Terminal Silence, Deng-Shan Caleb Lee

Jack Lewis was not, and had never been, a man to socialise.

Even when he had been a young boy in elementary school, people had often commented on how quiet he was, how he preferred to keep to himself, and interacted with others only when he had to. This habit had stuck with him all the way to adulthood.

Jack had an opinion of himself as a man of routine, the kind of man who had his life together. Each morning, he would be roused by his alarm clock at precisely seven thirty, eat his breakfast of toast and tea, and then catch the eight o’clock 399 bus to work. He would stay there for the day, stamping documents and filling in forms until precisely seven thirty in the evening. At this point of the day, Jack would pay a visit to the diner that was located conveniently underneath his office block and buy himself dinner. Then he would catch the same bus home, unless it was a Friday. On Fridays he would cross the street to the shopping centre near the bus stop and buy the week’s groceries. Afterwards, he would arrive back at his home in the suburbs, eat his dinner and put away the groceries, the alphabetised order of the jars soothing his soul. Then he would go to sleep.

Each day passed in an identical manner, barring the weekends. On his two days off from work, Jack would take the time to do things that he enjoyed, which mainly consisted of admiring his sizeable aquarium of exotic fish or working on his rather extensive collection of model boats and ships. His routine on the weekends did not differ much from the days on which he was expected to show up to work; he still arose seven thirty, only instead of heading off to the bus stop, he would stay indoors with one of the model ship magazines he wanted to read, or take the train to the nearby aquarium and burn a few hours there looking at the exhibits. Afterwards he would treat himself to a simple dinner of microwaved food, and then would go down to his basement workshop and spend exactly two hours working on his model ships, all the while listening to the somewhat ear-grating and wall-shaking thud thud thud of his neighbour’s music. At least, he assumed it was his neighbour’s music. It certainly came from inside the house next door. He had never been inside the neighbour’s home to confirm, nor did Jack really feel the inclination to. It wasn’t that he did not like his neighbour; Jack really couldn’t think of any reason to dislike the man. It was just that aside from a casual wave and nod to each other when they would occasionally set off for work at the same time, Jack simply felt that he didn’t know the man well enough to ask about his tastes in music. After all the years living side by side, all Jack knew about his neighbour was maybe his name, which he could not recall at the present moment, and that he had a wife and teenaged son, whom he occasionally caught a glimpse of through their windows.

And so, life went on, every day more or less a repeat of the last, just the way that Jack liked it, until one warm Sunday night. Jack settling down in his workshop with a mug of his favorite Earl Grey tea, with exactly one tablespoon of cream and two sugar cubes in it. He was adding some finishing details to the conning tower of one of his prized model aircraft carriers, one which he had just finished assembling the night before. Jack rubbed his hands together in anticipation and unscrewed the lid on a jar of cherry red paint, getting his brush ready.

It was in that moment that a pall of unease settled onto Jack like a cold, clammy mist. Jack stared at his tabletop, frowning. He sipped at his tea, hoping it would calm him down. It did not work.

Jack rose from his workbench, screwing the lid back on his jar of paint. Something was definitely wrong. He looked at his cheap digital watch, adjusting his glasses as he did so. It was three minutes past eight, which was just about the usual time he should be in his workshop, so no problems there.

Had he perhaps forgotten to do something? Jack quickly went over everything he had done that day and couldn’t find anything that he might have missed. He wasn’t wearing anything out of the ordinary: smock, t-shirt, and tracksuit pants. He dressed this way pretty much every time he set to work on his models.

Jack had never been a superstitious man, but right now he could not help but feel as though some hidden sixth sense had sprung in his head, warning him that something was not right. Had someone perhaps broken in without him hearing it?

Keeping as quiet as possible so as not to alert a possible intruder, Jack mounted the steps to the basement, keeping to the sides of the steps to avoid making any creaking noises on the wooden stairs. Once he reached the top, he slowly reached behind the umbrella stand and brought out a wooden cricket bat. Jack had won it in an office raffle, but had always meant to sell or give it away, since he didn’t play cricket. He hefted the bat, feeling its comforting weight in his hands as he tiptoed around, checking all the windows and doors, making sure they were all locked and unbroken.

After a thorough check around the house, establishing it intruder-free, Jack replaced the bat and sat down on the couch, scratching the stubble on his chin and letting the thoughts in his head grind. Something was still off, and he knew that unless he figured it out, he would be up all night bothered by it. In a way, it irritated him that he was feeling this way. Didn’t he have as much right as the next man to a peaceful weekend? He had done everything right, and if it weren’t for the neighbour’s music…

Jack’s hand paused mid-scratch. He jerked his head to the wall that blocked his neighbour’s house from view. Quiet as a grave.

