Static on a Quiet Night
by Joel Caris
Shuffling across the living room in exhausted, threadbare night clothes, Aliyah dropped heavy into the torn but overstuffed recliner, sighing as her body settled. Just enough moonlight crept in from the room’s large, south-facing windows to outline her corner: the chair she sat in, the small table next to her and the radio upon it, tied into the house’s solitary power source—a small wind generator bolted on the roof, whispering a rhythmic whump-whump-whump above her in the steady wind sweeping across the plains to which she and her house belonged. After a few moments of customary quiet and the stray, fleeting thoughts it so often brought, she switched on the radio. A soft and steady static filled the room.
As she fiddled with the tuning dial, the static gave way to a man’s voice, soft and steady itself, so familiar to her. She eased back at his company and closed her eyes, conjuring her usual image of his face despite the fact she had never laid eyes on him. Brown hair, a wide nose, and a softness to his features belying the death and loss that unwound behind him, stretching four years into the past. She had been with him all four of those years, suffering her own losses, listening to his stories and aching when his voice cracked. She cried when he lost his boy. She cried when he reminisced of his wife. She cried when he spoke of the beauty of the world, and nodded when he spoke of its needs.
“It’s the wind tonight,” he said, his words cracked in the ragged reception. “The way it moves over the land, across the rocky outcroppings and through the trees, stirring the dust and always whispering to me.” The radio hissed quiet a moment, broken only by a stray breath. She imagined him with closed eyes, listening for the whispers. He always spoke halting but rhythmic, never scared to let a silence spread out around him. So many years ago, in her early childhood, she remembered the frantic nature of the radio—of all media—and the way silence never could be allowed. You lost people in silence. They couldn’t bear the thoughts that came with it. But now it was everywhere, and so often the thoughts were all that kept the loneliness at bay.
“That’s what speaks to me,” he said. “Tonight it’s the wind.”
After a moment she thought, But it’s never silent. Birds, insects, the scrabble of rodents. Coyotes screaming and yipping across the night, always eager to make claim. The livestock on the land. The wind and, occasionally, even rain. Even the snow. The snow was silent, but not really. Snow always brought the loudest silence, deafening across the landscape. The motors, though—God, she could remember all the motors. She rarely heard them now. In the cities still, of course, but not so much out here in the country. It had been a long time since anyone came to visit her by car. Not many came other than Franklin, and he always came by horse or foot, clomping one way or another—those big damn shitkicker boots of his so loud on her wooden porch. “Christ, Franklin, I could hear you coming from Idaho those boots are so goddamn loud,” she would tell him, leaning in the doorway. He always replied, a touch indignant, that they had never touched such awful land. She didn’t understand what he had against Idaho; her time there thirty years prior had been pleasant enough, made best by her meeting Crag. That hadn’t lasted long, but god what a time she had with him.
“Tonight I need to tell a story,” the radio said, bringing her back. “I have thought and thought and thought. And I have listened. I have listened to so many of this land’s words, and it’s time to pass its story on.” A cough, and then a sigh, the static crackling through them both. She could almost place its rhythm with the wind, the steady whump of the wind turbine above her, but probably she only imagined it. “It’s a story of deprivation and hunger. It’s a story of human failing and blindness. It’s a story of the amends we must make.” His face, the softness, brown hair and brown skin and now a rigidity—she could see it—hardening across his features as he brought forth his lesson. “It’s a story about how hungry this land is and why it continues to take our children, our husbands and wives, our brothers and sisters.” She nodded. Oh yes, she knew this story, though she wanted to hear how he would tell it.
“It’s a story,” he said, “of—”