It’s quieter than it used to be.
The scientists on the television are talking about how over the summer, everyone started noticing how loud the birds were. The crumpled man and overly-polished woman debated on whether or not it was the climate, lack of people, or just an increased noticing that comes from being pent up inside all day.
I turned it off. Their voices had a gross, almost scary ecstasy and besides. I haven’t heard the birds in years.
I’ve stopped keeping the windows open altogether at this point. The house is small and it’s mine. Been mine since the 70s. There’s a relationship you find there, between house and home, that is physical. My house is my home because I can climb the stairs blind, cook breakfast the same at three am and ten am. If I were transported there with my eyes closed from the grocery store, I could tell where I am just from the sounds of mice running across the beams, or up and down the walls. Even now. This is a point of pride.
Emily was the one who opened the windows. She was the one who liked the noise, a tune on her lips to fill the void. Not me. I haven’t missed it that much, no. And when the prices audiologists advertise on NPR are greater than those of my gas and electric bills combined just for a consultation to tell me what I already know, that my hearing’s shot… no, I’ve made my choice.
But I did like the birds.
My niece called me last week, asked me how I’ve been spending my days. It was a bit condescending, the way she tiptoed around her weekends in the city or the way her job’s been going. I’ve grown up only to grow back down again, shielded from the truth for fear that my age and supposed wisdom have inscribed in me 18th century sensibilities. I was a lesbian through the eighties, for fuck’s sake what does she expect?
She asked about the garden which only holds half-withered weeds, and reminded me of the bus’s existence, as if I can’t drive myself to the grocery store. As I turn on the ignition, her words come to mind. To be frank, I don’t enjoy driving. The seat hurts my back, and whenever I finally lull myself into some semblance of peace there’s a driver behind me confident that his college tailgate is worth risking my ninety-three year old life, and his own, over.
I never used to be scared of death. When I was little, sure, it was unknown, it was scary like the darkness or a boogeyman. But when I grew foolish enough to pretend I understood, I knew it was not something that belonged to me. A suitcase at baggage claim left to be picked up by some other woman as I traverse steadfast through the terminal.
But it started to catch up, and I started to run, run because to watch it all fade, to watch her fade…
Em always said that it was natural, inevitable. She said that death was beautiful. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I never quite believed her when she said that. Slept on kitchen tiles a week after my mother died. And when her experiments failed, the moss she found destroyed or mice she trained went belly up, I wasn’t sure she did, either.
There are days when the quiet is dense. Where I fall into it, where it holds me. Where it’s all I need. Where I’m not afraid. And I feel like I’m letting her down.
The roads thin out toward the mountains. I stopped using highways after my optometrist retired, but even if I hadn’t, the stretch of uneven dirt and pebbles out before me would be the same. The trees fold in around me. My legs start to throb from the up and down, but my foot is steady on the accelerator.
The roads here don’t exist on a map. The UVM ecology department carved them out some twenty years ago, but I’m not sure if they even know this is here. I hope not. This way, it’s still our little secret.
Engine off and clinging to some decaying tree branch like a crutch, I lay myself down onto the ledge. There’s almost a darkness, in the open air, something I can describe. Crisper than it was supposed to be.
And I listen, hear nothing but the wind, though feeling might be a more accurate term: the sound might simply be association.
And I listen, for the screams of some rabid chipmunk getting at it with another, for the falling of a tree, for the whistle I can’t sit without.
And I listen, for the birds.
And I listen,
And I listen,
I listen to the silence.
Trees blur into streetlights, houses into cars, washed away in a setting sun and salt water. It’s night when I move to unlock the front door and fuck, I just can’t bring myself to care. They’re shaking, my hands, and I’d rather just collapse than fiddle up and down and up and down on this stupid, rusty door that I’ve kept around for god knows how many years even though I hate the color and it never just opens but had this click that worked, this click that she pointed out when the lock first broke so that it was fine, it was going to be fine and we could just call the repairman after the holidays but the holidays are over the holidays have been over, and now I can’t even hear the click and she’s gone so why would I even bother with it all she’s gone she’s—.
I walk in. Crack open a beer from the fridge. And I turn on the radio.
Vivaldi, the Four Seasons.
Rachel Hendrickson ’25 is a staff writer
Yasmin Hamilton ’24 is a staff artist