Ursula Awake [Flash Fiction]

The hammering, clanging, clanking – the sheer metallic cacophony of sound was driving Ursula slowly, but surely, crazy. It wasn’t very late – only eleven-thirty or so – but there were rules about this kind of thing, even laws. No noise of this kind after eleven o’clock. Or even ten. She wasn’t sure which, but either way, by now the work should have ceased, the workers gone home for the night.

Turning over again, she lay a hand on her ear, shoving the other one deep into the pillow. Her own skin and bones weren’t nearly enough to shut out the racket, so she pulled over her husband’s pillow – he was still in the living room, watching something stupid on TV – and held it over her ear, making her head look like a strange, Ursula-faced sandwich. She began to laugh, a little at first, then harder, finally rocking with hysterical giggles, stifled behind her mouth. She tossed the second pillow away again. It wouldn’t do to be woken in the middle of the night by the sound of her husband’s ridiculing snort.

Still the noise went on. Ursula sat up and shook a couple more pills out of the plastic, orange bottle that was as familiar by now as a teddy-bear. Reaching for her glass of water, she hesitated, wondering if her habit was escalating. She decided she would think about it in the morning. Right now she needed the deep sleep that she hadn’t gotten since her daughters were born some thirty years previously. Maybe tonight would be the night, even with the pathetic stage being built in the park outside.

And that was another thing: why on earth were they building the stage at this hour? The park was controlled by the neighborhood, and they’d all signed to have the lampposts turned off there during the night. How were the workmen seeing what they were doing? Ursula mentally¬†upbraided¬†herself for assuming that the workmen were men. She supposed perpetual fatigue was as good an excuse as any for being a bad feminist.

Substantial Lack

Silence and emptiness are odd things. Both represent a lack, and yet they seem to be so substantial that you can acutely feel the presence of both.

Silence can fill your ears with its noise, making it deafening. Silence can drive you mad with the pitch of it, with the hum of it, with the absolute roar of it. You may shake your head to clear your ears of it or cough or make a noise so as to erase the presence of it. Sometimes it helps, and you’ll notice the creaks in the building and buzz of electricity and be calm, but sometimes the silence will press right back onto your mind, squeezing your head and almost hurting you with its tightness.

Emptiness can fill a room to the brim with the odd ache it causes. Sometimes it can fill a house full of furniture, making you feel utterly alone despite the things around you. Emptiness can weigh heavy on your heart and soul like a stone tied to them that is plunged into the ocean, pulling you into its depths and making you almost gasp from the need to be rid of it. You might go out into the street, run somewhere to meet friends, anything so as not to feel the aching emptiness, and it might work – but sometimes the emptiness will fill every space you reach and you won’t manage to disentangle yourself from its claws.

So strange, how lack can be so real, almost touchable.