Jack rushed to his front door, throwing on a jacket over his painting smock. He stormed out of his house and onto the sidewalk, making tracks for his neighbour’s own front door. It was past dusk, and therefore a little chilly, but Jack was adamant. He would let nothing stand in his way of finding out just why someone had the nerve to throw a wrench into his well-oiled machine of weekly routine. Jack’s ears grew hot; he was partially infuriated and partially concerned, though mostly for himself.

Jack arrived at his neighbour’s house and raised his hand to knock. What was his neighbour’s name again? Jules? Julien? He decided to risk the former. Jack knocked once, twice, thrice on the wooden door then took a step back, just to be polite.

He heard footsteps within the house, and after a few seconds, Jack’s neighbour was peering at him as though he couldn’t believe his eyes.


Jack inhaled, his brow furrowing. There was definitely something wrong here. He could see it in his neighbour’s bloodshot eyes and his unshaven face.

‘It’s Jack, actually,’ Jack corrected. ‘Listen, Jules,’ His neighbour didn’t say anything, so Jack assumed he had been right in guessing the man’s name. ‘I can’t help but, ah, notice, that something’s been off lately,’ Jack said almost accusingly. ‘I don’t suppose you know what?’

Jules’ eyes grew mournful, and Jack began to have second thoughts about whether this venture had been a good idea. Oh well. It was too late to turn back now.

‘I…well…you’d better come in,’ Jules said, stepping into his house and opening the door wide for Jack to enter.

Jack followed Jules into the house, taking note of all the pictures on the walls of Jules and his family, as well as a sizeable collection of strangers whom Jack assumed were friends. Most of the lights were on, and upon passing the kitchen, Jack saw Jules’ wife, a shorter woman with blonde hair, sitting at the table and staring numbly at a collection of papers.

‘It’s nice of you to come by, Jack,’ Jules said absent-mindedly. Even Jack, who did not consider himself very good at reading body language, could tell that his neighbour’s thoughts were a million miles away at the moment. ‘We haven’t told any of our family friends yet…’

‘Yeahhh…’ Jack said slowly. ‘Look. I just came by because, well, things have been, er, quiet. I wanted to know why.’

‘Quiet?’ Jules gave Jack a questioning look before understanding dawned on his face. ‘Oh, you must be talking about Calvin, I mean, our son’s music?’

‘Is that his na-‘Jack caught himself. ‘I mean, yes. The music. Of course. I was wondering where it went.’

Jules sat in silence for a whole minute. Eventually his wife came over with two cups of tea, setting them onto the living room coffee table. Jack took the tea, hoping for something to moisten his dry mouth. This was more human interaction than he’d had at his job for years. He sipped at the tea, which was definitely not Earl Grey, and steeled himself so as to not make a face at the bitter drink. Jules took a fortifying gulp of the hot liquid before continuing.

‘Jack,’ Jules said at last. ‘Calvin’s been sick. He has been for a very long time, ever since he was nine.’

Jack stared at Jules, who was gazing into his cup of tea as if it contained the secrets of the universe. Remembering that it was rude to stare, Jack looked back to his own beverage and took another sip of the horrible tea. His lip twitched as he forced it down.

‘The only thing that kept him going was his music,’ Jules said suddenly. Jack went back to staring at Jules. ‘He always was a snappy little musician. Magic on the turntables, is what his music teachers said about him. Calvin loved making music, and once he got sick, he threw himself into it, always said it made him forget about the pain.’

Jules sighed heavily, his shoulders slumped as though they held the weight of the world on them like Atlas of myth. ‘He made dozens of songs to help pay for his treatment, since he couldn’t bear to let us pay for all of it.’

Jack sat silently, feeling more than a touch irritated, but giving away nothing. He yearned to be back in his workshop painting his aircraft carrier, but no, he just had to find out why the music stopped and now he was in the metaphorical frying pan. Surreptitiously, Jack angled his left arm toward himself and sneaked a peek at his watch.

Jules didn’t seem to notice.

