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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: White (10/29/09)

TITLE: Whispers
By Jan Ackerson


Kent comes home from work to find Abby with an ear pressed against the wall. “What’s up, Abs?” he asks, nuzzling her neck.

She holds a finger to her lips, but her look is worried, not playful. “Shhh,” she whispers. “Can’t you hear it? I’ve been looking for it all day.”

“Hear what? I don’t--” She covers his mouth with her palm. Silence. “Sorry, Abby—I don’t hear anything. What are we listening for?”

“It’s like—white noise, I guess. Like a soft…buzzing or something. I’ve been hearing it all day.” She looks imploringly at Kent, begging him to hear it, too. When he shrugs after another several seconds, Abby turns away, shoulders slumped. He sees her tilt her head, as if trying to drain a trickle of water from her ear.


A Saturday breakfast, two weeks later, and Abby is looking drawn—her face pale but for the shadows around her eyes. Kent hooks her chin and speaks softly. “Still not sleeping?”

“It’s that noise…I can’t shut it out.”

“Still the same? Just…white noise? Abby, will you please see a doctor? You look so…”

There’s that tilt again. Kent realizes that it’s become as much a part of Abby as the way she fiddles with her necklace or nibbles her lower lip.

“I just need some sleep.” She slips back into their bed, where he finds her later with the pillow pulled tight around her head.


A few days later, Kent finds that Abby has unplugged every electrical device in the house, and has stuffed rags under doorways and in windowsills. He tugs a rag from beneath a closet door and recognizes the scrap of cloth as a piece of one of their new white towels, a five-year anniversary splurge. “Abby?” He holds it up, questioning.

“I thought it might block the noise.”

“Did it?” He gathers her close, where she shakes her head no into his shoulder. They stand together for a long time, Abby trembling.


It is a weekday evening. Kent stands in the arched entryway to the living room and watches Abby in her favorite chair. She has been reading, but she flips the book upside-down in her lap with an impatient sigh. She whispers something; Kent thinks she may be praying—but she stops, then whispers again, and then again. He clears his throat and enters the room.

“What did the doctor say?”

Abby looks startled at his entrance, and perhaps…guilty. “Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with my ears.” She makes a small gesture with her hand, as if shushing a small, invisible child. “He wants me to see a…a neurologist.” She tilts, whispers, looks at Kent with wide eyes.


The doctor closes a file folder and speaks to Kent while Abby shrinks into her chair. “It’s a devastating diagnosis, Mr. Douglas, I won’t whitewash it. We’re starting her on a proven and effective medication. About a third of patients with adult onset schizophrenia respond well to medication and can live normal lives. About a third will continue to be somewhat affected, and a third will experience lifelong debilitation…”

As the doctor drones on, Kent believes he may finally be able to understand Abby’s white noise. All he can hear are isolated words…devastating…schizophrenia…debilitation. He pulls Abby’s clenched hand from her lap and loosens each finger as the doctor buzzes on. When her hand is finally relaxed, he presses his lips to her palm.


Kent arranges with his boss to work from home, and he spends his days watching Abby. Sometimes she is Just Abby, and they laugh together at the antics of their cat, or drink coffee while Abby reads aloud from Dickens with impeccable accents. Sometimes though, she is New Abby, when the white noise resolves into whispers that make her cringe and flinch.

And at night, when the white whispers are the loudest, Abby curls her knees up in bed and whimpers. Kent presses into her back and bunches up his pillow, his mouth close to her ear. There he stays until her breathing finally deepens, singing softly until the whispers disappear.

Blessed quietness, holy quietness
What assurance in my soul!
On the stormy sea He speaks peace to me—
How the billows cease to roll!
Blessed quietness, holy quietness…


Blessed Quietness, W. S. Marshall and James M. Kirk, public domain

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This article has been read 1150 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Laury Hubrich 11/05/09
Wow. What a great husband to support his wife through this. Very good account of a mental illness that many have to live with every single day.
Janice Fitzpatrick11/08/09
This is so sad and very heart rending. I know people who have been affected by this devastating illness and it is something that people to be more aware of. I like the caring husband you portrayed in this piece, very moving. Talk about in sickness and in health, this is truly the Christ like, compassionate attitude we are suppose to have towards one another. Great job!!
Emily Gibson11/09/09
Having seen more than my share of new onset of schizophrenia during my medical career, I think you have captured the early auditory hallucination symptoms. In this case, I was pretty sure you were writing about tinnitus or the "white noise" in the ears--buzzing, ringing, sometimes a musical sound. It can lead to truly desperate behavior in some patients, who can become suicidal just from the noise they perceive. But it is not the same as the devastation of schizophrenia.

In schizophrenia, there are usually more psychological signs of anxiety, concrete thinking, paranoia, suspiciousness and social isolation before delusions become prominent.

