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We Were Hearing New Sounds in the Condo

 We had just moved into the condo in Albany Park, and were hearing new sounds. Chimes at the end of the washer cycle. And if we ignore the dryer after its end song, it spins again in two-minute reminders until we pay it heed. Also, the sniffles and nail clicks of the dog upstairs. We like the dog. We never hear Mike or Melissa say its name, it never runs. I think it’s a female. Her nails click as she walks the hardwood floors and when they reach the rug, they tap muffledly. On Saturday we made love and we think she knew. She harrumphed to rest directly above.

Before we realized we had an ice cube maker, we mistook its sounds for mice in the wall behind the Kenmore Elite, and when doors open upstairs or in #2B they sound so close that Amy sat up in bed one night and called out “Excuse me!” to scare them away.

Our oven is the best either of us has ever had; it has a feature for proofing bread! The gas burners start with a couple of electric ticks and then flame into life. The big one on the right, though—the one we use for pasta and tea—is tricky; it ticks several times, and then the gas forms into an pillowy cloud above the big burner and the tics of electricity court and spark, and then the cloud of gas phwwoooms into blue fire and consumes the entire kettle. It delights us.

The dishwasher, too. We thought we’d never use it, but we use it now. It has a few sounds, all water-related and gentle. Soft rain, water just beginning to boil.

When Mike and Melissa flush or shower in their condo upstairs or use the bathroom sink, it sounds rain inside our kitchen wall on that side. When their washer is going, it’s like a storm in the wall.

No longer the clink and whisper of radiant heat. Now the click and then steady wind of forced air. And the silence after.

There is a swing set in the park kitty corner from us that someone is always swinging. We are on the second-floor now. We are a treetop above the cats at work in our new neighborhood. There is the suck of hallway air that pulls at our front door when the postwoman enters the foyer. And everywhere in Albany Park, there are distant dogs and morning trucksong. Distant trains, too.

What woke me first on the night of Jesus was Amy poofing sleepy vowels of breath through her closed lips. We both do this. Once, I separated her lips with my fingers, very gently, to stop the poofs—I have not been sleeping well since losing my job in December—but she only throated a lovely hum of pleasure and kissed my finger and closed her lips and poofed another vowel.

Awake in bed after that kiss, I thought I heard the dishwasher going. It’s the gentlest of the noisemakers in our little home—even the chimes at the end of the cycle are playful. It is the first dishwasher for either of us. What I thought I heard was the cycle that sounds like water gently boiling, but I didn’t remember running the dishwasher. So, I got up and stopped in the hall and craned my ear to the kitchen, but the sound was gone, and so I went pee, since I was out of bed, anyway. I sit to pee at night, so as to stay tired—we both do this—and while I was sitting there with the lights off and my eyes closed, I thought maybe I heard the click of the light above the oven and then the whisper, heavy and wooden, of the kitchen bench on the floor.

I figured it was Amy got up to write a note to herself. I didn’t flush the toilet. From the hall by the bathroom I could tell the amber light above the oven was on, and before I even turned toward the kitchen I smiled because I smelled the steeping of a bag of ginger tea. I had gone to the store for garlic and hair conditioner and sandwich baggies but came home with a couple of specialty teas for Amy.

Amy startles easily, and with all the new sounds and the newness of us, I didn’t want to startle her, and so before I turned into the kitchen, I whispered, “Trouble sleeping, Boo?” and when I turned, she was sitting in the middle of the bench on the kitchen side of the new table. The benches and table were made of repurposed barn wood. It is like a picnic bench in our kitchen.

It was a couple of seconds before I realized it wasn’t Amy sitting there. It was Jesus. His hair is like Amy’s—springs of black curls like a Joya plant. My hair is like that, too.

Jesus had pulled out the bench from under the table and was sitting with his left leg crossed, and when he saw it was me he crossed the right leg over, so that he could see me straight.

Then he smiled and pointed to the cup with the wolf on it and a swear word. I thought he was sore about the swear word, but then he said “You got ginger tea,” and I nodded and asked if that’s what he’d been waiting for.

He laughed through his nose—he knew I was kidding.

“Or ginger ale,” he said, and he looked up to see if I remembered that from the Zooey section of Franny and Zooey.

I pointed to the wall side of the table.

“Do you mind,” I said, and Jesus said he did not, and he stood and pulled his bench further from the table—slow and quiet—and then we each took a side of the long table and lifted it away from the wall so I could sit across the table from him, on the wall side bench. It was the first occasion since we bought the table that we used both benches at the same time.

