OUTSIDE NOISES

He woke up a couple of hours ago but his routine on weekends is to drink a light cup of coffee, read a chapter or two of the book he’s reading, scroll Twitter, then get back in bed a little later and get some more sleep. 

He gets back in bed and shuts his eyes and feels comfortable and his mind starts to slow down though he doesn’t really notice, it’s just the ebb away of racing thoughts before a chance at some sleep. He feels sleepy. Wants to fall asleep. Almost there. Some cars on the street honk their horns. His apartment is four floors up, so it’s fairly loud, but it happens all the time so it’s pretty much background noise at this point. Most of the time he thinks he probably doesn’t hear the city sounds at all, that they wash over him and it’s only the soundtrack to living in a place like this. Most of the time he finds it familiar, he thinks. Part of each day’s routine is what it is. Some more honks. A couple sustained ones, where a car is probably waiting for people to cross the street so it can turn and people behind are getting impatient and can’t see the people so they don’t understand why the driver is sitting there with a green light, or they can see the people crossing and don’t care and want to make their turn and get where they need to be. Either way, a couple of honks where the driver’s clearly holding his hand on the horn and leaving it there, really wanting to tell the person in front of him that they need to get a move on. 

He tries to nestle himself more into his pillow. Turns his head back and forth like he’s grinding his way further into it, and then settles and takes a couple of deep breaths. Person outside starts yelling, screaming at someone or another. He can’t even make out the words, but the person’s going on and on, and the sound of more honking comes now too. He thinks maybe the yelling person has drifted out into traffic and they’re getting in the way of cars and they’re honking and he’s yelling and no one’s getting anywhere. 

Quiets down for a minute or two and he’s right there, about to fall asleep, all black. Next door neighbor starts practicing his cello which usually is nice to listen to but the neighbor is playing the same piece of music over and over and over, probably practicing a new piece of music but it’s over and over, and it’s grating to his ears he thinks, this little piece of music being played over and over. His neighbor stops for a second and he thinks this is when he needs to fall asleep, has to do it in one of these pockets of silence or he’s never going to get to take this nap that he always looks forward to on weekend days. He closes his eyes tight. 

People are talking in the hallway, chattering on about their days and the groceries they bought. Two cute, older people in the hallway. He’s seen them before so he’s sure it’s them. He likes seeing them talk there, these two friends he presumes who live down the hall from each other or maybe a floor or two down or up from one another, and the old man brings the old woman flowers or meals or little desserts sometimes. He’s seen the old man knock on the door while he’s holding a plate of food or has a bottle of wine and an opener and he thinks maybe they’re more than friends, or at least it’s a kind of platonic romance they have that holds them up late in life. He likes seeing them, and likes seeing them chat, but right now it’s so loud, and he can hear their voices so clearly in a way he usually can’t. 

The two people in the hallway go their separate ways or go into one of their apartments but either way it gets quiet. He settles back into his bed. Cars start honking again. Damn it. 

He gets up and dresses and thinks to himself that clearly he wasn’t meant to nap today, that some kind of force out there isn’t allowing him too and he tried to ignore it but could only hold out so long. Now he’s getting dressed and putting on shoes and combing his hair and brushing his teeth and leaving out the door and walking downstairs with the thought that here was an obvious sign from a force or power that was letting him know, commanding him actually, to not nap and do…well he’s not sure what he’s meant to do but he knows it’s something and he thinks he’ll have to guess at it until he figures it out. 

First thought he has, as he’s scanning the sidewalks and streets around him in front of his apartment, is that he’s always thought he’d like to try out the cliché of walking right into a newsroom and saying, here I am and I am a young strong lad and I’d like to work for this here paper, or something like that, and the editor would take one look at him with a cigar in his mouth and say, can you run? Huh? Can you yell? Can you fight? Can you do everything it takes to do what needs to be done? And he thinks the editor would be talking like this is war but he’d say, yes sir! And he’d have the job in no time. So he goes into the nearest neighborhood paper, a small building two blocks away that prints a quarterly, and he says the line about how he’s a young guy and immediately gets turned away. They say, every worker really, all of them in the room working on their laptops, are laughing and saying, a job here? In this economy? And he walks off, thinking that couldn’t have been what he was meant to do so he’s got to keep looking is all. 

He thinks he’s always felt he was athletic enough—naturally so, even gifted he might add on his best of days—to make a major league sports team. He didn’t think it was impossible. He played baseball in school, his whole life actually, all the way until the end of high school and it was either to go to some no name school in the middle of Minnesota or have a somewhat normal college experience. He thinks decisions were easier when he was younger. But he still thinks he could make a major league sports team. Issue with baseball is that it’d take him forever. Lots of minor league teams and it’s the slowest of the routes to fame of all the sports leagues so it can’t be baseball. Can’t be an individual sport either. He’s not great at tennis or golf and thinks he couldn’t take the individual stardom that comes with those sports. He’s not sure he could manage being a superstar tennis pro, traveling the globe, having millions of adoring fans and having to win tournament after tournament. It’d be hard on him, he thinks. Not that he couldn’t do it, just that he’d rather with a team is all, probably. Decides that of the available sports left, he’ll try basketball. He goes to the store and looks but there’s no basketballs, so he goes to another and another and another and still no basketballs. This can’t be it, he thinks. Gives up on that. 