‘But on Saturday night, Calvin-‘ Jules broke off, stifling a sob. ‘Calvin got worse, and had to be taken to the hospital. The doctors are saying they can’t do anything, and that if Calvin g-gets worse, he could, he could…’

‘Die?’ Jack completed slowly. Obviously that was what Jules had meant to say, but Jack was shocked when Jules covered his face with his hands and let out a tearful moan. He almost dropped the cup of tea he had been holding as Jules leaned against him and sobbed into his jacket. Jack awkwardly patted his neighbour on the arm as his eyes darted all around, hoping to find anything to alleviate the situation, whether it be an exit or another topic. He found neither.

By the count of Jack’s watch, they sat like that for ten minutes and thirty-three seconds. At which point Jules’ sobbing had deteriorated into sniffles, and finally into heaving gasps.

‘I’m sorry, Jack,’ Jules sniffled. ‘I don’t mean to break down like this, but Calvin means so much to me and Sarah and I’m just not ready to let him go. No father should have to bury his son.’

Jack nodded slowly as if in agreement. ‘It…it’ll be alright,’ Jack said, remembering from a book that it was the typical thing to say to someone who was sad. He hoped the book hadn’t exaggerated its effectiveness.

Jules gave a rattling sigh and wiped the last of the tears from the corners of his eyes. ‘I hope so, Jack. I really do. Thanks for stopping by, but I need to help Sarah with the hospital forms. I don’t mean to kick you out or anything, but…’

‘Oh, no, it’s fine, it’s fine!’ Jack cajoled. ‘You’ve got a lot on your mind, I get it. I’ll just see myself out.’

Jack was just turning the doorknob on the front door when the patter of footsteps made itself known behind him.

‘Jack, wait!’

Jack inhaled, feeling indignation flare up inside him. What was it now? Jules was at his side, holding up a small silver disc in a transparent case.

‘Jack, I want you to have this. It’s one of Calvin’s albums, and I know it would mean the world to him if he knew someone was still listening to his work, even if he might not make it.’

Jack blankly accepted the disc and tucked it into his jacket pocket. With a final wave, Jack bid Jules goodbye, and he hurried back into his own house and locked the door, glad to finally be alone again.

He checked his watch again. He had wasted at least twenty-five minutes on his little field trip, but perhaps it was worth it. Jack took the disc out of his pocket, staring long and hard at it. He went back down to his basement and put the disc into his CD player. Immediately, loud bass pulses and heavy beats filled the room.

‘Ah, no!’ Jack shouted, slapping the “stop” button on the CD player’s remote control. He would never be able to concentrate on painting with that kind of ruckus. He rubbed his chin and thought. Then he unplugged the boom box and hauled it up the basement steps and into the guest room.

It was a sparsely furnished space, with a single bed, a dresser, and a wardrobe, all empty. Jack lowered the CD player into the bottom drawer of the dresser and closed it, plugging in the wire. Then he pressed “play”.

It worked; the music was now muffled, and would barely register back in his workshop, but its wall-shaking beats and bass drops still made Jack feel at ease. Just like it used to before Calvin had been moved to the hospital.

Now he could, at last, get back to his life in peace.

All was right with the world.


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Rain with Distant Thunder, Emily Redknap

I reach the end of my story and pull my headphones over my head. I sink into the sounds—I like to listen to static and white noise while cleaning. It brings everything close, I can focus. Sometimes it’s rain or cats purring, today it’s just static. I close my eyes and squeeze them so tight I see tiny lights. The bleach smells cold and reminds me of home. I open several bottles one after the other and pour them all into the bathtub. The milky white masks the red slightly. I let it sit in the bath while I clean the mirror. I spray the window cleaner three times, squeezing the trigger slowly; they are satisfying squirts. I wipe a cloth over it and the blood smudges. It frames my eyes but covers everything else in a strawberry haze. I look deep into my blue and wonder if I can see my own soul. I wipe faster until my arm starts to hurt.

When I finish with the en-suite I lift the plug out of the bath and rinse everything down.  It is back to its flawless porcelain white. I sit the body up. The skin squeaks against the walls of the bath as I struggle; I didn’t think it was this heavy. I move into the bedroom. I bend down and drag my hand underneath the mattress to bring the fitted sheet away from it. I strip back the quilt cover and the pillowcases and put them in the wash with lemon, baking soda, and as they are white, some bleach too. I scrub the carpet with cleaner too. The bubbles soak through my jeans, leaving two dark circles on my knees. I wipe down the surfaces of the bedside-tables and the drawers. The place is small, so the bedroom and the en-suite are the only places that need a deep clean. When I think everything is perfect I have to check it again, twice. Walk through the place slowly and check everything. Look underneath every bookshelf, the sofa; everything. I turn the warm tap on in the bath but leave the plug out, this will keep him warm and soft.