I shifted a little on my bench to cross my legs, too. I didn’t want him to think I was copying him, but I’m most comfortable with my leg crossed, so that’s what I did.

“I didn’t hear the teapot,” I said.

“I didn’t want to wake Amy,” Jesus said. “And so I kept the lid of the spout open to keep it from whistling.”

“I do that, too,” I said, and Jesus closed his eyes and they fluttered a little.

“Yes,” he said. “I know.”

Then Jesus gestured to our room and said, “Such a light sleeper.”

“She sleeps like a champ,” I said. “She wakes up, she goes right back.”

Jesus blew on the tea again, and I asked if he wanted an ice cube, but we both like our tea really hot.

I’ve been working on my posture when I sit. And when I sat up like a pianist or a dancer, Jesus noticed and he did the same thing, but passed it off by returning to his point about Amy.

“Such a good sleeper,” said Jesus again.

“Not me,” I said. “I’m up five or six times to pee, and even when I go back to sleep—”

“—then come the dreams,” said Jesus, and I nodded again.

When I sit like that my foot bounces a little, and I guess it was the same for Jesus, because my toe touched his sandal and we both put our hand up to apologize, and then we both spoke.

“School dreams,” we said, and I added, “So many school dreams.”

“St. David’s?” he said.

“Seminary, too.”

“High school or College?” he said.

“Both.”

Our toes brushed again, but I could see he was just about to ask a question, so I pretended it didn’t happen.

“Are you ever in the classroom in the school dreams?”

I’d been wondering about that, too, and I must have surprised him how I said, “No,” because he said, “Why’d you look at me like that?”

“I guess I was wondering that, too,” I said. “I’m never in the classroom. Not yet, anyway. It seems like I have a lot of free time in them, but I’m never relaxed. I’m always in the halls, and I’m always thinking I’m late for a class, but also wondering why I’m never really paying attention to my schedule, and why my schedule is so not packed with classes. Lately, I’m looking for a bathroom and something is always keeping me from the task. Sometimes I find a bathroom and it’s disgusting and dirty except for one stall, but a bunch of kids are in line. for it.”

“Do you recognize them?”

“Sort of. Sometimes they’re from all the schools I’ve taught at.”

Jesus was nodding and sipping his tea.

“Shallow puddles of urine everywhere, and sometimes offices in the bathrooms, and even if I find a bathroom with a stall that isn’t disgusting and there isn’t a line of people waiting, I never feel relieved after.”

“That’s because you really have to go pee IRL,” Jesus said. “If you felt relieved after, you’d wet the bed.”

“Been there,” I said.

“It wouldn’t be so easy for Amy to get back to sleep after that,” said Jesus, smiling.

“Sorry,” Jesus said. “You were saying?”

“Or I’m in the halls on my way to a meeting with the principal where everything is going to be straightened out in my favor, but I can never find him. Or, I find him, but he’s wearing a Halloween mask and pretending it’s not him. Or I go to his office and he’s lying on his coffee table and talking to his daughter who is just home from college, and I feel like I’m interrupting them, or his assistant has double-booked him and he has to go somewhere right away, and he just leaves, and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

All the while Jesus was sipping slowly at his tea and nodding.

“But it never seems weird to anyone else that I’m back at school,” I said. “In one of the dreams, there’s an impromptu all-school faculty meeting that I’ve gone back for, and the reason for the meeting is that the principal is going to tell everyone there’s been a mistake and I’m back! but the only way to get to the meeting is by way of a muddy path with obstacles everywhere.”

I told Jesus about the dream in the gymnasium, too. The one with everyone from the old neighborhood.

“Ronny was there, and Chris, and all the girls we hung around with from 26th Street, too. Barb and Gina and those girls,” and Jesus smiled like he was remembering them again.

“Remember that winter they all wore those parkas with the fur around the hoods?”

“I had a parka like that.”

“Yes, you did,” Jesus said.

“They all walked the same,” I said. “With their hands up the sleeves of the opposite arms.”

Jesus smiled. “I couldn’t tell who was who if their hoods were up.”

“Same,” I said. And then I said, “They were all there in the gymnasium.”

Jesus said, “Hmm.”

Then I told him about the dream with Jesse in the school cafeteria.

“Jesse Nunez,” Jesus said. “Tennis player.” Jesus was looking off toward the dining room to get a mental image of Jesse.

“Served left-handed, played the rest of the game righty.”

“That’s right,” I said.

“He’s a good kid,” Jesus said.

“Really good kid,” I said.

