Author's note: My music is my refuge, and my headphones are my protection from hearing things that I don't want... Show full author's note »
not listeningThe silver, heavily padded headphones are snug over Asher’s ears, filling his head with a song from One Street Over’s second album. The bass swells and overlaps with the guitar as the percussion traipses along doggedly in the background. The lyrics are textured by the vocalist’s rugged voice.
The classroom door opens and their history teacher walks in, immediately sending Asher a pointed look. Asher refrains from rolling his eyes and pulls off his headphones. The teacher is satisfied, and begins the lecture.
History class bleeds into mathematics and soon everyone is assigned ten practice problems to complete. There is a boy in Asher’s peripheral vision who is cursing under his breath as he rummages in his backpack for his graphing calculator. It’s annoying. Asher tosses his own into the boy’s lap. He’s already done the problems before, they’re in the textbook. He spends the time instead on the history homework they received earlier.
The bell rings. The day is over, and Asher is allowed to replace his headphones. The next track that comes up is by Oceanhead. Shallower computerized beats skitter into his ears, as if on a steady rapid fire. His pace quickens ever so slightly as he exits the classroom, trying to match the rhythm.
He’s nearly halfway down the hall to the school entrance when someone grabs hold of his shoulder, spinning him around. Asher comes face to face with a chestnut-haired boy that he doesn’t know. The boy yanks off Asher’s headphones, fixing a glare on him.
“For the twentieth time,” the boy snaps. “You forgot this.” He shoves something into Asher’s face, nearly hitting his nose with it. Asher plucks it from of the boy’s hand with a grimace. He looks at it; it’s his calculator. “You forgot to take it back,” the boy continues. Asher just stares at him.
“Who are you?”
The boy looks at him in utter disbelief.
“David Farrell, the guy who sits next to you in math? You lent me your calculator.” Asher has to think about it for a moment.
“Oh. Yeah sure, whatever.” He reaches over and snatches his headphones back. “You’re welcome.” He’s in the process of sliding them back on when David interrupts.
“Do you have any idea how annoying that is?” he demands. The boy isn’t a teacher, so Asher deems it acceptable to roll his eyes.
“Yeah, I do.”
With that, he pulls the headphones on completely, pocketing his calculator. He turns up the volume as he walks away. NorthEast starts playing in all of its electronically produced glory just in time to block out any more words of indignation the boy might have for him. He snaps his fingers to it absentmindedly.
He proceeds at a leisurely pace to his home. The buses are cramped, and he doesn’t live so far from the school that it’s implausible to walk.
The moment he walks through the door of his house, he steps on broken ceramic. He stares down at it, identifying it as one of the new plates his mother has just bought. Mixed in with it are the remnants of one of his father’s coffee cups. He looks up and sees his mother sitting on the kitchen floor beside the open dishwasher. She has the phone in her lap, and tears are streaming down her face. Her auburn hair is disheveled; her eyes are puffy.
She’s been talking to his father, then.
Asher steps around the ceramic shards. She’s as listless as a marionette, her eyes glassy and unseeing. His chest tightens, but he knows better than to try comforting her. He sidles his way towards the stairs, moving as quietly as he can.
His mother catches sight of him anyway. Asher freezes and stares at her, feeling very much like he has been caught doing something horrible. He feels like everything in his world stops, even his music. For a split second Asher can swear that she looks happy to see him; that her green eyes soften, and her lips curve upwards.
But soon she’s on her feet, the phone tumbles to the floor. She’s screaming at him and her tear stained face twists into a mask of loathing. As he watches her, he can only think that he is happy he can’t hear what she’s saying. He doesn’t waste any time fleeing to his room upstairs.
He slams the door and locks it behind him. His backpack slides off his shoulder as he sinks to the floor. He stays that way for a little while, but then he’s sitting at his desk, doing his homework. Soon it’s late enough for him to chance going downstairs to get something to eat.
He finds some deli meat and eats quickly, and then gets ready for bed, acutely aware of every single sound that he makes. Everything seems alright though, so he climbs into bed and pulls off his headphones. It’s around 1:30 am.
He’s jolted awake at 4:15 am by a loud banging on his door. The wood creaks under the pressure, and for a second he thinks she’s going to crack it.
“He says that he’ll be staying at that woman’s house tonight,” his mother shouts. She is turning the door knob repeatedly, shaking the door on its hinges to no avail, but it makes plenty of noise. “It’s all your fault; if I didn’t have to take care of such an ungrateful-.”
Asher is already lunging for his nightstand, blindly grabbing for his headphones. He always leaves them there, just in case. He finds them, and jams them on. He clamps his hands over the headphones, crushing them to his ears. He doesn’t remember the name of the song that bursts through them, scraping almost painfully, and he doesn’t care. The pounding noise and screaming, incomprehensible vocals drown everything out. He cranks up the volume and tries to breathe.