Flash Fiction by Anabelle Zaluski
The Things We Do For Silence
It’s as if the incessant buzzing of Nova’s purifier makes the air murkier, not cleaner. The room is filled to the brim with particles of sound, silt lifted from the bottom of a dormant river.
She and sleep have never gotten along too well. 4:29AM blinks from the clock on her bedside table. She tips it upside down to obscure the time and reaches for the light switch on her lamp. Nova’s eyes wince, acclimating to the incandescence. The sun has only just started to rise and the cool morning light isn’t enough to read by.
As she reaches for her book Nova turns to see a man standing practically starfished in her wall-to-ceiling window. His eyes are wide—one blue, the other a hollow brown—and framed by crow’s feet. He looks surprised, but not startled. A work belt, stuffed with a squeegee and a few tattered rags, adorns his waist.
She jumps to her desk and scribbles briefly on her open notebook. Hasty words and frenzied question marks. Nova holds it to the window, parallel to the man’s face.
How did they let you outside?
“What’s this stuff for?” asks Dakota, flipping through the papers on Nova’s desk, “Someone doesn’t like to write between the lines.”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” She moves to collect them.
He plants himself on her bed, positioned beside his guitar: a third party, quiet unless prompted to speak, which is often. He starts to pluck its rusted strings, six fingers instinctively wrapping around the guitar. The stubby excuse for an extra pinky is an odd advantage to his music, sticking askew out of his left hand. Music flows out of Dakota like water from a tap; it drips out even when he doesn’t mean it to.
“What do you think happens to people who go outside?” Nova asks.
“Well, I assume that instead of one extra finger, I would have twenty. Coming out of my eyes. And I’d be dead.”
“I saw someone this morning. Out my window.”
Dakota stops playing. Nova moves to sit beside him, starting to uncrumple the papers.
“We talked. I asked him questions, wrote him notes, look. It’s his job to clean the windows.”
“Someone’s got to do it.”
“He’s out there every day… he’s living out there.”
The crude harmony of the air purifier and the soft sound of paper in his hands fill Dakota’s silence.
So you’re not sick at all?
What’s your name?
How did your eyes get like that?
“How does he reply?” mumbles Dakota.
“He usually just talks. I can mostly hear him. His name is Isaac.”
“And he’s just okay with talking to you?”
“Why wouldn’t he be?”
Dakota clasps Nova’s hands.
“Maybe this thing is a bad idea. There's something toxic out there. Maybe it's not even the air, I don’t know. Nobody knows. But there's a reason we stay inside. Things can’t live.”
“I can’t stay, I must move on.” Isaac’s breath fogs the outer side of Nova’s window as he starts to shimmy his way to the next.
Nova shows him a thumbs up, scribbling another sentence.
One question before I let you go.
“Let me?” he laughs. “I’m going back to my job.”
How did you get the job?
“This is going to be quick.”
She nods, pen and paper poised.
“My parents both died quite young. I was left alone. I was approached about cleaning the windows. They want people who don’t have much to lose, you know, in the unfortunate event.”
As Nova writes, head down, Isaac starts to cough into his rag. A spray of thick blood. He shoves it back into his belt as Nova looks back up.
“They don’t let many people know about this. Excluding teenagers who have chosen to lose their sleep every morning,” he says with a smile. “But I suppose with enough motivation, anyone could get the job.”
Hard underlines dig into Nova’s paper.
“So, I signed some papers and went out. And the rest his history,” he says with a flourish of his squeegee.
What does the air feel like?
“Really, I need to stay on schedule,” he says, turning to look at the next window, as if there’s something waiting for him besides dirt-streaked glass.
The sound of reluctant pen on paper. See you soon.
Isaac winks with his brown eye, still looking at her with the blue, and shifts to the next window. The absence of his body reveals a hint of sunrise. A red smirk on the horizon.
“I’m sorry, Nova.” Dakota speaks to the top of Nova’s head. She stares at the news clipping in her hand.
Isaac Lee, 49, died of natural causes on July 14th, 2117. He contributed a great service to our community and will be missed.
“When I woke up yesterday to see him there was a stranger instead. He didn’t even care.”
Nova walks to her window, not looking past the glass. Listening to the ignorant buzz of the air. “Isaac didn’t tell me he was dying.”
“I guess that’s part of the job.” Dakota sighs, placing his hand in the small of her back.
“He talked about how he was chosen to do it because he was alone in the world. He didn’t have anyone to miss him. I miss him. He had somebody.”
The large steel door booms shut behind Nova. With a familiar work belt hung at her waist, she steps outside. Humid air molds to her, a hug from the sky. Silence ebbs and flows as if it’s sound. The stillness is overwhelming, empty compared to the mundane hum of the indoors.
She remembers Isaac, thinks of the places he might have stepped, the breaths he might have taken. Imaginary footprints mapping her path. She remembers Dakota. The look on his face when she told him, a disappointed kind of anger. The unavoidable. A smashed guitar.
From across the street, a stark white cat saunters toward her. Its eyes are two different colours: one blue, the other a hollow brown. It strolls past Nova with a soft, quick nuzzle, and moves on its way.
Anabelle Zaluski is an English and Creative Writing student at Concordia University. She hates cilantro and loves tiny versions of normal things. Her writing has been published with Montreal Writes, the Hindwing Press, and HerStry. She is also the Editor in Chief for Soliloquies Anthology and a Contributing Editor for Yolk Magazine.