Writer in Residence · 08/13/2013

Living Is Easy

Chris Bundy and I were in our grad program at GSU together, so I’ve known him for about ten years. Our friendship in school passed over into our working-as-writers lives, as Chris and I, along our third, Man Martin (who will also be featured here this month) formed our writing group. We read drafts of everything, so while it’s been a while, I saw earlier versions of this story. And while I might be divulging a little too much, I’ll just say that Bundy is the most sense-sensitive person I know. He smells everything. Hears everything. But I wouldn’t say that he writes autobiographically.

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Meyer’s holiday began with a bang—a young boy on his flight to the Caribbean ignited fireworks in the rear of the cabin. With the sudden series of deafening pops, Meyer imagined one of the jet engines twisting apart in bits of shredded steel, a silver Christmas ribbon in a blender. Sickly-sweet smoke filled the cabin, and he threw up into his airsick bag. Passengers panicked, one male leaping over his seat to restrain the young boy, by his looks barely a teenager, holding him in a headlock that turned the boy blue until the daring man loosened his hold. Others rushed the front of the cabin as flight attendants pushed past them with fire extinguishers.

Meyer had been optimistic about his week in the Caribbean where the all-inclusive Paradise Palace Resort website promised exclusive service fit for royals. It was a chance to forget what had happened and find peace again, to silence his earsplitting life. But as soon as he exited the taxi, a twenty-year-old Toyota with a broken air conditioner and incessant local music, something called reggaeton, blaring from cheap, torn speakers behind his head, Meyer was assaulted by the thump and thud of jackhammers. As he screamed over the jackhammers at the front desk clerk, warm blood trickled from his ears.

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After Aleyna, his wife of four years left him, forty-four-year-old Meyer Galitsky developed super hearing abilities. In her absence, the silence she left in their Brookline apartment was filled with more noise than he knew ever existed. Like Superman, he heard everything no matter how faint or far away, whether he wanted to or not. Unlike Superman, he was powerless to filter out the unwelcome sounds. Unlike Superman, he was incapable of focusing on a select sound when blended with others. All he ever heard was a furious white noise, layers of sounds, one indistinguishable from the other.

Restaurant outings became a battering as the mingled exchanges of fellow patrons rose in disharmony and fell over his ears in a clutter. In the beginning, he believed people were characteristically rude, so self-centered they chattered on as if they were the only ones in the restaurant. But everyone? At once? And the conversations didn’t come to him in single file, but as a mob, as if he were listening to dozens of AM talk radio stations at once. Walks in his neighborhood were punches to the head with fists made of car and truck engines, horns, high heels, barking dogs, mechanical whines and grinds, pneumatic hisses, and, of late, the worse of all, the penetrating buzz of motor scooters. A trip to the mall was like being inside a football dome during a game-ending touchdown. A train ride the din of tinny music leaking from cheap headphones, train wheels squealing, doors opening and shutting. Construction workers dropped a manhole cover with a startling clang and sent Meyer into convulsions, knees to the ground, hands at his ears. A skateboard scraped along the sidewalk and he was bedridden. The particular patterns of an individual’s speech or the rhythms of certain accents drove pins into his ears. A woman bellowed into her cell phone and razors found even the nerves of his fingertips. Elsewhere it seemed noise needled his entire day. He couldn’t escape sound. As if Aleyna’s presence had shielded him from the outside.

Now that she was gone he was unable to function in his deafening new world. To help, Meyer invested in a pair of industrial-strength earmuffs, designed to protect airline ground crews from jet engine blasts. Wherever he went, the Radial 909s went, too. And, for a while, they worked. But after a few weeks of relative peace, in leaked the unnerving racket.

Meyer had not seen sensed that Aleyna was unhappy. He only ever known their togetherness. They’d first met at a midnight showing of The World According to Garp, where they discovered their shared love of the Red Sox and Irving’s novel. After their marriage in the Green Mountains of Vermont, they shared a used 1988 Volvo, season tickets to Fenway, and a commitment to a life without children. Save for baseball and the occasional midnight movie, they preferred quiet evenings at home. And for four years they were. When Aleyna’s commitment to a childless marriage waned and Meyer’s did not, she left him and spent half of their savings on vials of frozen sperm from a place called the Connecticut Cryobank, determined, she told him, to have a child without his help.

There’s no room for a baby in this apartment, she told him.

Which left Meyer to wonder if she meant in their marriage or that they needed a bigger apartment.

