Summer Selections: The Curious Case of The Murmur in Danell Szabó’s Ear

by Joana Varandas

The last change for Danell Szabó came in 2016. I had first met him as a young man in Hungary, but the years seemed to have turned the man into naught more than an emotionally crippled creature. I became certain of this change when I last saw Danell put my picture into the folds of his shirt, crumple it ten-fold, jam both together into his suitcase, and shove the whole array of objects into the back of his wardrobe.

Afterwards, he had fallen to the floor, breathless, tears building up under his eyes, until his reddening eyelids could no longer contain them. There he had stayed for a while, chest heaving in and out, head tucked in the middle of his knees, blood dripping. Gasping, and panting, and at last, shouting, so that his voice could snuff out the sound of my murmur.

As with everything that must die, his scream eventually stopped. And when the silence returned, my murmur was still there. It had never really gone away since the night before. And neither could he. So, he grabbed his book and put on his coat, and went to the library again.

The air trembled with the threat of rain, and the building stood taller than ever against the darkening sky. People carrying black umbrellas were avoiding it, walking past it en route to their busy boring lives. Danell had never fully understood why they submitted themselves to such tediousness. Long ago, when he had first arrived in the UK, he had promised himself he would never work anywhere which he did not like. And by the Gods, he had fulfilled. He had started out as a construction worker in the same library that now lay before his very eyes. And in time, he had become a librarian there. He felt blessed. He felt God-like.

Brushing off a quick ‘hello’ to the security guard controlling the entrance, Danell found his way to the desk that was his nerve centre. From there, he registered the comings and goings of every single one of his books. In his mind, the security guard’s presence was irrelevant, almost useless. Back in Hungary, he had never experienced this alleviating feeling. Not even in 2013, when he had fallen in love with me. However, when the passion expired, I had begun to notice that there was never a moment when he had not been trying to control me.

One can only take so much, so in order to achieve that authority that I had never allowed him, Danell had turned to his possessions, particularly books. If you can’t understand why, just imagine how empowering it is to hold in your hands something that has its own story, much like a human life. Something that is also so helpless that it can fall prey to anything from burns, floods, time, and even careless treatment.

Danell sat back in his chair with a grin. He observed how the undisturbed security guard had now dozed back into his slumber. It was a perfect time to be a librarian. No one wanted to read books, no one wanted to burn them either. No one disturbed Danell. Except for me.

Sometimes he would relieve himself from the duties of his desk to contemplate his library. He would walk whilst gently touching the book covers, the shelves, the walls, like caressing a lover long forgotten. This day however, he had inadvertently found his way down to that wretched corridor. There was an incessant buzz coming from the air-conditioning system preventing Danell to become aware of the loud murmur that was emanating from the wall.

The problem with a murmur is that at first it passes as the remains of a heavy night out drinking and clubbing. The next morning, you forget it was ever there. Your life carries on, and you are filled with pride, certain that you have your shit together. Until one night, one damned ever-lasting night, you try to go to sleep, murmur as loud as ever, and the morning after does not release you from the guilt. You might go to the doctors, thinking that somehow age is catching up with you and you’re going deaf. But then, the test results come back normal, and you’re left wondering.

This was what came to pass within Danell’s mind in the library corridor somewhere in 2016. Deadly night silences turning into a murmur in his ear, and then the murmur turning into a scream, and then the scream shouting throughout his entire being.

The day that I had left Danell, I had packed all of my things into a suitcase and walked out the door before he could get the chance to come home and find me. However, I had forgotten a tiny damning memento behind, a photo of me. And scared as I was, I did not want Danell to have it. Not long after, he had taken on the habit of arriving to the construction site earlier than all of his colleagues, as well as leaving later than any of them. Hard-working as he seemed, his manager never even realized that the last corridor to be built by Danell was a few metres shorter than originally planned.

The security guard found the creature murmuring endlessly to himself. He was taken away and entombed behind a life of solitude, controlled by the same people that had been whispering to him, whilst clutching their black umbrellas, about a life that he so unmistakably had tried to escape. My body was never found, and I became as much a part of that library as Danell had once been.

Summer Selections is a FalWriting series bringing you a variety of writing produced this academic year by Falmouth students. It's a vibrant and diverse selection of work covering text forms from experimental poetry to forensic literary analysis, from gothic short stories to critical dissertations. This year the selection is guest edited by third year student Jess Hawes.