It was not the idea of change that scared him. His whole life, Eddie found himself uprooted then shuffled off to another relative who would eventually decide an extra mouth to feed was more than they originally bargained for. It certainly was not the idea of settling down that scared him, either. A routine and stable life was all he ever wanted as far back as he could remember. What scared Eddie was the city. He saw it as constantly bustling and always intoxicated by its own energy and excess. The noise, above all, was the worst. He appreciated a certain serenity that a bucolic upbringing and existence could provide. Eddie preferred simplicity, silence and stability. The city offered none of this but so much more. A better job. Higher salaries. An encouraging future. Should clarity of mind, body and soul be comfortably traded for convenience? Could these and other apprehensions be calmed by love?
When he and his wife moved to the city, Eddie had just come back from the war. There, the sameness and uniformity were dreadful; sandy dunes and endless desert as far as all eyes could see. An empty terrain spotted with armored metal machines was more disconcerting without the presence of any trees. It was the only time an absence of noise upset him. Loud noises in that world were the sound of the actual tearing of that fragile curtain between life and death. Some changes were easily dealt with, others were far more challenging. Still, he found the city to be more overwhelming.
Pulling back one of the drapes, he looked outside at his new world through the high-rise window. His reflection could be clearly seen in the glass, creating the illusion that he was floating above the cars and people. An anxious fear moved him back a few feet from the window. Now he appeared to be standing on the top of a neighboring building. Eddie had once opened that thin curtain and seen what light and wonder waited on the other side. A miracle made him the only one from a group of twenty that came back from behind the curtain. He returned with a titanium souvenir from the right knee down and a blue hue added to the red of his heart.
He had considered this a small change compared to the more recent uprooting and replanting in concrete. “How can you hate some place you’ve never been?” his wife would ask any time he would so much as grumble. There was no abundance of trees near where they lived, only the occasional sapling perfectly imprisoned in its individual cement plot. These cheerless excuses for nature were never satisfactory even when clustered closer together. And always, non-stop, was the noise. People were forever laughing, shouting, crying or cursing. He believed the constant sirens were a warning that the city was perpetually in danger of killing itself. With all of the fires reported endlessly on the news it was further proof for him that the candle was being burned not just at two ends but several, and quickly.
Yet each morning the sun would rise again upon the city to share its glory or the rain would be merciful and come rinse away its dirt and sin. And with the dawn the noise – rising and falling with the rhythm of the day – would resume. Severe headaches would come on and he could think of nothing clearly for very long. Poor decisions were made during these times and Eddie was afraid that he might be choosing the worst verdict of his life. He had to be able to think clearly but he could never filter out the cacophony that rose up from the streets.
Samantha came home most days a half hour or so after Eddie. This gave him enough time to change out of his work clothes and shower. He came to see this half hour as a personal refuge from the outside world at large. The dimensions of the bathroom were not small but cozy enough. It was his sanctuary tucked away in the middle of the apartment. The hot shower and the resulting steam fogging the mirrors thawed his bones. And from this cocoon he would emerge wiped of the city’s grimy fingerprints once again.
Daily interaction with people was deliberately kept to a minimum: a few people at work, a few people at the coffee shop and Samantha. Managing a team of nearly two hundred people, she came home each day with unbelievable stories of human hubris and ignorance. These did more harm by reassuring Eddie that the creation of noise would be constant. The folks responsible for his wife’s own hurdles were out there and undoubtedly also responsible for his own. Every day these stories compounded evidence to convince the one-man jury that he did not belong in the hive of a metropolis. A voice began buzzing more prominently, rising above the others with a faint but singular message serving as a reminder of how Eddie was different and how he should not become indifferent only to eventually give in and stay. A month saw this voice roaring to the point he wondered if his love for Samantha would be enough to make him accept a prison of concrete, glass and booming sound.
One sweltering day in July, high temperatures intensified the sedative results of the accompanying humidity. Eddie commonly felt the relieving heat as another buffer against the commotion outside he knew was slowly scaling the walls of the high-rise to steal inside the locked glass balcony door. In spite of the daily shower he could not seem to get rid of the grime from the city’s grubby hands. Frustration and irritation could linger and stain but only if this residue remained.