Before Aleyna, and even during her tenure, Meyer had participated little in the world. He worked from home as a freelance technical writer, had few friends—friendships were messy and rarely worth the trouble, and went out only for baseball, shopping, nightly walks, and quiet dinners with a book by his plate. Now the world overwhelmed him in a torrent of noise. He couldn’t even see his own BoSox play anymore, the crack of the bat like a hammer inside his head, the Fenway organ an unbearable whirr, the howl of the crowd driving him from the park.

Meyer consulted an ear, nose, and throat specialist, who found nothing physiologically wrong with him and suggested his hypersensitivity was psychological, likely caused by the stress of his wife’s departure. Yes, yes, that much he could deduce without the fifty-dollar copay. But Meyer could hear what others could not. He could hear through walls, for God’s sake. In his apartment, privileged words leaked through the decades-old plaster and wood lath. He learned that the man and woman in 4B were not romantically involved as he’d thought but were lawyers who shared the pricey rent and, on occasion, the young man’s water pipe. He discovered that the tenant in 3D, a woman he’d always found striking, was a recent university graduate with no job and no prospects beyond waiting tables, which had begun to depress her. She owned the apartment, bought by her father who paid cash, furnished the two-bedroom, and continued to give her an allowance. She’d also suffered a recent bout with a yeast infection. Meyer could tell you that a homeless man regularly crept through the alleyway four-floors down to access the building’s unlocked basement door where he smoked cigarettes and warmed himself by the boiler on cold nights. But Meyer could hear even beyond the walls and floors of his in-town apartment and knew that the transit line typically arrived at the station ten blocks north in twenty-minute intervals. It had been the recent graduate who casually suggested one day at the mailboxes that Meyer take a vacation.

Sounds like you could use one.

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A broken water line, she said and nodded at the jackhammer. His escort at the all-inclusive Paradise Palace Resort, a young woman with dark hair in a tight bun handed him a tissue and a piña colada, a too-sweet drink he’d never tried but liked so much he drank half a dozen his first day. Don’t worry, she said, the bungalows are far from here. I’m Magdelana. She wrapped her arm through his and escorted him to his room.

In his room, the escort extended her arm. One of our most romantic rooms, señor. The bed was covered in hibiscus blooms, a bottle of champagne chilled in a bucket beside two champagne flutes, and a set of plush white robes made of chenille microfiber with PPR embroidered over the breast pockets were folded neatly on a chair. Birds, what sounded like hundreds of them, chirped and chattered outside his window.

And someone will be joining you later? his escort named Magdelena said, her khaki polyester blend suit rustling against her skin like sandpaper on wood.

Just me, this time, he said, as if there had been others, when in fact he and Aleyna had never traveled outside the US, both claiming an aversion for air travel and foreign countries.

A little alone time. He felt the need to qualify. My wife, they’d never divorced and he was unable to call her his ex-wife, doesn’t like to fly, he added.

I see, señor, his escort said and backed out of the doorway. With his superhearing, Meyer heard her whisper after she left and encountered a fellow employee, pequeño hombre extraño. He looked it up: strange little man.

With his escort gone, Meyer opened the champagne, the departing cork popping so much like the fireworks from the airplane that he nearly vomited again, filled both glasses, sipped, finished each and refilled both. He tried to forget about Aleyna. But when he looked around the room, he thought of how much she would have disliked the prefab vacation. How she would have wrinkled her nose at the excessive amenities, scoffed at the waste of pretty flowers strewn across their bed, wondered where the massive piles of plastic water and shampoo bottles, cups, and unwarranted individualized packaging waste went, and how poorly the local employees, if they were even local at all, were paid.
So, he filled another two glasses with champagne—its bubbles bubbling sweetly. He sat naked on his bed and watched the resort’s promotional channel. When he learned he could have anything brought to his room as part of his Royal Service reservation, he rang for more champagne, three shrimp cocktails, a bag of cashews, a tiramisu, and an iced macchiato. He opened every amenity he could find in the room, from a box of pink chocolates and a packet of parchment stationary to a shoehorn and a tube of aloe, and stuffed the trashcan full with their crinkly wrappings. He called for his escort to return—he was missing an extra soap and could still hear the jackhammers. He shook flower petals to the floor and washed his face with water from one of four plastic bottles.
Then he listened—for the silence he had come for.

