The Quiet

The Quiet
Lance Turner

Eve wanted out. She slid to the edge of the bed, her blood pumping. She sat up, put on her slippers, and stood, smoothing out her nightgown. She left Arthur to sleep. She looked at the clock on the dresser. He would be up soon. He would strut into the kitchen with his cane striking the hard floor while dressed in his jeans, t-shirt, and a buttoned-up flannel shirt because of the cold, ready to eat, read the newspaper, and then check the chickens out back in the coup.

Arthur grew up in the quiet of the country and Eve grew to accommodate him, for almost fifty years now. She kept a garden in front of the house during the springs and summers, growing tomatoes and bean sprouts. They had chickens out back. Eve and Arthur were retired, and no matter how much she tried to resist it, they lived a quiet life, waiting for the spring storms to come so they could put up the snow shovel and pick up the hammer to nail down the shutters and close the chickens in the coup. She waited for the days to end so she could go to sleep, wake up, and work in the quiet because that was what she did.

Arthur kept the quiet strong.

Eve ran her fingers through her hair, pulling the graying strands back, wrapping them together with a band. Walking past Arthur’s dresser, she reached out and grabbed the keys to the car. Eve walked into the hallway, passed the pictures on the walls, and went into the living room. Taking her jacket off of the hook behind the door, Eve turned the deadbolt and pulled open the front door. Walking outside, she stepped over the rolled up newspaper lying close to the top of the porch’s stairs. The morning air stung her lungs as she breathed in the winter’s chill. Eve walked down the stairs. She heard gravel crunch and slide under her slippers on the sidewalk. The ground was wet with melting snow. Her nightgown clung to her skin. A light frost covered the windows of the car sitting in the driveway in front of the house.

Eve pulled on the car door, but the door wouldn’t give. She hit the door along the edges with her open palm and pulled, the seal holding tight in the frost. The frost cracked and with a pop the door swung open. Eve stepped into the car and locked the door behind her. Eve put the key into the ignition and held onto the wheel as she turned the key. The wheel shook underneath her hand. She put her foot on the accelerator and closed her eyes as she gripped the wheel, revving the engine. She pushed the accelerator to the mat, a roaring engine breaking into the morning quiet. Put it into reverse, she thought. Her breath came in gasps as she held onto the wheel. She wondered if Arthur heard her and the engine. She wondered if he slept through the sound.

Eve took her foot off the accelerator, and the engine faded to a low drone. Opening her eyes, Eve turned the car off and waited for her breath to come back to her. She didn’t know if she could leave, if she could leave the quiet. Eve stepped out of the car and walked back to the house, scooping up the morning paper as she passed the top of the stairs.

Once back inside the house, she tossed the morning paper onto Arthur’s recliner and hung her jacket back up onto the hook behind the door. She walked into the hallway and passed the bedroom as Arthur rolled away from the door and pulled the covers up around him. Eve placed the car keys back on his dresser and looked at the clock. He was close to getting up, she thought. She stayed in the car too long, feeling the seat vibrate underneath her.

Eve rushed into the kitchen and pulled a skillet from the cupboards below the counter. She took out the old coffee filter and threw it into the trashcan. She had to get breakfast started, she thought, or else Arthur would know something was wrong. She wiped her hands on the towel hanging on the upward curled tail of a green and orange cat magnet on the refrigerator.

Eve turned one of the burners on top of the stove on low and dug her spatula into the tub of butter she pulled from the refrigerator. She had to move fast. Breakfast was always ready when Arthur got up. Eve left the butter in the pan, walked into the hallway and passed the bedroom. She heard the bed springs compress as Arthur shifted his body upright.

The laundry room was at the end of the hallway, past the bedroom, past the pictures. Eve had never known what to do with the hallway because the hallway was narrow. She couldn’t fit a chair in the hallway because every chair she tried took up too much space. There was no place for a coffee table or night stand because even the smallest table looked cumbersome in the hallway. The space seemed cramped when it was bare, but being bare made the walls look sterile, plain, and quiet. She started with just a few pictures. They were photographs of family and friends. There were pictures of their daughter, Emma, and then of Emma and her husband. There were pictures of Eve and Arthur, of their wedding and the white tuxes. There were pictures of their friends and of moments captured outside the farm with its chickens and its quiet.

