Friday, 1 March 2013

Sounds by David William Hill

Read by Hin Leung and Ann-Marie Taaffe

She whispered something, but he couldn’t hear what she said. Then she spoke louder, but still in a whisper, an exaggerated, breathy whisper.

“I said do you hear that?”

“Hear what?” he answered.

“Shh! . . . There . . . That.”

He lay still beneath the heavy down comforter, on his back, with only his bare head exposed to the chilly autumn air of the unheated room, and listened. He had been thinking, staring into darkness, mulling over the contents of their refrigerator, a jar of mayonnaise, far past expiration, that he really should throw out. A package of hamburger they should have cooked today but didn’t. The milk was probably fine. The mustard, the catsup. Do those expire? he wondered. And then the past-due notice for their water bill that had arrived today. And the back lawn he would need to mow this weekend. For a time as he lay there he imagined himself pushing the lawnmower, criss-crossing the lawn, striking down every blade of grass that stood in his path. But in his mind, he never finished, of course. In his mind, he pushed the lawnmower in one direction, and then another, back and forth, never finishing the job, just going over the same patch of ground in his restless insomnia. But now this insistence that he return to their bedroom, to the present moment, where he lay, on his back, staring, while she, also on her back but not sleeping after all, was hearing something. 

“I don’t hear anything,” he said.

“Shh! Listen . . .”

He listened. There was no light in the room. The dresser, the lamp, the small tree, were only dark shapes against further darkness.

“Do you hear it?” she whispered.

“I don’t know,” he whispered. “What does it sound like?”

“I can’t describe it.”

“Can you try?”

“I don’t know what it sounds like.”

Her body was rigid, a stiff wooden plank on her side of the bed. He felt an urge to turn onto his side and face her, but he remained still. He closed his eyes.

“Like water dripping?” he offered.


“A cheese grater on cardboard?”

“Shh! . . . I think it stopped.”

He felt her listening. Then a slight disturbance in their mattress, a brief squeak of the bedsprings, as she shifted beneath the comforter to face him.

“Like what?” she said, her volume creeping upward. He felt her breath against his cheek, warm and sour, like the room. That intimate smell that settles where someone has been sleeping.

“It’s a starting point,” he said, his own voice rising.

“Shh! . . . There it is again.” She was back to a whisper, that loud, urgent whisper. Her breath struck his ear and moved across his face like a desert wind, and there was another brief movement in the mattress beneath him as her body stiffened again. He tilted his head toward her. Her face was a blank gray slab in the darkness, her shoulders and hips a shadowy outline.

“A cheese grater?” she said.

“I meant does it sound like one.”

“No. Definitely not a cheese grater.”

“Water gurgling over rocks?”

“No! It doesn’t sound like that at all.”

“Someone jiggling the doorknob?”

“It could be.”


“Stay in bed,” she said.

He felt her hand on his shoulder as he sat upright, her hand pressing down with both insistence and reassurance. She didn’t mean it, she seemed to say. She didn’t mean to startle him.

“I don’t think that’s it,” she said. “Anyway, Emily would be barking.”

He hadn’t thought of Emily, who slept in a corner beneath the window. He looked at his dog and waited until he saw her gray, lumpy form swell and deflate with the easy, undisturbed breath of deep sleep. Yes, Emily would be barking. She was fifteen years old and slept, almost motionless, for as many hours a day, but still, she would bark, he assured himself, if there were anything to bark at. He closed his eyes.

“What do you hear now?” he whispered.

“Nothing,” she said, her hand falling away from his shoulder. “It’s nothing. It stopped.” Her voice was almost normal now, the way it would be over coffee in the morning, or when they sat together on the couch, reading the same newspaper. Not quite the voice of work or the eating out, but the calm, audible voice of home, of peace and intimacy.

“I’m sure it was nothing,” she said. “We should go back to sleep.”

“I wasn’t sleeping,” he said. He let his head fall back to the pillow and turned, facing her, the shadow of her.

“Again?” she asked.


“Where were you this time? The halls of your high school? The supermarket aisles?”

“I don’t remember,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You need to see a doctor for that.”

“I know.”

“You should get your hearing checked, too.”

“I’m not so sure.”

“Really?” she said.


“You like not hearing things?”


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