If Not Peace, Quiet
Emily M. Z. Carlyle
Elmo V. suffered from such bad insomnia he decided the birds must be to blame. For several nights in a row, after he'd switched off the TV at the end of yet another unsettling news report, he lay alone in his bed contemplating how he might shut them up.
They were relentless. They started singing in the trees lining the street in front of Elmo's window before the first thin gray light of dawn and continued till well after sundown. They chirped mercilessly all through that humid, disease-ridden summer. During one a brief rainstorm, Elmo caught sight of a particularly persistent specimen, an unremarkable gray-black creature with an extraordinary lung capacity. His curses were not enough to silence its infernal trilling. Elmo had decided early on that poison or bullets would simply not do, for no matter how many he killed more would come in their stead.
Finally he decided to go talk to his god.
He brought offerings to the altar and knelt with his open hands upraised in a gesture of humble
supplication and righteous expectation. He said, "Lord, I know as well as you do that I have not
been the servant you probably deserve, but I see the dust on your altar, and so I trust you will
hear me and accept my gifts. They say that the rebels are closing in from the North, and in the
farthest suburbs one can hear the echoing of cannons, but I hear none of this, Lord. I never hear
anything but those blasted birds that pollute the air and shit on the pavement in my street.
They won't let me either sleep or think. Please, do away with them."
He brought offerings and repeated his plea for six days. On the seventh morning silence reigned on Elmo's street. Only a few errant leaves stirred in the faint, fetid breeze from the chemical marshes east of the city. It was such absolute, uncompromised silence it bestirred Elmo V. from his fitful slumber. It was like a soft, dusty pillow pressed against his face.
Elmo contained his excitement as he went about his daily business, making coffee, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, leafing through the papers, certain that the rush of exultation he expected could not fail to materialize. Toward evening, he decided that a quietly philosophical attitude would be more appropriate. In between humming happily and brushing his teeth, he listened out for snippets of glorious silence.
In the early hours of the following morning, Elmo sat in his bathrobe and slippers, his eyes red-rimmed, waiting for sleep to claim him, for something to fill the elephantine hours of silence, even if it were the distant rumble of cannons.
First published: November, 2006
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