Noise

Posted on June 24, 2010

37


Sirens shrieked as police cars and fire trucks raced down the street. Another car followed in their wake, the heavy bass line of its music thumping the ground. Helicopters roared, circling just over the apartment building. The next-door neighbor’s children screamed as they wrestled each other, bumping loudly into furniture and walls.

Fran sat silent in her second-floor apartment, listening to the windows rattle in their casements under the sheer weight of sound. Every muscle in her body was clenched, trying to fend off the noise.

The sirens faded all too slowly into the distance, but the helicopters continued in a tight loop over her apartment.

The unit below hers was vacant, and workers had been there every day for a week. Hammering, sawing, and the sniping of nail guns as they installed wood floors and fixed windows woke Fran up in the morning and did not stop until night fell. Today they were replacing the plumbing. Wrenches and other arcane tools she could not identify banged against pipes with an endless rhythm.

Now the whine and wail of lawn mowers and weed whackers rose up from the ground like demons to join the din of helicopters and plumbing equipment. Fran felt her breath go shallow. She buried her face in her hands, hunched her shoulders up around her ears. Her heart clenched when she heard the garbage truck lumber up to the building. The clang of the bins on the asphalt driveway as the workers dragged them to the truck was almost a physical blow. The squealing of the machinery as the bins were lifted and emptied, then lowered, should have left welts on her skin. Then more dragging as they returned the bins, yelling under her window to each other, their words assimilated by the din.

There was no escape from the noise. She had tried. Neither music nor TV could drown it out. Earplugs only served to dampen it a little. Phone conversations were impossible.

She could leave the house, but wherever she went there was always noise. The clatter of carts and babble of shoppers in the grocery, the ever-present traffic, the yelling of children and loud conversations of people in the park or at the beach would torment her. Not even the libraries were a refuge any longer; even the hum of electronics, papers shuffling and books thumping against each other drove her mad.

What had happened to the quiet?

She remembered a time when she was a child, when long stretches of the day would pass with only the singing of birds and the wind sighing through the trees to punctuate it: pure heaven. Back then, the street outside her house was busy if three cars passed by in the space of an hour. She could talk to people without shouting, or listen to music in peace. She could even hear herself think.

Those days were gone. The noise of living filled every corner of space, every instant of time. Silence was no more than a myth these days.

She vowed she would find a new apartment as soon as she could afford it, on a peaceful street in a quiet neighborhood, if such a place still existed.

The helicopters swung over her apartment again as a man with a leaf blower took his time walking down the driveway under her window. Fran was glad she did not own a firearm. She imagined, with equal amounts of guilt and pleasure, opening fire on both the gardener and the helicopters. This, she was certain, was how people turned to murder. The unrelenting noise simply drove all reason out of their minds until they became just another screech in the cacophony.

The helicopters moved off at last, and Fran let out a breath she did not realize she held. Cars raced up and down the street, one after the other. The leaf blower had moved to the other side of the building. Behind the neighboring apartment complex, a buzz saw roared to life, preparing to cut down a dead tree.

Her neighbor, the mother of the wrestling children, stomped home past Fran’s door, shaking the windows once again. She heard another neighbor start screaming at her boyfriend. When those two began arguing, it might go on for a whole afternoon.

Fran got up and went to run a bath. Submerging herself in the water, leaving just her face exposed, was the only respite to be had from the noise. It formed a barrier between her ears and the rest of the world, muting everything except her own heartbeat and her breath. On days like this, it was all that could preserve her sanity.

When the tub was full, Fran undressed and stepped into the steaming water. As she did, another helicopter roared over the roof, close enough to rattle the whole building. The sudden detonation of noise and the shudder of the building made her lose her footing. She fell and hit her head on the edge of the tub, and slid completely under the water. It gurgled softly as it closed over her, and the noise outside fell away.

Stars exploded in her eyes, briefly illuminating the bloom of her blood in the hot water. Her pulse slowed to a whisper, and soon enough her heart, too, fell silent.

She realized finally it had always been there, that silence, only waiting for her to hear it.

Advertisements
Posted in: #FridayFlash, Horror