The Noise

By Ryan Day

Memoir

I came home to an empty house.

It was usually full. Full of train hoppers in black Carhart coveralls who she had found sitting with their pitbulls on some corner near Belmont. Of ravers with fat pants, little stuffed animals pinned to their T-shirts, half depleted ring pops sticking to the carpet where they had finally passed out, gelatinous strands of pink and purple hair pointing emphatically away from their heads. Of taggers who were too ghetto to find good jobs, but too smart too really become thugs. Of thugs who were running away from tougher neighborhoods. Of spoiled punks who were running away from less tough ones.

I got off work at the diner at 7am, and usually got home around 7:30.

The party would just be winding down. I would have a reluctant beer, force a smile and head to bed, trying to ignore the sounds of techno, video games and manic conversation from strangers who may or may not be prepared to rob and kill even for our disposable possessions.

no one was there.

I walked through the hall that smelled like stale smoke and rancid bologna. I walked to the back room where on a normal morning there would have been at least one body strewn out on the couch, a smiling face bobbing intoxicatedly on its shoulders.

There was no one.

Just the lingering film of a hundred spent butts and a sticky patch near an overturned bottle of Malibu.

I’d like to say the silence was a welcome change, but when you grow so accustomed to the noise, it’s something you need all the time.

I opened our bedroom door, but she wasn’t there.

I called her mom’s house, but no one answered.

I walked briskly back down the stairs, not so much in the hopes of finding her as in the knowledge that to ignore the anxiety of not knowing where she was, the anxiety of an empty house that should have been full, the anxiety of month after month of moving from the bustle of a busy all night diner, serving pancakes to the drunken drag queens leaving the 4 am bars in Boys Town, to the parties where all the waiters, bartenders and unemployable others clung tightly to each other’s momentum, would be impossible.

The February Chicago air was a reward after too many hours awake. My insatiable fingertips were steeped in nicotine and hidden under wooly mittens. They moved like the hammers in a piano playing Beethoven, or maybe Stevie Wonder. Silent for Ludwig and invisible for Stevie.

Cabbies cupped their hands around white styrofoam cups in the Dunkin Donuts lot. The neighborhood exhibitionists, the clerks of the sex shops, head shops, Tattoo parlors and heavy metal T-shirt vendors were unlocking the shutters in front of their stores.

It was strange to see them out so early. At night, in the bars, they made sense. But here, fresh from bed, mohawks at full-attention and well-tended. Something was amiss. Remove the ungodly tight black jeans, reattach sleeves to their vests and shirts and they might have been any seasoned bakers opening shop.

I walked and walked hoping to see someone who could give me a clue as to what had happened to the distraction that was my home. Why the silence? Where was she?

Bjorn, the Swedish guy who owned the coffee shop where I spent my afternoons recovering, stepped out of his shop as he saw me walking past.

His look was always severe.

“Stop,” he said.

I stopped. I lifted my arms and pursed my lips.

“She was in the street. I don’t know. She said something about pills and ran screaming into the street.”

My fingers stopped.

Every centimeter of my nervous system became aware that it was inseparable from the static in the air that stretches from here to the bubbly edges of the universe. They say it protects you. But it seems more to expose.

“I called an ambulance.”

“Where’d they go?”

“Swedish Covenant.”

I didn’t have any money. I ran a mile to Lincoln and almost four miles to Foster. When I got there they said I couldn’t come in. It was weeks before they would let me in to the ward. She never let me in again. Not really.

I found a quiet place to live.

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Ryan Day is a writer who lives in Madrid. He runs The Toast Cafe, and Roll, restaurants that double as cultural spaces. His articles on arts and culture in Madrid can be found at Vaya Madrid.

14 responses to “The Noise”

  1. Doug Bruns says:

    There is nothing to say to this. Only the sound of my hands clapping. I bow at the waist. I nod my head. I turn and walk away knowing I have I had an experience. Thank you.

  2. Ryan Day says:

    Thank you, Doug.

  3. Irene Zion says:

    Ryan,

    This is unfathomably sad, but beautifully written.
    Just about perfect.
    Keep writing.

  4. Zara Potts says:

    Beautiful, Ryan.
    Just beautiful.

  5. Matt says:

    Damn, Ryan, this is one hell of a mood piece. Unfathomably sad, as Irene says, but beautiful, too.

    There really is nothing quite as unnerving as when a normally noisy habitat becomes very still.

    • Ryan Day says:

      Yeah, that story is pretty distant from any present circumstances. I like my quiet just fine these days. But it’s strange to remember how uncomfortable moments of inactivity were throughout the earlier section of the twenties, and, well, I guess most of the later twenties too… Boredom is an acquired taste. Maybe it’s not even boredom, but more subtle forms of activity. Forms that don’t involve hanging upside down from rafters or idiotic intoxicated screaming at frat boys for the crime of being intoxicated idiots… I’m hoping maybe there’s a middle ground between that place and the mind numbing, yet informative, drone of NPR on the car stereo.

  6. Judy Prince says:

    Ryan, this totally feels like that part of Chicago where so many young folks live such wounded lives, stark realities ever on the edge of warmth but not in the warmth, not warm within.

    Excellent evocations here. Love to read more of your work. And for this particular work, I think that a bit more of your (beginninged) evoking of her preferences and behaviours would’ve added further depth, emotion and dimension to her, therefore to you, and to this piece.

    • Ryan Day says:

      Thanks a lot, Judy. This is a little part of a longer piece I’ve been getting ready to put together. More depth ahead I hope. I’ve got about a decade between the experience and me, so I think I’m about ready to make it proper fiction… if you follow that slightly convoluted logic.

      I love Chicago for all it’s warmth and coldness, literal and otherwise. It’s home, and as any home it’s as brutal as it is nourishing.

  7. M.J. Fievre says:

    Ryan,
    This piece really spoke to me. Very well written. Very sad.

    • Ryan Day says:

      Ha! I’m bumming everyone out. Here I thought I was just recollecting. Oddly, all of this has sort of settled into a very positive, even sort of nostalgic place for me. Thanks so much for reading. I’ll shoot for humor next round… At least no more bummers through the holidays.

  8. D.R. Haney says:

    I kind of see this as being a companion piece to the one you posted about Memphis months ago. Something about the tone is similar. But “sad” isn’t the same as a bummer — not necessarily, not to me. In fact, sometimes I can get bummed out by things, or people, that are relentlessly “positive.” It’s all in the way it’s done.

  9. Ryan Day says:

    Good catch. This is part of the same story. The relentlessly positive can indeed be the worst kind of bummer (I think I just crossed the threshold of overuse of ‘bummer’ for the year). At the same time, I’ve become less inclined towards the hermetically grim. I think I’ve been seeking out stories full of dark optimism lately. Where everything’s gone to hell, but characters still carry some strange naive light. Maybe I’ve been watching too much news.

    Thanks for reading, Duke.

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