THE SOUNDS WE MAKE
by Joseph Fullam
“It was something metal that made the sound,” Andrea said tiredly, crouching under her blanket as her father flicked the light switch and illuminated her Barbie-pink bedroom.
“It’s okay, sweetie,” her father said, rubbing his face, not seeming to hear her. “No one’s downstairs.”
Andrea’s muscles relaxed and her anxiousness lifted like a balloon taking flight. She smirked lovingly, noticing his hair was pushed to one side and his eyes were pink with sleep. “It was something metal.”
His brown eyes settled fully on her as he gave an early morning, not-ready-to-laugh smile. “It was the mop, sweetie. It tipped over from the side of the refrigerator.”
“It’s a new one with a metal handle. And I think the sound I heard was a D-flat.”
“A D-flat, you sure?” He pinched his bushy mustache and his eyes lit with fatherly humor.
“The pop of the toaster is a D-flat, and you know I love toast with butter and strawberry jelly. I’d know that note anywhere.”
“Toast with . . .”
“With butter and jelly, please?”
“It’s 2 a.m. Go to sleep, sweetie.” He leaned over and kissed her forehead. Andrea looked possessively upon her dad, who was a real life superhero. He had saved someone’s life in a fire and had a commendation signed by the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, to prove it.
Her father shut the light. Andrea closed her eyes and listened to the barely perceivable waaaahhhh sound that emanated from his midriff. It was a solid D-note. She found it hard to believe that two days before, as he readied to leave for work, she had cowered from him, coldly kissing him goodbye. After he left she had run to her room in tears, mad at herself, and mad at him too, for sounding sharp.
To Andrea, the world was filled with sounds that it seemed no one heard but her. It was plain as day that people as well as animals emitted musical tones—almost always single notes that, if it was relatively quiet, she could hear. Then there were obvious sounds she liked to name. When she clanged her fork on her plate, it was usually an E-note, while the rinse cycle of the washing machine was an unwavering B-flat, and most car horns honked in the key of F. She had learned the corresponding notes and scales over the last few weeks during music appreciation hour in her 2nd grade class.
She closed her eyes and pulled the covers up to her nose. It didn’t take much for her to conjure up the concert by the New York Philharmonic that they had gone to the past summer. It was at the expansive Miller Field that for nearly 200 acres was nothing but open grass. She remembered the beautiful twilight skies with dark pink, purple and orange colors. The men and women of the 102-piece orchestra were up on stage with their backs to the Atlantic Ocean, while a large zigzagged shaped lighting boom lit them up in colors worthy of joining the twilight.
Andrea opened her eyes for a moment and caught the low light of her Barbie nightlight. She yawned and drifted off to sleep as Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman Overture began; the strings sounded a little scary before the horn players blew like they were warning someone. Then came the rest of the orchestra playing the stormy-sounding piece. Andrea opened her eyes for a moment and remembered how the melody had seemed to hang in the vast darkness of Miller Field. In bed it filled her mind as vividly as her dreams of the legendary Ambrose’s Ice Cream and Chocolate factory on the North Shore of Staten Island that her dad said smelled ten times more scrumptious than Cinnabon in the mall.
Andrea’s infatuation with the sounds of things had yet to catch her mother’s full attention. It was Andrea’s little world and she had always talked about music anyway. Last week she only smiled when Andrea told her, “You’re a C-note, Mommy.” She gave the same smile when Andrea said her Harry Potter doll had “sprained his ankle.” Though her mother did wear a puzzled look, if only for a moment, when Andrea had said one of her Barbie dolls was lying in her bed, resting, because “she has vaginal infection.”
When Andrea learned about musical notes and scales in school a few weeks back, she immediately started assigning notes to the sounds she heard. Her 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Howard, who also taught voice and piano, had said Andrea had perfect pitch. Andrea thanked her, but didn’t say how boring Mrs. Howard’s voice was. “Open your LeapPad Readers’ Guide now, chill-dren,” Mrs. Howard said every Monday and Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. in a cacophony of A- and B-flats. One might think a person’s breathing was toneless, but Andrea would beg to differ. In the case of Mrs. Howard, she sucked in air with a whiny B-sharp.
Though Andrea’s mother didn’t notice her new interest, her father was keenly aware. Maybe because he did a lot of overtime and tended to focus in on Andrea’s little world just before he left for work—as if there was a chance they’d part forever and he had to remember every little thing. But he was really smart and he noticed everything anyway. But maybe, Andrea started to suspect, her father was aware that she was onto something about him?
It was last week that she thought something was not right with her father. He had just come home from work and from what Andrea could glean, it seemed that he and his partner Jeff, who also lived on Staten Island, had had a tough day in a bad part of Brooklyn. Yet Andrea’s mother was talking about the broken sidewalk in front of the house, telling her father that someone might trip on it. Her father was sitting at the kitchen table and cracked open a beer (which made an F-sharp) as Andrea came in.
She was simply shocked and confused to hear a waaaaaaahhh emanating from her father. It was a D-sharp.
“How’s my sweetie?” her father asked, bending slightly and opening his arms for a hug. Andrea gave only a small smile and whispered to her mother that she wanted a Strawberry Fruit Rollup and left the kitchen.
“No hug and kiss for Dad?” he said, sounding truly hurt, even if he wasn’t.
But Andrea stiffened her back and walked into the living room with her best Barbie posture. At that moment she could have cried, but her twelve Barbie dolls were having a beach party and she didn’t want to miss a thing. Besides, she wasn’t certain D-sharp was a bad thing yet.
“Andrea!” her mother cried. “Give your father a kiss hello.”