I close the door with a heavy click and put my shoes on again, they feel a lot looser on my feet now. In fact, all my clothes seem less restraining. I pull off the plastic gloves and stuff them into my back pocket, adjust the headphones on my head and change to a different track, this one is rain. ‘Rain with distant thunder falling on a shed’ I laugh at how specific it is. I hop down the stairs of the fire escape, skipping every second one and head into the foyer. I have a quick look around and go out onto the street. Outside it’s actually raining. People are ducking and passing through the streets to avoid the drops. I fiddle with my headphones. My chest feels clearer than it has in months and my nose is no longer blocked, it’s an amazing feeling. I can almost see myself from the outside, raising my face to the sky like I’m in a shitty romance movie—pop music playing over the top.




The train was loud. I could hear it even through my headphones. I looked from one face to the next. A woman was sleeping with a bag between her legs, head tilted to the side and arms loosely crossed on her lap. A boy and girl in school uniforms looking deep into each other’s eyes were blushing and holding hands. They probably thought they’d be together forever, they were more mature than their friends. This one was meant to last, they might get married and have some kids. They’d go to the same university and they’d always be in love. A young mother and her son. He was standing on the chair and looked out the window at the outside moving fast. Did he understand that he was on a train? She was holding him by the legs and pointing at things in the distance: shop, tree, another train. And then there was you.

You were wearing a shirt from some band I’d heard of but never listened to. Your hair was short on the sides but coiffed on the top, your small round glasses were slightly crooked. You were holding a book and talking to your friend. I was awestruck, you were the most handsome thing I’d ever seen. I couldn’t stop looking. Was I hoping to catch your eye? I don’t think so, but I didn’t have to worry about what I’d do if I did, you never looked my way. If you had, looked, I was wearing a blue flannel button up shirt and a striped jumper over the top, my favourite Levi jeans and a pair of Doc Martens. My hair was neat, but very much in need of a cut. It was getting long. I turned the track down, so I could hear what you were talking about. I think it was about the book you were reading, it was for class and you were laughing with your friend about a particularly risqué passage that took you by surprise when you read it.

‘Should I talk about it in class?’ you laughed again ‘I’d be shy, but I have to know what he was thinking putting this in!’ Your smile made me smile. And then you got up with your friend. I jumped up to follow, I couldn’t lose you.

I gathered you were walking to class. I followed with my headphones on, the street was too loud not to. I missed what you were saying but it was okay. I followed you right up to the university building. It was large and made of sandstone, the edges looked sharp. Chimneys came out of almost every peak on the roof and windows covered every face. You were so mysterious I wanted to be close to you. Your friend said goodbye to you and I caught your name, Max. In Latin, it means ‘the greatest’. I thought it suited you well. I felt quite silly standing there now that you were gone, I made the walk of shame back to the station.

When I got home that night I sat alone in my room, face lit by the screen of my laptop.  Searching you up on Facebook wasn’t hard, your name and university and there you were. I sent you a request and you accepted. I was surprised, that’s usually the hard part. I waited two and a half days so as to not seem too keen. It took me hours to construct that simple message: ‘Hey! you probably don’t remember me, but I met you at Joe’s party last week. We should meet up for coffee sometime! Or go to the markets?’ I thought this was really smart I scrolled through your feed and saw some photos from the party.

When we came together we were like old friends you were so upbeat and shone when you smiled. I walked up to you, this time you were wearing a t-shirt, black jeans and a denim jacket. Your eyelashes were so long they flicked every time you blinked. I don’t think I’d ever seen a man with eyelashes like yours.

‘This place is so busy today, hey?’ your voice was even lovelier than I remembered, I had psyched myself up for days training myself not to need my headphones at the market. I knew it would be loud, but I wanted to hear you. It was deep and felt like you had poured golden syrup into my ears and over my face. I wanted to sit in your soundwaves forever. There was a stall that sold jumpers not too far from where we were, I suggested we looked over there.

‘Yeah sure,’ you did a little smile that made my heart skip a beat. I didn’t want to assume anything yet, but I thought, maybe, you liked me. We talked about what you studied, I already knew, it was on your Facebook, but I wanted to hear you say it. Give it to me.

We discovered throughout our market traipsing that we were the same size in clothing. And even though I was shy to suggest that stall, you did in fact like jumpers. The more we talked the more I felt as though you felt the same as me. We liked movies, the same movies. We liked books, the same books. Our hands brushed over each other and lingered. You put your hand on the small of my back as we weaved through the multitudes of people. I thought you were so brave to touch me like that in public. Our hands bumped together less by accident and more with purpose, our fingers intertwined.

