The Speed of Sound

Short Story: Sci-fi Drama

Jay had never been much of a talker. He had won Carrie’s heart with gentle touches on the hand and shoulder, neck and waist. He had made her dizzy with rare utterances of her beauty and his love, precious because they were so rare. When they married three years ago his vow had been short and sweet – Carrie, you were perfect when I first saw you, and you’re perfect still. I’ll love you forever, because you’ll be perfect forever.

She thought of those words as she heard him bumping around upstairs, just woken up, sleepy and stumbly. She smiled to herself and hummed along to the radio, flipping pancakes and bacon.

When he came into the kitchen he was freshly shaved and smelled of soap. He kissed her on the cheek and she said “How’s pancakes sound?”

“Sounds good to me,” he replied, and shook out the newspaper.

Over the sizzle of the bacon, the radio began to spout news in an authoritarian manner.

“Have you heard about this?” Carrie said, pointing to the radio with a spatula. “They keep saying the speed of sound is slowing, but they’re making such a big deal out of it.”

“They’re just panicking. The only people that’ll notice is scientists. It’s barely in the paper.”

“You’re right. Say, what do you think of visiting downtown today? I want to check out Borrowers.”

He smiled at her over his paper. “We just went there two weeks ago.”

She set the steaming pancakes on the table. “But you never know. Someone might have dropped off a whole pile of fantasy books.”

“All right,” he said, and squeezed the hand she had set against his cheek.

Their first date hadn’t been planned to include a trip to Borrowers. But they had some time before their movie started and they had gone for a walk, and Carrie had suggested they stop in. That’s how they found out that they both loved Anne McCaffrey. They were late for their movie, but they didn’t care. They ran to the theater in the rain, Carrie clasping a bag of books to her chest to keep them dry. They had been Jay’s first present to her.

Carrie heard Jay’s stompings storming about upstairs and sighed. It wasn’t a sigh of loving exasperation at her man’s clumsiness; it was a sigh of another morning over a stove, cooking another breakfast. The sigh had a strange doubling, rattling first in her throat and then again a second later in her ears. Like an echo. Surround-sound sigh. She flipped an egg and though she saw the edge of it sizzle the sound took a moment to reach her.

Jay entered the kitchen and shivered out his newspaper. He didn’t kiss her. He hadn’t kissed her in months.

“Eggs okay?” she asked.

There was silence. Then, “Sure” came the reply.

The radio chattered about the slowing of a speed. It upset her to hear these things, these things no one could do anything about. What was the point of talking about it?

“I think we should go to the book shop today,” she said, sliding eggs and bacon onto a plate. She saw the toast pop up in the corner of her eye before the shunk of it snapped in her ears.

After a while, she heard “What for?”

She turned, plates in hand. “I just thought we could browse.”

After she set down the plates she saw his lips move. Then she heard him, out of sync with his mouth. “No thanks. You go.”

When he had proposed, he had hidden the ring in an old beat-up copy of Magic’s Pawn, sitting on the shelf at Borrowers. Magic’s Pawn, her favorite book, that she had four copies of but still bought whenever she found a different edition. A book he knew she would pick up. She slid it off the shelf and the ring tumbled to the floor, and he knelt to pick it up and present it to her, and the shop owner congratulated them as they left the maze of books, beaming and holding each other. Carrie thought she would never stop smiling; her face was permanently altered.

Jay rumbled and tumbled upstairs. Carrie didn’t make a sound. She didn’t like that echo in her head and ears. Didn’t even like to make too much noise with her footsteps. The disparity made her nauseous. She chopped a hard-boiled egg in two and set it on a plate. She heard the toast pop up and turned around, touched it. It was lukewarm.

The radio started on the news again. She flicked the knob to off and was distressed when the announcer continued talking to her. She tried to ignore it until it clicked away, but she couldn’t hum or sing over it. It was there in her ears until it wanted to leave on its own.

Jay entered the kitchen before she heard him on the stairs. He sat and shook out his newspaper. She wished he wouldn’t do that. She tried to time her words to interrupt the sound.

“We should go into town today.”

The newspaper rattled in her ears.

Then there was silence.

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