Ed Larkin is a longtime Californian who now lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter. "Night Sounds" is his first published story.
is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder.
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by Ed Larkin
The twisted condition of the car seems impossible, almost comical. It's as though a third year art student, fueled by the latest highway statistics, had been set free in a junk yard with a sledgehammer and a blowtorch. All of it looks somehow staged and preconceived; too artificial to fill me with horror.
And yet, I am horrified. And even as I clamp down on my teeth to fight the rising bile in my throat, I understand the reason for my reaction.
The slow tick of the engine as it cools from its super-charged state. The irritated hiss from the radiator. The harsh static popping irregularly from the police radios. The plop...plop...plop of the bright red fluid as it drips from the car and mixes with the oil to become burnt sienna. And (could it be the wind, or is it just my imagination?) the low, eerie moan from the car as it settles to its fate. There is more but I cannot bear it.
The sounds make me want to cut my ears off.
One of the policemen waves his flashlight and I surge ahead, anxious to get away from the death sounds. My engine roars and he gives me a quizzical look as I pass. Does he hear them, I wonder? Do they return at night and haunt his dreams?
I flip on the radio to the easy listening station. The accident scene fades into the rear-view mirror and the road becomes mine alone. Just another accident, I think. It happens on this road all the time. Cut along a ledge that hugs the ocean, full of winding turns and sudden switchbacks, this road is among the most dangerous in California.
Then why, I ask myself, is my heartbeat just now returning to normal? Why do my hands cover the steering wheel with sweat? And why (sweet Jesus, can I still hear them?) do the sounds still echo in my ears?
I accelerate up to sixty and roll down the window. The next few miles are relatively straight and I want to feel the power throbbing beneath me. A reluctant smile tugs at my mouth. Rachel would say there is something sexual in that; the male animal's longing for domination. Or haven't I noticed the shape of my roadster lately?
I can hear her as I'm waxing the car, calling my name from the porch and asking why I don't use Vaseline instead. When I don't respond, her smirk becomes a bray of laughter.
I know she is seeing someone else. I even suspect who it is, not that it makes any difference. Our sex is still good, when we have it; perhaps even better than before now that it has been spiced with another man's interest. When we make love, I'm constantly alert for any sign, any small inkling of change in her attitude. If I caught them together I would know.
I wonder, as I drive, is she with him right now?
When I called to tell her I'd be late, she didn't ask the reason. I heard her say my name clearly, but after that the line became garbled. I could hear the words but not the emotion behind them. The snapping and popping made it impossible to tell...crackling bursts of...hissing...whether she - whether they've called for an ambulance or a hearse and I turn my head away-
I shake my head to clear it, glancing in the rear-view mirror. The accident scene is long gone and just barely can I see the faint glow of headlights beginning to follow me. Another refugee from that awful nightmare, I wonder? Ahead the empty road stretches out before me and I gun it up to seventy. I want to be alone. I wonder what Rachel would say about that?
The moon's light gives the ocean an iridescent quality. Even above the rushing wind, I can hear the sound of the waves cascading over the rocks below me. The ocean is angry tonight.
Try as I might, the image won't leave. Is she with him? I know where they've been meeting, of course. In a small coastal community, it is a simple enough matter to figure out. Very little remains a secret here. But do I want to know?
The headlights are growing behind me, one car, moving very fast. I check the speedometer. Seventy-five. This road won't take much more. The headlights are like twin beacons, mesmerizing enough in their own way.
I wonder what she tells him about me?
Or do they give each other time for talk? Perhaps that's it; the spontaneity of the act provides the spark. The lovers meet, like what they see, flirt a little from a distance and who knows? The sly hand on the breast leads to the insistent tugging of a zipper. I can hear her voice catching as she starts to climax from the sheer audacity of it all and then the long, tight sigh as she...low, almost like a moan...as she...settles...steam from the radiator hissing-
The car looms over me suddenly. The horn blares and, as if in frustration, the overhead bar goes on. He gestures for me to pull over. I dare not touch the brakes at this speed, so I lift my foot off the accelerator. Up ahead is a small passing lane and I pull into it. The policeman waves an admonishing finger as he hurtles by.
Once again my heart thuds dully in my chest and my palms slide on the steering wheel. I pause for a few moments to collect my thoughts before proceeding at a slower, saner pace. As my fear subsides, the truth replaces it with a terrible clarity. I do want to know. And I will.
Their trysting place is an inn perched upon one of the more prominent points cliff-side. It is an impressive structure, very romantic and very expensive. I park in the shadows and wait, thinking.
As I listen to the slow ticking of the clock on the dash, I remember the last time we made love. I feel the sheen of moisture on her body, my face buried between her thighs. Her head twists from side to side and she moans, softly at first like the wind but then louder, sharper, as her body begins to twitch out of control. And then, in the aftermath, amidst the guttural hissing of the candles and languid drip of my sweat onto her leg, I hear her whisper my name. I hear it quite clearly.
They have reserved the last unit on the end, the one closest to the ocean. I imagine them inside, the windows thrown open wide to the sounds of the surf crashing in counterpoint to their cries. And, as I open the unlocked door and shut it softly behind me, I find that I am right. The echoes of the ocean's rage fill the darkened room. But there is no movement on the bed. The lovers are asleep.
I am trembling. I grab one of the spare pillows from a chair and hug myself with it. Stay calm, I tell myself. My right hand shakes so badly I shove it into my coat pocket. Through the dim light I can make out the spooning bundle on the far side of the bed. I walk slowly around the bed until I reach the nightstand. I switch on the lamp.
His eyes, startled and owlish at the suddenness of the light, blink furiously. His moustache curls, first in shock, then in disdain as he recognizes me. Before he can speak, I shove the pillow into his face. The firmness of my voice surprises me.
"She's not coming."
My hand is out of my pocket now and even as he struggles to raise his head the revolver muzzle is placed against the pillow. There is a brief, almost imperceptible moment of realization and understanding before I pull the trigger. The night sounds thunder in harmony.
Back in the car, I sit and ponder. Rachel will be pleased, I think. But I am frightened. The sounds of the night no longer protect me from my mind. And, in their absence, I see again the cracked and starry glass and the blood that drips like tears from those wide and lifeless eyes.
And the sounds!
The hissing of the radiator as it mingles with the cooling tick of the engine. The harsh pop of the police band and the hard, relentless pounding of my heart. And, quite clearly through it all, I see her lips move and I hear Rachel call my name.