24 Varieties of Silence

The landlord is about to pounce. An odor of sweat via sweatshirt informs you halfway down the last flight of stairs. He is in the lobby, mopping, maybe. Or red-ink-emphasizing every line of his trash-collection dogma, taped up in furious triplicate. He will speak explosively at you, incensed by treasonous acts. You set off the roof alarm. You trod upon the sacred strip of dirt out front. You will nod; your nods will nod. I know it was you, he will say at least twice as you sidle past. But in theory your fate might still be unstitched; he has not yet seen you; he will turn his back soon, any second now.

The canyon that separates each wheedle of the landline phone (‘ring’ a tattered euphemism), like the lull in the code dully barked by a dog. This gap intensifying in noiselessness against the repeated proper noise. Three lazily positioned siblings slipping into a game wherein the player who is most annoyed by this, the idea of escalating stalemate, is the one who must finally answer the call.

After upending a box that warns some assembly is required. When the precision-molded metal and plastic pegs have jangled and rolled apart and settled in coffee-table constellations. Before paperishly unfolding instructions to locate a patch of familiar language.

A hurricane, named, spun in place off the coast for ten more days than could be explained. The beach betrayed no sign of the storm save the monumental surf that swooned ashore; the sky was otherwise dumb, serene. We let our chill, quick-blooded bodies get swallowed up by waves and tangle in the cloaked riptide, overcertain of our safety.

I get sad when I watch people through windows too long, and vice versa. You wouldn’t believe how long I watched, through my kitchen window, this man at a desk, lamplight-bathed, writing in his notebook. It was an exquisitely boring scene, and therefore I would not abandon it, but neither was I satisfied.

The lie two weeks or blinks before it is uttered, a toy mechanism continuously analyzed, stress-tested, retrofitted with immaterial truth. The engineering accomplished in an antiseptic, high-ceilinged space: the cognitive vault for synthesis of baroque and winged falsities.

Wondering if there is not a horticultural rehabilitation program for the terminally ambivalent.

You listen to music piped through headphones until it’s strange to navigate the planet without. You come to think of songs as emanating from storefronts, sidewalks. You let it fade against the trees and forget, for a while, to enjoy the melody you craved.

The weightless Latinisms attached to atmospheric and celestial arrangements. Aureola, corona. Nimbus, nebula, nova. Cirrus clouds, descended from the word for a ringlet of loose hair, for the way near-invisible threads rebelled wispily at the hem of a toga.

Hearing described a New England native who lives up a wild wooded hill, in the toothy clutch of a colonial graveyard, with a three-legged dog as company. Looking inward for extrapolation on that life, and finding nullity.

August hits with the accumulated heat of June and July behind it, and showers become metaphorical affairs, annihilations of psychic filth, atonement for ahygienic ancestors. February is a ferroalloy beast, hot water cut with chromium sting. In either season, the interval one stands dripping when the flow has been killed — one allows a beat of adjustment, shrieks the curtain aside to reach for a towel.

He left for work no earlier than 9:09 and never later than 9:21, transferring en route
from the local train to an express, but due to a slick paradox arrived always at 9:54, ascertaining the hour with mute perplexity by way of a company clock that had three hands.

A college English professor, dressed as John Updike, struts around the seminar room, the fly of his plaid pants unzipped. The students cannot help noticing, yet talk about everything else, carving out the unsaid, a stony lack.

Whenever a bliss settled over her mind, the future happened, apologetically, again.

We lived in an apartment near an academy for musical studies. Scales and idle practicings threaded the building’s prewar frame. Smears of studious brass and swift woodwind fingers. Most prominent was a pianist who attacked works that were splashy, Debussyish (I had played the piano, too, when I had one, and associated the ivory tone with ice). Ribbons of notes would interrelate and occlude one another, so that when several instruments in several rooms were in use there hung in our home a fogbank of polyphony that could not be considered audible.

I guess you become dust when you die but prior to that some dust became you.

He agonized himself with the thought that strangers might hear his troubled guts turn. This despite his belief that most intestinal events were largely detectable only to him, and even then more felt than heard.

Departing a deli, counting the thank-yous incurred in the purchase of a tomato and mozzarella sandwich: “Hi, how are you? I’m fine, thank you [1], how are you?” “Good, thank you [2].” A thank you [3] at the surrendering of the debit card, a thank you [4] at its return, a thank you [5] for the transmission of the bag containing the sandwich. One last pair of thanks [6, 7] for the decidedly mutual “Have a nice day.” Privately arguing, as steps carry you elsewhere, that this is excessive gratitude.

They had sex as often as they brushed their dogs’ teeth, which is to say twice a week, though never did both on the same evening, and strove to hold each other completely, making a vacuum of the troublesome intervening space.

In Cape Town, South Africa, you waste wads of currency on refrigerated, unmixed absinthe, no sugar to chalk the venomous green. A lucid drunk, this pharmaceutical sharp-edgedness to the night, the party, the level mountain. You are falling, fully clothed, into a pool not big enough to fall into. Sucked from sound and put at the heart of a violet chlorine crush. The laughter will perceptibly bend when you surface for air, but at this moment, at this depth, you cannot recall what laughter is like.

Chewing the inside of a cheek. Having little to offer, and that little diminishing too. Drifting through the white gas that billows out of sewers, breath held.

There was a document to be compiled and circulated daily, and when the woman whose duty it was went on any type of leave, the task rooted out a replacement proxy for its doing. The official substitute as concerned this piece of paperwork had no trouble creating the (in his view redundant and wasteful) memo on the days he covered for his co-worker but was greatly vexed by a topological condition of the office floorplan in conjunction with the second half of the chore, viz. the absolute impossibility of a network connecting those managers’ desks for whom the document was destined that did not force him to retrace his steps.

Observe: seeing is an enslavement. The business of sight we hold to in sleep. Objects resist their hiddenness. The sun-striped city afternoon, a meticulous trompe l’oeil vision, demands we rub our gaze in it.

In many ways I resembled a houseplant. She asked me how I radiated calm — how she might cold-shoulder that week’s nuisance, affect the aloofness for which I have, at times, been known. I said I figured silence was elastic. I said I took pleasure in saying nothing. I said that when I wanted to I could let words roll over me, like a wave, and simply continue treading water. And then I prepared my mouth to speak.

Miles Klee is 26.

Photo from Flickr by Vincent Desjardins.