Just out of the shower, the door half way opened, Eddie saw Samantha dressing down after what was assuredly an exceptionally ridiculous day. Exasperation was evident in her breathing and also in the fidgety way she undressed. She barely noticed the door open or Eddie’s exit and only finally acknowledged him a mere foot or so from her performance. They both forced a smile and their kiss was unusually light and slightly off center. Immediately after their clumsy and careless lips separated, Samantha launched into telling him how he would not believe the day she had. Eddie did not even have to ask, he never had to ask. He stopped listening before the beginning of her second sentence. Looking his wife up and down his mind drifted to why he had initially been attracted to her and fell in love since very little had physically or emotionally changed since they first met. But the tone of her voice always transformed as she ranted through the happenings of her day. “Are you listening to me?” Samantha must have repeated several times judging from the look of impatience that wrinkled her forehead. Eddie’s response was to turn around and walk out of the bedroom.
Samantha knew by that point in their relationship to not take this behavior personally and to give him space; he would come to her when he was more prepared and capable to converse and interact. Absentmindedly following him out after a pause she found him in the living room, sitting on the couch. This intrusion was not met with enthusiasm, but Samantha persisted. Opening her mouth to speak, the attempt was stifled by a scream from an over-stimulated Eddie. It was an expression of rage, of weariness from a panic of never truly being heard and of the dread of being swallowed then forgotten under an encroaching and devastating wave of noise. Two more followed after a recovery breath from the one before and their intensity, ebbing with each issue but retaining a heightened level of defeat.
Embarrassed when he realized his actions visibly frightened his wife, he quickly got to his feet then walked to the window. There was hesitation for a moment before Eddie pulled back the curtains. The city’s racket scratched and banged on the glass window; these laughs, cries, shouts and curses. He was anxious and terrified of being broken from the warring sounds and aggressive atmosphere. Turning to look at Samantha with worry on his face and in his voice, he called her name. In an instant, Samantha went to Eddie and met him with an embrace from behind, her arms around his torso and her right cheek nestled in his back. His breathing was quick and nervous, unsure. Every inhalation made his wife’s grip lightly tighten which imbued his exhalations with the soothing influence of her body.
When his breathing became steadier and relaxed Eddie noticed how he was very aware of Samantha’s heartbeat as well as his own. More startling was the realization that for every two times her heart beat he would either make one full inhalation or exhalation. Feeling and understanding this connection to the woman he loved had the most encouraging effect of all. And with this new calm came further awareness, additional initiations. For a certain number of breaths, a traffic light below the window would stay red. Wanting to see exactly just how deep this linking went his attention turned to his wife’s breathing. For every set number of full breaths, a specific number of people walked through a crosswalk. Staring down at the stop light for a moment he saw a red light turn green. The traffic and physical movement beginning again in one direction and stopping the intersecting direction facilitated the city’s circulation of vehicles and pedestrians. This ebb and flow of activity was vital to keeping everything operational and living, nourishing and wounding without partiality. An elusive smile slowly turned up the corners of his mouth. Easier now to believe in the interrelation of everything, Eddie knew he had observed further evidence of a deeper and more reciprocal relationship to his new home and city.
With the last of the sunlight hastily leaving the sky, Samantha and Eddie kept their hold unbroken until the final rays disappeared. The living room was dark, and this blackness brought a stillness to them both. “I should probably turn on a light,” Samantha whispered before squeezing Eddie once more and letting him go to follow through with her suggestion. With the light turned on, Eddie’s reflection again appeared in the glass as though he were floating above the city in the night sky. The lights from the streets and the cars reflected back as stars. And when his wife rejoined him, they became a part of this universe together. The darkly colored parts of their clothing blended into the black of the streets and night, making parts of their disjointed anatomy enhance or embrace other pieces of architecture.
Eddie turned and looked at Samantha in the reality of the dimly lit living room. He was glad that her face no longer appeared troubled and her near serene expression suggested that he too must at last seem composed. As much as his mouth wanted to smile, the urge to kiss Samantha was stronger and won. The connection was felt again. Ultimately their heartbeats, though differing in tempo, echoed and further drove the pulse of a city that no longer upset Eddie. The noise: the ever-present laughing, crying, shouting, cursing-they were his and they were hers. The upturned sides of his mouth were an approval and acceptance that they belonged to everybody else as well.
(c) 2018 by Jarrod Campbell