Noises (guest story by Snowmit)
5.20.2003 by , every Tuesday.
The perfect story for these lonely summer afternoons, methinks.
When I tried to explain that I didn't want to go outside, her face registered annoyance and concern. We were sitting in the living room. I was working on the model and she was watching television. The heat was intolerable.
What do you mean you don't want to see any people? she said.
I just don't feel like it, I told her.
Why not? she wanted to know. The reason is because I don't want to. Which isn't much of a reason, to be sure. But it's the truth.
The people in question were on the landing outside. Downstairs was the laundry and it was my turn to get it. I could hear them talking, the girl from Twelve and the guy from Eighteen. The room smelled of oil and incense. Down the street, traffic thundered by.
New and improved, said the lady on the television.
I was having trouble getting some of the gears to mesh properly. It was delicate work and the pliers kept slipping. I reached for the tweezers.
Are you OK?
I'm fine, I said, I just don't feel like talking to the people. I don't like it.
What's wrong with them?
They're too noisy.
Are you sure you're OK?
The tweezers slipped and the gear fell, making a little tinkling sound as it bounced through the structure. I sighed and tipped the model over.
I'm sure I'm OK, I said, I just don't feel like dealing with them.
But you used to like spending time with people so much.
It's just that when I do, I have to pretend to be a person, I said as if that would explain everything. It didn't, and she cocked her head to the side. Looked at me quizzically. She used to complain about the smell of the oil which is why we burn the incense.
Not available in stores! the man on television exclaimed.
I turned back to my model and she to her show. Outside, the guy from Eighteen was telling the girl from Twelve that it was hard finding work in his industry.
It just seems like no one wants to hire industrial designers these days, he was saying.
The girl giggled shrilly.
I bead of sweat slid down my left temple. My fingers were slippery. The tweezers were getting hard to hold. I kept my breathing even. As if that would help anything. The gear slipped and again sang its little twinkling song to the bottom of the model. I resisted the temptation to throw the damn thing across the room.
Not that there's anything wrong with them, I said.
You used to hang out with them in the spring, she reminded me.
I know, I said. I just don't want to now.
Nothing, everything, I don't know. I guess I've changed, somewhat. I don't like talking to people.
But you still talk to me?
Financing available, said the talking dog on television.
I don't know why I still watch this, she said, The show isn't as good as it used to be and it seems like there are more ads.
Nostalgia, I told her. She stiffened.
You're one to talk.
I ignored her and pretended that I was intent on the model. I wiped my hands on the oil rag. I gripped the tweezers as tight as I could and slowly maneuvered them between the brass columns and intricate clockwork.
Outside, a group of people drifted past, their footsteps echoing against the walls.
Hot enough for you? said someone.
I don't know what I plan to do, said the girl from Twelve, I guess I'll just keep getting degrees until they give me a job.
I wiped my forehead with my free hand and steadied myself on the desk. I cringed as the the gear bumped against one of the edges but my grip held.
Act now! cried a chorus of miniature singing floor mops.
The last gear slid into place and I sat back, satisfied.
Look, I said, I'm finished.
She got up from the couch and stood over my shoulder. On the faded newsprint sat a gleaming replica of the clockwork solar system. I flicked the release and the drive spring leapt into action. Minuscule moons spun around miniature planets that in turn orbited a tiny sun. It worked perfectly.
What's that strange humming? she asked.
The music of the spheres, I said. And grinned.
Look, she said, I want you to know ... But the air conditioning kicked in and her words were drowned by the sudden whirring rush of wind.