We got coffee afterwards. You pulled out your phone to check your messages. Your hands were strong and heavily lined. Your fingernails were cut to the same length on every finger, no stray pointy shards that needed to be bitten off. Each nail was blessed with the same sized half-moon by the cuticle. The hair on your arms was straight, and all went in the same direction. When you looked up at me, was the first time I wasn’t afraid if someone had seen my soul behind my eyes. We arranged to meet again, two days later, I’d catch the train back to your apartment with you after uni.

We shared earphones. The first song you put on, do you remember what it was? it was soft like you. Your fingertips stroked the back of my hand the whole trip. Your place was cosy and warm. Brown carpet stretched from wall to wall, the walls were off-white as they generally are in apartments. You had books and films crammed, double stacked, into your bookshelves. You walked in ahead of me and turned around. ‘Well. This is it!’ Your lips pinched into a smile that looked like you were stifling a laugh. ‘I love it.’ I whispered. You made us tea and we sat on your bed. Your hair was soft passing through my fingers. ‘Max.’ I took a deep breath. ‘Do you like me?’ your little smile again; it killed me every time, you leaned in and kissed me. I could feel the lines on your lips and your stubble on my cheeks. Inside your mouth was warm and wet. We lay down on the bed and you held my face. Our breaths were slow and heavy but got faster. Your hands clutched at my back and mine made fists in your hair.

When we fell apart the place was quiet. I wondered if you could hear my heartbeat, was it fast? Or slowly trudging on? I moved my hand to your head and ran my fingers over the cartilage in your ear: Daith, Rook, Helix. I could feel you shift and then vibrations travelled up my chest and throat. You invited me to a party you were thinking of having in a couple weeks, you said you’d introduce me to people. I kissed you again and pulled you in close.

I had done the trip to yours a countless amount of times by the time the party came around. When I arrived at your building I could hear the music from the street. The door was already open and there were far too many people crammed into the space. The music reverberated in my chest and my ears. I put my headphones on quickly and shut my eyes. Breathed in and out. The air was already being used by everyone else. You were leaning against a wall, a red wine balancing between two fingers, talking to someone. My entire body filled with warmth when I heard your golden syrup voice. You saw me and beckoned me over.

‘What are you wearing these for?’ You pulled my headphones off, ‘guys this is Ben, the one I’ve been telling you about,’ your arm circled my waist. You called out to Sam, to bring me a wine. I didn’t drink but I wanted you to see me drink. Wine after wine after Vodka lemonade, the drinks kept coming. I watched you dance. Your body swayed, and your eyes closed. Your mouth was loose, and your smile was different; a drunk smile. You were called away by Sam for something, you looked back to me and smiled. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself while you were gone so I assumed my wallflower position. I ran my hands over each of the books’ spines, they seemed cramped and their spines were jutting out everywhere. The amount of liquid I had consumed had started to hit me and I went to the bathroom but when I opened the door – you have to remember this bit. This is the bit that absolutely crushed me, so you must remember. You were there, weren’t you? With Sam. My heart fell through the fucking floor, Max. You didn’t see me straight away, so you kept on. Your hands were on his waist and clenching his shirt like they often did to mine. Your eyes were closed with your long eyelashes gently kissing his cheeks. Your eyes snapped open and I felt my knees wanting to give way. ‘Ben! What are you doing in here?’ Your voice was slurred. You followed me out of your apartment saying you were sorry, but I pushed passed you and ran into the alley next to your building. I fumbled with my phone like a drug addict trying to push in the needle. I had to press play. Rain with distant thunder. You didn’t come out after me.

The next three days were the hardest; I sat like a kettle boiling. I took the train to your house. You kept trying to apologise and kiss me, but I connected my elbow with your face and carried you to the bath. I stripped you down and put tape over your mouth. You woke up. I told you I loved you, and I didn’t want it to be like this, all the cliché stuff you’d expect. I flipped the knife over and over in my hand and moved my eyes from the floor. The first thing I noticed was your eyes. They were almost closed but not quite, eyelashes still flicking softly when you blinked but they were holding tiny pearls made from tears. Your skin was red and wet from the tiny pinpricks of sweat. I placed my hand on your cheek and kissed your quivering eyelid. And I did it.

‘I wanted you to know my side of the story, Max.’ I’ve got to clean now. I pull my headphones over my ears.


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