Aren't We All

We never stopped talking. Perhaps it was because we were afraid of what would happen if there was ever a moment of silence between us. Perhaps we just didn’t want to listen to the persistent clinking constantly undercutting our conversations.
It was always there. Circuitous. Repetitive. Unavoidable.
We spent the better part of the summer of ’09 digging through the attic, ’10 through the basement, ’11 through the bedrooms, and ’12 in the kitchen and bathrooms.
The only thing we found was an old pocketwatch, that was no longer running and stuck at 11:10, a stack of old newspapers dated September 12th, 1951 with an article about an exploding rocket, and a stuffed wenge llama with the initials JEH stitched into a tag on the collar. I made the joke that we’d found Jimmy Hoffa’s grave, but his middle name was Riddle, which led to another joke about Voldemort, but I was the only one in the family who’d read the Harry Potter series, so I was the only one who laughed.
After our search revealed nothing but a few knickknacks, it became background noise. Isn’t that the way it always works? If you can’t beat it, invite it to join you.
At first, dad dove into his work. He said it was because we desperately needed the money, but we all knew that it was because when he was home, he subconsciously tapped his toe to the pinging, trying to find the rhythm within it. It was syncopated and stumpy one moment, eloquent and didactic the next.
Mom played piano until the tapping threw her off the keys for good. So, she blew the dust off her old typewriter and wrote a book. She said it reminded her of the “Tell-tale Heart”, only she wasn’t going crazy, not her. Not at all.
I learned Morse code, binary, and even Gallifreyan. None of those helped, but it did make for interesting conversation starters, and I did feel like I was getting closer to figuring out what the sound was. There were clips of words hidden in the plinks and plunks. Words like “cleaning” and “weeping.” Words without context.
“I’m going to check the basement again,” I shouted. “Then, I’m going to head up to the attic.”
“Already done that!” Yelled my mom, the clicking and clacking of her typewriter steady and diligent. “Please be careful,” she added. I walked past her on my way out to kiss her cheek. On the pages drifting from her typewriter, I noticed letters stacked on letters. She had given up writing words, and now she strung together letters as a chain.
The basement was outfitted for an apartment, but it was silent apart from the sound. The sound.
Where was its origin?
The cement walls dulled it considerably, and I reached subconsciously for the watch in my pocket. It ticked once.
Then again.
11:10:02, and it kept ticking for nine more seconds.
I couldn’t tell if the watch ticked with the sound or if the sound synchronized with the watch, but they found each other in the basement.
It was the only sound I could hear.
My dad’s toe-tapping, my mother’s click-clacking, none of it was there. None of their voices. My breathing blended so fluidly with the ping that I almost didn’t notice the llama.
Floating in front of me, the llama with its strange name tag, beckoned me to follow it.
I trailed behind it as it bobbled out of the basement, onto the patio, and back into the house. It led me past my mother, frozen over the typewriter, around my father, frozen in his chair as if posing for a picture, up the stairs, and into my room.
It led me to the closet, to the hole I had yet to patch up, but instead of an odd newspaper clipping, I saw a glowing pinpoint light.
I reached for it, as would any curious being, and the back of my head opened up in a flash of pain, so I yanked my hand back to rub the spot.
“You must be more careful,” said the llama.
I, for one, am not accustomed to speaking floating llamas.
I reached out again, more tentatively. The pain was still there, but the slowness of my hand dulled it. I worked my fingers around it, and discovered it was a small hole. So, I pulled, gently, attempting to widen it.
Hours seemed to have passed, and the hole was larger than my fist.
Then my thigh.
Across the golden shimmer, I could barely make out shapes. The back of my head was throbbing, but I couldn’t sit there any longer.
I pushed my face through.
And, the ticking stopped.
“He’s waking up!” shouted one of them.
“More anesthesia!” shouted another.
“We’re so close!” cried a third.
The ticking, slowly, slowly, slowly, rewound. Quiet at first. Gentle at first. Lulling me to sleep, to comfort, to a sense of recognition.
I wanted the ticking back.
I wanted to keep the conversation going.
I wanted to be back with my pocket in my watch.
“Sh, sh,” whispered the one closest to me. In the reflection of his glasses, I could see a face and nothing else. Behind these eyes, there was a blue sheet and another person furiously working on something. “You’re dead,” he said. “But… aren’t we all?”
My closet really was a mess, I thought, and I picked up my llama, chuckled at my Harry Potter joke, and waltzed downstairs for lunch.
Mom at her typewriter, and dad at his guitar, I made myself a peanut butter sandwich. I had a slight headache, but it was small fish compared to the beauty of the day.
-JR Simmang


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