Over the years, the pictures multiplied, filling the walls from the floor to the ceiling. It was as if she was walking through one of those fun house walkways where the walls spun with movement. She did not stare and look at the pictures too closely anymore, but they were there, lining the hallway.

In the laundry room, Eve opened the door to her front-loading washing machine and a rush of cold water covered her feet. Water spread over the linoleum of the laundry room, running under the washer and dryer, soaking her slippers.

“Shit,” she said. She would have to call the repairman this time, she thought. She wasn’t going to let Arthur try and fix the machine again. Eve smelled the stale remnants of detergent clinging to the water. Treading the water slowly, she moved toward the broom closet back in the kitchen. There was a mop in the broom closet. Once past the linoleum of the laundry room, she slipped onto the hard wood floor of the hallway. Her hand slammed into the wall as Eve tried to steady herself. She couldn’t think of what to do. Her eyes darted left and right. There was nothing for her to grab onto, nothing to stop her from falling. She prayed for herself, hoping the fall wouldn’t be bad. Her hands scratched at the frames and tore pictures from their nails as she fell down on her knee, her shoulder running into the wall. Eve squeezed her eyes shut as a hard throb came up through her knee and entered her body. Her heart was loud in her chest.

Eve looked at her hallway of pictures. Some were crooked and skewed. Others were broken on the floor. There was only one word for it. Damn, she thought, as she held her knee and moved her shoulder. Both would bruise. Eve sighed and sat with her back against the wall. She heard Arthur move in the bedroom and knew he would be out to check on the noise she made.

Sitting in the hallway, she tried to pick up the pictures closest to her, reaching for the edges, turning them over, checking for the sharp points of glass. One after the other, she picked the picture frames up and put them in her lap and then she saw a small, black wooden frame face down near the doorway to the laundry room. She stretched her leg out, gasping as her knee straightened, and leaned her body to the side, her arm stretching to grab hold of the small, black wooden frame.

There were no points of glass, no cracks in the surface. The frame was sturdier than most. Eve looked at the picture. It was the first picture she hung up on the wall. It was the picture of the two of them, Eve and Sarah. They were sitting near the edge of the river. They were in high school together. They were young. They were back home.

“What happened?”

Eve looked up to see Arthur walk out of the bedroom, leaning into each step with his cane. “Washing machine broke,” she said. “Again.”

Arthur used his finger to push his glasses back up the length of his nose. “And how’d you end up down there?”

“Water on the floor.” She waited to see if he would ask her if she was all right. “I fell.”

“Ok, then,” he said.

Eve waited in the hallway as Arthur turned into the kitchen. The cane gave a distinct sound to his stride. He walked on the ground in threes. Arthur brought a kitchen chair to her, pushing it in front of him. Eve used the picture frames in her lap to push the shards of glass surrounding her away. She needed space to move, places for her feet. With Arthur holding onto the back of the chair, Eve grabbed onto the seat and hoisted herself up.

They stood in the hallway, the kitchen chair between them, and Eve put her hands onto her lower back and rubbed. “How do you want your eggs?” she asked, looking around at the mess she had to contend with.

“What?” Arthur still gripped the back of the chair. “You’re still cooking?” He looked at her and then turned to peer into the kitchen.

He had his schedule, she thought. Wake up. Dress. Eat. Read the paper. Work. “If you didn’t know, I had some issues this morning.” Eve motioned behind her at the walls and the water, wondering what Arthur would do having to wait for breakfast.

“Over easy,” Arthur said, looking down at the glass near her feet. “I’m going to finish getting dressed.” He wore his blue jeans but still had on his bed shirt. Arthur turned around and began walking back to the kitchen, pulling the chair behind him, and Eve followed.

“Eggs will be done in a couple minutes,” she said, pulling the egg carton from the refrigerator. Arthur pushed the chair back up to the table and returned to the bedroom, his cane echoing in the hallway. She would clean up the hallway after breakfast, she thought.

