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Two Knocks Goodbye

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I flip through the stations listening for your voice. I hear soft music and mellow vocals. I hear father knocking at the door. I hear anchors reading the daily news. I hear mother calling and David weeping. I don’t hear your voice because I’m not looking because you don’t have one. I switch off the radio. In the quiet I think about you and about us and how we were trapped. I drive a straight line down the I-95 and roll down the window and feel the wind in my hair. I wipe my face of ash and smoke and roll the window up. I knock. I knock twice on the glass for you.

You came to me the night my father died. There was no moon in the sky, no stars, either, a black woolen blanket of a heaven to lay him to rest. Mom and David sat next to him in the hospital bed while I mesmerized my ten year-old eyes with the harsh mountains and valleys of the heart monitor. The green line shot jagged across the screen, the outline of our broken hearts etched into the monitor. He’d been shot through three times, three metal knocks on his chest, three red stars in the beating blue sky of the hospital gown. I didn’t know at the time. The steadfast beeping was like no music I'd ever heard.

David was in tears when the mountains fell and the valleys swelled into a solid horizon over which the sun would never rise. He was older and knew dad with a fond memory’s embrace. The unbroken hum of the flat line ran through every tear. Mother closed her eyes. I had expected, in some haphazard ten year-old way, her hands to go up to her eyes and catch a waterfall, but not a drop, not a word. My mother closed her eyes and acknowledged the sky as blackest tonight. I knew I should have been sad. Where were my tears? I didn’t know my father. Mother saw to it that I never knew my father.

...I remember walking down that hallway, toward the staircase, as our walls burnt up around us. Rose-red wallpaper curled and peeled at the edges, black and gold paint boiling on the walls, furniture crumbling and fabrics blinking orange light like a pulse. My footprints in the carpet burned as I walked them. A world on fire. I am the phoenix...

We returned to the whispers of the rosebushes, the wind talking rumors to the moon. David drove us quiet and bleary-eyed down the highway, a green blip along the flat line that held us to our lucidity. No one slept that night.
At midnight I heard you knock. I was too numb to be afraid. It was a very cautious knock, a quiet “hello?” For an instant or a moment I thought it was dad, knocking on the door, imploring his entrance. I promised I’d get to know him better, I’d let him in and I’d cry when he left again. But the moment was soft and broke under the realities. That knock. It came from within the wall. From within.

...The wood on the railing was still cool as I descended the steps. I walked my father’s footsteps on the stairs, the unsure walk he’d take while I hid under the blankets, feigning sleep. I couldn’t see and you didn’t knock but I knew you were following me in the walls, marching with me every step. The sound of broken beams, of splintering wood, of shattered vases, of shattered voices, it was all your voice, your knock, the whole house a heartbeat...

I was afraid of you. The daily single knock on my wall was a pulse to tell me you were still alive. I hid under the blankets, pulling the wool sky over my eyes. The house beat as a heart for you to bear. David never noticed your knock. Mom never noticed anything anymore. I was the only one.

I celebrated dad’s birthday alone. The smell of five-dollar birthday candles drifted into the air and wrapped the expensive crystal of the chandelier in their fumes. The red and blue and orange and pink smoke spun jagged webs along the grand parlor ceiling, the crossing lines of ended heartbeats. Dad was gone so I made a wish. I wished and I blew out the light.
That night you knocked and my brother David came home drunk. His breath was heavy on the loose red tie and he fumbled with his lighter, the electric puff of sparks threatening to set the alcohol in his breath on fire, destroying the already destructive syntax. He spun the small grooved wheel and lit his cigarette a fiery orange. There were tight pink patches of skin on his hands where the lighter had slipped for an instant and ate the flesh. In quiet stutters he slid a brick of bills across the table and it shattered on the floor like glass.
I answered your knock with a knock. It was delirium and I wanted you to know. I can only imagine your excitement. You knocked again, three times, three times fast, and I knocked back three more heartbeats. What simple creatures we were.
“Quiet!” yelled David at my knocking. But we’d already met.

...The heat was catching to my fingers as I felt the walls. You were there and I knew you were there and I knocked to make sure, knocked three times fast. You answered, three times, three knocks on the walls, three heartbeats, three blips on the monitor to say we are alive...

