life, wandered downward into shallow slumber.
Deliberately removing any baritone, Elizabeth softened her voice. Steadily, she read along. Incrementally, she lowered her volume, eventually to a whisper.
She read along.
He loved the story. Historical fiction. A novel of his ancestors country. One of tiny villages and alps, young, daring men and brave, beautiful women. A tale of war, underdogs and heroes.
Reid continued to listen.
Reid rarely stood or sat still. He could not be convinced to do so. He suffered from a neurodegenerative disease which robbed him of his memories. Yet, when she read to him, magic occurred. He became mesmerized. Appeared to listen and make sense of a very complicated story.
Into the second hour now. Reid snoring on his bed, Elizabeth, on a chair by his side, read through whispers. She gradually spoke softer and softer until her voice was barely audible. Hoping she could stop and let Reid sleep. But the moment her voice went silent, he looked up at her.
She continued reading.
She loved reading aloud. A soft, sharp reminiscence of holding her baby on her lap. Reading first, little “pat books”, then cardboard page books. Her infants tender, chubby fingers pawing away at the lambs fur. Pushing his fat palm into it until it squeaked. She lived for the moments of reading Little Golden Books and Dr. Seuss. Pointing, naming, laughing, repeating, learning, loving. Mesmerizing.
Elizabeth read her baby to sleep most nights. She learned to soften, lower her voice slowly to a whisper. A barely audible sound. She learned to regulate her breathing to that of her baby so as not to wake him upon placing him in his crib. But as soon as her voice went silent, he looked up at her.
Elizabeth continued to read.
Once her son learned to read on his own, they took turns reading chapter books aloud to each other, every day of his childhood. Mesmerizing.
So many years later, as she read to Reid, she thought of those moments with her child. She wondered what it is about this activity, being read to and being the reader, that is so soothing.
Elizabeth read out loud. All the words before her as Reid snored. But she thought other, deeper thoughts.
She thought about babies and children, Moms young people, old people, everyone in-between. She thought about random readers. Those who communicate their caring and love through words, intonations, facial expressions, smiles and sometimes tears.
She thought even more about the listeners.
She believes now that all of them, her child, Reid, all the listeners are inextricably connected at the root.
So Elizabeth reads out loud. She hopes to always have a listener or to be a listener.
Because maybe, just maybe, it really does matter in the end.