Arthur walked out of the bedroom and down the hallway to the living room. Eve heard the deadbolt on the front door turn. She looked out into the hallway and saw the screen door swing shut.

She thought about the car.

The porch’s stairs creaked with the weight of Arthur’s cane. He always put the cane on the stair below him and used it to lower himself down, putting all of his weight onto one spot of the stair. She heard toast pop up from the toaster and went back into the kitchen. The car still had some snow on it when she came back inside, she thought. She wasn’t in it long enough for all the snow to melt off. He wouldn’t notice the car, she thought.

Eve pushed two more slices of bread into the toaster and placed Arthur’s toast on his plate as she heard the garage door bang into the side of the garage. Sitting Arthur’s plate down on the kitchen table, Eve went over to the window above the kitchen sink. Arthur was in the garage looking through one of his toolboxes. A small movement in the grass beside the garage drew her attention away from Arthur. There was a rabbit. Rabbits often burrowed and nested in the yard. Eve remembered how a rabbit once ran into its burrow when Arthur started the mower but ran back out as he passed over the burrow’s opening. She heard the rabbit in the mower, the blades cutting through fur, grinding the bone, and Arthur’s shock. He jumped backward, letting go of the mower’s handle, letting the motor die.

Arthur closed the toolbox, and she watched him pick it up. She looked back to the rabbit and saw the rabbit run and disappear into the grass.

When they first moved into the country, Emma ran with the rabbits into the yard, trying to catch them, trying to play with them. Emma ran with the rabbits to the tree line, and Eve and Arthur yelled for her to not go past the trees and into the denser woods. When Emma ran back to them, she asked, “Did you see us run?”

It wasn’t quiet with Emma and the rabbits.

Eve turned away from the kitchen window when she heard Arthur close the front door.

She heard Arthur set the toolbox on the floor, and as he walked into the kitchen, his cane seemed more labored. The toolbox had been heavy. “What’s with the toolbox?”

“Going to work on the washing machine,” Arthur said, cutting into his first egg, the yolk spreading onto his plate.

Eve sighed. “I was going to call a repairman.”

“I can fix it.”

“But you fixed it before.” Eve rested the spatula against the skillet and pulled her toast from the toaster. “And now it’s broke again,” she said, placing the toast on a plate.

Arthur used a slice of toast to mop up the yolk from the first egg. “I’ll fix it again.”

“Fine,” she said as she carried her plate over to the table. “But if it breaks again after you fix it, I’m calling a repairman.”

“Fine,” Arthur said, “but you won’t need to.” He cut into the yolk of his second egg.

Eve sat down across from him at the kitchen table and used a fork to push some of her scrambled eggs onto a piece of toast. She folded the piece of toast around the eggs and made a sandwich. “Did you see the rabbit outside?”

“Yeah.” Arthur nodded. “He was a big one, too. Haven’t seen him around before. Must be a new one.”

“Thought it’d still be too cold for them to be around so early in the morning.” Eve bit into her egg sandwich.

Arthur nodded and ate.

Eve stretched her leg out under the table. Her knee was sore from the fall, but the pain had eased. “You see it run?”

Arthur shook his head.

“He was fast.” Eve turned her head and looked out the window.

“Are you going to clean up the pictures?”

Eve wondered where the rabbits went during the winter. She pictured a great migration of rabbits scurrying somewhere warm, someplace different, their muscles contracting, their bodies exploding forward. But then she thought about how rabbits could just hibernate, curling into their burrows and sleeping through the quiet winter.

“Eve,” Arthur said.

Her egg sandwich was inches from her mouth, but she didn’t take a bite.

“Eve,” Arthur said again.

“What?” she asked, turning back to look at him.

“You okay?” He pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.

She nodded. “Yeah,” she said.

Arthur paused and held his empty fork against his plate. “Want help cleaning the pictures up?”

“No,” she said. Eve took another mouthful of her sandwich. “I’ll do it after breakfast.” She’d have to get out the broom and the dust pan and clean up the glass. She’d bring the frames into the kitchen and vacuum the hallway, and she still had to mop the floor to the laundry room before Arthur started fixing the washing machine. It was lucky the black wooden frame didn’t break, she thought. It was one of her oldest pictures on the wall.

