MAIREAD CASE

Nine sounds fifty words, after Frith

We had a small bed so there was room for the keyboard. While I wrote he wore
headphones so I just heard clicks. After writing I’d bring a book to bed and he’d
take the headphones off. One song on loop. Sometimes I was sleepy so don’t
remember anything else.

There is a pale yellow noise around the middle desk at the Ginsberg library. The
first time I heard it I ducked, but then I moved and couldn’t hear it anymore. Still
that desk had the nicest plant so I kept forgetting, tried to sit, got shocked like a
dog.

When I was thirteen Mom and I rode a hotel elevator. It was red and dusty gold,
and music played inside. I didn’t recognize the song, but I saw the shape—like
someone shining down a light from a ship. Mom said she played for me when
she was pregnant.

It was summertime and Mastodon started, and something shifted inside my ear.
A waterwheel, full then flipped. I got scared I’d finally fucked up my hearing like
my sister said I would, so I started snapping my fingers in front of my ear. I went
outside. Outside it was fine.

I grew up with three clocks: a grandfather my parents bought for their tenth
anniversary, a happy squat one from their wedding, and the last, wood and pearl,
that hung in my great-grandparents’ house. Dad wound them all at once every
Sunday. Three twists of the wrist. Chimes all synced.

When I’m going to faint, my hearing changes first. It’s like my ears are cupped or
I’m in a tunnel, or a seashell. The spiraling makes me sweat and it halos my
vision. My hearing is first to come back too. Voices spin down, cradle me and
bring me up.

I don’t remember this but Mom says when I was little, a baby, I talked to the dogs
next door. I woke up early and instead of crying I barked back. She laughs when
she remembers, says sweetie, imagine your father and I drinking coffee while
you’re woofing happily upstairs.

My dentist had a son in my class. His was gay but his dad didn’t know, and he
kept trying to set us up. They had the same voice. The drill sounded like a hole
about to fill with thick liquid. I always said yes. Your son is so kind.
In college I was straightedge and I worked at the radio. I loved coming in early
mornings, unlocking the vault, and lying alone on the couch to hear the night
music loop. I could feel the bass in the pillow. If I buried my face in it I saw
purple.

Twenty first sentences from a failed obituary

1. In late October 2006, a man sat on the side of the freeway with a sign and
a video camera. He soaked himself in gasoline and lit a match, then a
minute and a minute and a minute and after that he died. He burned.

2. He died during morning rush hour, at the base of a sculpture curling up
like metal smoke. Whenver I panic, thinking about the minutes on that
video without a face, I think too about how quiet his house must have
been that morning. I wonder if he brushed his teeth. If he wore new
clothes. Fire clings to objects.

3. Dad said you can’t kill yourself if you have children. I said well, people do.
Daphne said committed suicide is the wrong way to say it. Committed
implies a crime. Dedication and sincerity too, I said. I don’t know if his
mother was still alive.

4. An article about the man’s death ran in the city paper—four pages in, next
to a piece about a dentist who found a gold ring after it slipped off his
finger and into a trick-or-treat bag. The only photo was that guy, grinning
with one hand next to his face like a newly minted fiancé.

5. The man grew hot peppers in these huge buckets in his basement. He
bottled them and sold the sauce. Pistachio was the secret ingredient.

6. In October 2006 I signed a lease after four years of sneaking in on
weekends to see shows, so Chicago was familiar by night but not day. I
couldn’t understand why this man’s name wasn’t everywhere, for example:
sprayed on the bridge outside my apartment. Flashing on top of buses. I
mean, I could but I couldn’t. I started writing his initials inside my
wrist—the left, so nobody could see it when I shook hands on job
interviews.

7. The man attended Alcoholics Anonymous once a week for over fifteen
years, and he heard live music almost every night. This is important
because both kinds of meetings fizzle if they aren’t attended obsessively.
The man would record the shows and archive them on his website. I came
out lots too, only I stood further back so all I knew was the back of his
head. I loved those nights because I’d forget I have a body. After the man
died I kept imagining I saw him, then I’d go home and listen to the archive
and hear my friends laughing during pauses in the music.

8. The man died to protest the war. I apologize, he wrote. I am ashamed.

9. The war is still happening. My friends went, and so I am always worried.
Most of them came back and now they have new lives. They post pictures
of babies and food on the Internet, and sometimes I like them. It is a
gratitude, seeing a baby whose father I prayed for because I didn’t know
what else to do. It is like seeing my friends as babies too.

10. My actions should be self-explanatory, the man wrote. Judge me by my
actions. I apologize for what we have done to you. He was born in the
fifties, so I guess he could have been saying that to me but I feel like it is
my apology to make as well.

11. I don’t know when to say the man’s name. How dare I keep him alive.

12. Five people showed up to the meeting that first week of November, to talk
about remembering him. Four of us had addresses to write down. Three of
us knew people at war. I fell in love with one man and he fell in love with
me and now, much later, we’re family. The woman who took charge had
just buried a cat. Afterwards she drove me to the train station and the
spade was still in the backseat of the car.

13. I don’t know how to write an obituary when there isn’t a body. Instead we
made fliers with his face. Jamillah and I made an archive on the internet.

14. I read about Guantanamo every day. I was eighteen in 2001. I called my
two friends who kept guns and asked them not to go. They didn’t say
anything, so I didn’t either but I cried after I hung up.

15. We five made a banner and dropped it over the freeway near where the
man died. I wore a scarf over my face. Afterwards I felt silly. He was still
dead.

16. Dad would have been drafted if he had better eyesight. My eyesight is
much worse.

17. The man’s sisters came by and asked if I knew who might want their
brother’s record collection. They were so polite. I couldn’t tell if they
needed money for it or not.

18. The other people I know with bad burns are friends who did it by mistake
when we drank too much Ripple at shows outside the city. One got hurt so
bad he had to lie face-down in a stretcher to heal. No pressure on his
back. He asked the nurses to set comics on the floor for him to read. He
took so many pain meds the pages didn’t need to be turned that often.

19. I go to less shows now but I still go, and any time there is a hole up front I
think about the man. Ten minutes, no body. No body no burial no face. No
crime.

20. I am amazed with how many people think they know me, he wrote and I
think, okay but most nights I could find you out at a show. Most nights I
knew what you wanted to hear. Of course that isn’t really friendship. This
isn’t really an obituary because now it’s about me and I am alive, so it
fails. I want it to end: everyone came home.

Mairead Case now lives in Colorado, where she is a PhD student at the University of Denver, a columnist at Bookslut, a project editor, and, with Hoist Point Writing, a poetry teacher at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. Her first book, See You In the Morning, comes out from featherproof in October 2015.

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