Gone With The Wind
They sit in a box in the attic marked MOVIES. The letters look lopsided, almost flat. Edith marked the box herself whilst her wrist was sprained from all the packing. It is the contents held in that box she thinks of when she hears the evocative hum, with no particular film in mind. It is a questioning noise; low enough to be dismissed, yet present enough to consider its maker.
Edith thinks of the song, "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
From a young age, Edith had been a veritable movie junkie. With the invention of the VCR, hallelujah; she could pause, rewind and replay. According to Edith, this was a giant step for mankind. An original moonwalk. Watching all of her MOVIES multiple times, she adopted the habit of turning the volume way down during the credits while her husband Jerry dozed beside her still clothed in his sweat stained uniform. Listening to the negligible hum coming from the VCR, she was both fascinated and humbled by the desperate unraveling of each and every tape as it came to its end, thrilled when it held, helpless to save one of them should suicide be their demise. Ironically, not one of them ever snapped. Not one. They held. Yet it was her prerogative to feel this unwarranted concern, fearing beyond reason that all good things must and will eventually come to an end.
"What did I miss?" Jerry would always ask the next morning when they were getting ready for work. He loved movies too, but not as much as he loved Edith. She would fill him in and he intently listened. Rolling his own version of a tape created by her words, he would be satisfied. Back then it was 12 o'clock twice a day, but who knew? Other than having to obey the clock for their work schedules and daylight saving time, time was irrelevant. Their bills got paid, and rainy days were not a disappointment. They were always guilt free movie days. Their leisure minutes together in front of the VCR were never enough, and neither of them could believe they would not live on in love with their movies and each other forever. Cheek to cheek, soul to soul, without counting sheep, sleep was a beautiful mid summer's night dream.
Unable to part with her MOVIES, long after the VCR broke, all of the VHS tapes that survived sat in their sleeves on a shelf collecting dust. When Edith and Jerry neared retirement and decided to move out to the suburbs, she still had trouble parting with them in spite of their obsolescence.
"You're not packing up those old VHS tapes are you? Didn't we agree it was time to throw them out? Edith? Please? Edith? Please? Remember what we agreed upon? Remember Honey? Edith, Honey? Out with the old in with the new?"
Jerry needn't ever refresh her memory.
"Yes dear. I do remember." Edith lamented, always aiming to please him, but still, she just couldn't imagine throwing her MOVIES away in the trash, so without further ado they came along for the ride feeling worthy. Aware of the contents of the box, upon their arrival, Jerry put her MOVIES in the attic himself without complaint. Now, in a corner, in the dark, up above is where they remain in their neglect, unusable, as a completely useless aging commodity refusing to accept their fate.
Jerry was gentle with Edith. Always. Like the time she was weak with a bad bout of the flu. He bathed her, dried and combed her hair so tenderly she fell back asleep before he was done. Waking as her fever broke, he was right there beside her ready to wipe her forehead with a soft dry cloth, lifting up a cool glass of water at needed intervals towards her pale dry lips. After smoothing out the tangled covers, he combed her bangs away from her forehead gingerly with his fingers as they fell, where he planted soft healing kisses. Never before had she been so cared for, not even by her mother. Of this she was sure. Exhausted, he sat up till she fell asleep again, refusing his own inclination to close his eyes until he heard the easing rhythm of her breathing, giving himself permission. He lay beside her, in sickness and in health, always in awe.
Edith did not fall for Jerry because he was movie star handsome. Edith fell for Jerry, because he was Jerry. Because every once in a while life gives someone a fairytale, and life gave Edith a love story. Jerry was never jealous, even when she made such a big deal over Cary Grant or any other lead actor in a movie that clearly did not look anything like him. He was so kind, so good, so loving, even if he had a movie doppelganger, there was no need and no reason for her to connect his likeness to any famous stranger as she was habitually known to do. To others, not Edith, Jerry was average. Average looks, average height, and he tipped the scale on the side of husky. His favorite meal was chicken pot pie and she made it for him once a week, usually on a Friday if she wasn't running late from work. If she was, she'd call Jerry and he'd say, "No worries Hon. Let's get take out." Without asking, somehow he'd pick up exactly what she was craving and they would sit together on the couch eating off of their tray tables, laughing in between bites if it was a comedy, and crying should the drama be tragic.
On Saturdays the meat balls were formed early by Edith's hands right after coffee crafted with intentional stale bread, simmered in tomato sauce all day steeped with fresh garlic. Never afraid of a new recipe, trays of baked goods good enough for a crowd popped out of her oven. Jerry could not figure how he had gotten so lucky. She was beautiful, she was kind, she cooked and she picked him?
