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Louder Than Noise

by Taylor Turner

         Cindy sat on a rickety bar stool while smoking Marlboro Lights trying to recall the events of tonight. She performed her job as usual, wearing her best scarlet dress with matching lipstick for another fat slob. She already had a few drinks, the only way she can perform without feeling utter shame, and when she entered the Metropolitan Hotel room, the red pompous ass she was spending the night with had a bottle of gin with a pack of Montecristo cigars and a matchbox.

         She shook those images out of her mind and focused her attention on Jimmy Sanders, another Night Hawk she always met with at the Phillies. Cindy believed he was a cop or detective or whatever. He was handsome enough, charming and flirtatious, dressed nice, but he had a melancholic look to him that reminded Cindy too much of her father. Across the bar sat Robert Mars, a journalist of some sort, always writing something down in his notebook accompanied by a dark cup of coffee. The owner of the diner, Danny Phil, always delighted to fill their empty cups and talk about how we beat the Germans in the war. The bright fluorescent lights of the diner lit up the damp dark streets of New York City. Billie Holiday's "I’ll Be Seeing You" was playing quietly in the background. Danny lit Cindy’s cigarette.

         “Are you working tonight, Cindy?” Jimmy asked, not looking up from his newspaper.

         Cindy took a smooth drag of her cigarette and said, “None of your goddamn business.” She didn’t feel much shame after she’s been living this life for fifteen years. She puts her scarlet red dress on just the same as a businessman puts on his suit and tie to go to work. That’s one thing she knows she does right–she knows her to pleasure a man, and she knows how to act. Sure, it’s not an honorable job, it’s sinful to most, but what is an attractive young woman supposed to do when she doesn’t have a wealthy husband to take care of her?

        “Come on, doll! You know I’m teasing.” Jimmy held his hands up in defense. He knew of her profession but didn’t turn her in. He was a terrible cop.

        Smoke was engulfing the diner. Danny began hand-washing the dirty dishes. Cindy felt her throat burning and the taste of nicotine. Robert pointed the tip of his pen toward her, “You shouldn’t be usin’ words like those, woman. You might find some bad karma coming your way!”

        It was hard to tell if Robert was joking or serious. His monotonous voice never gave any indication. “I’ll think about that while I’m burning in hell, dear.” Cindy smoked some more.

        “Cut her some slack, Mars. She’s just tired.” Danny is always with the save.

        The jukebox played a new record and sweet Vera Lynn started to sing. Her song "We’ll Meet Again" is quite eerie with a hint of uncanny. Cindy couldn’t explain the creepiness of this song, but every time she heard it, sung by the velvety voice of Vera, she felt a chilling stillness and a weird sense of unease. “Hey, doll. You hear William Shirer’s report this afternoon?” Jimmy asked her, finally making eye contact.

        “I don’t listen to the radio, Jim. I prefer pretty pictures of war machines and explosions through a glass screen.” Cindy replied sarcastically.

        Robert waved his hands and huffed, “Oh! Those televisions and those colored pictures these days! Back in my day, we watched silent films through a projector.” He sipped his black coffee, his glasses fogged from the heat.

        Jimmy flipped his newspaper to the crossword puzzle. “Okay, let’s solve this one.” Every time the four Night Hawks got together, they would solve the crossword puzzle and keep score. Whoever won got to choose the next song on the jukebox.

        “You’re going down, Sanders!” Danny shouted, setting down a freshly cleaned glass. He moved to stand across the bar from them, while Robert stayed sitting on his barstool.

        Jimmy looked over the crossword, “Seven across. Four letter word. ‘Resourceful.’”

        “Dumb,” Cindy answered.

        Robert thought, “Able.”

        Jimmy quickly wrote his answer down. “Okay, next word. Eleven across. Eight-letter word. ‘Last name of news commentator.’”

        “Oh! Oh!” Danny pointed, “Who’s the guy you just said?”

        Jimmy raised his brow, “Shirer? No, it doesn’t fit. Sorry, Phil!” Jimmy laughed in his face. “I believe you wanted to say… Winchell!”              Danny sighed and let out a groan. Jimmy wrote down the answer with amusement. “Okay, so that’s a point for me and a point for Robert.”

        Danny swiped the hat off his head, “We’re only just starting, pal!”

        “Onto the next one, come on!” Robert shouted anxiously. His toes tapped on the tiled floor.

        Danny hurriedly said, “Fine! Seventeen down. Five letters. It says ‘The red-headed girl Cindy is a…” Cindy slapped him on the arm.            Jimmy shouted in pain while the rest laughed.

