The Quiet Game
Carrie sprawled in the shade of the cliff that ran along the Lake Michigan shoreline, her ankle swelling into a black and blue softball.
Why did I have to come so far? she wondered. Two miles past the creek. To see deer tracks on the beach. Do I care about deer tracks? No. It’s because I’m bored and there’s absolutely nothing to do in Grandpa’s boring trailer park. Carrie rubbed her throbbing ankle, replaying their stroll from the evening before.
“Grandpa,” she had whined, lagging behind, on the way back from the creek. “Why do we have to walk the beach in the dark?”
“It makes us even,” he said. “That way, you can’t see either. Besides, you can hear better in the dark.”
Carrie scuffed her feet in the sand. “Why can’t you at least get a TV and a phone? I’ve read two books, listened to all my CDs five times and I’ve only been here two days. There’s nothing going on.”
“Really? I think there’s a lot going on. There’s a storm coming out of the southwest. There’s a deer taking a drink down the beach. And the sand bar has shifted again since the storm last week.”
“Grandpa, I’m not a Brownie anymore—all interested in nature walks and how you can know things in the dark.”
“Oh, I see. I should have realized.” He said in a small voice. “Of course. You’re getting older.”
She hadn’t intended to hurt his feelings. “Can we build a fire?” she asked. He would like that.
Later, she stared at the fire, watching the last bit of moisture sizzle and boil from the end of a driftwood log. “So, okay, so tell me how you know a storm is coming and all that other stuff.”
He scratched the stubble on his cheek. “Do you really want to know, or are you just humoring me?”
“Yeah. So, tell me.”
“First the storm. Can you hear the rumble in the distance?”
“Concentrate. You’ve heard it. You just haven’t noticed it yet. At this point it’s more like a vibration than a sound.”
“Same thing with the sand bar, right? You listen for the waves breaking in the shallower water?”
“Yep. But the deer is another story. Did you hear the dog barking when we were by the creek?”
“He lives next to a ravine that ends at the lake and he barks at every deer going down to water. I used to see their hoof prints all over the beach in the morning.”
Carrie nudged the log deeper into the fire. “What’s your point?”
“My point.” He coughed, spit. “Well, my point is you have to shut out noise before you can hear what’s going on around you.”
“But I don’t care about animals in the night. I’d rather listen to my CDs. Geez, Grandpa.” She watched the fire reflecting in the corners of his clouded eyes.
He spoke slowly and carefully. “I just wanted to tell you my secret: what I do when I’m bored, or frightened or feeling lonely.” He turned back toward the fire.
“So, you listen to sounds?”
He sighed, swallowed. “That’s the second step. The first step is to get away from people noise. Then I listen to all the sounds around me, one by one. Pretty soon, the only sounds I haven’t heard from, come from me—my own thoughts and feelings. And that’s when the real surprises begin. I remember happy times, like when you were little and cute. Not like now when …”
“Cut it out, Grandpa.”
He chuckled. “And when I’m quiet inside, jewelry boxes come together, trips get planned, gardens get planted—easy as pie.”
She threw a stick into the fire. “I’m still bored.”
A small airplane buzzed the coastline. Carrie jumped up on one leg, hopped toward the water waving frantically. “Hey! Help! I need help!” The pilot smiled, waved as he passed, rocking his wings. He didn’t understand, she realized. He thought I was just being friendly.
Panic exploded like startled birds. What if my ankle is broken? What if no one comes to find me? How long before Grandpa misses me and starts searching? Or, in his case, listening. Grandpa. Calm down Think. What would Grandpa do?
She eased herself down, easing her sore foot into the cool water. “Okay, okay,” she said aloud. “I’ll try your quiet game.” She closed her eyes and forced herself to listen to the waves, soothing, calming. Seagulls shrieked. A dog barked. Could that be the dog by the ravine? Deer tracks criss-crossed in the sand leading to a break in the cliff-face twenty yards away. I found Grandpa’s deer prints, she thought. At least if no one comes to get me by late afternoon, I can crawl up the ravine and find the owner of that dog.
What a great scene this would make for a TV show: a gorgeous brunette crawls along the beach. She stops to cry and rub her skinned knees. She drags her mosquito-bitten self over rocks and branches, through poison ivy to find the barking dog, food, and water. She hauls herself to the doorstep. Knocks and knocks. No one is home. As she melts in a puddle of tears, she hears the hero calling.
“Carrie! Carrie, where are you?”
“Over here, Grandpa.”
The Quiet Game Study Guide
1. Which Great Lake was involved in the story? In which state do you think the story took place?
2. If you were hurt and alone like Carrie was, what would you do…
a. when you heard the airplane?
b. when you were sure no one was around to help and wouldn’t be for some time?
3. Do you think you can really hear better with your eyes shut?
a. In the dark?
b. As a blind person?
4. Was the grandfather right? Do music, television and other media distract us?
a. Does noise prevent us from being creative?
b. Does it need to be perfectly quiet to study, to think, to write?
5. Have you ever forgotten about time because you were very interested in making or doing something?
a. How do you get to that place?
6. What would the grandfather mean when he said listening for sounds helps him when he’s lonely? When he’s tense?
7. Was Carrie rude with her Grandfather?
8. Is the Quiet Game only about listening to sounds in nature?
a. Would it work with other senses – smelling, touching, tasting, seeing?
9. At the beginning of the story, Carrie misses television. By the end of the story she is writing a television story in her mind.
a. Do you think television scriptwriters watch TV when they are writing?
b. Where do you think movie and television scriptwriters look for inspiration?
– other TV shows?
– inside themselves?