But his ears whined with sounds. Drink left his ears just as sensitive. The swishing (there really was no better word for it) of coconut palms, the grind of ocean waves, the slap of flip-flops against concrete, and the rustle of sand as people duck-walked across the supplest, whitest beach he’d ever seen.

The soothing drone (Whisper Quiet) of his room’s air conditioner, the nearly musical ring of his telephone when the Royal Service Desk called to make sure all was to his satisfaction, the well-oiled click and slide of his balcony door opening as he stepped outside to search the star-filled sky.

The croak of distant frogs and the chirp of nearby crickets.

The slide and click of his door closing as he returned to the whisper quiet of his room.

The starched white sheets sighing as he lowered himself into the plush bed.

The whoosh whoosh of his ceiling fan.

The buzz of his champagne buzz.

The hum of his comfort, Aleyna lost in the muddle.

Meyer woke a few hours after drifting off to sleep —a verb he’d never used back home to describe his twitchy nights. He stepped on to his balcony, surprised by the clear black sky, so many stars above, and the surf so close below. Wind pushed his hair back.
He wandered to the beach. At the beach the sand held his feet. He eased into a beach chair, close to the now waning tide. He stared out at the darkened sea. He heard the soft, reliable push-suck sound of water and imagined Aleyna squeezing sperm into her vagina with a turkey baster, hoping to make a baby without him.
For the first time in months he slept until dawn.

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Meyer woke to find a uniformed waiter hovering over him with a tall glass of orange juice on a tray and a hot towel over his outstretched hand. Good morning, señor.

The sun bounced behind the young man so that Meyer could not see his face.
Meyer covered his eyes with his hand, blinked the smiling man into clarity as best he could, and took the glass. The orange juice was a screwdriver and a strong one, and he began his second day at the Paradise Palace Resort with a gentle buzz and a hot towel over his face. A second, third, and fourth screwdriver, along with a breakfast buffet only steps away—he was starving, as hungry as he could remember, insured Meyer did not even have to return to his room. He walked the resort in his plush, chenille microfiber robe with hardly a look from anyone.

Music followed him, situating and transitioning his moods for him, a personal, but not really personal, soundtrack for his holiday. Later he’d try to recall the tenor of each restaurant, bar, walking path, covered passage, cabana, lounge, jacuzzi, and sauna by its music. Often the shift was so subtle and swift Meyer didn’t realize the music had changed until he sat and tried to catch the rhythm with his foot. Even the resort bathrooms piped out music to toilet by, music that encouraged Meyer’s bowels, music he’d never heard before and couldn’t recall once he’d completed his business and left. The compositions were efficient, clever, deceptive. Meyer liked it. Drink helped.

And such service. Meyer ate and drank far more than he ever had simply because food and drink were available everywhere: his room, the beach, by the pool, pit stops along the walking paths. Every time he thought of Aleyna, he ordered something: an aperitif, appetizer, cocktail, wine, entrée, dessert. He smoked a cigar—It’s Cuban, sir, a uniformed man told him as he as if out of nowhere sidled up and lit Meyer’s Romeo y Julieta. These torcedores are the most skilled rollers in the world. Meyer even found comfort in the flash of the match as it met his cigar, the pungent tobacco leaves crackling in harmony with the night air.

All of Meyer’s senses were attended to.

When he decided to go for a swim in the transparent blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, he went naked, just as he’d seen other guests do, both men and women. Walking from the gentle surf to the beach, Meyer’s neck loosened, his fist unclenched, and his sphincter relaxed. He was free: of Aleyna, and noise. Even the buzz of a small airplane overhead sounded to Meyer like the breath of a beautiful woman in his ear.

The electronic dance music started after lunch.

Meyer jumped from his recliner, sending a mimosa and a plate of empanadas to the tiled floor poolside. The blast of bass and drums was so immediate, so thunderous he imagined an airplane had come down on the beach, perhaps disabled by a mischievous teenager playing with fireworks. But then a voice saturated with echo introduced DJjjjjjj Ricky! the afternoon’s musical host. Meyer was mystified at the deafening agenda but assumed it was temporary, designed to announce lunch or provide a soundtrack for an exercise routine. But after an hour of music that he’d begun to believe was one song looped continuously, he could stand no more and swam up to the bar.

When he suggested to the bartender-DJ that the music was a bit loud, the man with sprouting short dreads like brown baby carrots who routinely whooped when customers ordered cocktails with clever names shouted to Meyer, It’s a party, man, you’re on holiday. Relax, have some Sex on the Beach. Whoop! The other tourists at the swim-up bar responded in unison and waved their arms, Whoop Whoop! As he swam away and before he submerged himself in the warm, insulate water, Meyer heard laughter behind him followed by another series of Whoop! Whoop! from DJjjjjjj Ricky! But the electronic dance music soon drowned everything with its pounding rhythms.

