The man came in with a long black hose. I was elbow-deep in soap-water, and the baby was in her chair. “Mmm, mmm,” she was saying, “Elmo, Elmo.” Lucky Charms flew. More men came in after the first, stomping their dirty brown boots on the Welcome square, then walking onto the triangle of sunlight made by the open door.
“Who are they?” I yelled to my husband. He was only on the other side of the kitchen island but he might as well have been on the other side of the world because before we knew it, the men were drilling holes into the walls, and he couldn’t hear me. I couldn’t even hear me. Baby’s lips were moving. “More, more,” she was saying, but her words were drowned out by the thrum of saw into drywall.
I tore a packet of oatmeal and poured it into the bowl. The blades of the saws shone, and the muscles in the first man’s forearm popped; I imagined how blue the outside sky must be, all that light pouring in. My husband held up two fingers. I held up two too. “Peace,” I mouthed. I smiled. It seemed a perfect day for all to be forgiven. He shook his head, pointed to the oatmeal. “2,” he pressed into the air again. I tore open another packet and tapped it into the bowl.
The floor shook with sound. The neighbors must have thought the world was coming to an end; or that we were finally just tearing into each other — a couple of wild-eyed cats spinning in cartoon-dust; or maybe they thought that our home would rise right out off the block, shoot into the sky, rocket its way right into the depths of outer space. I imagined them running out into the street: Dmitri with his horse-hair bow and Gail with her bum-hip and JJ with his beard and his two boys, how they’d stand there watching us arc into the sky — me and husband and baby soaring into the heart of the closest black hole.
My husband held the spoon in his mouth and scribbled blue ink onto an old hotel pad. It always surprised me to see his handwriting — the closed o’s, stumpy f’s. Soundproofing, the note read.
“What?” I asked, and he underlined the word twice.
Baby had her hands over her ears. “No, no, no,” her mouth said.
My husband moved in Irish-Spring-close. I felt his breath on my neck and then he yelled in my ear. “They’re pumping shit into the walls.” He pointed at the word again.
“Oh,” I said. “Okay.” I gave a thumbs-up.
So no one can hear us? I wrote.
So we can’t hear them, he wrote back.
The drywall dust was beginning to settle, and the room grew quiet again. The man lifted his long black hose. “Sorry about all the racket,” he said. “Think of this as the last noise you’ll ever be subjected to.”
We laughed, and my husband tightened his tie, and baby blew him kisses, and I think that I was yammering about vitamins — about the Fish Oil and the D and how bad the burps are but how important it all is — but deep inside I was panicking; deep inside, I was terrified of what the night would bring — without the whine of Dmitri’s cello, or the click-click-click of Gail’s cane, or JJ’s sweet boys with their lilting, twinkling stars — of how silent it would be, of how lonely I would be in its silence.
Nicole Callihan’s poems, stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly, Salt Hill, Washington Square, New York Quarterly, cream city review, and La Petite Zine. She was a finalist for the Iowa Review’s Award for Literary Nonfiction, and has most recently been named as Notable Reading for Best American Nonrequired Reading. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches at New York University, as well as in schools and hospitals throughout New York City.