She lived just down the street from Sarah in her hometown. She grew up with her. When they were in elementary school, they would play tag, running through Sarah’s yard, around Eve’s house, over the gravel sidewalks and under fences, edging closer to the woods lining the outskirts of their backyards. They lived on the edge of the town.

The memory came to her. They were playing tag. Sarah was catching up to her. Eve ran to the yard light in Sarah’s front yard. Extending her hand, Eve swung onto the black metal yard light, gathering speed, careening in a new direction as she flew off the pole, her feet catching up to her new speed.

“Hey!” Sarah shouted behind her. Eve turned her head to look for her. Sarah had been within reach, her fingertips stretched out ready to grab Eve’s green t-shirt.

Eve’s legs pumped her into the backyard behind the house before she gave stopping a second thought. She went behind the garage and stopped. Her breath came hard as she peered along both sides of the garage. She didn’t see Sarah.

As her breathing slowed, she decided to get moving. It was then Eve heard something hit the garage. The wood rumbled and shook. Pressing her body flat against the wood, she made her way down the side of the garage. The sun was on her side. She was in shadow. But the garage noise struck again. A low, rumbling thump. Eve looked around. The noise was changing. It sounded like something scrapping. Like shoes on gravel, she thought. Eve ducked and dove to the ground. She tucked and rolled, over and over, smearing grass across her elbows as Sarah swung off the roof of the garage.

Sarah was close now. Eve was on the ground, scrambling to get up. Sarah ran to her, shoving her hand into the middle of Eve’s back. “Tag. You’re it,” Sarah said.

Eve lay on the ground. “No fair,” she said, rolling onto her back. “How did you get up there?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Sarah said, watching Eve get to her feet.

Eve clasped her hands above her head, stretching. “Ready?”

“Yep,” Sarah said, getting into a runner’s stance.

“Okay.” She was off running towards the front of the house and the maple tree. Eve watched her go. Sarah wasn’t as fast as Eve. “1, 2, 3,” Eve started inching forward, Sarah was getting ready to climb, “4,” and Eve was after her.

“You’re supposed to count to 10,” Sarah shouted at Eve as she caught up with her, just missing the soles of her feet as Eve tagged the tree instead.

“Tough,” Eve said as Sarah lunged for a branch, sliding through the tree, swinging down, and landing on the ground underneath. She looked at Eve.

Sarah laughed. “Come get me.”

Blowing a tuft of brown hair out of her face, Eve called out as Sarah disappeared around the side of the house, “You better run.”

She could hear Sarah laughing as she ran, Sarah’s voice getting farther away as the memory left her again, and she finished eating her egg sandwich.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Arthur said.

“What?” Eve looked at Arthur across the table. He was reading the newspaper.

“Carl died.”

Eve stood and picked up her plate. “Who?” Leaning over the table, she grabbed Arthur’s plate and took it over to the kitchen sink.

“I worked with him for years.” Arthur turned the page. “Had a heart attack last week.”

“That’s too bad.” She turned on the kitchen faucet.

Eve looked outside through the kitchen window above the sink and then turned back to the running water, but then she looked outside again. She looked out at the tree line in the distance. She pictured the small pond just beyond the trees, the water Emma splashed in as Eve sat on the edge, her pants rolled up to her knees. The trees were like the trees Sarah and Eve ran through back home, she thought. She thought of how she ran through them, just like Emma did here. She thought of Arthur and Emma. A rush of images invaded her. Through the years, she had given her mind time to be quiet, to forget; she remembered what helped her live in the quiet. Eve pulled a plate out of the dishwater and rinsed it under the faucet.

She looked back to the trees, pressing her hips into the counter. She felt Sarah’s hand on her thigh. She grabbed another plate in the sink. She felt the car ride they took a few weeks after junior prom. They went out into the country. The summer heat had set in. The car seats stuck to the back of her legs. As Sarah drove, Eve slid her hand along Sarah’s outer thigh. Eve laughed when Sarah’s hand did the same, stroking Eve’s upper thigh. Eve leaned up against the car door.

