Till Human Voices Wake Us > Excerpt

The singing was back.

Rudi Lauchman paused on the sidewalk, trying to isolate the precise source of the sound. The voice was soft, melodic. He couldn't make out any words. It was more like humming, vaguely choral.

And not, he felt reasonably sure, coming from inside his head.

He had been hearing the voice around town, off and on, for a week. Close to the Café Pergolesi one day, the library the next. Elusive. More imagined than real.

This time it seemed to be coming from a recessed doorway partly concealed by a juniper bush dotted with small blue-purple berries. A FOR LEASE sign hung in one window of the small office building.

Rudi found himself standing next to it, his hands thrust into his pockets, unable to remember how he got there. He couldn’t recall turning onto the walkway, or making his way up the path.

Another lapse.

He shut his eyes. He’d heard the song before, he was sure of it. Church, possibly. But maybe not. He got confused. Sometimes, voices didn’t match faces. He heard one person talking and saw another.

The music could be the accident talking…his old life – before the crash – bleeding into this one.

But this song wasn’t the one he was running from. This full-bodied contralto was different from the sinuous soprano that slithered into his head and spoke to him in a flicking, unintelligible whisper, raspy as scales against dry grass.

The singing stopped. Rudi opened his eyes.

“What are you doing here? Peeping on me?” A large woman with a metal cane and a blue knitted cap stood in the doorway. She glared at Rudi with bloodshot eyes before cutting a glance at his hands.

Rudi jerked his hands from his pockets. “I wasn’t – ”

The woman sniffed. “Why don’t you play with yourself someplace else? Before I call the cops.”

Rudi adjusted his baseball cap, careful not to disturb the lining.  In the doorway behind her, he could make out a shopping cart, blanket, and scuffed black boom box. “I heard you singing. That’s all.”

The woman leaned forward, her forehead creased by a frown. “What have you got under there? Reynolds Wrap?”

“You’ve been drinking,” Rudi said. His scalp prickled.

The woman chuckled. Her shoulders rocked like two sofa cushions jiggling in an earthquake. “Not enough.”

“I’ve been hearing you a lot. Do you always sing when you’re drunk?”

“Singing’s cheap. It don’t cost nothin’. Which is exactly what I got right now. In case you were wondering.”

“Except for a broken heart,” he said. “Or an empty soul.”

The crease in the woman’s brow deepened briefly, then relaxed, as if overcome by sudden weariness. “You’re crazy,” she said.

“Rudi.” He held out his hand, then snatched it back when it looked like she might whack it with the cane.

“Get a move on. Before you get any wrong ideas.” She wavered, eerily insubstantial despite her size. “You hear?”

Rudi tilted his head. Barely audible music from the boom box scratched at the air.

The woman followed his lopsided gaze. “Aretha,” she said. “‘This Bitter Earth.’ Now, leave me  be.” She shifted her weight. “My knees are givin’ me hell.”

“I have a radio show,” Rudi said. “I play music sometimes and talk about stuff. I always do one Sunday mornings.” He gave her the A.M. frequency. “It’s for people who can’t make it to church.”

“I’ll be sure to listen. Now get outta here.” She waved him on with the cane then hobbled into the shadows of her makeshift cave.

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Copyright © 2007 Mark Budz. All rights reserved.