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Meyer’s previous evening and morning had been wonderful, he refused to let the music interfere with his vacation. For the first time since arriving at Paradise, he unpacked his Radial 909s. Then three more piña coladas. And he remembered the two blue pills the resort escort had given him his first day when he complained of the jackhammers he swore he heard from his room. Island remedy, she had whispered and placed the pills in his robe pocket. Now Meyer wanted, needed a nap. And he wanted, needed his nap by the pool where he could feel the warm sea, smell the sweet hibiscus, and lick the Caribbean brine from his teeth.

With this resolve behind him like a divine wind his luck began to change. A honeymooning couple left one of the poolside cabanas just as he walked past, spots so coveted that many guests were there at dawn to claim them for the day. The cabanas were located in the shady, quiet area between the beach and the pool with easy access to each and offered a cozy queen size waterproof mattress under the shade of a palm frond roof, a luxurious rice pillow, and enough privacy that others couldn’t see you unless you sat up. Meyer spread his towel across the supple mattress and lay spread eagle, a piña colada in one hand and the Radial 909s in the other. Electronic dance music thumped idiotically on. Meyer leaned up just enough to take a sip from his pineapple drink and slip on the earmuffs, then returned his head to the lavender-scented rice pillow. The electronic wallop ceased. Meyer put on his sunglasses, closed his eyes, and rode a perfect wave of microfiber bliss into his nap.

A child yipped, yelled, such a squeal.

For GOD’S SAKE! Meyer ripped the 909s from his head examining them, the yell surely inside rather than out. Had he picked up actual headphones instead? A mix-up by the pool, in his room? Pirate radio signals? The child’s shrieks rattled in stereo from one ear to the other, like—a wave, left to right, right to left leaving him nauseous from the back and forth. Meyer looked for the perpetrator but saw no one. Was he to be denied yet again? Maybe not. The dance music no longer throbbed, even with the headphones off.

Meyer heard distant laughter, water splash, a rustle above, waves behind. But no music. He’d been on the edge of sleep and plopped to the pillow again. Drowsier, now beyond that to spent. He felt as if he’d done a thousand push-ups, lifted a million barbells, up down up down, walked up fifty floors and down again. His arms so lazy, legs heavier, a wonderful weariness pulled him to the cabana bed. Struggling, he replaced the earmuffs and let himself go to bliss once more. The shrieking wave had flatlined. Meyer’s fingertips tingled, his arms and legs sank into the mattress like leaden anchors into soft sand, his head floated as if inches above the pillow. His nose itched and he felt grand. He reached for his frozen cocktail and put it to his mouth. No. He hadn’t moved, his hand still mired in sand. He sank deeper. Into the brine he dropped, deeper. A gentle current rocked him in long, slow arcs.

Meyer had no idea how long and how far he’d been under but surfaced like a fishing bob. Pop, his eyes opened. His body heaved upwards just as the weight of his arms and legs conspired to keep him down. But such a squeal. A little girl, no higher than his thigh, zoomed by his cabana. Meyer had to look over the edge just to see her curly black hair as it zipped past like a slither of snakes. Could such a tiny vessel hold such a scream? It seemed impossible, this noise like a drill, like a blender in his ear, metal blades spinning, tearing at the delicate membrane that had become his eardrum. But there she was, there she went, as untroubled as only a child could be. No one chased her, she chased no one, but ran with a fat-legged wobble from her family—mom, dad, two young boys in knee-length swim trunks in a flower pattern, one red, one blue—to the edge of the pool, where she leaned over, looked, laughed, and toddle-raced again to her family with the same rapturous squeal. On her next visit to the pool, she leaned a little further and reached a hand out for the water, her mother barking, Arabelis! Something something in Spanish!

The chubby, curly-haired girl howled her way back to her mother, burying her face in her lap. Meyer thought briefly how lucky the toddler was, allowed to bury her face within that warmth, the mother young-motherly in a conservative one-piece and whimsical sun hat, rolling her daughter’s black curls through her fingers as she undid a strap on her too-high-heels-for-the-slippery-slate poolside. He lost himself in the woman’s toffee skin until the child squealed and darted his way again. He thought of Aleyna and ducked, he wasn’t sure why, as if a low-flying sea gull were dive-bombing his head. Gravity or the sudden solidity of his body, he couldn’t tell, pulled him to the bed again. He felt around for his 909s.