It was her joy to watch Jerry come back for seconds. Anyway, she preferred a man with meat on his bones. At least that was what she told him and he believed her. Jerry had thick dark hairy arms that might turn some women off, not Edith. After they would make love she would run her fingers up and down either arm, whichever was closest, she had no preference, combing out the curls with her unmanicured nails. The hair on his arms was way too thick for her to see down to his skin, but she knew the goosebumps were there, it was obvious by the way his eyes rolled back as he lifted up his chin back towards the headboard.
Somewhere between turning off Cake Wars and the teapot whistle, Edith heard the curious hum again, foolishly searching the room for the non-existent VCR. Wanting very much to move towards the sound with no sense of its direction, she stepped forward with cupped hands behind both ears. It didn't matter that it did her no good. She had seen it in a movie. Lacking reason she closed her eyes believing it would help sharpen her hearing, bumping multiple times against the adjoining sheetrocked wall as she walked towards the kitchen. It was then that the hum had lost her focus, if it was still there at all, devoured by the teapot signal and the craving for the oatmeal cookies she could no longer avoid.
Inside the kitchen the steam from the kettle lifted up over her head before it landed on a napkin, the counter, and the top side of her breasts. In spite of her age her breasts were still perky or they appeared to be because Edith made sure from a young age to wear a bra with a proper fit; one with ample support to hold up her comparable Jane Mansfield bosoms. It seemed she was packing on the pounds of late, baking cookies and familiar pot pies to pass the time. Quite often she ate alone at the counter continually taking one bite or two, without washing the fork, knowing she'd return for another bite, and another, why bother? She would lose count of her trips into the kitchen, nibbling on and off all day aiming to keep content, always longing in want.
"Just two." She said out loud, blopping two scratch oatmeal cookies onto the damp napkin. Edith was not about to waste a plate and reused her napkins regularly without cause for alarm.
Edith couldn't say exactly what time of day the drone would become most obvious. Was it a week; two weeks; a month since she first heard the hum? Maybe it was just before bedtime when she turned off the television and walked down the hallway to the bathroom. Maybe it was when she turned off her electric toothbrush, turned off the light and crossed over the threshold expecting something else. Maybe it was when she got into bed and struggled, strangled by her twisted loose leg pajama pants. Overwhelmed, doing nothing to help her out of her predicament, blame was irrationally placed upon her cruel cold feet.
"Spoiled little brats," she called them, as if they were the real problem; as if they had a mind of their own conspiring with her pajamas and the thorny rose print sheets to keep her awake listening to an indeterminable hum. Sitting in the closet neatly stacked, a set of smooth white sheets ready to commit taunted her. Eventually she settled and sleep would come on the other side of the bed previously reserved by her husband.
"Why are my feet always so cold?" She asked Dr. Simpson. She wasn't used to driving to the office alone, choosing to leave the radio off during the drive so she could pay strict attention. Every traffic light was seen as a threat even when it remained green without a hint of yellow. A smiling pregnant woman walked into the brick building beside her and held the door for her. Edith thought, "Isn't this supposed to happen the other way around?"
Edith believed her doctor was quite handsome; that he looked like Rock Hudson, although she was certain he wore too much cologne for the seriousness of his profession. In her opinion, she believed all doctors should strictly adhere to smelling sterile or at least antiseptic. Cologne in general, she believed, should be used sparingly, and prohibited in all places of business. She could not fathom an exception.
"Your feet are cold due to a phenomenon called Raynaud's Syndrome. Basically, Raynaud's causes small arteries supplying blood to the skin to excessively constrict in response to cold. It's very common in women your age, but nothing serious, as I explained to you during your last appointment. Nothing to worry about."
"But how can I sleep with cold feet?" She protested, expecting a pill or some other quick fix.
"Wear double socks." He said before quickly ushering her out of the examination room, clicking his pen, avoiding eye contact. Unnecessary office visits irked him. And then he added, "Or move to a warmer climate." Hoping she would. There were other more critical patients waiting for him in the lobby. She left the building feeling dismissed, feeling small, the same way she felt in kindergarten when a boy she called Meany told the whole class not to pick her for dodgeball.
Double socks did not help. At all. Frustrated, she lay in bed again tangled up, wide awake, unable to find the sweet spot, consumed yet again more acutely with whatever it was that she was hearing. From where and what?
"There it is again."
