The Plural of Noise is Noise

Inside it was quiet because it was deserted. It is only quiet inside when it is deserted. At all other times, there is noise, not just a single noise but many occurring at once, from a single person there can be many noises, or sounds, as though created to stave off inevitable feelings of loneliness that come with being somewhere deserted. Outside, though, it was windy and the shallow rattle of rain on glass windows. The wind made noise within itself, the leaves and grass, colourful windmills that my mother penetrated into the soil of potted olive and apple trees.

There was a draught coming through the windows that just about made it to where I was stood, a foot away, looking at the effects of the wind in the back garden. I put my fingertips on the cold glass. In the air was the smell of cooked steaks and burned fat.

My concern was the Wendy house. Little girls had left the window and front door open; rain would get in there. From the open window, red and white gingham curtains were dragged and pulled out by gusts and they floated, being tickled and giggling as the rain started to fall. I thought to myself that it would not do, so I turned my collar up and went out there. I stepped into the Wendy house. Painted wood and wax crayons, plastic toys, linoleum. The wind held onto the gingham curtains, which I pulled in, and it clung onto the window, which I pulled to. With the window closed, the wind breathed between the wooden slats of the room, although there was less noise. The Wendy house was deserted except for myself, and I paused a moment there, because the smell reminded me of a friend from my childhood named Rhiannon. Finally, I walked back out, the rain starting to fall harder, and closed the door behind me.

In the door was a lock and key. It was odd that a lock should be required on a Wendy house. It was a large key; after some effort, it turned in the lock, and I tested its measure with a firm shake. I slipped the key into the pocket of my coat and thought no more about it; I simply pulled my head down into my collar and dashed through the falling rain.

For the rest of the week, that key remained in my pocket. Every time I felt it, I made sure to remind myself to place it on the side when I returned home, however every time I forgot, and so the next day I would again find myself feeling the key in my coat’s left pocket. I feared, most of all, that the key might slip out and that the girls would forever be locked out of their Wendy house. However, more and more, as I began to feel the key when I least expected it, I found comfort in its seemingly insignificant presence. Very quickly, it became something I clutched when troubled, although even on easy walks around town, my hand drifted to my pocket and my fingers caressed the key’s bow, stem and bit. How something I had never held before came to be of such solace!
The three directors sat around me in the boardroom. I sat diminutively with my arms on the table before me, my hands holding onto each other, clammy, to stop the opposite from shaking. I wished to finger the key; my coat was draped over the back of my chair in the office. ‘So,’ my boss said—‘I guess what we want to know is if you’re still thinking of leaving.’ I said that I was, that I was not thinking of leaving but that I was leaving, that my mind was made up. He deflated; his large body kind of collapsing in the seat and shoulders sagged. He told me that he thought, because I had been working so hard, that I was going to say. I said that, no, I was leaving. He lifted his glasses, pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed his hand over his face, blinking; it was something I had seen him do before. Another director asked me why, and I told him that I needed a change. ‘Someone told me years ago,’ I said—‘that the first company you join, you’re, like, a kid, and you’ll always be seen as a kid. You’re green and you never get brown, you know what I mean? You’ll always be treated like the kid at your first job.’ My boss, who now had his arms folded across his badly-fitting suit, snapped—‘Yeah, but what about when you fucked off to France to write a book and then came crawling back?’ I squeezed my hands into a fist, white knuckles, and wished to hold onto the key.