        Cindy put out her cigarette in the ashtray and tried to keep her composure. “Come on, Cindy! It was just a joke!” Danny tried to explain.

        “You all are insufferable.” Cindy thought of ten other things she’d rather be doing right now.

        “Okay, okay, okay! I’ll read the real ones from now on!” Jimmy said, trying to sound sincere. He looked back towards the crossword,          “Twenty-four down. Five letters. ‘A word to call Robert a homosexual!’”

         Robert’s smile immediately fell into a frown. Jimmy and Danny both laughed and shook hands. Cindy pushed them both. “Don’t listen to them, Robbie! I think you’re a lovely straight man,” she defended.

        The Night Hawks continued to solve the puzzles for an entire hour. A dreadful, torturous hour for Cindy. These puzzles were meant to be solved by men. She felt they didn’t include any puzzles a woman would know. That’s another reason she didn’t read newspapers.

Jimmy won, like he always does. He went to the jukebox and selected a record. He usually picks a boring, classical song that no one ever selects, but tonight, he picked a romantic song; "For Sentimental Reasons" by Nat King Cole Trio. The song was sweet, sentimental, gentle. The marvelous melody flowed throughout the diner.

        “Would you mind a dance, Cindy?” Jimmy asked, holding out his hand by the jukebox.

        Cindy hesitated. “I-I’ve never danced before.” She stayed seated at the end of the bar, reaching for another cigarette.

        Jimmy smiled a crooked smile. “Well, there’s a first for everything.”

        Cindy left her stool and took Jimmy's hand. Jimmy began with a simple sway, guiding Cindy through the basic steps. At first, she stumbled a bit, unsure of her movements. Jimmy, however, remained patient, much to Cindy's surprise. He was acting out of character, saying encouraging words and being soft and gentle. With each step, Cindy's confidence grew. She started to enjoy the dance, and a smile brightened her face. As they twirled and swayed together, Cindy felt something; a ping in her heart.

        Once the song ended, Cindy awkwardly slipped away from Jimmy. Panic filled her body, she felt nauseous, confused. What the hell was that?

        “It's getting late. I should go.” Cindy muttered while rummaging through her purse to pull out the money she owed Danny for the many cups of coffee.

        Robert had slipped out of the diner without her noticing. She fled the diner, saying goodbye to Danny, but before she could leave, Jimmy stopped her. “Hey, Cindy. It's late, there won't be any buses stopping. You want me to take you home?”

        Cindy would rather place her hands into a raging fire than have Jimmy see her place. “No, that's okay, dear. I don't live far.”

        Jimmy nodded, hanging his head low. “Okay, well… Goodnight then.” He left her side and walked to his car. He stepped inside and started the engine. He slowly pulled out onto the road and drove away. Cindy whispered goodnight to herself.

        She began walking home. In the glow of city lights, she navigates the bustling streets of New York City, her pace quickened by a subtle unease. She saw shadows dancing in every corner, felt a cold chill down her spine. She clutches her purse tightly, glancing over her shoulder with heightened awareness.

       The distant hum of traffic mixes with the city's nocturnal symphony, creating an eerie backdrop to her journey. Every alley and unfamiliar face becomes a source of apprehension. The city was both enchanting and intimidating. She walked through the labyrinth of           New York City streets, seeking solace and security in the metropolis that never sleeps.

       After twenty minutes of excruciating anxiety, she made it to her tiny apartment building. It was decaying and falling out, dirty and musty, but it was home. She did not trust the front door after her last encounter with the superintendent who groped her for not paying rent on time. She had to walk towards the back of the building and climb up the fire escape to her apartment window on the third floor. It was hard to do in heels, so she had to remove them and climb barefoot.

        Cindy opened the window and collapsed on the floor, letting out an exasperated sigh of relief. What a day she had. She mustered up enough energy to stand up and walk to her half-kitchen. Her calico cat, Charlotte, heard her arrival and greeted her by hopping on the countertop, purring while Cindy petted her. She couldn't gain any energy to take a shower, only to remove her clothes until she was in her knickers and crashed onto her bed. She didn't think of Jimmy, the Night Hawks, or her superintendent, and drifted off to a deep slumber.

        She slept for twelve hours. The clock said 4:28.

