White Noise

My brother is staring at me from the bulletin board on the back of my desk. There are dead tulips crunching against his face, jutting out of their cracked plate of a vase. The gentle hum of my humidifier vibrates my large desk, but fails to overpower the echoing BANG BANG BANG of the construction two blocks away. I hear it. The distant echo of a consistent POUND POUND POUND. I hear it; two blocks away. Even here, I hear it. The tell-tale heart of campus.

Here, there are no ticking clocks. Just the instant flip click of central air and faint pulsation of energy in my dorm refrigerator which, let’s face it, is equal to half of my closet’s square cubage. I hear the snap of water droplets; I hear them quivering, rippling, freezing.

Melting is temperate; freezing makes me think of soap bubbles in Alaska. An ex once told me of his Alaskan “mud room,” where he and his brother would gently loft bubbles and watch the crystals grow and multiply—much like the cells of a fertilized egg, I imagine. Splitting and dividing and multiplying and creating, the crystals of the bubble would solidify and splinter into infinitesimal slivers.

I can picture it happening, but only in slow-mo. Real-time can’t justify what the mind senses or how the esoteric brain reacts. Real-time does not support Ambrose Bierce’s stream of consciousness ... or the hearing capabilities I have during Stage Makeup, apparently.

My instructor, a graduate student focusing on costume design, is painting a young woman’s face. She, the model, remains still and poised, blue eyes wide and fiery hair pulled back. Her porcelain skin is gradually covered with densely pigmented emerald green. When finished, my instructor will present her as a villain from Aquaman. The process is slow; my instructor tediously outlines dark edges. As he dusts powder across her cheeks, I hear it.

It is not the constant BANG BANG BANG of construction.


It is the conversations. I don’t hear words, just noise. Each .2934752346 of a second I listen, the noise gets louder; I feel the echoing vocalizations rumble in my chest. My head slams back against the wall I am leaning on. Why aren’t there clocks? The ticking would be constant; it wouldn’t get louder like these voices. Here, there is no white noise. Only voices rising like radio static over a dead world threatened by an airborne toxic event.

How does one describe the speed of sound?

I marked page 186 in Tinkers with a photo of my mom and I. I assume that my grandmother took it, as there are three words, At The Orchard, sprinkled on the back in her handwriting. I was two, I believe. My mom was kneeling on the ground behind me; her left hand snaked around my small midsection. Even then, I was lanky. Anyway, the photo, I assume, marks a passage. I believe it marks a stream-of-consciousness, one involving ticking and clocks and memories and death and building and clicking—exactly what I am trying to describe in a much more beautiful way.

That’s where Paul Harding and Annie Proulx win.

And Don DeLillo and Ambrose Bierce.

I am defeated.

I am left without words, without proper description; I am in a room that resounds construction, and whose white noise—the snapping of water molecules and the hum of a humidifier—has no symbolism.


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