Yen Magazine website link: http://www.yenmag.net/artery/church-bell-spoon-short-story-winner-2014/
What You Need:
One metre of string
The first word I ever learned was King, for my sister.
Fingertips and thumb to the top of my head in a circle, like a crown.
Most babies learn survival signs first – drink, food, up and hurt –words that get them what they want.
I always wanted King.
And there’s something about that action – like I’m pulling the very thought of her out of my head – that suits my big sister.
What You Do:
Tie the handle of the spoon at the midpoint of the string.
Wrap the ends of the string around your index fingers.
Place your fingers in your ears.
Lean over so that the spoon hangs freely and swing the spoon so it taps against a door.
Hit the door again, this time harder.
My father is an amateur astronomer. He sinks his toes into the grass in our backyard and tips his head back nearly every night.
Our universe is 12 billion years old, he signs, 70 kilometres per second per m-e-g-a-p-a-r-s-e-c, finger-spelling the last.
He goes on and on, about the rate the universe is expanding and how it’s called the Hubble Constant. With that number, scientists are able to work backwards and calculate the age of the universe.
Twelve billion! He makes finger-glasses out of billion, like we’re still little kids.
Dad has an astronomical fact for every star in the sky.
The moons of Uranus are named after characters in Shakespeare plays, and then he names them on his fingers.
The Virgo Cluster is 50 million light years away and is made up of 1000 galaxies.
A single day on Mercury lasts approximately as long as 59 on Earth.
What did you hear? Was it a soft sound like a tinkling bell, and then a louder sound like a ringing church bell?
Mum is the hearing among us. She fell in love with Dad sitting across from him on the bus – he took a long pull from an imaginary glass and two hours later they were scribbling conversations on napkins at The Espy.
Six months and they were moved in together, her hands nearly fluent.
One day she tells me how much she loves that our family has its own secret language. That she delights when people stare at us arguing in line at the grocery store when we’re nagging her to buy us a magazine and an energy drink, or Dad tells me to quit teasing my sister. It’s the same conversations other families are having all around us, but ours is spoken with dancing hands and arching eyebrows, chest thumps and twisted mouths.
Mum still has the napkins – about a hundred of them – she keeps them inside a shoebox in their wardrobe.
On one, in Dad’s looping blue handwriting, he wrote: More is known about the surface of the moon than the deep sea floor.
How did you hear? You hear sounds when vibrations get inside your ears and stimulate your nerves to send electrical signals to your brain. The loudness or quietness of the sound depends on the amplitude (height of the wave).
I lay my hands against the old Bozak speakers in the music room, feel Elvis’ voice shimmy and shake like lightning up my arms.
Mr Keely gets it. He says a good song needs to be more than just noise, because that’s not what moves you in the end.
And I love this song because Elvis’ heart has a trembling question, and he wrote it for another King about dreaming of a better land.
Try it again! Repeat the experiment, this time using a coat-hanger/fork or other metal object.
In science class we learn that sound travels in waves.
Ms Swann writes that on the whiteboard: SOUND TRAVELS BY MAKING MOLECULES VIBRATE.
On Earth, sound travels to your ears by vibrating air molecules. In deep space and the large empty areas between stars and planets, there are no molecules to vibrate.
There is no sound there.
She writes that on the whiteboard too: THERE IS NO SOUND IN SPACE.
My ears feel like they’re glowing red as Mars and I try to remember Dad’s astronomy facts.
Earth is the third planet from…
Mercury is the closest planet to…
The planet Jupiter is the fifth…
Venus is the second planet from…
… and again! Change the surface you hit against (wooden table, glass window, iron pot etc). Listen for the difference!
The church bell spoon experiment is in full swing, literally. Everyone has fingers in their ears; spoons are spinning tight orbits from where they dangle on strings and I’m sitting back, watching the experiment unfold.
Ben Carruthers goes first, tapping his spoon lightly against the metal back of a chair. Then he pulls back a little further, swinging a little harder and even with his head down I can see the corners of a smile.
Everyone starts swinging their cutlery, against doorframes and chair backs, tables and walls.
I can almost see the molecules dancing, the sound coming in waves.
This must be what church bells feel like.