She was unsure if the hum was coming from the front or the back or possibly even under the house. It would just begin to intrude, increasing in volume, sending a signal that somewhere beyond her control there was a festering invader seeking to unnerve. If the hum was more constant she thought she might have a fighting chance to identify it at its source. However, during several trips outside following the direction of what she suspected could be its origin, with each step closer, the hum would abruptly stop.
"It's mocking me." She whispered to no-one under her breath.
"Does it have eyes?"
Eventually, standing alone in the silence she would surrender, turn around, and walk back towards the house questioning if she had heard it at all. Each time, five or six steps removed, the hum returned with a vengeance. She imagined a skeletal hand reaching up and out of a grave flipping a switch to ON. When she turned back to look behind her there would be nothing but the same dry flat ground and a severed fallen branch from a tree pointing in her direction she felt sure she had already picked up.
Back inside the house she busied herself with routine. A load of laundry and a little vacuuming, baking a tray of cookies to be shared with her neighbors all made her feel a sense of relief while listening to the constant rhythm of the dryer and the hand held motor. Both filled her ears with normalcy, temporarily pardoning the alien hum, when suddenly she was interrupted by the doorbell.
She opened the door to find the letter carrier standing in front of her holding a package containing her medication.
"Shush. Listen. Do you hear it?" She said, completely disregarding the reason for his arrival.
"That strange hum out there coming from under the ground. I think. I'm not sure where it is coming from. Do you know if the earth's core makes any noise before an earthquake?"
"Lady, I drive a truck and deliver things. One of your neighbors just asked me if I know how to make meringue. No offense, but might I suggest as I suggested to her that you people google these things? I've got to finish my route and get home to my wife and infant triplets. And no, to answer your question, I do not hear a strange hum, but if I heard a strange hum my first inclination would be to call the gas company. Don't worry, it's probably nothing, but why don't you call out of precaution? Good luck."
"Oh, Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry for bothering you. Thanks for the advice and have a nice day."
Edith said this to him while staring at the back of his head as he hurried back to his truck. He turned around briefly and waved which she thought was quite honorable. He looked a little like Marlon Brando. "A Streetcar Named Desire", Marlon Brando, not "The Godfather", Marlon Brando. She always remembered to give him an envelope at Christmas containing twenty dollars. Maybe it wasn't enough. She made a mental note to give him two twenties next year. Looking down at her hands with the door still wide open she realized she was now in possession of the delivered package, even though she had no recollection of taking it from him.
Edith went inside and put the package down on the counter laughing out loud at her foolishness. All this time she had been attempting to chase down the origin of an unfamiliar sound without googling it. Why? Before turning on her computer, she took the letter carrier's advice and called the gas company first, explaining the nature of the odd hum.
And through the phone she heard, "No ma'am. I can't say we've received a call about a strange hum. Do you smell gas? No? Well then you're okay. But I will make a note of your comments for the inspectors just in case. Why don't you call the water company to play it safe and tell them what you told me?"
She thanked the gas company employee for their time and then called the water company right away and through the phone she heard. "You are out in Pittsville? We've had no complaints in the area. Water flowing properly? Yes? Then you're okay ma'am. But hey. Not that it's any of my business but have you ever heard of tinnitus? I've actually got a case of it myself and sometimes it sounds like a symphony of assorted hums in between my ears. Maybe you should get your ears checked? Just trying to help you out. Don't mean to get personal. Process of elimination, ya know?"
She thanked the water company employee very much for their time and then went straight to her computer laughing out loud at herself again. She googled "hum under the earth before an earthquake" first, and really didn't see any connection to what she was hearing and then she googled "tinnitus."
"Oh. You've got to be kidding me. Why didn't I think to call an ear doctor?"
She made a call to the Pittsville ear doctor and during the week leading up to her appointment, the strange hum was becoming ever more constant and obvious. When Edith met up with Dr. Cleary she asked him about the possibility of her having tinnitus. Dr. Cleary was no Rock Hudson. Nothing like Dr. Simpson. He was "Fred Gwynn" gangly with a slicked down gray comb over. She appreciated that he was cologne free; companionable with the sterile environment. After giving her some routine tests for tinnitus, he said, "I can diagnose you by symptoms alone, so it is quite possible that you do have tinnitus, but just so you know, I don't see anything conclusive in your tests. Sometimes tinnitus is just a passing thing due to a stress induced event. Anything stressful going on in your life?"
"Yeah. There is this strange hum that sounds like it's coming from under the ground at my house that won't stop." She didn't tell him about her cold feet or about Jerry. "What's the use?" She thought.
