Part One | Part Two
By her count, Willie had spent the past 27 afternoons sitting in the rocking chair in her living room, listlessly swaying to and fro while biting her nails and eyeballing the world beyond her barkcloth curtains. And today the world felt particularly empty — there were no lawn mowers, no loud children running through her backyard, and she was beginning to wonder if she had simply dreamed all the cars that had driven past her house during the morning rush to work.
There was only silence, and the sort of silence that makes you wonder if your body is shutting down and dying, at that — the sort of silence that makes you wonder if there’s anyone in the world out there who genuinely cares just enough about you to call. If she strained herself, Willie could make out the miserable din of her polished chair gliding over the floor, the blood pounding in her ears, and the barely discernible but constant thumping coming from her belly.
It was exactly 12:42 PM, and she felt a cold sweat run down her forehead as she wondered where Mr. Friedmann could be. Normally by this point in the day, he would be tottering along the sidewalk in front of her house, cane in one hand, leash leading down to an obese daschund in the other. But he was suspiciously absent today, and Willie felt herself falling into a panic.
It wasn’t that Mr. Friedmann ever looked up and waved at her, or that she opened her window to greet him. Willie had maybe spoken to him twice since she and Richard had moved into the neighborhood, and those conversations had consisted of a few loud, halting sentences at a block party here or there. And, honestly, she never really sought out a reason to talk to him beyond those situations. But in that afternoon’s dire circumstances, she found herself desperately wishing for the reassurance that she was not alone.
Before Richard had accepted the surveying project at Incerlik, he often spent his Sunday mornings helping the old man with housework — cleaning out gutters, repainting walls, and the like — the sort of dull activities that were only bearable to Willie if she had someone as naturally chatty near her. Richard’s constant kindness towards Mr. Friedmann mystified her, for he was twice as talkative as she was and twice as sensitive to a quiet room.
“He’s an interesting piece of work, if you can get him going, Will,” Richard protested once, during one of those post-coital conversations that fall somewhere been ejaculation and loud snoring.
“I’ll bet,” Willie said, turning onto her side, half-asleep already. There they were, both naked and covered in sweat, talking about their elderly neighbor. It was that sort of ease that Willie loved, even when it did come between her and her sleep.
“His father was a foreign diplomat to Switzerland, you know” he continued, stroking her shoulders, “and he said to hell with all of it. Came from a family with a fat load of money and connections, but decided to fight in the War and spend the rest of his life fixing cars. The son of a diplomat to Switzerland. Fighting.”
“Mmm,” she said.
“That’s gumption,” he said. “Crazy, crazy gumption. You have to admire it, Will.”
“Don’t they always say it’s the quiet ones that are the craziest, anyway?” she said. She could hear Richard struggle momentarily with her flippant attitude.
“You know, I don’t think he chooses to be quiet, Willie,” said Richard after a few moments. “Imagine if you were losing your hearing – it’s frustrating enough not being able to understand other people. Can you imagine not even being able to hear your own voice? To not know what your point of view sounds like to the rest of the world?”
“I’d like it,” she said. “I hate the sound of my voice.”
“I’m not saying I wouldn’t just a little bit pleased with those circumstances, either -”
And that was the sentence that started the fight that caused her to wrinkle her nose that caused him to remember how adorable her petulance could be that caused them to kiss that caused round two that left her sitting in her living room, quite alone and conversation-less, with a baby kicking away at her stomach as if it were a drum pedal.
It was 12:46 when Willie was finally shaken out of her quiet panic by a knock at the door. As if the moment were a hypothetical exercise in zen thinking, she imagined she simply willed the sound to happen within her head.
But whoever was at the door had little time for such philosophical fancies, because the pounding continued until it drew her out of her chair, half-stunned and half-elated, to the peephole at the door.
There he was – a delivery man, a miracle, a proof of life, tired and irritated, standing with a wooden crate that brushed the tops of his round shoulders. And as the baby gave one last, violent kick, she knew that it was because Richard was trying to say something from across an ocean.