A neurologist might suggest a psychiatric diagnosis after doing a brain scan, but typically an "official" diagnosis of a delusional disorder would come from a psychiatrist after all "organic" (other medical explanations) have been ruled out.

This was a unique take on the topic and the memory I will take away from this is how the husband truly becomes the "white knight" for his ill wife. Such a portrayal of Christ-like love in action.
Diana Dart 11/09/09
Well, I wasn't looking forward to brutally critiquing you, but you asked for it!! Then I read this. And truly, my heart broke. Sympathy and horror for Abby, cheers and lump-in-your-throat pride for Kent and his love, wonder and awe at your creativity for the topic - all of these feelings flow through me as I read this. Sometimes I stumble over reading the present tense, it just seems more difficult to relax as a reader. But that fits well here. This piece is beautiful, harsh, almost fascinating - it will stay with me well beyond today. (sorry I couldn't be more help!!)
Patricia Turner11/09/09
I was sure this was going to be the voice of the Lord speaking to Abby - what a devastating discovery. You unfolded this so that we learned right along with Kent and felt something of what he was having to deal with. I love the way you showed us the character of a husband who loves his wife as Christ loves the church.
Ruth Brown11/09/09
Wow Jan You definitely got the surprise twist in there!
I wasn't looking for that type of diagnosis.You will probably rise back to top 40 with this.Blessings to you.
Verna Cole Mitchell 11/09/09
This emotional piece reached clear into my heart. You showed the actions of a godly husband perfectly in response to a devastating diagnosis. This also Shakespeare's idea that love does not alter when it alteration finds. Great writing.
larry troxell 11/09/09
brutally brilliant. i can't find anything to criticize this beautiful entry. keep on keeping on.
Joy Faire Stewart11/09/09
This is a condition I know nothing about and was deeply touched by the wife's despair and the husband's love...very thoughtful writing.
Shellie Goff11/09/09
What a gripping piece. I admire your talent. I never saw the ending coming. I loved the husband's sensitivity. I agree with a previous commenter who perceived the white noise to be the voice of the Lord. You really suprised me. I loved this story.
Aaron Morrow11/09/09
I really love the details and build of this piece. As always Jan, exceptional work, I think the "white noise" slant was a very creative take on the topic. I am always impressed with your out-of-the-box treatments. A couple of things stuck out for me as a reader. 1) When I read the first line it prepared me for a script rather than a narative, I think it may have been improved from Kents POV throughout rather than a selectively omniscient third person. 2) There are several sentences where I think you set it up for a good "show" but opted for "tell" which surprised me and disconnected me a little from the story. Examples: "Kent comes home from work to find Abby with an ear pressed against the wall", "A Saturday breakfast, two weeks later, and Abby is looking drawn", "The doctor closes a file folder and speaks to Kent"...I think from Kent's POV these would have made for great "show and response" moments. As always Jan, I love your work, you are one of my favoritest :) writers, I hope these suggestions are received in the full knowledge of how much I respect your expertise :) - YBIC - Aaron
Melanie Kerr 11/09/09
I also thought it was about tinnitus - an affliction that I suffer from. To realise that it was something much more serious - good writing. The use of italitcs to emphasise the doctors words was effective.
Sheri Gordon11/09/09
Wow. You told the reader so much about Kent and Abby in so few words. Your character development was amazing. Without "explaining," you really made the reader understand this couple and their relationship. Excellent.
Barbara Lynn Culler11/09/09
Quite a story! So sad. Good job humanly portraying the sufferer.
Marita Thelander 11/09/09
Very nice. Good take on the topic and I adore Kent. He reminds me of my husband. For reals.
Henry Clemmons11/09/09
I loved all of the "S" sounds to help accentuate our experiencing her condition. Very intersting interpretation of White, as in white noise, reflecting all other noise to make it difficult to concentrate on anything else; including reality. I also liked the husband proving the whispering of the song to be greater than the condition's whisper. Very well done.
Sarah Elisabeth 11/09/09
Wow. This hit a little close to home. The husband's response was amazing, it melted my heart. I wish more spouses were like this.

Incredible writing and it "connected"!
Beth LaBuff 11/10/09
Your quote of the hymn to end your story was brilliant. You haven't lost anything in your writing!
Sherrie Coronas11/10/09
You packed a novel into 750 words. That's great writing. The pace of your story was rapid - adding to the growing tension of the story. I can't think of anything about it that didn't work. It was heartbreaking, moving and felt very real.
Betty Castleberry11/11/09
I can't add much more than what has already been said, other than to say this is very creative. I like the "white noise" angle. As always, your writing is tight and professional. Well done.
Mona Purvis11/11/09
This is "classic Jan" as I've come to love your writing. Very, very special piece. You grab the reader right away and nothing and I mean nothing pulls him away until you release him.
All of this about a very hard-to-understand mental illness.
Present tense adds to the tension.
Telling instead of showing works even better for me in this piece.
A winner.