Sound rises

ginko leaf on a sewer grate

“Do you hear that?” She tilted her head, trying to make out the sound.

“Hear what?” He blew over the top of his coffee cup, trying to cool the scalding liquid.

“It sounds like singing.” She swiveled in her chair, seeking out where the music was emanating.

Annie and Pete sat outside their usual kaffeeklatsch sipping steaming cups of espresso, and enjoying the warming weather. An early spring had brought out many of their neighbors and tourists, and the street and shops were bustling with activity.

“I don’t hear anything, but a lot of the shops have their doors open.” He took a tentative slurp, burning the tip of his tongue. “It could just be white noise, that annoying background, subliminal racket meant to lure in customers.”

She shook her head. It was an almost violent gesture, vexed by his dismissive attitude.

“No, it’s not coming from any one place, it’s coming from every place.” Annie swung around, nearly toppling their table. “Can’t you hear it?”

“Maybe a double espresso is a bad idea,” he said, picking up her already cold drink. “You’re a touch edgy, more caffeine is not gonna help.”

With a final stare that would curdle milk, Annie left Pete at the table, walking the two blocks to their apartment alone. The sound of singing seemed to follow her every step. The harmonies swirled around her legs, playing with her hair and clothes like a gentle breeze. Yet, she couldn’t make out any words. They were there, teasing and toying with her.

Once inside her apartment, the music stilled, and Annie gave a relieved sigh. She didn’t realize she had been holding her breath.

The music haunted her, but she longed to hear it again. Leaning against her door for a moment, she tried to conjure the sound.

Moving through the studio, she followed her normal routine. Cleaning and tidying the small space she shared with Pete. Newlyweds, they were still getting used to navigating the already cramped rooms.

All her housework made her tired, and hot. Pete was still out. Good, she thought. If he were home, they would have just argued.

She thought getting married would be different. That once he put a ring on it, he would change. She should have listened to her mother and girlfriends. Now, it was too late. She couldn’t leave now.

Pulling out a stool from the kitchen island, she dragged a glass across the counter and turned on the faucet. That’s when the singing started again. Turning off the tap, then turning it back on, she realized it was coming through the water.

When she was out in the street, earlier that morning, it must have been rising up through the rain drains. That’s why she couldn’t pinpoint the sound. The underground pipeline was acting like an organ flue, sending sound out every grate along the street.

Annie grabbed her smartphone, stopping at her door to key up the voice recorder. She needed to capture the sound so she could learn the words to the sirens’ sewer songs.

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Inspiration: Sewer Songs