Sarah knew that joints were able to make noises. If there had been a break or a physical trauma, the joints could crackle. Apparently it was gas in the spaces between the bones. The knees could go off like pistols at a shooting range, and some sadistic people could crack their fingers like castanets. She had once heard someone’s joints creak so loud on Bonfire Night that she wondered whether they had a lighted firework in their hand. Sarah knew this phenomenon was called crepitus, and she thought it was just a physical condition. What she didn’t know was that that there was such a thing as emotional crepitus, which was far more embarrassing.
Gradually, infinitesimally, her body started to make sounds of its own volition. It was not just unruliness. There seemed to be a pattern to it. Whenever Sarah felt an emotion that she had experienced many times before and not addressed, her body would broadcast it. But the body had a different sound for each feeling. She had had a lover who was astonishingly uncommunicative, and now, every time Sarah thought about him and bewailed his shortcomings, her body gave a grumbling roar. This was bad, especially if she happened to be in a lift. But there were other noises too. When she began to fume about publishers and their wiles, a shrill whining sound emanated from her. When she resented (as she had done for some time) the demands of her oldest friend, whose ailments were manifold and of Technicolor hue, her body made a whirring noise, like an engine running out of steam. When she felt awkward about her appearance, her body let forth a rushing sound: a waterfall, a stream, a leaking tap.
This was all very hard to co-ordinate. If she had more than one feeling at a time, her body sounded like a one-man band. People began to look askance. The first thing to tackle was the multiple-feeling issue. If she concentrated hard, she could intensify one feeling by wiping out the others. This meant that there was only one noise to cope with at a time. Sarah had always prided herself on her ability to feel ambiguously, and to hold conflicting emotions in tandem. But now this would not do.
The next thing, of course, was to try to get rid of the crepitus altogether, by clearing out feelings she had had before. This was difficult, as it meant putting an end to old resentments and bile. Sarah began to think repression was a good thing. Every time the grumbling roar started, she said “uh-uh” and held up her index finger. Instead of thinking about the lover (with the inevitable doleful tear), she made herself think about a specific breed of dog - a slobbering and rather stupid mastiff was a good one. Every time the whirring noise came on when she recalled her old friend, she made herself think about funerals, and how much fun they could be. Every time she felt fat, she made an effort to think about a bag of popcorn.
But these were evasive tactics. The real challenge was to devise new feelings that would not trigger the crepitus. In order to achieve bodily silence, Sarah had to invent fresh categories of feelings. She became an adept in her new task. She managed to feel appreciative of chimney sweeps. Her heart was gladdened by a particular shade of teal. She was able to feel indignant about double parking. People who accidentally erased whole files from their PCs met with a winning smile. If six cart-horses could be glimpsed in one afternoon, it made her laugh with joy. And if someone she had cared about lost a front tooth on a bank holiday, at least it enabled her to have a new feeling about them.
All Sarah now had to do was to guard against repetition. As long as the emotion was a novel one, and she only experienced it once, her body would relapse back into a blissful silence. It was exhausting of course, since the repertoire of feelings had to be constantly revisited and renewed. But the emotional crepitus could be managed, even though its sounds lay waiting, coiled in her body. And Sarah thought “there is nothing, absolutely nothing, so good as the silence of the bones.”