I like sleeping with the windows open. Okay so I like having the windows open always, but it’s only at night that I allow myself to extravagantly feel fresh air in addition to artificial air. On the coldest nights I’ll raise the pane a slice before burrowing into the bedding. It feels like a sharp high-pitched note against my cheeks and eyelids. That slice turns into a dull brass tuba during the day to night heat of summer. In these old, thrifty apartments where every appliance groans, burps, and rattles their bones only the feeling of ambient voices can be heard.
For the past week our weather — days that run fair and hot, nights that couldn’t achieve better perfection — has convinced me to open every window — all three of them — gaping wide. In this weather, the heaters and the A/Cs that make our atmosphere bearable are silent. We, the residents — people and animals — are an audible cacophonous chorus. A person walking by below happily sings off-tune, another deeply questions Why? Why? God Dammit! at his team’s failing, a frayed twig with a single crisp leaf brushes its trunk, strings strum…each sound — more and more of them — for a moment raises higher before falling into chorus.
The cat spends her afternoon hours exploring outside — unlike the quick mornings these are private adventures. She’s learned a plaintive squeak — the saddest sound I’ve ever heard — that gets me to open the door almost every time so that I don’t think myself cruel. The small courtyards and under-apartment walkways echo the pelling of her collar bell.
It’s at night when I won’t give in. At night the individual sounds are larger — when the chhhrrrr of the ever-present traffic quiets, but the few wheels bumping over pot-holed asphalt carry. For the last time I instruct the dog, home, until he walks upstairs, too long nails clacking the concrete steps that rock their metal outlines. I curl myself into a book. She alone restlessly runs between open windows to get a look at what she hears.
“Did you see a possum?” I ask as she makes a sudden dash down the hall and back. It’s only an assumption on my part because I heard the sshhttssshhtl of fallen leaves stuck against a chain link property-divider and I’ve seen a fat possum walking the top silver-grey cylinder before. It might be another cat, a raccoon, or even a rat.
I read the book out loud as she curls against my shoulder. Her raspy purrr breathes under my voice that, I’m sure, drifts into a neighbor’s window. All day long I’ve intruded their homes with sounds and smells.
From the privacy of my own kitchen I’ve shared more of my life than I’ve meant to. Streaming music plays accompaniment to my evening hours. Water runs through the pipes that connect every apartment. I’ve banged, clanged, and dropped each food-streaked to water-beaded dish. Making an unmeasured with what-I’ve-got Pasta Carbonara has surely been the most invasive minutes.
Cooking absorbs all the senses. Without looking I know that water is boiling by the aluminum lid excitedly knocking against its aluminum pot. The bacon’s fat bubbling in the cast iron skillet, cracking the egg, snapping the asparagus stems, biting a test piece of spaghetti, keeping a word for each pet as they independently attempt to steal a sliced polygon of bacon — only taste doesn’t get to participate yet.
They know that smell — raw bacon, cooking bacon, the paper towel soaked in drained bacon grease. My neighbors must know it too. There’s a cake in the oven I have to check by sight and feel because I can’t smell the three layers flavored with spiced blackberry jam over tonight’s dinner.
Soon enough I’ll regain privacy — when the weather turns rainy, freezing, then hot. The sounds — so loud in their confinement — won’t be exceptional anymore. Except for at night, with my slightly open window, when I will continue to hear a neighbor’s dog wearily crying, yipping, and barking its loneliness.
Dragons Need Cake: and other writing scraps is now available for purchase lots of places.