I silenced the walls. I took the sounds of the house and smoothed them over. The settling foundation. The creaks of wood. The palm of my hand, my fingers spread, the sounds magnetized and held there. Magic.
“I heard a noise.” Zaid stood at the side of my bed, his hair askew. His eyes wide.
I reached out to pat his back. Smooth out the kinks. “Go back to bed. It’s just your imagination.”
“No. Really. This time I heard a noise.” He looked toward my window.
He shifted his gaze back to me. “Inside.”
“There’s no one inside but me, your dad and you.” I motioned for him to retreat.
“And the dogs,” he said once in bed, about twenty stuffed things wedged their eyes around him.
“Yes. And the dogs. Okay? Safe house.”
I left the room taking the image of him tucked into his Star Wars covers, busy aircraft flying over him while his eyes darted around the room. Sounds in the shadows. Sounds under the bed. Sounds from his dreams. I stood in the hallway to listen. I heard wind outside. I heard the refrigerator hum. I heard my husband shuffle in the sheets. It was average house noise. It was radio static. I smoothed my hands over the walls. My mouth soothingly said “Hushhh. Hushhh.” I climbed into bed and put my cold toes on my husband’s legs.
“There’s someone in the house.”
“What?” My eyes blinked at the clock.
“I heard the garage door. Someone’s in the house.” His voice was an urgent staccato.
“Don’t you think the dogs would bark?”
“Just go check.”
“No. C’mon, I’ll tuck you in. Safe house, okay?”
I did go downstairs, for the record. The garage door was shut. The entry door was shut. The windows all shut. I looked to the street where it was dark and calm, suburbia at its finest. The comfortable trees reliably resting. The neighbors’ houses equally sleepy.
I crept back upstairs, and like last night, smoothed the walls along the way. I couldn’t hear what he heard. I didn’t fear what he feared. But I offered what I could. My parental comfort and my wisdom of the house. I whispered to the walls, told them to get along already, then tiptoed to bed.
“I swear, if he gets up again tonight, it’s your turn.” I worked lotion into the dry folds of my hands.
“He comes to your side, not mine.”
I took this as agreement, but when Zaid came in at two, it was easier to roll out of bed than to jerk an elbow into my husband.
Following Zaid into his room, my eyes half open, my heart thick in its holster, I considered pushing all the stuffed things to the floor to make room for me.
“Safe house. Remember? We live in a safe neighborhood with safe neighbors. No bad guys.” I sat on the edge of the bed. Zaid watched the ceiling fan spin behind me.
“Bad guys are everywhere.”
“Not in the suburbs.”
He didn’t believe me but he shut his eyes anyway. I slipped into the hallway and took my hands to the walls.
I’ve heard people with tinnitus hear a constant ringing, or a high pitched bell, a non-stop noise enough to elicit insanity. The silencing of the house had the opposite effect. Like a secondhand refusing to go to the next number, suddenly sound hovered motionless. Not like fog but thicker than air. Like the sound waves solidified while remaining invisible.
I freed my hands from the walls, taking all sound with me.
Bedtime the next night felt easier. I held my secret success from the prior night and knew Zaid wouldn’t stir. The house wouldn’t stir. We’d — finally — have a full night’s sleep.
Still, though, as his room receded into dark he asked if I had locked the doors. Had we pulled the cars into the garage? And where would we be when he slept? Could we stop the bad guys?
I gave him a sympathetic look but he misunderstood it for irritation and quickly said, “I know, I know. Safe house. We live in a safe neighborhood with safe neighbors.” The monotone needle of his voice over my own recording.
I sat on the edge of the bed and arranged all the stuffed creatures into a line of defense. “We’ll put Bowser in charge, okay? He’s certainly not letting any bad guys in.” This — barely — mollified him.
Rattling. A little jittery at first, then louder. Like the oven rocked back and forth. Like it was making its way across the kitchen.
Ticking. Just one clock, then more, all of them, their second hands in unison ticking, ticking, ticking louder.
Slamming. One door. Two doors. All the doors. Their sound a vibration stretching from downstairs.
I jolted upright and threw a hand onto my husband’s stomach. “What is it?” he oofed.
“You don’t hear that?” My eyes darted around the room.
He moved onto his elbows and peered into the dark room. He was being nice. He hadn’t heard. “Probably the wind.”
“Forget it,” I told him and moved to the hall. Stepping over the dogs, I noticed they hadn’t woken either.
Had Zaid heard? He hears every shiver and creek and stir of the house, but I found him sound asleep.
Then what? I narrowed my eyes toward the hallway, the stairs, and searched for the source. I smoothed my hands over the walls, the texture of rattling and ticking and slamming rubbed against my palms, slid against my fingertips. But it wasn’t the walls. It was me. It was the magnetic magic I had wielded last night. My secret success? The sound had transferred into me.
I walked from room to room. I opened cupboards and closed them. I asked the oven to sit still. I rearranged items in the refrigerator. I slid a rubber band around the wind chimes. I turned down the volume of everything we owned even though nothing was on. At least, not really.
On the couch with the sun rising, I finally shut my eyes, the silence of morning a respite until Zaid found me. He tucked himself in beside me, the space too narrow for two bodies.
“How’d you sleep?”
He looked at the frogs on the blanket, his face untelling. “Fine, I guess. I didn’t wake up if that’s what you mean.”
“No?” I asked even though I knew. Of course I knew. He nodded his head against my collarbone. “See?”
But he interrupted me. “Don’t say it mom. I swear, don’t say it again.”
Safe house, I said to myself, eyeing the walls. Safe house. Safe house. Safe house.
Katie Strine is a fiction writer from Cleveland, Ohio, where she earned an MA in English. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. This summer she will attend the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. An online persona exists at www.katiestrine.com and twitter, @katiestrine.