Noises [excerpt] – Joel Kopplin
November 11, 2020
Something waving from a high window while two sisters sit and watch. The grass is good on bare feet and so the one does not wear shoes, does not wear socks. The other does not know. The sky and the sun and the sight of the day refracted in glass; the hand waving like flesh on wood, a face they cannot see because they see the sky on all things, the sky in the center of the day. The sun. There is no shadow. The girls do watch and wonder if the hand that waves belongs to a girl like they are girls, who has a mother who has friends over in the middle of the day, who has a Keith that comes and goes with the van. The girls watch the high window, watch the shape waving against the sun, and the one, without shoes or socks, says to the other that they should go see, see if they can see it on the other side.
Wyatt barely exists but for the paper, the piles of clothes, the pockets of pennies and receipts for fast-food food and gasoline on credit. Always with good intentions, he collects the slips and sets them inside his wallet but when he gets home again he takes them out in crumples that collect on the carpet near fur from a dog and the torn pieces of cloth from old sheets that Mother meant for cleaning things that need to be cleaned. He is the accumulation of things.
Wyatt sleeps late in the day because there is no reason to wake and so he sleeps. When he does open his eyes the day is wide open and the day outside his windows does a thing he cannot claim to understand. There are noises outside of the house that only happen during daytime though the house itself is silent. The house is silent because it is abandoned of the people who are inside while he sleeps in a room, the last room. Sometimes the phone rings and when he answers he hears a silence which he listens to for as long as he can listen before he cannot any longer. With each ringing he lingers on the nothing a little longer, waiting to hear signals and symbols that shall show him the way. When the ringing happens to have someone on the line that someone is a stranger who cannot pronounce the surname, asking after a number owed to a name he does not know. When the phone rings there is sun. The calls do not come during the darkness, but if they do he will know that he will never forget the call, that it will be a moment he will remember for always, like the summer he broke his leg, like the day his brother shot himself in a car seat while the sun rose on the windshield, while the view was unobstructed for miles.
Wyatt spends the days answering phone calls and hanging them up. The routine feels good and after a series of calls, say three of them in a thread, or say seven over a span of minutes that stack into two hours, he’ll decide to take a break because he has done work. He will scorch the coffee on the stove and burn the towels he has for wiping dishes, which he does all day long between the calls. He has a hard time trying to understand just how he keeps burning the towels. He swears aloud that he did not set them so near to the stove because he knows of the heat and that the heat does ruin. He swears he did not leave the burner on for so long so that the coffee cannot be drunk but he drinks it and he enjoys his break because he worked. He begins to understand that this is Adult Life and that these small rewards are the reasons for which people live lives. He holds this thought when he thinks it and tries to tuck it inside a bottle or a mason jar from the cupboard above the washer, but Wyatt cannot find a screw-lid cover and soon loses the insight, even if he can still see it. The symbols, the sentiment, the string of words no longer sing or stick inside of his heart. Made sad, he goes back to sleep for several minutes sitting up in a chair, snoozing some until the phone rings. The phone is attached to thin white cables and cords, cords to kill children and hang them with, small children dangling from the ceiling like so many bulbs for celebrations, eyes white and rolled, faces blue, small bodies attached to silence that hisses from the phone with the static because the phone is not in the right spot of the house to receive the best reception. These cords are buried beneath things.
These are the day-hours, when the sun quiets what he strains to hear and so he has no answers. Some days there is sun but it is lessened. The driveway is wet and puddles puddle in pock-marks that ruin tires attached to Big D’s big wheel. Wyatt’s tires are okay, still attached and not flat, but his window was open on one of these days when the sun was less. He woke when the others were still inside and he ran out to his car in bare feet and boxers to save the leather seat. The window would not rise but the lever made a noise that sounded like Big D’s nose-trimmers low on batteries. The window not only would not rise it also descended the rest of the way of its own doing. Wyatt sat for minutes in the rain pressing the lever that would not raise the window. Big D stood a few feet away, face plain and eyes eying the son who sat in a car seat pressing a button that did no things. After a minute he felt shame for the son and said, “Son? Son, are you alright?” When Wyatt did not say something, Big D unfolded a towel from under his arm and set it on the son’s lap, said to hang it over the opening because someday the rain will end and the sun will be seen again and the things we think are things to think about are not actually the things. Wyatt said nothing, used the towel to wipe his face while Father walked back up the steps. The water became wetter for a while. The car stayed in the same spot it always sat.
