The planes at the airport would fly over, land, and take off every day, and the sky would be full of noise. Next door to the high barbed fences surrounding the tarmac, there was a small house where a man and his dog lived. The house where the man and the dog lived would shake and shiver with the sound of planes attempting to break the sound barrier all day and all night. Despite the thunderous exclamations of flight that rattled windowpanes and made the very floorboard vibrate like a bass drum, the man, and the dog, barely noticed.
They were so surrounded in this cloud of constant noise that they both went about their business every day without really hearing the difference between silence and thrumming engines. Neither their daily routines, nor their nightly sleep was affected in the least.
Both slept well under a curtain of stars and diesel, and every day they ate small meals in each other’s company.
The man ate the small meals because he bought small bags of groceries, which was all that he could carry on his bike from the grocery store to the house. The dog ate small meals because that is what the man fed the dog. The dog looked up at the man sometimes while the man dug a very small handful of dry food out of a paper bag to put in the dog’s little bowl, watching him, wondering if today was the day that more food would be in the bowl. Sometimes. But the dog was mostly used to eating a small amount, and never whined or drooled for more.
The planes flew over all night, between the man and the dog and the edge of space. Both of the dwellers of the house slept well on their half-full stomachs and dreamt half-full dreams, and woke refreshed each day.
One day the airport shut down. All the flights were stopped. The sky was still, free of other people’s itineraries and combustion engines. And the sounds of wind, and birds, and rain, and quietude were free to return.
The change was sudden. The man noticed as soon as he came home from work. That night, no amount of rolling around the bed or flipping his pillow could allow him to get to sleep. The dog walked from room to darkened room, wondering at what was no longer there. In the daylight, when the man spoke to the dog in the newly quiet house, the words hitting the air startled them. The man took to whispering so as to not disturb them both.
The dog didn’t care for the clipping noise that his nails made against the floor and decided to live on the couch or bathroom rug. Until dinner time that is, when he forgot as soon as the kibble rang like a bell in his little bowl.
The man took to grinding his teeth in his sleep, and the dog started scratching at fleas that were not there.
“No, it’s not a strange request at all!” said the realtor.
The next house that the man and the dog quickly moved to was on a busy street. The house was filled with other people’s sounds: car doors, backfiring engines, clanging pots and pans at a nearby restaurant kitchen, children before they had learned about the power of decibels in their own lungs.
The man failed to convince himself that the bass from a nearby movie theater was actually a plane breaking the sound barrier over and over again. The aggression and suddenness in the noises was so demanding of the man’s attention that sometimes he forgot to feed the dog for an hour or two, which caused the dog to begin to whine and drool.
The dog was tired from racing from wall to wall, to the window, to the front door, to the back, in order to find the source of all the noises. When he slept, he dreamt of chasing nothing for miles and miles, through the sky. The man did not dream at all, because he was not sleeping. Neither the man nor the dog woke refreshed.
“I’m sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you. Would you mind turning down the music on your end? … Oh, oh I’m sorry, I thought it was yours.” Said the realtor.
“It will be a change of pace to be sure.” Said the realtor about the next house. The house was out in the country, where the stars were only slightly visible under a canopy of spindly pine trees.
The ancient house created its own noises, anything from the scuttle of mouse feet in the attic, to groans of centuries-old boards. Most sounds went unexplained for generations.
The man and the dog took walks together in the forest around the house. Branches snapped out of sight. Leaves crunched underfoot. Huge crows sat in the trees above them and laughed harsh and grating. The man and the dog paused, shivered, and turned back on the path to the house, less interested in the beauty of nature than suddenly remembering that if something sinister happened to them, there was no one for miles to find out.
The dog sneezed over and over at the dust and the pine needles. The man listened to the lonely old house sway and whine and held the allergic dog close to him. The man’s heart beat as fast as when it was quiet as when he heard something.
The dog coughed too hard to sleep, and the man lay awake thinking about every book or movie he’d ever read or seen about haunted houses, from Nancy Drew to Scooby Doo. Bodies in the walls and whatnot. Haunted forests surrounding you on all sides. Families gone to ruin for generations, wandering shadowed hallways. Cobwebs. Ghosts. Scooby Snacks. Then—
Small footsteps. Clawing at the window. A hiss.
“Yes, possums are very common there.” The realtor explained, trying so hard not to laugh that tears rolled down her cheeks like rainwater off a roof. “I’ll get you someone to fix the window.”
Temporarily the man and the dog moved to another forest, into a house that had once been used for early settlers and pioneers, then forest rangers.
“Rustic!” read the listing that the realtor had hesitantly sent the man. The man and the dog looked at each other. Mostly the man looked at the dog, because the dog’s eyes were too red and watery from allergies too see much.
The man rode his bike to check out the house with the dog trotting happily beside him on a leash, his snout finally clearing a bit. The bike left wet lines on the grass when they rode around the many hikers and tourists that they shared the path with.
