Melissa R. Mendelson
It sounded like a refrigerator was running. Maybe, a microwave. It wasn’t what you would hear in a hospital. There, it was more of gasps and beeps. Then, a flatline, a sound that I thought would never leave. It never did.
All last week, my patients complained of hearing a sound, a hum. All last week, there was nothing but cracked teeth and clenched jaws. Cavity fillings, adjustments, and one root canal. At least, the sound of the drill gave them comfort, which was strange. Normally, most people hated that sound, and even the women at the desk heard the hum. I didn’t.
It was getting late. I didn’t want to go home. The house was too empty without her. Why did we have to buy such a large house? Because she wanted an observatory, so we made one. We spent that last night lying on the floor, drinking red wine and staring up at the stars. If only I knew what that moment really was, but it was too late. It was late now. Tomorrow was Sunday, and the office would be closed. I guess I had to go home.
I stopped at the gas station to fill up the car. It didn’t need the gas. I watched the people move around me. They seemed their usual, lost in their own world. Some kids played on their cell phones in the backseat of one car. Another man finished smoking his cigarette before exiting his car and snuffed the cigarette out onto the ground. People came and went out of the store. Smokes, beer and lottery tickets. No one buys food at a gas station, but one man did. Good luck with that hot dog.
“Do you hear it? Do you?”
I placed the pump back and closed the gas gap. I looked at the man standing outside the store. He covered his ears with his hands. His eyes darted left to right, right to left. He approached a woman, who was going into the store, but she changed her mind. She hurried away as he approached a man nearby, eating a hot dog.
“Do you hear it? That hum? I can’t get it out of my head. It sounds like the fan in my bathroom.” I smiled at the comment, but he saw my smile. “You think this is funny, man? I woke up this morning, and it was in my head. It’s still in my head. It won’t stop.”
I thought of my patients, and my smile disappeared. “I’m sorry.” I opened the driver-side door. “I can’t make it stop,” I added.
“Well, it’s not like you’re a doctor anyway?”
“No, I’m a dentist.” I got into the car and drove away.
I was a dentist, and she was the astronomer. What a pair. We were so wrong for each other in so many ways, but we hardly fought. We laughed instead, even through the worst times, even when I got hooked on Oxycodone. I thought I was going to lose her. Maybe, I should have. Maybe, if she wasn’t heading home that night to surprise me with dinner, she wouldn’t have been killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. It’s my fault that she’s dead. At least, it feels like it. I stared at the dark, empty house. It was too fucking big. Maybe, I should just sell it, but then I would have nothing left of her.
I needed a glass of wine. A large glass of red wine, but even with that in my system, I wasn’t tired. Instead, I found myself walking to the observatory, her observatory. I haven’t stepped foot inside since that last night with her. My hand shook as I turned on the lights. I inhaled half the wine.
“Come on. She wouldn’t want you to be like this.” I walked inside and stared at the maps and drawings along the walls. She had found something, something that terrified and amazed her. She had to tell me about it before the news broke, but no news ever broke about it. Whatever she had discovered was lost when she died.
Maybe, coming in here was a mistake. The sound of the flatline was louder. My hands remembered holding hers right until the end. I almost dropped the glass that I was holding. I switched off the lights. I turned around one more time just to see that night sky, that sky she loved so much. She had a favorite star, and she always said good-night to it. I looked for her star. It was gone.
“What the hell?” I stepped closer, peering out into the night sky. “It was right there.” Maybe, even the star knew that she was gone, but then I realized other stars were missing too. “What’s going on out there?”
I placed the glass on the floor and quickly turned the lights back on. I pulled her drawings off the walls. I laid them out on a table. She had marked some stars that she had seen out there. I looked for them. They were all gone.
“Something’s coming.” Those words made my heart run cold. “Something’s coming,” and she knew about it. This was her discovery, her secret that she had taken to the grave, but I knew about it now.
I realized the sound of the flatline was gone. After I kissed her good-bye, I could never shake that sound. Nothing could shake that sound, but I didn’t hear it now. I heard my heart beating. I approached the night sky. I stared out at the stars. One star seemed to vibrate, and then it was gone, almost as if it had been ripped away by an invisible hand. Whatever it was, it was coming here, and nothing could stop it. I could not stop it. Neither could she, and maybe it was better that she wasn’t here. A noise filled my head. It was the hum.
To be continued…