Ashton Politanoff’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in NOON, Meat Confetti, Marco Polo, L’Allure des Mots, The Inertia, and Circa. He currently lives in Los Angeles where he works in television. Some of his work can be found here: ashtonpolitanoff.com.
He could close his eyes but not his ears. He lay in bed, awake, next to his sleeping girlfriend in their new apartment. As soon as he inched towards sleep a noise would snap him awake. First the downstairs neighbor, a mechanic, sitting outside in the courtyard listening to a friend on speakerphone. He heard the word “suicide.” Then, the sudden barking of the dog next door. Once that died down, he was reminded of the proximity of the busy street, a major thoroughfare a block east of their bedroom window. It was a wide window. Old too. Not properly caulked. He wasn’t a handyman, but he had done his research. This wasn’t the first night since they moved he
couldn’t sleep. Cars seemed to windup from a distance until they vacuumed by, as if they were only right below. He had looked into double paned windows, but he knew the landlord wouldn’t pay for them. And he didn’t have the money either.
He got up from bed and turned on the fan for its hum and returned to bed. The room grew cold. He got back up and turned it off and turned on the space heater. He strained to hear its purr. The room turned hot, stuffy. He tossed away his side of the sheets. A motorcycle tore the sky. The windows rattled. He had read about sound absorption. A bookcase would be good, the one they had in the living room, but there wasn’t enough space. He stared across the room at the window. He studied his sleeping girlfriend’s face for an answer. He could move it back, he decided. Before she woke up.
He emptied the bookcase of its books, flicking them on the living room couch, the floor, the coffee table, and he removed all the shelves. Then, he dragged the bookcase into the bedroom and slid it right over the window. He stepped back for a moment. The whish of a car. He returned with the shelves, then the books, and packed them onto the shelves. Absorption. He lay back down. The bookcase didn’t completely cover the window. The sides were still exposed. He could still hear the cars, their breathing, through the sides. He found a comforter in the hallway closet and stuffed it behind the bookshelf to cover one side. He snatched a large pillow from the living room couch and fit it on the other side. In bed again, he closed his eyes. His girlfriend began to snore. He elbowed her. The snoring stopped and she turned towards him, still asleep. He smelled her breath and thought of blue cheese. He hated blue cheese. Her sticky leg touched his and he retreated until he was at the edge. He clenched his feet. He wanted to cry. Moving to this noisy apartment was his idea. He wanted to be closer to the ocean.
She laughed. He looked at her. She laughed again, in her sleep. He put his pillow above her head and stopped just short. She woke up confused. He didn’t have an explanation. He went to the bathroom and found the earplugs under the sink. He didn’t like things in his ears. Ear buds, Q-tips, fingers, wind. He rolled the earplugs and stuck them in, holding them there until they expanded inside his canals and blocked out the sound. Back in the bedroom, he rested his head on the pillow. He settled in. Despite the initial discomfort, he found a solution. But as he let himself sink, the blood in his head started making noise. His heart was between his ears, pumping. It became louder. He turned this way and that, on his stomach, then his back. The heartbeat only seemed to amplify and increase. He was caught in a fever of drumbeats, the tribal kind right before a sacrifice to some bloodthirsty god. He sat up and ripped out the earplugs, throwing them into the dark sea of carpet around his bed. He couldn’t take it anymore. This was night fourteen.
He searched the medicine cabinet, his toolbox, drawers in the kitchen. All he had to do was kill the noise.