Dr. Chattopadhyay had told him his hypersensitivity to sound was in his head. Can’t find a thing wrong with you, Mr. Galitsky. Not unusual to respond physically, and illogically, to emotional stress. Don’t worry, change is inevitable. Let yourself be happy again. Nonsense. It was up to Meyer then to outsmart whatever was causing his super hearing. All in his head, no physical linkage, Chattopadhyay said. With the 909s on he again heard only his purring thoughts. No music, no child, no nothing. Had it been that simple? A submission to reason? Meyer smiled, at least he believed he smiled, he wasn’t sure anymore. No, he’d embrace faith, in himself, in his ability to carry on, alone. So, yes, he smiled. He didn’t have to feel his face to know that he smiled. He felt good and sank a little. He returned to a place he hadn’t known for months. His heart had stopped, so slow that he no longer felt its thump-di-thump. He didn’t breathe. No air in, no air out, a state of symmetry. And not a goddamn sound.

But that of a young girl—squealing. Meyer found the turn cruel. Hadn’t he offered a peace contract to the world? Hadn’t he met the planet face-to-face, a gesture of submission? Hadn’t he said, Okay? And now the world treated him like a sidewalk turd. Meyer would not roll over. He would not open his eyes again. He would not react to the child’s screams, though they bounced from ear to ear, amplified now, it seemed, by the earmuffs. He could hear her footfalls, the swish of her diaper-clad thighs. The rush of air in and out of her mouth as she sprinted and howled. With each sound, the image of the toddler grew clearer. She’d run back to her mother, of course. But now the mother reclined with her magazine. The creak of her chair, the rustle and slap of glossy pages. The slurp of her straw as she sucked on her frozen cocktail. The pop from a top on a plastic bottle. Lathering up her arms, her legs. An elastic snap as she inched two fingers beneath the top of her bikini bottom then pulled away.

Arabelis slapped herself across her mother’s slippery legs. Up, Mommie, up!

Her mother rose from her magazine and gently scissor-kicked at the child. Mommie’s resting now, sweetie. Play with your buckets while Mommie looks at her magazine.

Arabelis popped her thumb into her mouth and stood before her mother—still, and silent. Until she popped the thumb out again, picked up her bucket and a shovel, and carried it with some difficulty—bucket bonking the side of her leg as she walked, to plop down next to Meyer’s cabana. As she scooped sand into her bucket, she hummed a rhythm he didn’t know, sporadically adding words that made no sense: Meassie, uh huh, Meassie, no no, stuck stuck stuck.

Sand poured from her plastic spade as if it were pouring through his ears, in one, out the other, his head an hourglass. Shhhhhhhhh. The shovel’s plastic handle knocked against its partner pail. Her diaper was wet, her skin covered in sand. Meassie, uh huh, want water for hees big toe. She picked up the sand-filled bucket but dropped it, some of the sand spilled. _Uh oh_— Trying again, she hoisted the pail with both hands and carried it like a sumo wrestler entering the ring, occasionally dropping it and spilling more sand that scraped against the skin of his eardrums. She walked away from Meyer now softened into the cabana mattress, his whole body sheathed in ribbed waterproof plastic. Her tiny feet dragged across poolside slate, the bucket banging to the ground as she struggled to lug it. Then nothing but her humming, _Meassie, uh huh. Meassie, no no. Meassie go go, Meassie go slow. Meassie want water for hees big_—

Water sloshed between his ears, a sizable splash and a drawn out bloop. Meyer pressed his eyelids tighter, let himself sink deeper. A gurgle, such a thickening sound, rose at his feet and gurgled over him. The bloop returned from whence it came. Barely a splash followed. But one—just one—did, accompanied by a short, sharp weeping _Ma_—

A lumpy, banana-flavored burp boiled in Meyer’s throat. The merger of sweet rum, fruit, and a chunk of chlorine forced him to swallow, to try and push back whatever attempted to rise. Then he dreamt silence—of his empty Brookline apartment _with no room for a_…, refused to let go, and it was his.

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Christopher Bundy is the author of Baby, You’re a Rich Man (C&R Press, 2013). He teaches writing and literature at Savannah College of Art & Design-Atlanta. Find him at his website: christopherbundy.net

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posted by Jamie Iredell