Next Story:....................................................................................................................................... Back to Stories Index

As one half of the semi-legendary playwriting team Broken Gopher Ink, MICHAEL K. WHITE spent his youth tricking and fooling producers into investing their dirty money in his lurching, lumbering plays. Incredibly this led to forty play productions, including fifteen off-Broadway runs that cloaked the author with a bogus literary credibility he misuses to this day. His low cholesterol mega monologue play, "My Heart And the Real World" ran for almost two years in New York City, enabling the authors to eat at John's Pizzeria.A shy, humble man who lives with the cows in Colorado, White, a frequently published, deeply scarred veteran of the furious litmag scene of the 80s, is now content to live in solitude with his debts and addictions. Recently he was unpleasantly surprised to find a family of snakes living in the crack between the porch and wall of his house.

* * *

The new building scared Dorothy. It was so big compared to her last little store. Now the Nearly New Shoppe, a ratty consignment store, resided in the august Bunch building on Sixth Avenue, and Dorothy was still not used to the slithery noises she heard from the upstairs apartments.

“I hear all kinds of sounds,” Dorothy said to a slatternly young woman who she knew lived upstairs. “What’s your name honey?”

“Violet,” said the young woman whose hair needed washing, Dorothy observed. “Do you have any ashtrays? Cut glass ashtrays?”

“Sure, sure,” Dorothy replied, not sure at all about if she had any ashtrays for sale in her storefront garage sale or not. She just wanted to talk to someone about the noises and echoes she heard all day every day from the apartments above. It was about to drive her crazy.

“Shh! Hear that?” She demanded. “No, that’s not the bad one. That’s just someone walking…”

The young woman inspected a particularly ornate green glass candy dish. The woman didn’t realize Dorothy was addressing her so she did not respond. Dorothy felt the sting of her rebuke.

“That’s a candy dish, not an ash tray.” She said flatly.

“How much?” The young woman asked, looking Dorothy in the eye. It unnerved Dorothy and she wondered if this young woman lived upstairs and had been offended by her gossip.

“Two dollars,” Dorothy said, suddenly jumping back into the moment, biting her lip as she watched the girl decide whether or not to buy.

When things got slack at the store she would find herself listening to the ceiling, waiting for the next strange sound, the sound of strangers living their lives. It thrilled her in a way, for she could sometimes see their comings and goings, so she had faces to speculate about. Oh it was grand. It was like having a soap opera.

After about a week in the new building, Dorothy realized that she was hearing the same sound at the same time every day. It sounded to her as if someone were cutting wood up there; a high shrill sound that annoyed and almost scared her.

“Whatever could they be doing up there?”

Every day she began to listen for the sound. It was regular, and the regularity of it is what frightened her the most. Her pleasant reveries about the interesting lives of the tenants above her turned dark and foreboding. Her mind turned to the sinister and assigned meanings to the sounds that leaked into her sleep. She found herself looking over her shoulder when she closed up in the evening.

There was no reason for her to be so nervous. It was just a sound. A “rrrrging” grating sound that happened everyday and lasted an average of three to five minutes each time. RRRRrrrrrrrrrRRrrrrRr she began to hear the sound even when she wasn’t at the store.

Whatever could they be doing up there?

Her curiosity began to eat away at her. One day she closed the store and ventured into the apartment side of the Bunch Building. Timidly, she walked up the large staircase that led to the twenty apartments. The walls had just been painted a mint green, which was the fashion of the day. Dorothy could still smell the paint.

She sought her bearings and oriented herself. She deduced that her store lay beneath the apartment to the left and down the hall about halfway. It was Apartment Number 9. She did not have the courage to approach Apartment Number 9. There was no name on the mailbox. What if a maniac lived there? No, it was better to be vigilant and allow the theory to fit the facts and not the other way around.

Then one day, the sound did not come.

Nor did it come the next day. Or the one after that. For two full weeks the sound did not come. Dorothy was beside herself. She ventured up the stairs again and stood in front of Apartment Number 9, thinking she would hear something, but all was silent within. Except…except she thought she could hear a fluttering; and scrambling that may or may not have been her imagination. By now she couldn’t tell.

She was selling human hair mourning rings (although she didn’t know that’s what they were) to a nodding Filipino gentleman when the sound began again. Right on time, and for the proper duration. Dorothy was so relieved she forgot to thank her winking customer, and she thought a moment about what she should do. A little part of her was appalled that she had become so dependent on a sound, a sound she did not know; a sound she fantasized constantly about.

Was it some kind of saw? If so, what was this person sawing? Wood? Other people? Cheese? Was it some kind of machinery? If so what was its purpose? Is there something illegal going on? Dope fiends? Counterfeiters? White slavers? Maybe the sound was a machine that made metal nametags for women who had been kidnapped and are now going to be sold to Cubans. That was Dorothy’s favorite theory.

The next morning Dorothy parked in front of the Bunch Building, near the entrance to the apartments. She noticed that the heavy security door was propped open. From above, she could hear the sound. She could hear it coming from Apartment Number 9. She was seized by destiny.

She was composing in her mind what she would say, so she just decided to blurt it out, the whole darn thing apples and all. She realized that if she just blurted out her requests, people would usually be so taken aback that they would unhesitatingly answer her nosy inquiries just to avoid further intrusions into their psyches. She knew that this was sign of old age and it bothered her. It bothered her the way catching glimpses of herself in mirrors bothered her. She decided that if she had to be an old lady then she would just find things out when she wanted to know something. She would satisfy all her

curiosities. She had to know.

She was at Apartment Number 9, with its glass doorknob. She knocked.

Then it came. The sound. It was louder and more defined, definitely some kind of motor. Her chest was pounding and the blood rushed to her face. She knocked. She imaged the door would open on its own, an empty blue apartment greeting her from within.

There was a crash of broken glass and Dorothy jumped.

She knocked.

Listening for footsteps coming to answer.

Violet was vacuuming and thought she heard someone knock on the door. She swung her vacuum around and knocked her new green glass candy dish onto the floor, breaking it in two. She thought she heard another knock, but when she turned off her noisy Kirby and opened her front door no one was there.


Next Story: ........................................................................................................................................... ......... Top

Web Graphics and design by Smita Maitra * Background graphic by Kabir Kashyap* concept by Amrita Ghosh * Please read the disclaimer

This web journal is sponsored by The Caspersen School of graduate studies, Drew University