She hated the roar of the ocean. In the post office, water was the enemy, and she was the first line of defense. For the drowning USPS, piles of letters and packages, soaked to the pulp, meant more lost revenue, more lost jobs. So she checked for leaks, made sure the roof was kept in good condition, even inspected the toilets at night.
Sometimes, sifting through letters in the back of the post office, she could hear it, the rustling that turned into a roar, drowning her thoughts. No one else seemed to hear it; they just went about business as usual. She’d even taste a bit of saltwater in the back of her throat, bringing to mind the smell of lemon-honey water and Vic’s VapoRub, her grandma’s remedies for colds. It instantly made her nose stuff up and her throat scratchy.
Today, the roar was louder than ever, a train bearing down on her, filling her head with the impossible noise of metal screeching on metal, fire roaring through the heart. She couldn’t even whistle it away. She could hardly breathe. It grew louder and louder until she couldn’t hear her co-workers talking in the background or the grumblings of the truck engines as they came and went. Her mind was full with sound, a blinding tunnel of sound, encompassing as snow plowing down the mountain, plunging her into whiteout.
As they moved boxes the next morning, the first thing they saw was her face stretched in horror, mouth agape, a waxen effigy. Her hands were bowed tightly over her ears, wet with saltwater.
She hated the roar of the ocean. Even above all the people blaring music on the beach, calling out to catch the ball before it hits the road, yelling at the kids swimming too far, she could still hear it. Her parents had thought it would be great to come to the seaside, get away from it all. They had even tricked her, told her they had a really great surprise for her. Dirty liars.
She tried to hide from it, put her pillow over her head, headphones securely on. She preferred the stagnant RV air, pulling the close walls around her like a blanket. But her parents dragged her out by her feet, couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to go see it.
So she went, and the sea confronted her. The waves slashed at her feet, and the sand gritted into her shoes. The cold water crept up her legs, threatening to pull her down, and she retreated to the sand. If only I could bury my heart here, she thought. She plunged her hands deep into the frigid sand, which closed around them like gloves
The next morning, the ocean roar woke her in the small bed above the kitchen nook. For a moment, she heard her heartbeat fall in rhythm with the waves. And though her head still crashed alongside the thunder, the roaring was gone.
She hated the roar of the ocean, so she made her home in the panhandle of Oklahoma, the afterthought of redneck country. She’d never thought of herself as a redneck, but now she lived in the country with three dogs and a dead tractor for company.
By day, she worked a shift at a local mechanic’s shop, the grease and monotony broken only by breakdowns not easily solved by a replacement. By night, she tamed her boredom with books. Books filled her bathroom, towered next to her bed, toppled over as the dogs dashed through the room. And the piles were covered with more books.
In her dreams, the words from the pages wrote themselves along timing belts, wiggled around transmissions, marched on past the brake pads. “Reader, I married him,” fused itself to the engine, and “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself,” trumpeted out the muffler. She’d even seen an invisible man or two in the depths of a fuel tank. But, she refused to read Moby Dick. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea sent shivers up her spine. She’d made her way through The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, though there were a few suspect areas. Her sister from Galveston knew better than to mention daily beach walks in her letters, letters that stopped arriving on a day late in April with the arrival of a phone call, your sister’s in the hospital, you need to come.
On the drive down, she listened to self-help books. Face Your Fears or They’ll Face You. Bite Off More than You Can Chew. That Spider Will Not Bite You. After hours of take it step-by-step and it’s all in your head, it was all she could do not to gouge the radio out and throw it through the window. Instead, she turned it off and let the droning of the road fill her head with its steady white noise.
In the hospital, the incessant beepbeepbeep of machines blurred the edges of outside sound, and she concentrated on her sister’s breathing. Her sister’s eyes stayed perilously closed, though they fluttered when her name was spoken. At the house that night, she gulped deep breaths of air and turned the stereo as loud as it would go, but she still heard it, the waves crashing on sand and rock.
Her sister pulled through and their mother arrived, but not before she had spent a week in the house, stereo and ocean keeping her eyes open, blistered red. She said she’d stay one more day. With her sister home, her mother in the next room, the silence of the house echoed the ocean down the tunnels of her ears. She left, with just a note saying, “‘Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple’—Love you both.”
Dawn was long past when she reached home. Tunnel vision had nearly overtaken her, and her eyes were filled with floating lights, the pit of her stomach hollow. Her fingers twitched from caffeine as she opened her car door and walked up the steps. With the first squish, she rushed through the door, water gushing at her feet. Her books were muddled piles of pulp and covers, mounds like wet graves. She breathed deeply in and out, shut the door. Her feet carried her back to her truck, where she slept until the sun woke her again. She turned the key, picked up her dogs, and pointed the truck back toward those she loved.
Jennifer Luckenbill is a freelancer in search of a “real job.” She currently lives in Grapevine, TX. She has two master’s degrees, in Women’s Literature and Library Science, which are handy for making paper airplanes. She has been published in journals such as Poetry Breakfast, Poetry Quarterly, Mused, GlassFire Magazine, and The Long Islander. She owns an Etsy store with two other people (WarehouseRoyGBiv) and can be found at Goodreads.