Scales (Part 2 of 2)


Alan can feel her respiration slow over the next few minutes. She has always been a good sleeper, she’s better at it when she’s depressed, and she’s been under treatment for depression for a couple of years. She is soon asleep. Alan takes his arm back and rolls to face the other way.

Again he wishes for the white noise generator. Anything but the sound of Hope’s breathing and Cutty’s restlessness. No: not anything – not the sound of the regular number 10 Muni bus down 10th Avenue in San Francisco, every 40 minutes all night, when he and his first wife Janice lived at 10th and Geary in 1972. They were young and skilled at sleeping then, and their bedroom was one away from the front of the flat, but those roaring diesel buses stirred their dreams nine times a night.

Alan’s mind meanders from the winter nights of 1972 to the summer evenings of 1973. That was when he and Jan first packed into the middle fork of the Feather River. Minerva Bar or was it No Ear? Minerva he thinks. He probably has a map around, in one of the boxes stacked among the rafters in the garage, but Alan certainly isn’t going to look for it now. The name doesn’t matter. He remembers the scene so well…

A flat area at the intersection of Washington Creek and the river. Well-furnished. The placer miners brought amenities into the steep canyon, made it even steeper by eroding the hillsides screeful in their search for gold, and then found it best to leave the amenities by the river. So Minerva Bar had a locked cabin, with pots and pans hanging on its outside, a strong clothesline, a stone fire pit and separate outdoor stove, even a movable toilet-seat-on-legs. There were boulders around just right for sitting or reclining. The river was cool but swimmable; the creek was cold and delicious.

They set their tent up on the flat slab of dirt that marked the right-angle intersection of creek and river. All night they heard the twin symphonies of moving water. Alan is remembering those cold-meets-cool sounds that contained every conversation he had ever heard, every echo he’d ever made, when he falls asleep.

Cutty wakes him at 4 AM. The unmistakable percussive sound of a dog regurgitating. Alan comes to consciousness with a groan. Hope appears to sleep through it. But Alan wonders; she’s a nurse by training after all – does she really not hear sounds of illness? It seems to him that the longer she has remained depressed, the less she has been willing to do.

He cleans up the mess. He returns to bed. He’s aware again of the elusiveness of Morpheus.

It worked earlier; Alan relaxes his body and thinks about the white noise of Washington Creek and the Feather River. But this time the meditation leads him to memories of making music.

The trombone in 5th grade. Teaching himself harmonica, and electric piano, and then picking out tunes on the Hammond organ his father bought. Alan didn’t get much formal training but he had a natural ear; his chords weren’t sophisticated but he could pick out a melody on any instrument. White-boy rock: thin and stringy but energetic. White blues: sad enough and classic but without the lowdown throb.

Thinking about making music does not create the white noise in Alan’s head that he needs in order to return to sleep. But it carries him through the dark hour and a half before dawn without depressing him. He lies lightly on the bed. He decides that he wants to make music again. He’ll dust off the synthesizer and find the concertina. A tune is beginning in him and he wants to play it.

At 5:45 Alan realizes that he doesn’t need a white noise generator. He needs real white noise. He wants to move them near a large creek or a small river, or maybe just build a fountain outside their window, but one way or another he’ll have the sound-of-all-voices again.

Seven minutes later he’s thinking it will be good for Hope too, and he’s imagining the sounds of falling water, when he finally drifts again into sleep. He’s so tired that he doesn’t move a muscle from then until Hope wakes him when she leaves their bed to have her first cup of coffee and cigarette.

Alan is insufficiently rested but he’s still optimistic. He’s determined to return to music and to make his own white noise. He blurts his intentions to Hope. It deflates him a little when she doesn’t respond to his declarations. He figures he’ll deal with the dog and the groceries before attending to his new plans.

He’s a little irritated when he puts the leash around Cutty’s neck, a little bitter at Hope. He does so much, listens so carefully, tries so hard; he thinks she owes him an open mind about change. When he realizes that he has the choke chain on upside down, he doesn’t just stop walking to straighten it out. Maybe he unconsciously wants to disobey Hope, but he yanks the leash off while moving, startling Cutty, and startled Cutty races down the street. At that same moment Plato the Chihuahua slips through his opening front door and crosses his yard; before Alan can get closer than 30 feet Cutty is on the little tan dog, Plato is up and in Cutty’s mouth, Plato is motionless on the sidewalk.

Alan and Plato’s owners reach the small dog at the same time. Plato’s thin leash dangles from his master’s hand like a fuse. From the angle of the body it’s obvious that Plato’s neck has been broken. Cutty continues running but stops five houses down the block.

Alan’s head feels stuffed with cotton. There’s white noise in his brain, rushing in all the spectra of sound, containing every conversation he’s ever heard. There’s a thick dirge within. He straightens his lower back and puts his plans on hold as he sets off to catch Cutty, to have him destroyed.

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