Broadway. That’s it, he thinks. Write a play or a musical and run on over to Broadway and drop it on a desk and say, this is the next big thing, and the producer or whoever would skim the pages and say, this is the next big thing, and the producer would grab him by the arm and he’d take him running out into the hall and down another hallway and up to another producer or maybe some famous actor he’s seen in shows or movies before, and he’d flip through the script and say, this is the next big thing. So he sits down at his laptop in his apartment and types up a musical as quickly as he can, something about a boy whose looking for a sign after he can’t go to sleep because the cars are honking so loudly outside his window, and the boy goes off into the world and meets a whole cast of characters and they break into song a bunch of times, and by the end boy’s returned not having found any sort of sign or quick trip to stardom and riches, but having found something much more special, and he types up it all up and hates the ending but thinks that’s what producers are for or script writers or editors or whomever, and he runs over to Broadway and goes in the first theater he sees and opens a couple doors and a couple more and finally sees a guy in a tie and a suit who looks important. He slaps down the script and says, this is the next big thing, and the guy in the suit says, who are you? And picks up his phone and calls security and he’s escorted out. Doesn’t see him do it, but he assumes the guy in the suit threw his script away. Can’t be that then. 

What’s he going to try? Looks around. Harder this time. Looking for something unique or out of place. Straining his eyes. Nothing. He thinks, I’m a single guy, why not? So he walks around the city for a while until he spots a woman who he believes to be the most beautiful, stunning, out of this world gorgeous woman he’s ever seen, and stops her and says, I have to, the world’s telling me to, I have to stop you. She’s taken aback, but stays near him and he says, dinner? And somehow or another she agrees to go on the date with him that night and he puts her number in his phone and says he’ll text her later when he’s coming to pick her up and then they both go their separate ways. He can’t believe he figured it out, must be this, has to be this. Not a chance this happens on a normal day, he thinks. He’s sure of that. No chance he goes up to her either if he hadn’t known there was something big waiting for him, a sign or symbol or what have you, something that was telling him to get up and go and look and look at him now, he thinks, as he walks home and strips down to take a shower and change before leaving for the date. 

He goes on the date with her and it goes amazing. They talk and talk and talk, lots of interesting discussions on politics and what they’re reading and what they have read and what they’d like to read and what’s in magazines these days and everything else and they leave and have a drink at a nice place nearby and say their goodbyes, kiss each other for the first time, and then both go home. 

They see each other almost everyday after that. Dinners or spending time at each other’s places, or going to see movies or readings or plays, and they have the best time, they both do, and soon they’re dating and talking about trips and taking trips and then he’s moving into her place because it’s a bit bigger than his and they settle in quickly and without much disturbance in their relationship. 

A couple of years pass and he’s met her parents a bunch of times and her the same for his, and they’re taking a long trip through Europe this year and stopping in Italy for a friend’s wedding and they’re starting to get serious too about that kind of thing, and it’s on his mind most of the time, thinking out the timeline, but he doesn’t want to rush it. He wants to rush it but doesn’t want to because he’s not, at the end of the day, confident in his own personal long-term. He thinks that she is so assured in what the rest of life entails, just with her talent and intelligence and breadth of knowledge and beauty and he’s just not sure, actually knows, that he doesn’t meet that level of excellence. Not getting down on himself, he knows though that he’s not her and he’d rather support her and push her up at his own expense, but anyway, he thinks he wants and needs to get serious with her, put a ring on her finger and so on, but won’t do it for another year or so. 

They go on the trip and come back and move to a new apartment in the same city and it’s getting very serious, and soon after he gets down a knee and proposes and she says, yes. He’s the happiest guy in the world and the wedding is beautiful. All their friends and family there, even the ones who no one thought would be able to make it, and she looks beautiful, he cries even at the altar though he tries not to but her laughing a bit and not saying out loud but saying, its okay, makes him cry a couple of tears but he knows it’s only because he loves her so much. 

Years pass. Couple of kids, and a bigger house in a smaller city with less people in the middle of the country. Lawns. Ornaments in December. Drop offs and pickups. Fights. Fights. Coming together. Family vacation. Years of calm and ease. New jobs. Third kid. Retirement. Two kids out of the house. Third kid out of the house. New house in an even smaller city with even less people in the absolute middle of the country. Slow days. Slow nights. Hand holding in the living room. Reading. Eyes going. No more reading. Hand holding on the porch. Slow days. Slower days. She calls the ambulance. He’s lying there. On a stretcher. In an ambulance. In a hospital room. Lights flashing. Alarms buzzing. White coats surrounding the bed. She off to one side. Peering over shoulders. He looks at her. She looks at him. 

He thinks, it’s so loud, the beeping and the sounds, and it’s so familiar, and I can’t believe it, and this must be a sign of something big, something amazing, that’s about to happens and he thinks, I’ll leap out of bed and surprise these doctors and even her and she’ll be so happy and I’ll pick her up like I used too and swing her around and kiss her just the way I used to when I got home from work and I’d missed her so much that she’d run over to me and I’d pick her up, and he thinks he’ll lead her down the sidewalk and swing their hands high in the sky like he did sometimes with her, big arcs with their hands held in the nighttime air, and he’ll do that and then take her to a fancy restaurant and they’ll have a drink after and it’ll be like the first couple of dates they had when they would go bars they both liked and drink and have some food and talk and slowly move towards each other and eventually it was the easiest thing, sitting there across the table from her, he thinks, and he’s sure he’s about to jump out of bed and scoop her up, and the alarms are flashing and the room is full of shouts and noise and people going this way and that way, and there’s even a honk or two drifting in through the window to go along with the beeping and flashing and chaos of the room, but he’s not around to hear any of that.

Teddy Burnette is a writer living in NYC. His first novel, Heartfelt Anything, will publish with Expat Press this year.