Dogs and Other Sounds of Living

The man in apartment 108 is watching porn too loudly again. He never knows how much noise comes out of his place at strange times. One could assume it’s something to do with his incredible age. The undiscernible amount of years, like hundreds of years old—ages—did not come off so wizardly. One morning, he could be heard hurling curses and booming threats across the street at a crazy, bulgy eyed pug that always ran too hard against its chain, screeching like a hateful crone, GET OFF MY LAWN! GET OFF MY LAWN!  The old man was revisiting a war-torn time, finally reaching his limit with the shrieking missiles he heard every time that dog opened its mouth.

“I swear to God,” he’d yell to anyone who could hear, “if I wasn’t a convicted felon, I’d own a gun, and that bitch would disappear!”

The dog hasn’t barked in the yard since.

People walking their dogs at night hesitate to go near his window. Some notice his curtains are far sheerer than he realizes, and his TV faces the window. When they hear moaning, they walk their dogs right passed his apartment, in both directions, with stealth and no hurry.

One of these is a six-week-old basset hound. He gets his walks from the insomniac addict in 211, covered in piercings, tattoos, and black, black, black, which defies his age, because he is too old for such angst. Or maybe he’s just into pain. The police knocked on doors inquiring about reported suspicious sounds. A neighbor was awakened by pounding, yelling, and howls.

“I wouldn’t say he’s a dog-beater, officer.”

It’s a wonder, the kind of man that can hurt something that trips over its own ears.

“Honestly, I’ve never heard a peep from him before tonight.”

The guy seems destined for a life of recluse. Some neighbors say he’s never home, but one cannot know if a man has never returned if they’ve never seen him leave—except the nosy dog-lover downstairs; autistic and diabetic; a bear of a woman with the demeanor of a nervous child. At night, any noise spooks; every thud might be a fatal fall, or more than one pair of shoes going up the stairs may as well be a party. Apartment 109 faces the street-front, so she hears everything, and sometimes more.

She never wears shoes during the day, endlessly pacing the building, staring without stopping, unless she encounters a neighbor with whom she can trade a hello. The greatest delight is passing a dog. Even this is awkward, having to deflect the slurred bellow that is her natural speech. She questions with forced determination things like, “How are you?” and, “Can I pet your dog.” It’s a clumsy interview of Charlie Brown by an adult: all vowels and spare consonants that make the listener bummed, and then more bummed when they realize she made them bummed. Then they realize how quickly they made it about them, and are further bummed until trapped between two mirrors of guilt facing each other.

No one ever says, “No lady, you can’t pet my dog.” Instead, they hope it’s a day her care-taker, who deems it appropriate to match volume with her client during their exchanges, will have helped her bathe that day. An odor just makes it worse, till they remind themselves that happiness for some is petting a dog a few times a day and relent.

“See,” she always says, “he likes me.”

For how much she walks, you’d think her own dog would be ideal. She has cats. Late one summer night, she began wailing. No one reacted because she sounded the same when talking on the phone with her mother, which was always farm-time early in the morning. Two days later, she had a new cat. It lives on the windowsill, presumably, to keep out of the way.

To live above such a cyclone of shouts and clumsiness is a trial of patience, not only as her most affected neighbor, but as owner of her favorite dog: a Pekinese-mutt with Muppet features; attention starved with huge, pleading eyes like a teenage girl.

The young man in apartment 209 does his best to cover noise. On a neighbor’s good day, he’s a writer, conspicuously doing laundry, machines whirling louder than his one-sided conversations, masking the smoke emitting from the cracks in his door with the flowery, powdery scent of dryer sheets and detergent.

After a pot of coffee and half a pack of cigarettes, he’s still up at dawn; papers everywhere, a calculator, a wooden picture of Jesus, an ashtray, mug, candles in darkness. This is how he works best-the only way he can work. He fed off the dark. In it, no one knew he was there. He prepares to blow out candles, gather his things, and shove them into hiding at the unexpected turn of a doorknob.

On a neighbor’s bad day, he’s a composer strumming the same chord progression on a loop, unsure if he’s doing it correctly. His guitar could be out of tune for all he knows. His awkward set list bounces over genres often preceded by clanging as he walks to the dumpster behind the building, tossing away inspiration, empty bottles, and crumpled papers.

The shut-in hibernating in 208 hated every tenant in the building. In bed at all times, all sounds of living bother her. She’s called cops on the old man’s TV, the young man’s guitar, and the insomniac’s struggle to remain sedate. She’s even called on the autistic honking. There are homes with her requirements, but she’s there for the same reason her neighbors are: The building allows dogs. In a time where dogs are contraband, people live there to avoid the inevitability of being alone. Pets among privacy remind them that the difference between them, and the occupants of the cemetery next to them, is noise: the welcomed sounds of living.

Marcus Hamley studied English at the University of North Dakota and is currently enrolled at Turtle Mountain Community College. With experiences as a writer, musician, actor, and producer, Hamley hopes to help other Natives with creative aspirations to develop their skills and talents to communicate and express art and entertainment effectively in all its forms at any level.

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