She lived in an apartment building just off a main road that eventually led to a bridge. It was the only bridge out of town and off the island. It was a busy street, not the best place to raise kids, but she didn’t have any and all that noise and danger kept the rent low. It was an adjustment, having to raise the TV or stereo volume during peak traffic hours, being woken up to screeching tires in the middle of the night, and having to move to the back room if she really wanted to hear what the other person on the phone was saying. Eventually she got used to it, accustomed to it like a white noise that reminded her of the world outside of the walls she lived in, its proximity, and how it was all fast paced. But inside, where she did most of her sleeping and eating and laughing and crying, the pace was her own. There was no fast or slow. No speed limits, no passing lanes, no rules.
She could keep time by the sounds of the cars, even on holidays. She knew it was close to dawn by the slow trickle of cars passing by, one after the other, taking their time on the dark empty road stretching out in front of them. The sun rose with the noise from the street, the trickle melting into a steady stream as sunlight broke through her front window. When it rained the sounds were amplified, water bouncing off metal roofs, tires splashing in and out of pot holes and gripping wet cement. In the morning she’d turn on her radio to drown out the hour and a half long wave of morning commuters honking their horns and shouting at each other, seemingly giving no thought or care to those who lived lives different from them.
Sometimes she peered out between her curtains and watched it all; the changing lights, the speeding, car after car lined up like a paused parade. She felt bad for them in the summer heat, stuck in their tin cans, rushing without movement. She felt their commuter frustration float off the street and into her apartment. She was glad then that she didn’t have a commute.
In the winter she felt entirely different, pockets of time when cars were nowhere to be heard. She lay awake and listened to the other sounds of the city, late weeknights between midnight and dawn when the motorists were safe and still in their homes. Distant voices and footsteps, barking dogs and feral cats, all special to her in their complete opposition of anything like an automobile.
Weekends were different; cars out all night and louder in the absence of competing sounds as everything else was sleeping. She listened as they raced, roar of the engines and spinning tires. It could go on all night.
On such a night she awoke to screaming tires in the darkness. It was so loud she was sure she’d be able to see the car swerving down the street from her window if she got out of bed to look. But she didn’t get up, not yet. She lay still in her bed listening and waiting with her eyes pointing in the direction of the sound, lights from the street lamp through her front window. Her heart beat hard as it kept on. It sounded dangerous.
In her head she heard what the crash would sound like; she had heard many living off that main road, next to a four way stop, screaming tires and then. She got good at telling what kind of accident had happened without looking. A head on collision or a rear ender or a T-bone, knocking up over the curb to a tree or a pole, it all had to do with the sound of metal and how much it crunched. When she heard glass break she knew sirens would follow.
She imagined the impact this screeching car would have: lots of crunching metal as the car impacted a building or broad tree lining the street, glass exploding from the pressure, bits and pieces of it raining onto the road. It would happen so quickly, all the crunching and exploding and shattering would become one, giving a layered depth to the voice of the crash.
As her mind imagined the strain of her neighbours shouting for help and for someone to call 911, the screaming tires had quieted and the usual night silence took over as if nothing had happened. She got out of her bed and walked to the window and looked out onto the dark street. Not a car in sight.
Lacy Lalonde is an underpaid Maritimer who sometimes writes things. You can follow her @lacylalonde.
Photo Credit: The Lonely Window by Stefan Insam is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.