“Let her go, honey.” His voice fell, sounding mischievous. “I’ll steal a kiss when she least expects it.” And so he did. It was a few hours later when they were getting into the car to go and pick up Chinese food. Andrea had Barbie in one hand and Harry Potter in the other, thinking what a beautiful couple they made—especially when Harry grew up—when her dad looped his arms over her and kissed her in the pocket her neck made with her shoulder, his mustache tickling her. But he was pure “D-note” and she was happy to have her dad back.
It was the day after the “mop incident” that Andrea explained to her fatherhow important the sounds of people and animals were. They were in the car going to buy groceries at the brand new Stop & Shop by the Staten Island Mall. Andrea was buckled into a car seat in the back holding the usual suspects, Barbie and Harry Potter. She looked up and spoke. “Dad, when we get a dog, I have to pick him out myself. And it has to be quiet.”
“You do,” he said, his brown eyes sparkling in the rearview mirror. “Quiet too, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s because dogs have sounds too,” Andrea said, pulling back Summer Barbie’s long blonde hair. “I would pick out a nice sounding one.”
“Not a poodle?”
“If it sounded nice.”
“What sounds nice?”
“Well, Caitlin’s dog is a Yorkie and it’s nice. He’s a C-note and he never goes on the carpet.”
“What about Mr. Delarosa’s dog? By Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The one that—”
“That growls when anyone goes near the gate and eats his own poop!” Andrea cried, wide-eyed and kicked her heels on the seat. “He’s an F-flat. Ha, ha, ha!”
“You crack me up.”
“Oh and that mean pit bull on Bloomingdale Road.”
“When were you on Bloomingdale Road?” her father asked suspiciously. It was two whole blocks from their house and not a place Andrea should go without an adult.
“With Mommy and Tara, yesterday. We were walking.”
“And what about that dog?”
“When he’s not barking, he makes a D-sharp. And D-sharp is bad, I think.”
“How do you know?”
“You know I told you about Thomas Brown and Kiefer Kilpatrick.”
“The two meanest kids at school.”
“They are both D-sharps. And nobody else is, except for the janitor who you said to stay away from. It’s just something I’m thinking about, but D-sharp is almost never something I like. I don’t know yet.”
“You’re so silly.”
“Mommy’s a C-note. Really loud too. But Grandma and Grandpa make funny noises. I can’t tell what notes they are, though when Grandpa was over on Saturday he sounded like an oompah band. There were so many funny noises coming from him. But I think he just had gas when I was listening.”
“Oh Andrea!” Her father laughed.
“No, Dad. He was mad at Grandma too, because he said she had a whole pharmacy in her pocketbook, but no Beano tablets.”
They both laughed.
“And what about me?” her father asked. “What note am I?”
Andrea grew silent, gulped and gazed out the window at the barren hills of the old Staten Island Landfill. She tightened her eyes like she suddenly saw something interesting. “You’re a solid D-note, Daddy.”
But he wasn’t a solid D-note and it hurt in Andrea’s stomach when she told him that. He was a superhero. Her superhero. It was not right to lie to him.
And even though over the next few days her father didn’t sound like a D-sharp, somehow things only got worse. Because it seemed every book Andrea picked up and every TV show she watched they were telling her how it was so important to tell the truth. It all made her feel horrible.
Then that Monday the police had been outside her school all day, and that afternoon on the front page of the Staten Island Advance was a mug shot of her school’s janitor. Though the headline didn’t read, “He’s a D-sharp,” it could have, because he did something really bad. It was with an FBI agent who had pretended on the Internet that she was twelve years old.
Now, Andrea was 99 percent sure when people and animals sounded D-sharp, it wasn’t good. And all the thoughts and all the reasons why her dad might sound D-sharp made her stomach hurt. Especially because she couldn’t figure out why. By Wednesday of that week she stayed home from school because of it.
Her father had worked real late Tuesday night, and as soon as he woke, he had to go to work again. When he came downstairs he had dark rings around his eyes and he moved real slow. And he seemed angry about something. Andrea’s mother was quiet too. It all got really crazy when he came into the kitchen. It didn’t help that Andrea and her mother were having tuna fish for lunch, which he hated.
But the moment he came into the kitchen, there was no denying it, her father gave off a waaaaaaahhh. It was clearly a D-sharp. Seated at the kitchen table, Andrea went limp. Her shoulders hung and she stared at the tuna sandwich like it had just moved by itself.
Her father was standing next to her, frowning and chewing gum real fast as he paged through the mail. He really seemed upset about something. But he managed to tenderly drop his hand and pet Andrea’s hair.
She gulped and knew she had to tell him.
His eyes tightened. “What’s wrong? You still have a bellyache, sweetie?” he asked and glanced at the tuna sandwich surely thinking that couldn’t help.
Andrea tried to shake her head “no,” but just sort of shook in general.
“Daaad,” Andrea said, takinga few quick breaths. “Daaaaaaad.”
“What is it?”
She tried to look up at him but her eyes just wouldn’t do it. “You don’t sound right.”
“What is it, Andrea?” he asked, his voice rising. “I don’t sound right?”
At last she glanced up and saw on his face the barest signs of a smile. “Ummmmmmmm.”
“Am I not a D-note anymore?”
Andrea’s mother had a quizzical look. It was one that she gave sometimes that made it seem like she wanted to be in on their fun.
But her mother’s look didn’t stop the tears from welling up in Andrea’s eyes. She wiped her face and sniveled, “You’re sharp, Daddy.”
But to Andrea’s surprise her father’s face brightened and he gave a huge, you-make-me-happy smile. He reached in his jacket and unholstered his gun and set it on the kitchen counter and stepped away from it.
“What am I now?”
Andrea broke into an ear-to-ear grin and said, “A solid D-note!”
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DARK CHILD (Short Story)
THE VIRGIN KING (Three Chapters of Novel)