Every voice sounds a chord. Every voice has notes and layers, the way fragrances do: the top note, the one you notice first, is light, citrus; the middle note, the heart, is resonant like cinnamon, jasmine; and the base note leaves the lasting impression, a weighted blanket of sandalwood and vanilla. I experience my husband’s voice this way, layers of scent, temperature, taste. Sometimes, I hear chocolate.

Today his top note is that of someone pinching the neck of an overinflated balloon, the air squeaking out fast, high, and thin. The heart note is rapid and shallow. The base note is faint. A friend has inquired about his illness. I ask my husband, “Do you want me to answer their questions?” And he almost runs from the room, leaving me to fill in the details.

I methodically answer the questions about his diagnosis and his prognosis. My top, middle, and base notes roll into a drone, a calm and even monotone. I lay out chronology, answer some questions about his upcoming surgery, avoid others. I say “At least he’ll be under anesthesia!” As if sleeping through it is the same as it not happening.

I roast a chicken for soup. I put lilacs, one of the most complex and heavily floral scents, all heart notes, in a vase by the bed. I place photographs of our two grown sons there, too. I wipe dust, change sheets. I lie down next to him on the fresh bed in the middle of the afternoon. Our bodies touch at the shoulders, arms, and hips. I hear lawn mowers, birds, somewhere a basketball bouncing, and my own heartbeat. It is racing. I didn’t notice until I stopped being busy.

My husband lies quietly, possibly sleeping. I take stock. The walls of our bedroom are still blue. My hair is still gray. There’s a dab of toothpaste on my shirt. Everything is normal.

How does my racing heart fit into this picture? Is it there because my husband is worried, and sick, and my own fear has nowhere to go? Was it there when the doctor said, “It’s fine” when we knew it wasn’t? Has it been there all the times in my life I’ve been afraid and stayed still and not spoken? Has it been there all the times I’ve been quiet and angry, angry enough to throw a rock? All the times I’ve wanted to cause damage? Put a dent in something smooth. Open up a crack. Make someone else stop in their tracks, blood suddenly surging through their chest, shoulders, neck, blocking connections to their brain, blocking connections that allow you to override anger, fear, and worry enough to say, “Everything will be okay.”

Which is what comes out of my mouth now, that everything will be okay voice, as if it were prerecorded a long time ago. The brain offers data, percentages, steps of recovery. But the base note knows that the body is an unreliable, dangerous place.

Meg Senuta’s work appears in Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, Solstice, River Teeth’s “Beautiful Things,” and was selected for the Tell-All Boston reading series. Her essay was a finalist for Fourth Genre’s Michael Steinberg Memorial Essay Award. A graduate of Grub Street’s Memoir Incubator, she holds an MFA from Antioch and a degree in traditional textiles from Saterglantan, Sweden. She studied weaving and spinning with a Scottish folk singer who taught her the use of tenterhooks, which are very sharp. A reader for Solstice Literary Magazine, she is [still] at work on a memoir about overness and cancer. She can be reached at [email protected] or via twitter at @msenuta.

Photo by Amy Selwyn