It Never Gets Dark by Tara Stillions Whitehead

It Never Gets Dark 

Gary used his hands to draw the configuration for us. Nine elephants, he said — no, ten — all huddled under a tulip tree in a sanctuary in eastern Tennessee, all urinating in unison. “That,” he said, “is how I made mud.” And then, smiling, “That’s right. You can turn sound into anything if you know how to juxtapose a set of waves with another set of waves. The elephants — I used that recording to simulate mud burying mud, mud burying the phony shaving cream can with the embryos in it.”

Gary said he recorded everyday whatevers to create the suspension of disbelief. You can use any noise from your life to simulate something greater, regardless of the banality — untying shoelaces, signing bad checks, hard-boiling eggs.

“My wife separating magazine subscription inserts along those perforated lines? A pack of velociraptors rustling foliage. Recorded it on quarter-inch. I know what you’re going to say. ‘No one uses reel-to-reel anymore. It’s not practical. Too expensive —’ and I’d say, yeah, yeah, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. But find me a sound guy — or gal — who won’t tell you that tape gives you a body to work with and not just the bones…you can’t. Because tape is all body. Tissue, muscle, vocabulary, and fingerprints. Nothing feels like tape.”

I wanted to tell Gary that I loved tape too, that I knew its softness, that I had felt its shape. I wanted to tell him about sitting in the basement of Doheny Library for hours with my Nagra, recording water pipes and migrating dust. I wanted to tell him that I had captured the patience of God — Have you ever heard revelation? I would ask Gary. I have. And let me tell you. It sounds like evaporation. It sounds like sand sweeping the glass floors of heaven. Can you imagine? Yeah. I heard it. A cold magnet tracing the sun’s corona, that’s what I heard.

After the lecture, we exited the Marcia Lucas soundstage onto the loading dock where some smart-thinking film students had staged bottles of wine on a card table, and while the identity-stable cineastes crowded Gary with their egos, I hovered near the wall and drank until my knots untied.

Thirty minutes passed before I approached Gary. Up close, he was handsome. Uniformed in black and completely odorless. Stylishly undetectable.

“Tell me about the baby,” I said.

Gary leaned back to get a better look at me, “Excuse me?”

“The calf that wouldn’t cry,” I said. “I read somewhere that you followed it around for days waiting for it to scream or yell or whatever it is elephants do when they are distressed…but nothing.” And then, “Did you ever think of doing something extreme? To end your own torture, at least? Like, I dunno, maybe force the sound out of it?”

Gary’s face dimmed. He drained his wineglass and then nodded, reassuringly, “No. Of course not.”

Later that night, three blocks from where the Academy Award winner deconstructed his illusions for a cohort of promising film students, Brad cinched a silk tie around my neck and tried to make it look like an accident.

If you’ve ever been there, you’d know that the night sky in Los Angeles glows, that it is an always lighted film screen. In spite of its starlessness, it never gets dark.

I lay a long time on the third-story roof, draped across wet shingles, thinking of Gary and the elephant, thinking about God and the library basement. Expecting something to fill the blank Proscenium, to reveal the movie magic. But nothing materialized except more dampness — Brad, me, urine, everything my body could expel.

Because I could not wait for God, I closed my eyes and listened. And after some time, I heard my emerging imagelessness: tenderness hardening into wood, sirens blossoming like citrus trees. And somewhere south, the Menlo boys who knew what Brad had done shouting, hunting, parading the streets with their Meinl sticks and Parliaments.


It Never Gets Dark


Tara Stillions Whitehead is a filmmaker and writer living in Pennsylvania. She co-helms the production company Farm-to-Table, which produced acclaimed writer/producer Mark Roberts’ American Content: Hollywood. Recent words can be found in cream city review, The Rupture, PRISM international, Bending Genres, the tiny journal, and American Book Review. She is the recipient of a Glimmer Train Award for New Writers and her unpublished collection, After the Almost End of the World, was a finalist for publication with Gold Wake Press this past November.


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