Friday, 2 September 2011

FREE short story: NOISES OFF

Here's another one I wrote for a women's magazine. Again, it's not my usual style.


It's the noises you miss. The sound of feet thundering up and down the stairs, of doors slamming, of music turned up far too loud. Did we listen to music that loud? I can't believe I ever did.
  It's the voices calling:
  'Mum, where's my clean shirt?'
  'Mum, can I go over to Angie's place?'
  'Oh Mum! I can't eat that. I'm on a diet!'
  It's the little sounds too. Noises in the night. The bathroom door opening and closing softly, then the crash as something is knocked over. It's the bleep of the computer. The tinny sound of music heard through headphones. The muted giggles.
  'Go to sleep!' I'd shout, knowing that would only make them giggle all the more.
  The girls are both married now, and living too far away. Well, they have their own lives, don't they? Helen brought the baby over a month or two ago, but Jenny doesn't want children yet. She's concentrating on her career, so she says. Steve, my youngest, is off travelling around Europe. It's his gap year. When he comes back he'll go straight to University. The house has been much less noisy since he went. In fact, the only sound in the night I've heard recently has been the soft snore of my husband, Peter. Until I'd dig him in the ribs and he'd turn on his side, that is.
  But now I don't even have that.
  The television helps, I suppose, but it's not the same, is it? It doesn't call out, 'I'm home!' at six o'clock each evening. It doesn't say, 'Thanks love, that was delicious,' when I've cooked a special meal. Oh it's distracting, the television, for a little while. Takes your mind off things. For a while.
  But it's the other sounds I miss most. The companionable rustle of a newspaper. The tuneless whistle through the teeth that he didn't even know he was doing. The chink of cups in the kitchen when he made me a cup of tea. The little things. Nothing can replace them. Nothing makes up for the silence in the early morning, when there should be water running and splashing noises coming from the shower. Nothing makes up for the missing scrape of a fork on a plate, across the dining room table.
  At first I thought there should be recording available for people like me. 'What a good idea!' I said to myself. You could go into a shop and buy a CD, a recording of ordinary, day to day noises. A cough or a sneeze, a drink being poured, the creak of an armchair as someone sits down. I'd be able to play it to fill in the gaps, the silences. It would keep me company. Come to think of it, there could be recordings for all sorts of occasions. CDs of do-it-yourself noises — hammerings and sawings, the noise of a drill, a muffled curse. There'd be getting-up-in-the-morning noises — the sound of teeth being cleaned and drawers being rummaged through. The clunk of a toe being stubbed on the blanket chest. And there'd be eating-dinner-together CDs — the soft clatter of cutlery, an appreciative 'Mmmm', maybe even a 'Pass the salt.'
   Of course I know it would never be the same. Because it's not just the noises, is it? It's the presence of another person that makes such a difference. The knowledge that someone is in the next room or upstairs, or out in the garden. That's what makes being alone acceptable, even welcome, for a little while. It's the knowledge that they will come back soon. That all those little sounds you take for granted, whether they irritate you, or whether you hardly even hear them, will continue to enliven the house and will go on forming the background music of your life.
  It's been six days now and the house rings with emptiness. That's why I'm so glad that this loneliness is only temporary. So grateful that this silence, which I can hardly bear, will soon end. You see, Peter is away on a training course this week. Something to do with transference of skills and updating his technical knowledge, with a bit of executive team building thrown in for good measure, but he'll be back tomorrow.
  And for that I thank Providence and never cease to appreciate just how lucky I truly am.

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