Grasping for Air
by Aaron Burch
Dude, I called Steve again today. no answer. he must be avoiding us. bastard. left another message. see ya.
I started laughing right away. Sitting there at work, I knew everyone would wonder what I was laughing at--knowing I must be checking my email--but I also knew exactly what Gary meant. That noise, represented on the screen. All those e's and a's, g's and h's. Gary always sent me emails trying to type out weird noises like a guitar solo, or a chair squeaking, and I always knew what he meant. He had been trying to get a hold of our landlord, Steve, for a week.
- - -
Gary moved into our new place a week before me. I called from vacation to ask how it was going. What shape was the house in? Had the landlord fixed everything he said he would? I had moved too many times to expect everything to go smoothly.
"It's cool, but there is a dead bird in the freezer," Gary told me.
"That is disgusting! Did you get it out?" I asked, taking it literally. He didn't bother to correct me.
"Nah, the landlord said he was gonna get us a new one."
"What? A new bird?" I asked before hanging up, knowing he had meant the fridge.
A week later I came back from my vacation and started to move my stuff in. Looking around the house, I tried to mentally place my furniture. Would my bed and bookshelf fit on that wall? Which cupboards are mine?
"What the fuck is that?"
"Yeah, that's our bird I told you about." Gary pointed at the fridge, and I finally got it. That noise. Eeeeeehahah! That of course didn't do it justice, but we had to type it somehow. It would become our new greeting. A screeching sound like a bird dying, except to realize it best, you had to squeal in instead of out. A keyboard definitely couldn't represent that. I had thought about it, and we never even learned that in the linguistics class we took together in college. There is no word in the English language where you need to inward squeal; unless you are mimicking the sound of a bird dying in your refrigerator to your roommate.
- - -
"But I can't sleep with that noise," Katie complained.
"Sure you can," I responded. "It's just white noise. If you're tired you'll fall asleep."
"No... I can't. I've gotta get up early in the morning to work. I don't like white noise. I like silence. And when are you guys gonna get that fixed? Why don't you come over and sleep here. We never stay here."
"I don't want to stay there. This is my new place. I want to enjoy it. With you," I countered. I didn't know when it would be fixed. Plus... I just liked my place better, but that argument wouldn't stand up at all.
"Well... I'm not staying there."
"But I just moved in. Why did I even get a new place if I was just going to stay with you every night? Why didn't I just move in with you if I am just going to stay there?"
"Because I wanted my own place. We've gone over this."
"But that makes no sense," I argued. We had gone over this before, but I couldn't help it. "It would save us a lot of money. It makes no sense to be paying for two places if we're always at one. We could be saving a whole rent payment every month for vacation, or a car, or... shit, something."
"Hon. I'm going to bed. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Good night," Katie sighed and hung up the phone. No 'I love you.' I didn't even get a chance to return her good night.
- - -
Stepping in the door, I wanted to stumble and fall into bed. "Eeeeeahgahgagh!" I called on the way to my room, announcing my arrival to my appliances. Then... "Eagagaghhagghagh!" from Gary in his room, welcoming me home. In the house I had just moved out of, one of the roommates had had a bird. The resemblance in the current situation was uncanny. When I got home from work, that bird would call hello, hearing the door open. For months, I didn't know whether to respond or not. I felt silly replying, fearing a roommate would hear me welcoming no one, but I felt bad ignoring it. Rude.
"Hey Gary. How's it going?"
"Oh... you know. The same. You?"
"Yep," I answered. He knew what I meant. "Wait..." I stopped,noticing the silence, "I haven't heard the fridge yet. Did it get fixed?" We were both anxious to get a new one--to return to the quiet hum of our appliances. But I also felt sad. We had made so many jokes about its birdlike noises, I was starting to think of it as our pet--our third roommate; our responsibility. I couldn't just put it to sleep without trying to help it get better. Moving out of my previous house, I was happy to be rid of the roommates I never talked to outside of arguments over whose laundry night it was, parking spaces, and dirty dishes. The bird, however, I missed. Welcoming me home from work everyday, singing me sitcom theme songs, I never had any problems with him. I missed him, and wasn't in a hurry to get rid of another.
"Nope. I just unplugged the damn thing. I came home and had to crash--I was out late last night--and the fucking thing wouldn't shut up."
"You unplugged it? What about our food?" I asked.
"Ugh. Oh yeah." We hadn't had anything more than condiments, leftovers and beer in there since we'd moved in. If anything, this would let me throw away some old chicken that wasn't very good in the first place, guilt free. "Well... you want to go out and grab some dinner?"
"Sure. I was thinking about running down to the Ram and getting a burger and beer anyway. Just got paid today. Sound good? You aren't getting together with Katie?"
"Yeah, that sounds good, I don't know what Katie is up to. I don't think we're talking."
"Yeah, something about her needing some space, or hating our fridge or some fucking thing. I don't know."
Gary looked up at me. "You two aren't talking because of our fridge?"
I just shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes. "I don't know."
- - -
"Eaagahaghaguugaha!" I screamed, throwing the door open. Friday. I was so excited. Sunny outside, days were getting longer, so there was still ample post-work sunlight left. I had stopped by Whole Foods and picked up some steaks to congratulate myself for making it through another week. I held them up, one in each hand--trophies--ready to award one to my roommate. Light up the barbeque. Have some beers. I still wasn't talking to Katie and I was excited for a guys' night. A guys' weekend. I was thinking hard about not thinking of Katie.
Finally, I looked around, noticing the silence. I didn't hear Gary or the fridge, but I couldn't remember if we had plugged it back in or not. There wasn't much use to.
"Gary? Eauaghagah?" I called making my way to the kitchen.
The absence was more startling than it should have been. It wasn't an instance of 'I know something is missing, but what?' The fridge was gone, and seeing the big empty space it left behind saddened me. There was no note, no explanation. I knew the landlord had probably come by and picked it up. He had been telling us he would buy a new one since we had moved in, but he hadn't even called to warn us. To tell us he would come by. It had to have been him, and yet still, part of me couldn't help but think the fridge had escaped on its own. There wasn't a new one in its palce. It had been crying for help for weeks. Calling out to be noticed. Just waiting for me to help it--show it some attention. It had been trapped in our house, and waited for us to help, until finally it flew away. I already missed it.
About the author:
Aaron Burch is the editor of Hobart. Thankfully, he has in fact gotten a new fridge and he doesn't miss the noises at all. Nor does he miss any of his roommates, but there was something to be said about waking up in the late Saturday afternoon and hearing the theme song from The Andy Griffith Show.