Sarah turned the car down another road, and Eve’s touches moved to Sarah’s inner thigh. She started at the inside of Sarah’s knee, Eve’s fingers inching up Sarah’s leg. She looked at Sarah and saw her turn the wheel again. The car came to a stop, and Sarah pushed Eve’s hair back with her hands. She left the engine on. Sarah’s breath was hot on Eve’s neck.

Eve turned off the water and drained the sink, wiping her hands on the hand towel by the counter. She turned to the table and saw the newspaper folded on top of it. She did not know when Arthur left the kitchen. Eve looked out the window and saw Arthur in the garage again. She moved to the broom closet and took out the broom and the dust pan. Eve remembered how she saw her mother walk out of Sarah’s parents’ house a couple days after being out on the country roads, waving to Sarah’s mother. By the end of the week, Sarah left town. Sarah never told Eve why; in fact, Eve did not know Sarah left until after she was gone. Eve dropped the dust pan onto the floor and began sweeping the glass into a pile. Eve did not know if her mother found out what Sarah and Eve did in the car. She only knew Sarah left.

At the time, Eve wanted to know why Sarah did not take Eve with her. Sarah knew how much Eve wanted to leave town, just as Eve knew how much Sarah wanted to leave. And Sarah did. Sarah wanted to leave so badly that she left everything behind just to escape the quiet; Eve was sure of it. When Eve met Arthur, he told her how he wanted to leave and strike out on his own, away from his folks. But Arthur never left behind the quiet; he just went into a different part of it, a place where he could live by himself, alone in the country, with Eve by his side.

Eve filled the dust pan with glass and emptied it in the trashcan. She put the broom away and brought out the mop. It was time to tackle the water in the laundry room, she thought. Holding the mop, Eve went back into the hallway and looked again at the pictures lying on the floor. They were in a pile. The black picture frame was on top. Sarah did not talk to anyone, Eve thought. Sarah just up and left. Sarah left her mother. Sarah left her father. She left Eve.

Eve stopped at the doorway to the laundry room. The smell of water and detergent billowed past her into the rest of the house. A picture of her driving down the road flashed into her mind. She could smell the dirt. Eve set the mop against the wall and stepped backwards in the hallway. Using the wall for support, she bent down and picked up the picture, looking over it in her hands. Sarah just left, Eve thought. It was something Eve had not been able to do, to leave and not think about what she was leaving behind. Sarah just left, she thought again. Eve said it over and over in her head.

Holding the picture, she walked into the bedroom and picked the car keys up off the dresser and headed out into the living room. Sarah left, she thought. Still in her nightgown, Eve put on her jacket and slipped the picture frame into one of its front pockets. She let the screen door swing shut as she made her way down the steps out into the yard. The thump of her heart was loud in her ears. The car was in front of her. Sarah got in the car and left, she thought. If she let her mind wander to anything else, she would turn around and head back into the house. Sarah left it all. She repeated the words with every breath. Eve opened the car door and slid into the seat. With the key in the ignition, she started the car. She focused on the garage and saw Arthur leaning on his cane, looking at her in the car. She locked the car door. There was a hammer in his hand. Idiot, she thought. How was he going to fix the washer with a hammer? The car vibrated under her. Leave, she thought. Eve put the car in reverse. She stared at Arthur as the car went down the driveway. He began walking towards the front of the house and she turned the wheel, backing out on to the main road.

Eve did not turn around to look at him. All she saw was the road in front of her. Eve’s chest heaved with each breath. She left, she thought. She accelerated hard. The car lurched forward and as the distance between the car and the house grew, she thought about what might have happened to Sarah. Eve never heard her parents talking about Sarah, and no one heard from her at school. In the end, she only knew Sarah left and never came back, and as she drove, Eve wondered what it would be like to never see the house, or the chickens, or Arthur again; what would he say if she came back; what would he say to Emma when Emma called home? Her mind was flooded with the noises of these questions, and Eve realized how the quiet was finally being left behind.

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