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Static assaulted my ears.
Tapping the volume key, a cacophony of white noise spilled into my headphones and encased me within the folds of its undulating, jagged interior. My eyes danced across the peaks and valleys of a green digital waveform on the display before me as each aural texture was given shape. Hitting the space bar with my thumb, I stopped playback, relishing a moment of silence. Once I raised my hand, I massaged my tired neck. A nasty stress headache was beginning to slither up my spine and settle in my skull.
Furrowing my brow, I moved the cursor back roughly ten seconds and continued the track. What started as a hobby had evolved. Some would call it an obsession, but I was secretly hopeful it hadn't gone that far. Focusing on cutting through the digital sizzle, I pressed the phones tighter to my ears listening for anything buried in the sonic palette that shouldn't be there. I wasn't listening to the hiss, but rather the space between.
Rubbing the bridge of my nose with my fingers, I exhaled slowly. This wasn't helping. Maybe I was becoming obsessed. Spending all of my spare time listening to blank recordings and chasing after stories, myths, and legends was beginning to wear on me. I was searching for…hell, I didn't even know anymore. Answers? Proof? Or was it something more? Of course I already knew the answer to my own question, I simply didn't want to acknowledge it. To do so would make it more tangible, more real somehow, and I wasn't ready to accept that. Would that prove I was obsessed, or crazy? I was a man charging into the darkness with a flashlight and a tape recorder, in the pursuit of whatcould be nothing more than an idea.
I had gone mad…
…I just missed her so much.
Leaning my head back, I watched the picturesque suburban landscape of Union scroll outside my window. A little more than an hour from New York, this sleepy suburb seemed more like a different world than somehow part of the Big Apple. Cozy little houses enclosed by picket fences paraded past in unison as if marching to celebrate mediocrity. Trees reached perpetually toward the solid gray sky from snow-covered lawns, while children created an entire population of snowpeople locked in frozen poses. A myriad of cars passed in the opposite direction most likely headed home for a hug and a kiss from their loved ones as they basked in the glow of Christmas tree lights. It was all so…
But very familiar…
Like an extraterrestrial trying to comprehend this bizarre form of life, I observed with awe. Their existence seemed somehow foreign to me. It was something I'd heard spoken of in whispers, but had never experienced myself. My vocation forced me to distance myself from humanity in order to effectively learn their behavior and mannerisms. I surveiled and recorded in some vain effort to unlock the mysteries of the human brain. I felt like a spy, the snake in the garden, desperately wanting to be part of the hive.
My eyes fell to the light gray carpeting of the taxi's interior as the audio file continued to play in my headphones. Recorded in my home office, I had nearly nine hours to review. Having spent most of the plane trip analyzing it, I was about halfway through. I heard the familiar creaks, pops, and groans of the house settling, the wind howling outside, and a tree branch scraping against the windowpane, but little else. No signs, no voices, no phenomenon that could not be explained. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing.
The taxi driver's waving hand caught my attention. Unsure if he was signaling me or gesturing to another driver, I paused the recording. Sliding the big, black headphones down to my neck, I looked inquisitively at the cabbie.
"Just heard over the radio," the heavyset man motioned to the CB installed in his dash, "that Elmore is closed because of an accident. Some jackass t-boned a bus."
"What does that mean to us?"
"We have to go 'round," the big man reported in his Brooklyn accent. "Shouldn't take too long, just wanted to make sure that was all right wit' you."
"Yeah, yeah." I waved dismissively. "No worries. Do what you have to do."
Silence fell over the cab again. I considered pulling my headphones back on and continuing, but I couldn't seem to summon the will. Sliding my fingertips across the keyboard, I saved my progress and quit the program. I placed the laptop in hibernate and snapped the lid shut. Checking my wristwatch, I hoped the new route wouldn't delay us too long. I had scheduled my appointment weeks ago, and was already cutting it close.
The cabbie looked at me in his rearview mirror. "Sinatra?"
I took a moment to process the question, perplexed. "Pardon?"
"Sinatra," the portly man repeated through his bushy, gray mustache. "I bet you're listening to Sinatra."
I tried to force a smile. "You would have lost that bet, my friend."
The cabbie snapped his fingers and shrugged. "I only like the big band stuff. The Rat Pack, Sinatra, Sammy, Martin." He shrugged. "That's amore, you know?"
"I know the Rat Pack," I confirmed.
I glanced down at the driver's fact sheet attached to the back of his seat. His name was Ralph Chandler, a native of New York-as if I couldn't already tell. The picture in the upper left featured Ralph sporting a huge, shit-eating grin that looked as if he had just told the photographer the dirtiest joke he knew. I imagined him living in a tiny, rundown apartment with his wife Alice, and slightly crazy neighbor named Norton who always seemed to get into trouble. I smirked…don't ask me why. I was a bit of a pop culture junkie.
"That's some great friggin' music," Ralph added. "Classics!" He paused. "So what were you listening to?" He sized me up in the rearview mirror. "None of that new age, I-want-to-share-my-feelings, weepy, fairy music…right?"
Copyright © 2007 Terence West.