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"Sound Graft," short story excerpt

Thursday 4/14/22

If he’d heard it a million times, he’d heard it once. He worked backwards. Focused on the precision of the moment, regardless the scope. One tree falling or a sun exploding, though he figured an exploding sun makes no sound.


His kids said he was too old to be living on his own, for he was officially elderly and borderline spavined by most measures, including assorted cognitive tests.


“Listen, dad,” one of his children would begin, as if he wasn’t listening already. “Listen, dad, me and—“ and then a spouse who wasn’t his own kid would be named. He remembered the particulars of some more than others. They were worried. Worried about him.


He boiled water and thought about a cousin he’d had. She’d been dead for many years. Gassed herself in her garage. The mother of three beautiful children who were never the same or, rather, would never become what they might have become on account that they had to become something else.


Once when he was newly a teenager he stayed at her house because his parents were ending their time together. Throwing haymakers comprised of words in a home that’d soon be gone.


The cousin boiled some water for hot chocolate. A cozy afternoon. They were home alone. He had the impression she was trying to help him relax. Help him feel safe. She was a little older. And that she knew more than he did about him and what was happening in his life. The day was gray. There was only rain. There would be only rain. The local TV station was playing horror movies all weekend. They were going to watch as many as they could. They were up for the challenge. Whole day of horror. Perhaps two.


The cousin poured the steaming water into his mug of cocoa first. The kettle slipped and the boiling water spilled all over her. She screamed. He asked if she was okay. She told him yes. It just hurt. As if that wasn’t a thing—mere pain.


She finished pouring his cup and got herself some juice instead, now that there wasn’t enough water, and they watched the horror movies. A couple of them. She kept readjusting the position of her body on the couch, as if she were sitting on a wound that continued to open.


“Can you take a look?” she finally asked him.


He said of course, and she stood and pulled down her pajama bottoms. She didn’t have anything under. He didn’t know why he thought she would. It didn’t seem to matter. She just wanted him to look. It was more important.


She turned away and stared in the general area of the breakfast bar as he did his inspection. The skin on both of her thighs had bubbled. He took one of her hands, still peering.

“I think it’s pretty bad,” he suggested. She squeezed his hand back.


“Okay,” she said, as if that was all that was needed, and now the option existed to call someone on the phone. Go to the neighbors’ house, where they’d would know what to do, but that it could be put off, given that the initial truth had been faced.