The noises woke me up a little past midnight. I lay in bed for at least an hour after that, staring at the ceiling and tossing around underneath the covers. I tried using earplugs to block out all the sounds. But the metal still rattled, and the pots and pans still clanged. Then the violin music started. Now the upstairs neighbors are a little odd, but what sort of maniacs have a violin session at two in the morning? Slamming drawers was my breaking point though. So I flipped on the lights, but the lack of light reminded me that I had forgotten to change the bulb. I stumbled around until I fell into my slippers and then threw on a shirt and slid open the door to the porch. It only took a nudge. The landlord hadn’t fixed the lock yet. It’s fixed now though. He never used to listen to me. “You’re always breaking things, Ian,” he used to tell me, forgetting that this unit hasn’t been updated in three decades.
The street outside was dead, silent. A lamp post flickered and glowed orange, and a worn shoe dangled from the telephone lines, but I thought nothing of it at that moment. There wasn’t any more clinking or stomping or creaking, thank God. Maybe the tenants upstairs had gone to bed. I smiled of course, triumphant and relieved to be free of an awkward conversation with the neighbors since they wouldn’t have listened to me anyway.
I slipped back into bed for a minute, and a rumble vibrated the headboard. The dishes piled up in the kitchen sink rattled and footsteps thundered overhead, and I was fed up with all the noise. I mean, I was still working back-to-back double shifts back then. If I got anything less than six hours of sleep on a night before a double, I’d be ready to explode on the first customer that asked if they had to pay the gratuity fee included in a party over seven. Yes, you have to pay the damn gratuity fee. Haven’t I already told you people twice today? Customers don’t listen to me though. No, of course not.
I rolled out of bed and stepped onto the porch and mentally prepared myself for the encounter with the neighbors. I didn’t know how those conversations even went. I mean, what do you even say? “Hi, yes, hello. Could you guys please shut up? My futon’s normally uncomfortable, but you guys are increasing my discomfort tenfold.” Luckily I didn’t end up having to say anything at all.
Down on the street the lamp posts illuminated a clinking parade of metal and plastic and wood. Lumpy futons and cracked mirrors and chipped dressers ambled down the street. Teapots and dishes waddled along the rear. Ragged tennis shoes and flip-flops stomped down the road. Don’t get me wrong–I was shocked, sure. But more than anything I was relieved to be dealing with old mattresses and appliances rather than the neighbors. I assumed that even a broken refrigerator would be more attentive than them.
I squeezed by a record player who sat on the curb. Its lid was unhinged and dangling open. It was muttering this sad song, something about the moon going behind a cloud to hide its face and cry. Something about a robin that weeps when the leaves start to die. I felt sorry for the thing, really. I tried to be nice to all of those things out on the street. I really did. “Excuse me, could you tone all this down a bit?” I said to this cello. It didn’t answer. “Look, I can’t sleep with all this noise. You guys are awfully loud,” I told a broom who bounced past me. Didn’t answer of course. “Are you even listening to me?” This I said to a suitcase clopping by. No acknowledgement, nothing. All those eyes of brass and plastic and glass just stared right through me. After that I thrashed my way back to the curb but tripped over a flower vase before I could make it off the street. Then I heard a stomp and a grainy voice calling out to me.
“Have you been abandoned too?” said an umbrella. The thing stared at my apartment complex. Its fabric was frayed at the edges and speckled with yellow stains.
“What? No, of course not. I mean, I don’t think so,” I told the umbrella. It bounced around me on its crooked handle and stared at me with polka-dot eyes.
“Best make up your mind. The parade only comes once a year.”
Before I could say much else the umbrella hopped away, back into the crowd where it blended into a troupe of cabinets and nightstands, and then it was gone. I tried yelling into the crowd, pleading with anything that would listen. I just wanted to go to bed. Nothing heard me though. I was starting to feel that it may have been easier to deal with the upstairs neighbors after all. I plopped back down on the curb, right beside the depressed record player. I’d lost one of my slippers, but I didn’t care to look for it. I had my face in my hands when I heard the shrill song of a violin, a song that shone through the clamor of the parade. The violin wobbled right up to me, its strings unraveled and its fingerboard chipped.
“Why the long faces, my dear friends?”
The record player said nothing, so I figured I’d tell my sob story instead. I told the violin the standard stuff–needed to sleep, couldn’t be late to work again. If I were, the store manager would replace me. No doubt about that. She sure as hell wouldn’t listen to my excuse about a parade of junk. When I finished talking the violin started babbling in this sort of supernatural chatter. Its voice flowed like honey.
“Years ago I was the family favorite,” said the violin, “They played me every night. A cello they then purchased, full of richness and delight. So in the basement my jealousy fermented. Until one day I woke to a bellow, which belonged to no one but the cello. There in the dark I learned I wasn’t the problem. No, nor that other unheard fellow. The issue lay with the family who betrayed us as if we were Othello.”
