I heard something in the middle of the night.
At first it simply seemed like a whooshing sound, like wind, or air, blowing through some sort of narrow pipe. I thought it was just the gutters. The gutters run down the side of the window, outside my bedroom. I always like to sleep next to the big window. I can look out, and see nothing but the dark sky at night. I can’t see below. It’s as if outside my window, outside my bedroom, there’s nothing but a vast black expanse, extending into a borderless, shapeless infinity. And I fall asleep, every night, a point of light dimming out in the emptiness.
But not that night.
The sound continued to ‘whoosh.’ Vacant, empty, yet hard, concrete. Almost metallic, like there was definitely something, but the material was itself indefinable, receding, just out of reach. A handful of air again. What’s curious was, after a while, the sound began to develop, or I began to notice, a tone. A note, or a conglomeration of notes, not harmonious, but not entirely discordant, either. It’s hard to describe, but it was less a sound, and more a space, a setting, a background or backdrop. Like wallpaper, but three-dimensional, and animated. Abstract. Like electricity. Then, it began to take on a cadence. Surging, from here, to there. Then from there, to here. A rhythm. Converging, splitting off. Rising, falling. Rippling out to nothing. Like a celestial, or infernal, instrument, at once sounding like it was playing right outside my window, and from a vast distance away, from another galaxy, another time, or, from inside my own head.
It was quite noisy. I didn’t think I was going to be able to fall asleep.
But eventually, I did.
And slept quite well. The next day I had forgotten all about it, and went about my day normally, drowning it out with the usual flood of sounds, voices and noises.
Until tonight. When I am staring out the window of your room. The memory suddenly rushes back. You live on the third floor. There is a building across from yours. I can see the street, lit by a hazy yellow lamppost.
I listen, trying to see if I can hear the same, or a similar, sound again. It’s the middle of the night. No, nothing. But it’s been replaced by other sounds. The clock ticking. The fridge humming. The blended silk curtain rubbing softly against the window frame. Your light, almost imperceptible breathing.
Just me, and these sounds.
About the author
HC Hsu is author of the short story collection Love Is Sweeter (Lethe) and essay collection Middle of the Night (Deerbrook), which has been nominated for the Housatonic Award, CALA Award and Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Memoir competition winner and The Best American Essays nominee, he has written for Pif, Big Bridge, Iodine, nthposition, 100 Word Story, China Daily News, Epoch Times, Words Without Borders, and many others. He has served as interpreter for the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and his translation of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo’s biography Steel Gate to Freedom was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2015.