By = Tristan A. Arts
Number of words: 1150
Susan closed the door behind her and leaned on it as though she'd never see her apartment again, and stood there struggling to catch her breath. In truth, she was trying to regain her composure, to fight the panic down into some semblance of submission. She caught her reflection in the outside door, and knew she looked like hell. Her mid-length black hair was such a mess she looked like she'd slept for the past three weeks without bathing once. The dark circles under her eyes contradicted this, saying she'd not been sleeping, or not getting restful sleep anyway.
Muttering curses under her breath, she fumbled with the keys to lock the inside door, closed the outside door, and manically finger-combed her hair into some kind of order quickly, rushing away from the apartment. She tried to tune out everyone's words as she did so; she didn't want to hear any of it, and things were about to get worse.
Referring constantly to the directions she'd written on the back of an old receipt, Susan blundered around the neighborhood trying to find the bus stop she needed. When she finally found it, she sat down on the bench and fought tears. She felt physically sick at the thought of taking the bus, but this was something of an emergency. The truck she drove for work (semi-trailer) was in the shop; she had to pick it up today and get back on the road, but she couldn't afford a cab. At least it was quiet at the bus stop, only a few people now and then walking by. She heard them, too, but it was easier to tune out with the sound of traffic ebbing and flowing. Susan began to wish she'd taken up smoking, so she could have something to soothe her nerves.
By the time the bus pulled up, Susan had to pull herself out of an upright version of the fetal position before she could board. She took her pre-prepared bus money out of one of the pockets in her purse and gave it to the machine. Susan liked machines; machines were usually quiet. The bus driver gave her a ticket, and she sat down in the front, since there weren't many people there. Not that it helped much; the whole bus was abuzz with all their words, like a very large hive of noisy insects, buzzing louder the longer she was stuck with them. An almost physical sensation, the buzzing vibrated her entire being in a very uncomfortable way. It made her itch all over, and she also felt very dirty, like the words were filth seeking her out. Only silence could cleanse her of it, and she could never find enough silence, could never get clean. She twitched and squirmed in her skin, trying with all her willpower to not cry, to not scream, to not scratch the itches so hard that her skin bled. As if she needed them thinking she was on meth or some other drug. She had to remain invisible; their concern would only make the buzzing louder and more obnoxious.
Halfway there, a man about 60 years old got on board. He sat behind her and started chatting with some other people. Susan pinched the bridge of her nose. His words were two-edged. They echoed, in Susan's mind, because of the fraction of a second's lag between the words in his mind and the ones that came out of his mouth. His spoken words were very loud, painfully so, and his mental words were even louder. If everyone else was a hive of buzzing insects, this man was a nest of Japanese hornets all on his own, and someone was playing it over a bullhorn.
As if this weren't bad enough, the people he was talking at were not interested in his nattering. This, and his intense volume, made their own buzzings get louder in return. Now the bus felt like it was the essence of noise, distilled. She was drowning in itchy, filthy noise. It would no doubt seep into every empty space in her being; she would never get clean, no matter how much silence she could find. Tears ran down her cheeks, and she was grinding her teeth. Not wanting to attract attention, she covered her face in her hands.
Hoping he would get off soon, or that the bus driver would tell him to stop, Susan tried to endure. But he just wouldn't stop. Whatever it was he was talking about, he must have felt entitled to assault people with his words. Loud enough to be a nuisance to others, to Susan it was like being in the trenches at WWII, only louder and dirtier. She itched so bad she wanted to rip her skin off down to the muscle. Instead, she rocked back and forth as gently as she could to avoid attracting attention.
Susan fantasized, as much as she could spare the mind power to, about having a psychotic episode right there on the bus. She'd had them before. She'd been given lots of different medicines, but none of it ever worked; the words just kept coming.
She'd been through too much to snap from this. But something had to change. She steeled herself, fought for every last ounce of self-control, and slowly turned to the loud man. "Please shut up," she said. "No one wants to hear your loud and annoying nattering."
He turned to her, his hand to his ear. "What was that?"
Louder, she said, "I said PLEASE SHUT UP. Nobody wants to hear you talking. You are loud and obnoxious and your words are painful. PLEASE. BE. QUIET!"
The older man looked hurt, but faced the floor and was silent. A variety of cheers sprang up briefly from the others, which made the noise level spike for Susan, but then they were quiet and things died down to a level just a little bit higher than when she'd gotten on.
At long last, she stumbled out of the bus, regained her composure as it drove off, and she prepared to walk the rest of the way to get her truck. Before she could, though, she noticed that the old man had gotten out with her. He was the only one nearby, so she could clearly hear his internal words. What she heard saddened her, made the whole situation even more awkward.
Susan shoved her hands in her jacket pockets. "Sorry, dude, about before. I just... I can't stand buses to begin with, and you were being loud and making the whole thing even harder to cope with. I hope you find someone to talk about... whatever it was... with, someone who can listen and be interested." She began to walk away, finishing with, "I used to know the loneliness of the quiet."
The older man half-smiled despite himself, as she walked away.
Crossposted from http://fayanora.dreamwidth.org