        When she arose, it was unusually quiet. No honking or buzzing from the streets, no birds chirping, no rustling leaves; the city seemed to be still sleeping. She didn’t think much of the silence, it was just a slow day. She moved to her fridge and saw some mashed potatoes, parsnip salad, some packaged vegetables that were starting to spoil, condiments, and a bottle of wine. She grabbed the parsnip salad and a fork, it tasted tangy and sweet, with a crunch of the pecans.

        Strange; she didn’t hear the crunch while she chewed. She stabbed a pecan with her fork and popped it in her mouth. It satisfyingly fell apart in her mouth, but she still didn’t hear it. She rubbed her ears and shook her head, but heard nothing. The utter silence was louder than noise. She stared at Charlotte, who was meowing and scratching at her wooden cabinets–which she also couldn’t hear. She only heard a ringing in her ears, so loud it gave her a headache. She felt a bit of terror and captivity, unable to escape her own mind. She could feel her heartbeat and the blood flowing through her veins.

        Cindy felt an overwhelming urge to drown herself to free herself of the confinement of her own mind. She had to get out of her apartment, somewhere noisy and chaotic, the streets of Manhattan at rush hour. As she got dressed and fled her home, Cindy’s breath quickened, and her heartbeat became a thunderous drum echoing her inner turmoil. She felt claustrophobic in her own body. She opened the window and was immediately greeted by unearthly, scary silence. It was unnatural, blasphemous, paranormal even!

        As Cindy climbed down the fire escape, she uncontrollably yearned for an escape from this deafening silence–a respite from the quiet cacophony that reverberated through her every movement. Her mind began to create a mental storm, a relentless onslaught of her own thoughts, clouding her judgment as she walked the streets. A tall man wearing a fedora walked past her. She grabbed him by the arm and attempted to speak, but her voice never came out. The man stared at her like she had three heads and released her grip on him. She stared at his back walking away.

        She turned and stared at the crowd of people walking in unison. She tried to scream, to voice her terror, ask for help, anything. No sound was made–no heads were turned. She felt her vocal cords straining, she was making noise, but still no sound. She was oblivious to the world, an empty shell of a person who used to turn heads. She used to be a star of the streets. People would come from all over the city and pay thousands just for one night with her. Now, she had nothing. Was she dead? Is this what Hell is like?

        She roamed the streets endlessly. The echoing of silence made her head spin. She was nauseous and light-headed, her vision was blurring, turning white. She collapsed to her knees and fell against a brick wall of a jewelry store. All the energy gained from her body and her entire vision went black.

        When Cindy awoke, it was nighttime. The bright lamp poles and streetlights burned her retinas. Her vision was still hazy, but her nausea was thankfully gone. She glanced around her surroundings; her purse was gone and her coat pockets were inside out. Her knees were bloody, her hair was tangled, and one of her heels was broken. She must have been carrying over a hundred bucks from her last gig. The world was silent still. Cindy brought herself to her wobbly feet and tried to find a familiar landmark. In the distance, she saw the billboard of a new Max Factor moisturizer. If she turned left, she would be at the Phillies.

        With one heel snapped off, Cindy limped towards the diner, begging that the Night Hawks would help her. She eventually reached the Phillies feeling like ten years had gone by. Through the large window, she could see the Night Hawks, sitting in their usual seats. She never thanked God for anything, but she did when she saw those three, they never changed. Cindy busted through the diner doors and hopped her way inside. She was exhausted and out of breath, the coolness from the diner tickled her face. She heard exasperated cries from the boys. She felt so embarrassed to face them, to admit that she had gone crazy. She hadn’t felt so embarrassed in a long time. She raised her head.

        Once Cindy locked eyes with Jimmy, it was like an explosion. All the many noises and sounds returned to her ears in one crashing sound wave. Her ears started bleeding and she cupped her hands around them. She cried in agony, so grateful to hear her own voice again. Jimmy came to her side and wrapped his arms around her. She collapsed into him, tears welling her eyes. She felt the warmth of his presence, the beating of his heart, and the tangible reality that everything had returned to normal.

        “Woah, woah, doll! What happened?” Jimmy asked frantically. Cindy melted–that voice, the most beautiful voice.

        Cindy realized that, somehow, Jimmy saved her, and released her silent prison. She didn’t want to question it. She never wanted to leave him from that moment on, terrified the deafening silence would return. As they pulled away from their embrace, Cindy looked into Jimmy’s blue eyes–never realizing how blue they were–finding that profound connection they shared just last night. The echoes of the song "Blue Champagne" by Jimmy Dorsey and Bob Eberly played in the background. “Let me buy you a cup of coffee, doll.”

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