Three knocks was hello. Two knocks goodbye. That was our language. I couldn’t tell you who I was or what I looked like or what life was to me outside those walls of yours and mine. I couldn’t tell you my name. I couldn’t ask you a question or answer one. I had calculated an infinity’s fortune of orders and arrangements of knocks and heartbeats through the wall, yet we spoke in binary, two words, two knocks, three knocks. I couldn’t tell you that my mother was sick or that David never let me leave and came home every night in a pool of alcohol stench, or the wads of cash he fed us with or the wrinkled checks that always, always cleared, or how I suspected one day he might not come home at all. Hello. Goodbye. Hello! Goodbye! Hello! HELLO! Knock knock. Goodbye!

...A red sunset was rising behind me, an enflamed star that raised us inside walls, heartbeats behind a monitor that climbed mountains and dug valleys and never fell flat. I could count the stars in the warming sky as one by one they burnt up and vanished under the new day. I felt your presence in the smoke...


I was sleeping and you knocked, three knocks hello, next to my open dreams. You cracked my consciousness like an egg and the imaginations spilled over and I knocked to shut you up, knocked five, six times, six heartbeats on the wall. I pulled the blanket over my head like father used to when I was young and didn’t have you. But you beat again, six times, six knocks at the door’s front, six echoes without partner to dance in the stalling dark. Knock knock knock knock knock knock. Six knocks again without hesitation or intermission, your heart didn’t wait for me. I cast my sleep aside and slipped toward your call in a hazy, blurry delusion, staring at the stars of my dream. I opened the door and you knocked, six knocks, at the peak of the stairs. I stalked you, further, in part delusion like my escaping reflection, opposite me and becoming my movements and my voice and heartbeat. You lead me, a running whisper in the walls.


...Ash in the clouds, soot in the stars, black stars in the sky. I found the car parked in the driveway, the bright white paint and silver linings grayed to absolute dullness, another star smothered in the black pavement sky. I leaned against the automobile and left a handprint on the hood. The metal was still cool. I looked for you in the smoldering mountain. I looked for you until my fingers went cold...


Your six-knock whisper landed last on rose-red wallpaper. I remember… the thick buzz of running water, absolute as the pulse I held when I cut my breath and peeked into the room. The gaseous florescent light foamed through the crack I widened in the door. And there was David standing at the sink, a red waterfall running through his hands. The thin pink scars on his knuckles were soaked through, crimson. Blood on his sleeves. The loose red tie, redder. You wanted to show me my brother, but I saw my father. The man I saw was not my brother at all.


...I started up the car, and drove. I turned on the radio. I heard music. I drove a line down the I-95, and listened for your voice...

Years were days that passed as heartbeats. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, the years knocked three times hello. I didn’t leave the walls of that home. You didn’t leave the walls of that home. We didn’t leave. We couldn’t, trapped in the concrete, our communications limited to a knock, to be answered by no one at all.
I heard two knocks goodbye one day that year and thought you’d escaped and left me. But it wasn’t you, dear friend, but David, knock knocking on the door.
“Mom’s dead,” he said, his eyes lost everywhere. I didn’t know, couldn’t think. Nothing to say.
“How.”
“I don’t know. She’s dead.” He walked down the hall. I came after him. You shuffled in the walls after me.
“How.”
“I don’t know.”
“Where is she.”
“Gone.” And he turned to the stairs, quiet, the first step landing without sound. Madness was the silence. I remember little of what happened. I seized his shoulder to catch him, and you watched as he cracked my skull on the wallpaper. The world spun upside down and counterclockwise. My vision of David was fragmented and split and strung together to a monotonous flat-lined hum.
“I don’t know.” His hands on my throat. “Gone.” My hand to my pocket. “HE’S GONE YOU HEAR ME GONE!” Your twenty-thousand frantic knocks on the wall: “Hello hello hello hello hello hello hello—?” My open switch-blade in his chest.
Your heartbeat went quiet and we both listened to the distant knocking of David’s heart. Knock knock, knock knock, knock knock. Father knocking drunk at the door. Knock knock, knock knock. Your knocking at the walls. Knock knock, knock knock. Mother hiding me under the blanket. Knock knock. Knock knock. Three echoes of a gunshot. Knock. Knock. Two blips on the monitor. Knock. Knock. Two beats before the flat-line. Knock. Knock. Two knocks to say goodbye.
He fell and I knew I could save us.
I knocked, three times, on the wall: Hello? I waited for you. You knocked three times hello, but if those walls allowed it I think your word choice would be different. I stared at the lighter’s open flame and stared at the blinking orange star. I dropped it at my feet. I sent that place to flame.

I flip through the stations listening for your voice. I don’t hear it because I’m not looking because you don’t have one. In the quiet I think about you and about us. I drive a straight line down the I-95 and I wipe my face of ash and smoke and I knock.
I knock twice on the glass for you.
Two knocks.
Goodbye.



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