What Laura does with sounds.
She liked to pretend that certain noises were something that they were not. Their house was close enough to the railway tracks that a passing train would make the walls shake and the windows rattle. She’d pretend it was the vibrations of a
wave that she could hear and feel approaching.
The wave is pushing, pushing forward. It swallows the school, drags away the dairy, the park, the pub, the streets and the zebra crossing. It’s rushing to their house. All the while Mum is playing the piano, Dad is stringing up the sweet peas and she and Veronica are playing cards in front of the record player. Laura is the only one who can hear the wave swallowing trees, birds, cats, back gardens and front gardens.
It’s just around the corner now
SLAP on the roof
Harder than the rain.
Then they’re bobbing around, water is coming through the cracks under their door and for the first time ever Laura and Veronica can paddle down the corridor and swim into bed.
Laura gets found out.
She is sleepy in the back of class. She gets out of her seat and lies down, pressing her face flat on the dusty lino and breathing in the dust from shoe soles.
‘What are you doing Laura? Get back in your seat,’ Miss Murphy says, tapping the blackboard with her piece of chalk.
Tick, tick, tick
marking the time it takes for Laura to stand up, dust off her knees, pull her dress down and sit back in her seat. Laura doesn’t care when the kids laugh and she doesn’t know that not caring makes her even more unusual. Now escape onto the floor has given her a taste for freedom. They’re learning the order of the planets, which she already knows. She itches the back of her calf with the sole of her other foot. The bite needs cold water put on it. Miss Murphy is writing on the board Pluto, Venus, Uranus, and Jupiter. Slowly, slowly, Laura walks backwards to the door so she can leap back to her desk should Miss Murphy turn and see. Opening the door and closing it behind her, there she is in the corridor, with no fuss; no bother, just quietly, quietly. She sits on the floor and takes her shoes and white socks off. Muffled by the classroom walls she hears Miss Murphy chanting the planets, some children joining in and an underlay of secret whispering. The whole thing together sounds like music.
While the other children are learning, Laura stands up and, surrounded by school bags and school lunches, she starts dancing as quietly as she can, with her eyes shut. First she dances slowly to the whispering, then she fades that sound out and stomps her feet to the clicking of teacher’s shoes, then she mixes them together again. There are no other children outside. The corridor is empty and smells like marmite sandwiches. She’s happy.
‘What’re you doing?’ Laura hears a voice too loud in her ear. The cloakroom comes hurtling back into view as she opens her eyes and she sees the very green ones of Miss Baker. Her lipstick has worn away to just a pink outline. She has blue rose earrings clipped onto her ears. Children are scared of Miss Baker, who’s strict. One of her favourite punishments is to send the kid who misbehaves to the junior classes. They have to sit quietly on the mat and the little kids are told they can laugh at them as much as they want. But Laura has known since the first time that she saw her that Miss Baker has sad eyes and although she doesn’t know why, she understands that this is what makes her angry; not the note passing and failures to understand times tables.
Like herself, Miss Baker should be in class.
Miss Baker crouches down and stares back without blinking, like a cat. ‘To silence?’ she asks.
‘To the voices,’ says Laura and she lifts her hand and puts it gently over Miss Baker’s eyes. ‘You can hear better with your eyes shut.’
She can feel the eyelashes move down her palm and knows that Miss Baker has understood. With eyes open the musical voices are fuzzy like a radio station that’s not quite in tune. Miss Baker begins to nod her head; Laura takes her hand away. Miss Baker’s eyes stay shut. She’s tapping her fingers on her leg and her left foot on the floor. The voices rise and fall, rise and fall. The pencils scratch and the erasers make swish, swish sounds, the turning pages mark the time. She smiles and gets wrinkles.
Then, too soon, the bell rings and her eyes flick open in time to the full stop of twenty-seven desk lids being lifted and falling back down again with a loud, loud bang.
‘My class.’ Miss Baker stands up to leave the cloakroom. In the doorway she turns and says, ‘I wonder what else would become music if we shut our eyes?’ And then she leaves. Laura watches her as she crosses the playground. She notices that the wind doesn’t move Miss Baker’s hair. It stays like a black hat pulled tight down on her head.
Once someone knows what can be done with sounds, Laura wants another power that the kids at school, her parents’ friends and her family would recognise. Her ability to see people getting what they deserved didn’t seem to be one she could tell people about.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susannah Poole lives in Wellington, and has just completed the MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University. She is now looking for a job that she will enjoy and that will enable her to have winter breaks somewhere like Tonga.