As the two got closer to the house, a low hissing sound could be heard. It grew louder as they neared, into a quiet rumble. It was like holding your ear to someone’s stomach, and feeling as much as hearing the unseen churning inside.
The little house was close enough to the famous waterfalls that mist had created droplets of water on the windows. They ran down the glass as though it was constantly raining on one side of the house. Once inside the humid little home, the roar of the falls was still audible, but contained.
That first night, whenever the man spoke to the dog in soothing tones between doses of allergy meds, neither felt that the sound of his voice was intrusive. The voice was softened, the edges rounded off.
One fresh and bright day, the man and the dog went out onto the trail to the falls. The muddy track climbed slowly over rough switchbacks along the cliffs to make the steep slope easier to navigate.
The man stopped in a clearing to watch a hawk glide downwards from the top of the falls slowly, close enough the see it turn its head back and forth. The breeze picked up, blowing in a mist like a veil separating the man and the dog from the rest of the world.
The dog sat in the cool mud, smelling water, and rocks, and the fish that fought the current, and the sandwiches in the backpacks of nearby hikers.
Enveloped in mist and sunlight, the man and the dog became wavelengths of sound themselves, allowing the wet air to permeate their beings. They too were the continuous noise of a burly river that had been falling off the world for as long as there had been rocks and water and had always filled the atmosphere with its laughter.
The man did not at first notice the dog stand up and walk off sharply, pulling the leash out of his hand. Above the gush of falls, he could then just hear the sound of barking.
Instantly pulled out of his reverie, he turned and called for the dog. The dog kept running and barking ahead on the path that lead down to the river near the bottom of the falls. He followed alarmed, sliding in the mud through switchbacks, running back through the forest.
He met the bank of the river at a break in the trees. He found the dog, front feet in the cold water, barking as hard as a dog could at something across the river. The man lunged and grabbed the leash, trying to pull the dog out on the bank, but the dog would not budge. Finally, the man looked up at what the dog was now howling at, and nearly dropped the leash again.
Across the river, another man was climbing up the low cliff face. Long sinewy limbs reached and stretched to find narrow holds against slippery rock.
He reached, he reached, and he slipped. And fell.
The man and the dog ran and dove into the powerful current, kicking against boulders. They tumbled in the waves and came up with nostrils burning, sinuses full of icy water.
The man found and grabbed at the climber, barely holding onto a half-submerged tree, struggling to pull himself above the tumultuous surface. The dog was tumbling past them and the man just barely managed to reach out and grab the dog by a grabbing his back leg and pulling him onto the tree. The man had the climber hold onto his back and held the dog under one arm as he swam the three of them downstream and back to the shore.
The man and the dog coughed and vomited up fishy water on the gravel bank. The climber simply rolled onto his side and passed out.
Later that day at the hospital, the man and the dog sat in the climber’s room where it was never silent but never loud either. Machines, and nurses’ shoes on the tile, and the distant arguments of families, and the groans of the sick.
No one questioned the man about the dog. He did have to answer questions about the climber, which he was surprised to realize he knew nothing about.
That surprise was a bit of a surprise in itself. Why should he feel like he knew this man? It’s just some guy doing a stupid stunt on a cliff, of course he didn’t know anything about him. There was no reason to still feel protective after saving him, no reason to stay in the room waiting for him to awake. He never thought about leaving the room however.
When the climber awoke, the dog leapt on the bed, rubbing mud all into the sheets and his wet snout all over the climber’s beard. The man finally got a chance to ask the climber about being surprised, about being surprised at being surprised, and finally asking him his name. The climber smiled weakly, before answering. His chest hurt from the ice water and the CPR, but he wanted to talk anyway.
The climber drove them all back to the little house in the forest, stopping first at the grocery store in his car to buy food to cook for dinner, as a thank you for saving his life.
After dinner, the climber poured the dog’s food himself, a huge bowl full of goopy wet meat chunks from a can. The dog ate the food hard that his teeth hit the bottom of the bowl. Both the man and the dog’s stomachs were full for the first time in a very long time.
The climber poured a very large glass of wine for both himself and the man. The gentle cling of the glasses together sounded as right, just as their laughter with the backdrop of the roaring falls did as well.
That night, the dog climbed onto the bed to sleep in the valley of blankets between the man and the climber. There was no room there at first, both men fitting so snugly together in sleep, but the dog was determined and wedged himself in until there was a dog-shaped space for him too. He rested his snout first on the climber’s scratchy beard, then on the man’s chest. The only things that could be heard above the sound of the falls was their quiet breaths, and the warm sound of heartbeats.
Dakota Drake is a woodland creature living in the desert. She does AcroYoga all the time, reads often, and sometimes makes art. Eventually she will buy a wasteland and devote her life to making it into a lush rainforest, one tree at a time.
Photo: Martin Adams