“He hung out with the Lucero twins,” Jesus said, and I said, “Robert and Carlos.” and Jesus nodded.

“Anyway,” I said, and I told him the dream about Jesse.

Jesse had dropped a few papery pieces of garbage—the top of a shoebox and a torn envelope and a flattened box for mostaciolli. He was going to leave it on the ground, and I said, “Come on, Man. Don’t leave it there.” And he got sore at me like I was being unreasonable and we went back and forth until he finally picked it up and threw it out.

Jesus said again that he thought Jesse Nunez was a good kid.

“Jesus,” I said. “It was just a dream.”

“Yes,” said Jesus, and he looked at me to see if I was listening to what I said.

And he said, “Could we go back to the gymnasium dreams?” And then he said, “Which one is the one that woke Amy up?”

“That was the dream with the basketball,” I said. “There was a pass going to Charlie—”

“Charlie from the facebook post?”

“Yes,” I said.

And Jesus said, “Day residue.”

“Yes,” I said. I’d heard the term before. “I saw his Facebook post the day of his graduation from basic training or something.”

“Yes,” Jesus said. “Basic training.”

“Okay.”

“The basketball pass,” Jesus said.

“Yes. The pass wasn’t meant for me, but I jumped for it, and tipped it in my favor.”

“You were surprised at how high you jumped.”

“I was.”

“But in bed, there, you didn’t intercept the pass.”

“Nope.”

Jesus laughed tinily. “Your hands were under the comforter, and so you couldn’t get to the ball.”

“And I woke Amy up when I whipped at the blanket.”

Jesus smiled, and we were quiet for a while.

She stayed up with me for maybe twenty minutes that night. She finger-combed my forehead and my chest, and she asked if I’d had a bad dream.

“This one wasn’t so bad,” I said. “I think it could wait until morning.”

But she knows I forget the dreams if I don’t tell them or write them down, and so I told her, and she listened, and she finger-combed, and she helped with perspective, and all the while I was remembering Amy to Jesus, he sipped his ginger tea. It was getting cool, I think. He had stopped squinting and blowing on it, and the sibilance of his sips had ended.

Sometimes we pull away from each other at night, Amy and me, but if one of us gets up for a drink or to pee, we come back and into the warmth of each other, and so the nights are compositions of myriad reunions, warm and momentary, and enormous, in a way

It was quiet for a while with Jesus and me, until we heard the dog upstairs clicking its nails across the kitchen floor, and Jesus looked up and smiled.

“She’s a good dog,” he said.

“It’s a girl dog, for sure?” I said.

Over his right shoulder, then—while Jesus was still sitting there across from me!—a poof and whoosh snapped our attention back to the stovetop just in time to see the teapot fully consumed in fire. It was blue and radiant and fleeting, before it settled into a gentle blue sun under the kettle, and then Jesus looked back at me and quickly up at the dog again, and he shrugged his shoulders.

“Not sure,” he said. He was talking about the dog.

We both heard something, then, and looked toward the bedroom. It was Amy opening the window. She gets warm at night and sometimes she turns on the ceiling fan and sometimes he takes her tee shirt off—two behaviors there isn’t much sound to—and sometimes she opens the window a crack, and sometimes she does all three. So when I looked back at Jesus and his hand was like a visor over his eyes, I had a feeling Amy was going to walk into the kitchen with her shirt off, and that’s what happened.

“Hey, Boo,” she said. “You coming to bed?”

She didn’t know I was there, because I was sitting in the dark against the wall on the bench that no one had ever sat on before, and Amy was looking right at Jesus sitting across from me with his head down so he wouldn’t see Amy’s breasts, and Amy said, “You okay, baby?”

And I didn’t want to scare her if she heard me respond from the dark, but Jesus saved the day and answered for me in my exact voice.

“I’m good, baby,” he said. “I just had a great dream and I’m running it over so I don’t forget.”

“Good,” Amy said, and when she kissed Jesus on the forehead, her breasts rested sweetly on his shoulder, and Amy said, “Don’t be long, Bae.” And as she turned toward the bedroom she said, “Maybe you ought to put the dream on paper, Sweetie,” and Jesus nodded.

Jesus lifted his hand away from his eyes when she was out of sight, and he giggled silently, like you do in church sometimes. And then he warmed up his cup of tea, and when he sat back down to it, he locked his fingers around the cup and looked into it, to take in the smell and the steam of the ginger, and then he spoke without looking at me.

“She probably thought I was you,” Jesus said, and I looked up at him to see if he was joking or serious, and he covered his mouth and giggled again. 

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