notes inspired by the sounds outside my centrally located window

by by Michelle Snow

But first, a brief synopsis of my history with fluorescent cube stacks of Post-It Notes: When I was nine years old I wanted to begin trading in the doll-like dresses my mom forced me to wear for flannels and jeans. She said no, so I commandeered her drawer of office supplies and, two hours later, pasted what she now tells me were almost 100 of these all around her bathroom mirror, her closet, the second floor hallway and the stairs:


In the present, a burly male voice* screams, "Fuck you, motherfucker!"

Someone replies from a different window, "Fuck me, motherfucker? Fuck YOU, motherfucker!"

*Meet Craig Chambers,
Age 20, Elite, PA

In Pennsylvania, where Craig is from, they do things a little differently. It would be incorrect to say "they" and mean all Pennsylvanians, because really this particularly different way of doing things is unique to the Chambers family. When Craig's father is angry, his first instinct is not to yell or throw things. Pushed to the outer limits of his patience, Mr. Chambers is moved, rather, to alphabetize. Craig's name and the names of his two older siblings, Amos and Brenda, are the products of this. They were not named these at first. Craig was Nick. Amos was Veronica. Brenda was Brenda before and after. Mr. and Mrs. Chambers fought something awful one April day and because Mr. Chambers was so angry and had already been through his collections of books and magazines and records twice or maybe even three times and because he worked in the government office that handles the affairs of people who change their names for reasons sometimes including the mob and sometimes including poor judgment, Mr. Chambers changed his kids' names.

Craig goes to Brown because it begins with a B and has good football and Brenda went to Amherst not because it begins with a B but because it begins with an A and she likes New England. If you are wondering why the colleges do not match the names, it is because Amos did not go to college.
There is a lot of pressure on Craig as the only boy in the family to go to college. He is very stressed most of the time. When he is angry, he does not alphabetize. Instead he hits walls with his fists and yells "fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck" really loudly.

It's not unusual to hear a fight. Put alcohol in the same room as hormonal college boys at the peak of physical strength and something's bound to happen sooner or later. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that last remark since moving in, but it's enough to render the terms of estrangement meaningless.

I can hear everything from this chair. There's a ramp outside my window, so it's a good spot for making out or crying, offering the illusion of solitude since people forget or don't notice that my window is directly behind their heads. I'll come into my room or wake up in the middle of someone else's diatribe, catching them mid-revelation.* A lot of this stuff is ridiculous. I try not to make too much noise myself. I fear I'll shatter their bubble of privacy.

*The Mid-Revelation of a Girl Who Is Most Obviously Intoxicated
" then he says, 'Miranda, seriously. We're in a contract. When I asked you to take the futon, I meant for you to borrow it while I was studying in Argentina. What am I going to do with a futon in Argentina? Tell me that!' I couldn't tell him that. He was right, you know? Like, sure. I wanted the futon. But I thought he was giving it to me! The only 'contract' I was in was the one where he gave me the futon and I keep it! It's a piece of shit anyway. I think his cat pissed on it or something. But still, Julie, it's the principle of the thing! So what if his mom has cancer and that's like a magic futon and can heal her or some bullshit. (Craig is so full of shit.) I really don't care. It's my futon. My. Blue. Velvet. Futon."

Note to self: Open window next time conversation takes place outside involving the following words: futon, cat piss, cancer. These should not be in the same line of dialogue. Open the window and tell them this, then close it because you are being rude.

Most times I can put myself in the mindset where their words fall right off of me. The sentences become strings of phonetic sounds and nothing makes sense. For instance, I won't know that his mother has cancer or that she still has lingering romantic feelings for her ex-boyfriend's freshman year roommate. I won't hear that he stole the stop sign from that intersection on a whim, ripping it right out of the pavement and running away. It won't mean anything to me that her only waking thoughts are of the moment two years ago when everything changed, when she realized that nothing would be the same, when she was so profoundly affected that her body didn't seem like her own anymore, when she heard... when she heard... what did she hear? I couldn't hear. I won't make sense of anything when she says, "The thing is I just need to get out of here."

"Fuck me, motherfucker? Fuck you, motherfucker!" I hear some muffled yeahs and alrights, which lead me to believe his rebuttal is a worthy dis. By now I've moved from my desk to my windowsill where I keep stained glass candleholders with no candles in them. I cross my arms and let them rest on the painted window seat, my face on my forearms, and look out at the people walking past my open window. Strangers walk by. One leaves and another one comes. Can I pick them off? What would it take for me to be alone?

Ha, alone. There is, of course, the man with the mushroom cloud of black and white hair to contend with.*

*Like this:
At first I see him because he casts a grotesque shadow the shape of impacted fungus on my floor. Almost a minute later I see a great Pug,* all dark wrinkles and snotty snorts, trot along the sidewalk. It's not obvious that these two are linked because the latter is trailing almost 100 feet behind the former, linked by the thinnest, longest leash I have ever seen. The man is wearing professorly wide-wale corduroys and a tormented expression that seems to complement his unruly bush of hair, as though the frantic orbits of thoughts--would the flying swing ride at an amusement park be a more appropriate analogy?--inside his head--of history's wars and the forces that spawn them and the people who don't stop them, just charge charge past borders with heavy boots and muddy helmets, to plop in some stranger's plot of land--exploded 72 hours ago--never mix gin with war and questions about women, he should have known, the smart ones do, but the intellectual ones savor the danger--and here he is, walking past my house, the contents of his mind now on top of his head, sweeping through the neighborhood like some localized big dust fallout. What to protect me from the radiation?

*Possible Monologue:
Questions for Pug experts about their abilities
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. I realize the line behind me is really long and people's dogs are barking at the caged parakeets, so it really means a lot that you're answering my questions even though I have no actual intention of leaving your store with any purchases. You really give meaning to the blue vest you're wearing, you know that? Wow, that's an interesting name! Is it ethnic? I'm ethnic, but my name isn't. Anyway, so I have this Pug, right? And he's all ugly but cute at the same time, which is why I bought him in the first place. He was kind of like an experiment--like could this Pug's ugly beauty attract possible suitors, and would he either reflect, amplify or counterbalance my own ugly beauty/beautiful ugliness?

I mean, I don't have a boyfriend right now, so the experiment is either going really well or failing miserably! Hahahahahahahahaha. Anyway, what I want to know is, what if he were to accidentally eat like a buttload of Post-It Notes? I keep a lot of them and one day I had this urge to just throw them all away, right into the trash bin, every last one of them. Who needs the clutter, am I right? Can Pugs' stomachs tolerate that much colorful paper? What about the ink--would it corrode their delicate arteries? This didn't happen. And if it did, it wasn't my Pug. I guess I'm just living my life like one big "What if???," wondering out loud. Oh, look at me just rambling. This is great because you're paid to listen to me.

Why here? Why my neighborhood, why my sidewalk, why this man's pitiful wreckage, why his impossibly sad mug and his faithful Pug?

There is no nuclear plant nearby, and anyway, I could never hear the sirens above the chatter. The loudest thing on my block is the weekly street cleaner who sweeps away all of the debris that doesn't matter. The streets are never visibly cleaner and what about the mess that's aural, that's crying at 3 AM, that you can't help, that's pissed itself into a fist hitting a wall at 60 mph shouting some meaningless curse into the street night air? There are so many fleeting signs that I get to wondering if they aren't inside their rooms and I'm passing them on the outside. When did my day suddenly become an exercise in reticence and where did all these Post-Its come from? I actually hate you. Take it all away, would I be alone then? No. There is, of course, the window to contend with, the whole wall of windows, like two-way streets, letting in, looking out, the only way I know how.