Two hours later, I exited a building down near St Paul’s cathedral and the sun was still hot, especially as, at that hour, the street permitted its rays down the length, and so little shade. I said good-bye to the gentleman in front of me, unsure whether to shake his hand, and made off for the train station. The interview had gone well, and I had been offered the job. It was my first job offer in fifteen years and I did not quite know what to make of the situation. Hah, I thought, I am a likeable and employable person! despite what my director says. As I pulled out my headphones, the agent called me. I told him I had got the job and he told me—‘Fuck off, you didn’t.’ I told him that I did. He told me that one day he would buy me a beer. I really wanted a beer at that moment. I surreptitiously slid my hand into my left pocket as though he were witness to me walking down the street, and I fingered the key, feeling its bow, stem and bit.
Interviews are something that cause me a great deal of worry. Many times during the night I will awake in a state of shock that I have overslept, missing the interview, until I steady myself and see my bedside clock. I set Wednesday aside to go into London for another interview. Already, before I left, there was a confrontation between my boss and I, a confrontation that caused me considerable anger, but, no, do not get flustered, calm yourself down. I put on my suit and tie and I caught the train into London. Their office was down the road from my old flat, and as I walked towards it, I had, as expected, a strong sense of nostalgia and of sadness. To the minute, I knew how long the walk would take me, and I cannot say for sure whether it felt that long, for my mind was muddled and I kept pushing my finger underneath my tight collar. It was another hot day. The set of traffic lights I used to cross twice a day returned to me, and I had perfect measure of how long each phase of their sequence lasted, as if it were anything to boast about, but it brought me satisfaction, nonetheless. A man came down and asked me if I wanted to shake his hand. Not even to convey an air of assurance, but from an overwhelming desire to do so, for I had not shaken another man’s hand in months, perhaps over a year, I stretched out my right hand. The interview was to take place in the large atrium reception of the recently renovated brutalist building. ‘This is a beautiful building,’ I said—‘I used to live down the road, so I walked past this place every day. I saw it when it was empty, when it was being done up and when it reopened. It’s real nice to be in here.’ He smiled at me and nodded his head. I stared around at it all. It really was a beautiful building. ‘Do you mind if I remove my mask?’ he asked. I said I did not, and did the same. After the interview, I was in good spirits. I walked back to the office, intentionally choosing my route so that I would pass many places that held memories for me. The men behind the windows regarded me uneasily as I stared in with a strange smile on my face.

And finally, after all this, there was a night out with an old friend. It used to be that we drank together often, but things, one way or another, had changed. I had been anticipating it, however within a few minutes of arriving I was irritated, besieged by the drunk and rudeness around me. It was not until much later, when everyone else had gone and the pub was emptying out, that I came to be relaxed. He was quite drunk by then. Since I last saw him, he had become a father and his son had turned one. It had been quite a year for him. He spoke of turning forty in four months, but he would always be twenty-six to me, as we first met back then, and his hair just as grey before—‘Like Ravinelli,’ I said. I bought us another round, went to the toilet and when I returned he was in a state of panic, saying he had to leave immediately. We embraced solidly, and I watched him walk away. There was a train that would take me fifteen miles from my parents’ house; just make sure I do not fall asleep, otherwise I will miss the stop and end up in the middle of nowhere. When I awoke, I looked out of the train window and saw it was my stop. I leapt up and ran to the door, but it had already closed and the train was pulling out of the station. At the next station, there was a solitary taxi in the rank. The lady was rude and said she could not take me, that I would have to wait for another train to take me back. Some time later I got to the correct station and into a far more pleasant taxi that would take me the rest of the way home. The driver had smooth skin that I saw shone in the streetlight, clean-shaven, and a pointy chin that he kept jerking from left to right. He and I talked about the moon, which he told me had a special name. The moon deserved a special name because it was so large and the colour of banana milkshake. I sat in the back and gripped the key in my pocket. There were sharp edges all over the bit, carved by some locksmith who-knows-when and with how much thought, each of its notches so articulate to my fingertips, and I had seen with my own eyes how there was a lock just right for the key.

The next morning I was taking my cigarette in the garden and slowly approached the Wendy house; nearby my mother was weeding some flowerbeds. She had already spoken of how she was looking forward to tending her flowerbeds, as it was such a fine day and there was just enough of a breeze to keep her cool in the strong sunshine. I paused as I got near; I saw that the key was in the lock of the Wendy house door. ‘You have a spare key for the Wendy house?’ I asked. She looked up, shovel in hand. ‘No, it was on the side. Did you have it?’ Was it really the key that I had been so close to me for five days, that I had kept against my thigh, had turned in my fingers and came to rely on for comfort? I thought for a moment—‘Yes, I did. I’ve been carrying it all week… accidentally… after I locked it up last Sunday. I must have got home last night and put it on the side, and then forgot about it.’ She returned to her weeding—‘Yes, you must’ve.’