Because the weather had been unseasonably warm, all the windows were open. From inside the house, you could hear the sound of night creatures rustling around in the leaves. The sound of each passing car was like a wave that crested and then fell back into the sea of silence.
Beryl Fapp slept through the assorted sounds outside her bedroom window with her face buried in the pillows. She slept deeply, but without ever relaxing. Even her sleep, she gripped the edge of her mattress. She looked like someone forced to ride out a storm inside a rubber raft.
When she awoke suddenly, Beryl hoisted herself onto her elbows. She turned her bleary eyes toward the digital clock. What she saw displayed there made her groan with despair. She had stumbled into wakefulness one hour too soon. In 53 minutes, the alarm would ring. A new day was looming. It was like having someone in the room with her, staring at her while she tried to sleep. The possibility for sleep was gone.
Beryl crawled out of bed. She muttered darkly to herself about the weather, circadian rhythms, and the brutal authority of alarm clocks. As she left the bedroom, a breeze swept through the open house. The bedroom curtains fluttered away from the window.
The breeze grew stronger. Beryl could hear branches tap the side of the house. In another room, she could hear a fluttering sound. It was like the sound of a playing card, stuck through the spokes of a moving bicycle wheel.
Beryl followed the sound to its source. It was coming from her living room. She looked to the open window there. As it passed through the Venetian blinds, the breeze shuffled the slats like a deck of cards. When the breeze died down, all the slats fell back into place.
"How strange," Beryl said to herself. From somewhere in the back of her mind, the phrase "Venturi effect" asserted itself. Beryl took great comfort in this phrase. She had no idea what it meant. But the phrase offered some reassurance that the universe was a rational place. Things happen for a reason.
The breeze came a second time. For a split second, Beryl heard the leaves rustling outside her window. And then the blind started rattling again. It was like the sound of danger: a rattlesnake in the weeds; a nest of angry hornets.
Beryl jumped back from the window in alarm. Summoning her courage, she darted forward once more. Beryl pushed her hands through the rattling blinds. With a shove, she closed the window. She stepped back, expecting quiet. But the noise did not stop.
The Venetian blinds continued to vibrate. They hummed. They buzzed like a chorus of rampant kazoos.
To get at the window, Beryl had pushed her hands through the blinds. Now, there was a gap between the slats. As Beryl watched, the opening she left behind started to change shape. It grew wide at the center. The sound began to change as well. "O. E. O. E. O. E. Yes, I think that will do." The slats moved like the mouth of an elaborate puppet.
"Stop doing that!" Beryl commanded the window coverings in her living room. "Stop talking this instant!"
"You stop," replied the blinds.
"No you stop," said Beryl. She pulled the cord as hard as she could. All the slats were scrunched together at the top of the window. Without any space between them, the slats could no longer vibrate. The humming stopped.
For quite some time, Beryl stared at her Venetian blinds. Then, tentatively, she lowered the blind once more.
"Oh that's great," said the blind. The slats moved in order to shape the words. "That's very nice. You're stifling the voice of the opposition here. Hello? It's North Korea on Line 1. They want to borrow a cup of sugar and some thumbscrews."
"I don't believe this," Beryl said. "I'm having a nightmare."
"A nightmare?" the blinds bent themselves into a frown. "You think I'm a nightmare? Look lady, I'm a bonafide miracle. I'm on the list of signs and wonders. At the very least, I'm a tourist attraction. I don't need any criticism from you."
"I didn't mean it as criticism," Beryl replied weakly. "I just feel a little... confused."
"I just feel a little confused. Give me a break. Of course you're confused. Your whole life is a mess. You don't sleep through the night. You never floss. And would it kill you to dust every once and a while? Look at me: I'm covered in dust. Lucky for me, I don't need to breathe."
Beryl grabbed the cord. "You can be replaced," she said firmly. "It would only take me thirty dollars and a trip to Target. So mind your manners. If you have something to say, then say it. But be polite. I will have no more sarcasm. I don't want to hear any more bragging about your own importance. I want no more criticism of my housework or my sleeping habits. Do you understand?"
Oh sure," the blinds replied. "You're the boss. You're the big cheese."
"Careful," Beryl warned. She tightened her grip on the cord.
The blinds ignored her. "Well la-ti-da to you, Miss Fancy Pants. I have a message from God. That's right. I'm God's messenger in this little tet-a-tet. So maybe now you will show me a little respect. Or maybe you don't care what God has to say..."
"Why," Beryl demanded, "would God use Venetian blinds to send me a message?"
"What do you want?" asked the blinds. "You want a fat baby with fluffy white wings to flap around your living room? Didn't you ever go to Sunday school? Moses had a burning bush. The prophet Balaam had a talking donkey. Jesus said that if his disciples were quiet, the stones would cry out. You get Venetian blinds. So deal with it."
"I would rather have the donkey," Beryl replied.
"And I would rather have Balaam," said the blinds. "So, we're even."
"Just tell me the message!" Beryl commanded.
"Ah, ah, ah!" said the blind. "If you want the message, then you will have to say please."
Beryl kept silent.
"I guess that's how the story ends," said the blind. "I'll just mark this message from God, 'Return to Sender.' Good luck on the final quiz, Miss Fancy Pants."
Beryl rolled her eyes. With a sigh, she said, "Fine. Fine! Please tell me the message from God. Okay? Please."
"I doubt your sincerity," said the blind. "Say it like you mean it."
Beryl said, "I can't comprehend why God would entrust a anything to you. You are the most arrogant, annoying and poorly constructed piece of junk in the living room. But, if you have a message from God, then I truly and sincerely want to hear it. Please. What is the message from God?"
"Alright," said the blind. "Here it is. This is the message from God: if the stones can cry out; if Balaam's donkey and the burning bush can speak with divine power; if God can deliver a message through Venetian blinds; then how much more should you listen to other people?
"Listen to other people.
"Even if you consider them the most unlikely candidate, it's still more likely that you will hear the voice of God from a human being than you will hear it from the window covering in your living room. It's more likely that God will speak through the people around you than through creatures and inanimate objects.
"Long-suffering donkeys and wise-cracking Venetian blinds are just to remind you: God can speak through anyone. So listen to other people."
When Beryl didn't reply immediately, the blind asked, "Did you get all that, or do you want me to repeat it? Because maybe I should have used smaller words for you."
"I got it," Beryl said.
"Okay good," said the blind. "Because I only have one more thing to say."
"Oh?" Beryl replied. "And what's that?"
The outer edges of the blind curved upward, creating the impression of a smile. "I guess you could call this whole experience, ิthe blind leading the blind.'"
Beryl asked, "Is that part of your message from God?"
"No," said the blind. "That one was all me."
"That's what I thought," Beryl said. And she never heard from any of her furniture again.