It isn’t quiet in my Algebra II class. My phone accidentally dings with an Instagram notification. I check the message under my desk: someone wants me to supply all of their soaps in their salon, a large order that I can’t fulfill without asking my parents for help, again. The phone slides out of my hand and bounces off the floor. It emanates a crackling hum, a noise that I have never heard before. The sound dissipates when I turn it off, but other phones in other pockets generate similar sounds, as does the computer on the teacher’s desk, and the fluorescent lights buzz like a swarm of garbage disposals, and my neighbor creates dissonant melodies with her graphing calculator. I cover my ears, but that doesn’t stop the choir of static from rattling my teeth and squeezing my organs.
“Julie, are you ok?” asks the teacher. I shake my head. I keep shaking my head.
*** It’s almost quiet in my house. My ear hugs the shared wall between bedrooms, and I listen to my parents whisper-fight. My dad explains to my mom that the TV, the refrigerator, toothbrushes, treadmills, and anything that requires electricity births an electromagnetic pulse, waves that, as of this morning, overwhelm me. He worries that I will not be able to go to a top- tier college or find a husband, that I will become a weird hermit who has to live in a shed, that they will have to sell my soaps on the internet. My mom says she knows the science. She tells him that they have to get rid of everything because that’s what parents do. They make sacrifices.
*** It isn’t quiet in my room. My parents have gone to bed, and my phone is beneath a pile of dirty clothes. I keep it on because I’m waiting to hear the bell chime of a notification: an email from a new customer; my friends texting me to ask why I left school early; an influencer tagging me in a photo promoting my new lemon-poppyseed soap; a stranger liking my Instagram post of me holding a bucket of lavender, my least favorite scent. Tonight, I reek of gasoline, one of the foul soaps I only make for myself, along with burnt leaves, wet dog, and rotting pumpkin. My odor is all I can control. Everything else about my life is dictated by crafting the best college resume according to my parents. Get straight A’s in all AP classes. Become editor of the yearbook. Volunteer at every homeless shelter in town. Run on the varsity track team. I started a business because that’s what colleges want: an entrepreneur. Because of the buzzing under my clothes, I can’t do any of these things now. I won’t be connected to the internet, and I can’t talk to my friends, and I won’t get into a good college, and I won’t have any money when I’m older, and my parents will hate me because after all of their help, driving me to farmers markets on the weekend and mixing lye with water and oil, I will live in a shed in our backyard as my dad predicted, and I will smell like gasoline until I die, and the buzzing from my phone intensifies until I can no longer enumerate my future failures.
*** It isn’t quiet in my dad’s car. Its motor grinds under high speeds and all of the computer chips and wires housed in the car’s body unify into a clanging drone, wrapping me with a pain that I must push through. I pull over onto the shoulder of a two-lane highway deep in the woods. There’s camping gear in the trunk, along with sandwiches and one of my mom’s survival guides. Red and orange leaves crumble under my hiking boots. The night has its analog singers: owls and coyotes. I wish I wasn’t walking into those predatory sounds, that I was making soaps while my parents slept without worry. But there is a peace that I haven’t had all day. My parents don’t have to make anymore sacrifices. I can live without being overwhelmed.
*** A branch breaks, and it wakes me up. An animal sniffs the duff attempting to pick up a scent, most likely mine. The thunder from paws clapping on a nearby tree thunder shakes my tent. I sprint to the purported safety of the car. When I turn over the engine, the car’s electric wails remind me of the life I might have had. I kill the engine and return to the edge of the woods where the sound of breaking branches grows louder and louder and louder. I scream to scare off whatever may be coming my way. I scream because, for one second, I only want to hear my voice.
Jason Sprinkle is a writer and software developer from Austin, Texas. He is an Assistant Editor at American Short Fiction and the Flash Fiction Editor at Abandon Journal. His work has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Rejection Letters, Moonpark Review, and others.