They both laughed. Cold feet aside, having trouble facing reality, Edith really didn't want to tell Dr. Cleary she was still grieving the loss of her late husband, Jerry. Jerry passed away in his sleep during the night after they had watched "Gone With The Wind" for the umpteenth time. It made her happy that he went peacefully. He would have been 81 the following week. It was Jerry that always kept her feet warm. It was Jerry that always made everything right, always knew what to do, and now he was gone.
She didn't dare tell Dr. Cleary at some point she considered that the hum under the ground had something to do with his loss. If she told him she would have to start crying all over again and she really didn't want to do that. Although it crossed her mind, she suppressed the belief that it could be her dead husband sending out some ethereal auditory signal from beyond the grave. What would Dr. Cleary think about that? Although privately she acknowledged her grief, she was also a firm believer that everyone passes in their own time. As they were inseparable, she always knew one of them would go first. And despite her cold feet, she wasn't ready to go just yet, that is she thought she wasn't, up until the taunting hum began to make her life intolerable. She wondered if she should google "can grief drive someone mad?"
After coming back from her ear appointment, Edith sat down in the quiet to relax with a cup of chamomile tea and it was then that she realized in the silence the strange hum was gone! Had Dr. Cleary remedied the situation by setting her mind at ease? Was the noise only in her head all along? Not really there? After she finished her tea, it was so quiet in the house that she noticed the sound of the refrigerator compressor turning on, causing her to look across the room in that direction. It was then that she heard the first obnoxious crack, then another and another coming from the kitchen. She jumped up and into the kitchen to see the floor all around her was beginning to buckle and crumble. As the surface beneath her feet began to swallow her up, on her way down into the abyss she was very pleased about one thing. She knew she wasn't crazy after all. There was some kind of seismic activity happening under the ground around her house. Her first inclination about the strange hum was right!
It was her conscientious letter carrier that surmised she might be dead. She hadn't picked up the mail from her mailbox in almost a week and had always been home when he came to the door with her medication. He told his supervisor about his suspicion when he got back to the office and his supervisor called the police.
When the police officers arrived the partners had to force their way in through the front door. Edith would have been pleased to know the first officer stepping over her threshold was a Paul Newman look alike, "Cool Hand Luke'' Paul Newman, not "The Color of Money" Paul Newman. Once, on a long, very long, longer than long-line-normal-long Walmart checkout line, after staring at his profile for a considerable amount of time, a healthy senior-ish woman behind him became so mesmerized by the likeness, she became utterly starstruck, and proceeded to pass out. Of course he was the closest most equipped individual in the vicinity to come to her aid, summoning an ambulance with one quick click on his phone. When the afflicted woman came to, shortly after her spell, before the medic arrived, the first thing she saw when she looked up was "Cool Hand Luke'' hovering over her, so close, in her diminished state she delusionally puckered up her lips begging for a kiss. Out of reflex, he recoiled into a safer posture. Similar antics had happened to him before in the line of duty. As she became more coherent, embarrassed, the woman tried unsuccessfully to get up. In actuality whatever strength she had left urged her to bolt, but he wouldn't let her move, firmly but gently holding her down by the shoulder blades.
"So sorry to cause a commotion. Must be my blood sugar." She lied to the officer and he was suspicious, although he could not have known at her last check-up her glucose reading was perfectly normal. A concerned woman nearby overheard and quickly presented a cookie. The compromised woman had to eat it, refusing to be seen as a liar, secretly scheming a covert maneuver to snap a picture of her celebrity crush before he got away. Funny thing is, Paul Newman lived to be 83 and had already been dead for years.
The second officer wasn't a looker per se, but had Edith seen him, she may have been able to pigeonhole him into an A-list bit player, a what's his name that people would recognize without significance.
The smell was the first give away for both of the first responders that there was a dead body within the premises.
There she lay, on the perfectly smooth, cold, stone, kitchen tile floor. Edith. Face up. Jerry's Edith.
"Nothing looks out of the ordinary. Said Luke to what's his name. "No foul play here. Probably a heart attack or stroke; poor old woman living all alone here. How odd? Ya know? I've never seen someone die of a heart attack or a stroke or anything else for that matter with such a serene sweet smile on their face."
What's his name was swift to agree and replied,
"Me too. Well at least we can both agree. It looks like she died happy….Wait a minute. Did you hear that hum?"
Never a problem doing two things at once, Luke looked down at his work cell apps, clicked on the ME for Medical Examiner, and began to type, without looking up, replying,
*****Author's name revealed upon request.