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Silence in Forty-Two

Story by Dustin M. Hoffman (Read author interview) June 22, 2015

Art by Ted Riederer

The maintenance man jingles down the hallway. His tool belt of screwdrivers and hammer and wrenches claps his thighs. He passes one red door and another red door and another and more, until he stops at apartment forty-two. Where the deaf girl lives. The beautiful deaf girl with curly black hair and those hips, and oh those hips, those hips too wide for her flat stomach and small breasts. Those hips that would match his own pelvis. He knocks and waits, knocks and waits, yells maintenance, but what’s the point? She’ll never hear him. Last time, he walked in on her watching TV, volume blaring, her hands slightly raised off the sofa, floating on an inch of air, cupping vibration, feeling words in a way he can’t hear.

This time, she could be stepping out of the shower. No towel. Those impossible hips bare. Wrapped in all the silence of the world, there’s no need for a towel, to hide those hips. Those wet curls dripping. She’ll stare from the bathroom threshold, until all the silence sucks him in and the door slams shut and she screams pleasure until his ears ring.

He slides the master key into deadbolt, opens. No one. The deaf girl is gone, has taken all her silence with her. Inside her apartment, he hears the girls at the pool laughing through the slider, voices thin as their sun-bleached bikinis. A car stereo bumps bass. The garbage truck beeps, backing up to the dumpster. Its forklift crashes against steel, and everyone’s trash rushes and slams, a muck avalanche. Washing machines churn next door, sopped and strangled clothes asking, Where’s-she? Where’s-she? Where’s-she?

He breathes in, closes his eyes, finally finds the drip, drip, drip of her leaking showerhead. He wrenches off the head, retapes the threads, reattaches, and the bathroom becomes silent. Easy. Except for the garbage truck’s bleats, tin-can laughter, bass thump, electronic chug. He shuts the bathroom door. Still hears. He turns on the fan, and this is something like it. The blades whir, motor hums, and the world of the apartment complex fades into one thing. But this thing is still a sound. He switches off the fan, and now a car alarm whines. He jams towels under the door, but can’t unsing every note. He pushes his fingers into his ears, and hears his heart throb. Does she hear this part or is her blood mute? He’d like to ask her if pulse is the same as beat. But she wouldn’t hear him. Maybe they’d use paper, his stubby carpenter’s pencil on a torn triangle of one of her fat brilliant books written by a Russian. They’d pass it back and forth and he’d forget every sound but scribble.

His blood thumps against his calluses, against his cartilage, and sound turns to feeling. It comes harder the longer he presses. So long in silence, she must feel a thousand times as much. Her heart is a jackhammer, her veins a riot, her hips a tectonic plate.

About the Author

Dustin M. Hoffman

Dustin M. Hoffman is the author of the story collections One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist (University of Nebraska Press, 2016) and No Good for Digging (Word West LLC, 2019), and the chapbook Secrets of the Wild (Word West LLC, 2019). He painted houses for ten years in Michigan and now teaches creative writing at Winthrop University in South Carolina. His stories have recently appeared in The Rupture, Gulf Coast, DIAGRAM, Fiddlehead, Alaska Quarterly Review, and One Story. You can visit his site, dustinmhoffman.com.


About the Artist

A “one-time refugee from punk and sometime band member,” Ted Riederer has armed himself with painting supplies, electric guitars, amplifiers, old LPs, record players, drum kits, hard disk recorders, photography equipment, a vinyl record lathe, and long-stemmed roses as he’s ambled artistically from the Americas to the Antipodes. His work has been shown nationally and internationally including exhibitions at PS1, Prospect 1.5, Goff and Rosenthal Berlin, Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, Jack Hanley Gallery (San Francisco), Marianne Boesky Gallery, Context Gallery (Derry, Ireland), David Winton Bell Gallery (Brown University), The University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, the Liverpool Biennial, and the Dhaka Arts Center, Bangladesh.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Eight

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