The violin stared at me for a couple of minutes. I honestly didn’t get its soliloquy. I was never somebody who read poetry or went to plays, so it all seemed random at the time. Sometimes I still think about what it meant. Sometimes after a long shift and coming home alone late at night, staring into the empty buildings, I feel like I understand. When I see the folks huddled in front of that old bank, shivering and glassy-eyed, I feel like I understand. I looked over my shoulder at the apartments, the paint peeling, a hole in the roof. Then I looked back at the instrument.
“Shall we be going then?” it said. “You do want to be heard, don’t you?”
I told the violin I would go, perhaps for a few minutes, maybe sleep could wait. Maybe I did want to make a little bit of noise. To hell with sleep, to hell with the upstairs neighbors, the landlord. I just needed to find my other slipper. It ended up finding me though. That faded and stained little shoe clopped its way right up to me, and I slipped my foot right inside it and followed the violin. We wound through the parade goers and found ourselves a spot in between a splintered coat rack and a group of school desks. A pair of cymbals lay on the street. The violin asked me if I knew how they worked, and I told it I had no idea. So, of course, I grabbed them anyway and fit the straps on my hands. Then a silence spread across the crowd. All those things of metal and wood stood still in the moonlight. What a sight that must have been for some insomniac looking out her window.
The parade started to move, all at once. One peg, corner, or pole at a time. Foot in my case. I didn’t even know my body was moving, but it was. The parade hustled on, and we all trounced down the street in a stampede of clutter, uninhibited and unbound. The parade whirled past the apartment complex and the administrative office, and horns blared and drawers slammed themselves shut. Lights flickered on in some of the buildings, and people shouted at each other to be quiet. Some of the tenants even rushed outside halfway asleep to see what all the noise was about. Most didn’t even see the parade though. They just rubbed their swollen eyes and looked right past it all and sulked away in their pajamas. I felt sorry for them. I really did. Most of those people probably didn’t even know how fun it was to make a bit of noise. They could find out though, if they tried.
The parade went on. All of those thrown-away trinkets and forgotten tools and myself hurled onward and stopped before a brick house at the end of the apartment complex. The landlord’s house. Metal rattled, wood creaked. A floodlight in the driveway sputtered on and lit up the parade. At first I wasn’t too sure what to do. Part of me felt bad for being so loud. Then again another part of me didn’t care one bit. Besides, was the landlord even listening?
The light in the kitchen came on, and then I knew he was listening. A pale face with tousled hair peeked through the window and squinted. Nearly every light in the house came on after that. The door swung open, and out he walked. The landlord froze in the middle of the driveway. His face was all red, and half of his belly hung out of his shirt. His eyes started to pop out of his head as he looked out onto the street, and then everything really took off. The parade thundered to the edge of the driveway and the orchestra of things crescendoed in a cacophony of horns, thumps, and blares and I pulled my arms out wide and slammed those cymbals together like nobody’s business until my arms grew numb.
The landlord was listening all right. Amid all the noise and clutter he looked right at me and shrieked and ran back inside. The curtains were all pulled shut, and all the lights went out. It’s hard to describe what I felt then. Banging those cymbals together, marching like a mad man, flowing with the parade. When it comes down to it I guess it felt like all that racket meant something. It was all sort of like being a little kid, when an adult actually listens to what’s coming out of your mouth.
After the crescendo the parade started to thin out and wither. The rusted trombones left first, followed by the chairs. Then the old exercise equipment. The thumps and clinks that hit the pavement grew sparser. What was left of the parade circled back around to my section of the apartment complex. All those things left as quickly as they appeared. Just me and the violin stood in front of my building, right next to the curb.
“And now you understand, yes?” said the instrument. “Why we trudge up and down the streets and why we thrash about, singing and wailing. If we don’t sing for ourselves, who will?”
I had never thought about it that way before. I always figured that some people just weren’t worth listening to, myself included. The violin had a point though. The new door lock the landlord installed is proof of that. Sometimes we just have to sing for ourselves. I told the violin that I’d be back for the next parade and promised not to throw out my slippers or my old vacuum. The instrument laughed at that and started to walk off, so I told the thing good night and left the street. Before going to sleep I looked out the window of my room, but the instrument had already left, so I lay in bed and closed my eyes to the sound of nothing. I tried not to think about the double shift the next day and thought about the landlord’s face instead. The way his eyes popped when he looked at the parade, the frown on his lips. He had heard everything all right.
I woke up a few hours later, just as the sun was coming up. Metal clanged together from down on the street. I slipped back outside and into my slippers, but the road was empty. Everything was gray and still, and the shoes no longer dangled from the telephone pole. The parade had come and gone. Something lay on top of a storm grate by the curb–a violin. The strings were unraveled, and the varnish had faded. I took it inside anyway. I fixed it up a bit and mounted it on the wall, where it still hangs. Sometimes, maybe once a year, I wake up in the middle of the night and hear the violin singing. And sometimes, if I’m still enough, I can hear the night parade bustling down the street.