Groundswell

They slip olive leaves into their mouths and toast the discovery of their common intolerance.

It started a few months ago, she says.

Sound, all of it! he says.

Even dissonance? she asks.

He knows to nod and does so, slowly. They eye each other and collapse back into the booth, away from the table. She folds her hands with the palms up, as if to receive communion.

The headphone’s cord bangs against the side of her bus seat, the metal, male part of it making a tink tink on the frame. The over-sized, cushioned pieces cover her ears.

Don’t you need to plug this in? asks the man across the aisle.

He takes the cord and holds it up, smiling in a helpful way. She takes the cord from his fingers and places it inside her bag, pretending to connect it to something. She nods at the man, the kind of nod that resembles what men do when they say hello without speaking, a tossing up of the chin and a look of acknowledgment in the eyes. He nods back in the usual way, chin down, slightly disappointed.

Her ads selling an electric and an acoustic guitar have not come to anything. No one wants them. This is good and bad news. Good in that it reinforces her current world view regarding the worthlessness of chord tonalities, bad for her prospects of making extra money to go to the Laundromat and do some six weeks worth of washing. The wood panels, the wire strings, the metal pickups—stacks of quarters to feed into a machine.

They come together and box the ears of the stereo. They slump, defeated, and then rise to do it again. The heating unit vibrates on, sending hot water through pipes in the apartment, pipes that line the walls and ask the heat to leave the metal, to move into the room. The two wrap their hands around the pipes, listening to the slosh of motion. The girl presses her cold ear to it. The boy watches her, waiting for instruction. Her ear warms and she rotates her head to place the other ear on the pipe. She is now facing away from the boy. She allows herself a fraction of a smile and a slight warble leaves her mouth. The boy startles. It is the first human sound in a week, since they wrapped themselves in the silence of anhedonia.

The boy says nothing. He presses his ear to the pipe. The warm water sways him with its sound—the groundswell, coming.