Fireworks coming like clockwork, small flames of red noise the minute he lay his head down on the pillow. Earplugs were no good. The noise was inside him, incurable. Every day he lost a little more of his silence.
And the motel was lousy: stained sheets, no AC. A tiny second-story window, parking lots as far as the eye could see. He could have kicked a hole in the walls, they were so thin, and many nights he did. Some guy or girl always moaning in the next room. One time he knocked at two a.m., and they just kept at it. And he pounded their door till his fists bled, woke up the whole floor. Knocked down their door in a white rage, and the moaning was explosive, but there was no one there.
Dawn came again. He shut his eyes, like it did him any good. He could hear the light, it was so loud. Untangled his legs from the sweat-soaked sheets and clambered out of bed. Sat at his desk, took another bottle of jet fuel drink from the drawer. The stuff ran through his veins. Tasted like cancer, but caffeine was caffeine, and plus it was cheap.
The phone began to ring. It sat in his closet, wrapped in an old pillowcase, plugged into nothing. From nine to five it rang a thousand times or more, he always counted. The numbers became one more noise in his head, bullets biting him as he worked.
Hours and hours. Light pouring into the room, pounding at his temples. His head swelled, sound and sweat in every crevice. Teeth hurt from being clenched.
He looked down, and those pages weren’t empty anymore. He had a silver fountain pen in his hand, one he didn’t recognize. Wasn’t sure if the writing was his, either. The words came and went as they pleased.
The phone rang for the one-thousandth-three-hundredth-and-forty-third time.
He ate a Snickers bar, his third of the day. Long shadows now where the light seeped through his curtains. He hated the sun the most when it was dying. Soon, the night, and the noise again. Already, he could hear the drumbeats mounting.
Bombs tonight. He wrapped his head in his pillow, saw white stars and green streaks, shuddered with each detonation. A deafening grand finale to mark the end of his headspace. He wept as he combusted. Undone, he craved the grave.
Night turning gray, then blue. He rose before the light grew loud, went to his desk, read through his draft, sweat on his palms as he turned the pages of his journal. It was good, too good to have come from his own hand. Like a switch had flipped in his head, and for a few moments even the noise was bearable, even his headache showed him mercy.
He held the journal to his chest. No tweaks. He could go out and type up the pages, fax them to his editor before lunchtime. He could leave right this minute. He combed his hair, put on his best shirt. Smiled in the mirror.
And downstairs, he saw the receptionist, gave her a nod, like someone from a past life. Strange to be seeing people again. He cracked another smile.
Seemed like years since he’d last gone outside. The air was new now, had that warm chill from the mountains. Sunlight hitting his skin, and he could feel its glow like a blind man given eyes, like a memory come home.
And in his head: nothing. No noise but his own breathing. He inhaled the silence, was never more grateful for his lungs. Was this what life could be?
He opened his journal, but in his bones, he already knew those pages were completely blank.
Jason R. Chun is a Chinese-American writer from the San Francisco Bay Area, currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at The New School. His poems have been published in Ohm Journal. He is a lover of science fiction, grunge rock, and warm cafes.