The days where the sun is strong brings silence to the things he hopes to hear. Wyatt sits near radios and changes the digital dial. With each frequency he hears happy sounds and voices in constant conversation. He hears music. He hears people praising, shouting hosannas to Jesus Christ The Only Son Of God. Yet these stations, clear as the glasses he breaks beneath the dishwater, are static. They are the noise. They are the same as the stations that make the sound of sifting sand. Wyatt finds the frequencies between the clear ones, the numbers on the dial just above or below the numbers with the voices and the music. These numbers still have shaved pieces of the people singing or talking, the commercials for car dealerships, conversation about summer books—bits buried beneath the sound of sand against the surface. Wyatt sits with the sun blazing outside, sits listening for the sounds. Someday the sounds will call. They will call on the phone or they will come to the door or they will be on the radio and he will listen for so long.
Big D comes home at four every afternoon, and it is always loud. The slam of the screen door. Heavy feet on the creek of wooden steps. The block of slotted wood for knives that sheathe and unsheathe for fruits against the cutting board, the counter, the fingers cut and tracking spots against the surface. Floor boards without finish. Grocery bags with melon and cans. The stove-top bang of glass ceramic. Doors opening and slamming and the Weight of Big D against the ceiling while he changes his clothes. At four every day, Wyatt walks upstairs while his father hangs his pants and gout-feet stay in socks without soles. He stands in the foyer with scissors snipping hair from head, scattering straight strands, rubbing fingertips along the foyer floor of white tile. He has sandals which he wears outside in this summer without shade. Sometimes he suspects he is a shadow.
He stands in the sun. He stands in the sun and watches the trees against the sky until he hears the screen door, which means D is in shorts, no shoes, stepping down the steps of the porch in gout-feet so he can turn on the propane, so he can burn steak the way his wife does adore it, his son by his side to take scraps and beg like a boy does beg for the things he wants. Wyatt hears the spring of the door, the hiss, and he turns to the garage where it is dark, where the heat is worse yet but it is still, but it is silent. In the garage he spends the afternoons after 4:00 p.m. sifting through stacks of things he stuck there so he could breathe, so he could keep the wolf away from the door while D ate meat burned from the body. He spends afternoons after four looking through the things, through boxes and being busy so that when D comes by on fat legs and gout-feet and looks into the garage with the heat he will stay outside and say no things. Wyatt works with his back turned, placing things from boxes into boxes and the things from other boxes back onto the concrete from where they’d come before he’d made them his. He works, lifts, stacks with his back straight and turned, sometimes stopping to use his scissors on clumps of hair fisted and twirled into tight knots. And D says no things and goes back to the deck and the steaks he burns because Denise does like them so. In the heat of the garage in these June afternoons is where Wyatt first hears the squawks from somewhere else for which he sits and listens so hard, for which he answers every phone call strung with thin cables and cords stapled to the ceiling in loose loops in case—the signals behind the summer, the sun, the trees waving in the blasting wind. At first he does not listen.
Sometimes Big D stands behind him in the garage and says “Son?” When he speaks Wyatt turns and sees the old man standing with a ladder or a can of gasoline or a rake for the earth, for the yard which is overgrown. Wyatt nods and follows D to where he is going, the day scorching itself into the skyline before night can scrape the flakes. D walks with slow gout-steps toward Moriah to offer the boy—to the height of the house, to the lawnmower blade, to a dry pile of mulch settled on quack grass. D is the descendent of all faith, but does the boy believe? The boy who works in the heat, who gives his hair back to what bade it grow? Wyatt sits at the slant of the roof clearing needles and mud from his father’s gutters. D holds the ladder below and watches above while Wyatt holds the hose. While he’s there, he cleans the rest of the roof, some tricky angles and cracks where leaves collect. He pulls layers loose, tosses them to the deck. He sees the top half of his old man’s head, nose perched on the ladder rung, eyes climbing the roof. “Don’t break your neck, son,” he says. D’s eyes can only ascend for a bit before he has to unhook the nose and look down to the deck, to see the ground beneath his feet and assure it is the same distance as before. Wyatt climbs out of sight to the north end of the house. D hears the hose, the sound of gloved fingers scraping against asphalt. At the north end Wyatt sits so he can see the yard—overgrown, dried out, rashed with weeds. He knows they will come from between the trees when it is dark and the rest will not see. Back on the deck D burns meat. Wyatt climbs off the roof and goes back to the garage, back to the dark heat and the boxes and a distant sound he does not yet hear.