The Echo Report
After the third or fourth restless night of echoes, you turn to your husband while frying eggs for breakfast and suggest that maybe it’s time to call someone. He looks up from his morning doomscrolling with the very expression you expected.
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”
You flip his egg onto a plate and are satisfied when the yoke breaks. A yellow puddle bleeds, staining the toast.
You tell him to eat quickly before it gets cold. Cold echoes back, but you pretend not to hear.
At the knock, he looks up at you. There is accusation written on his face.
“Did you call the exterminators?”
You’re overreacting . . .
You don’t answer him. You simply stand and open the door. The two men on the porch are dressed in hospital scrub green uniforms with neatly sewed-on name patches. They are Pete and Alvo. When you thank them for coming and invite them inside, you can hear your husband make a derisive noise from the other room. You want to apologize for him but instead you lead the exterminators into the bedroom where the echoes are the loudest at night.
They both carry complex equipment and as you follow them down your hallway, you observe as they knock on walls. One whispers technical terms of the trade to the other who simply nods.
Your husband touches your shoulder and you turn, leaving the exterminators to their work.
“Why did you call them?” His voice is low. You lower yours as well.
You explain that the echoes are getting louder. You can hardly sleep at night.
Night . . .
“It’s not worth the money. We can get rid of them ourselves. You did this without asking me.”
You remind him that you, too, make money and since when do you need to ask his permission to spend it?
He looks frustrated and tired and you wonder if the echoes keep him up at night as well.
After he knocks, Alvo glances at Pete and waits. He can hear shuffling from inside the house. A man’s voice announces itself with an angry timber. Alvo shifts his weight from leg to leg and has no difficulty making sense of the discomfort he feels at the energy coming from the other side of the door. He nearly shoves his fingers in his ears but stops himself. Echoes rarely permeate the walls of the home, he knows this from his training. He knows this from experience.
Pete nudges him with an elbow and smiles. The smile says, easy job—done by lunch. But Alvo isn’t quite sure if he agrees.
The door opens an inch and a woman’s face peers out. She has the defeated look of someone who loses too much sleep over too many arguments, but she glances at their nametags and smiles, opening the door wider to permit them entry.
Alvo nods politely and the routine begins. He sets down his case of equipment and pulls the surgical blue booties over his shoes. Pete does the same. Alvo feels unsettled. There is such a heaviness in the home. It is well decorated and the evening sun’s seashell rays give the house a calm feeling, but Alvo isn’t fooled. He fights the desire to plug his ears again. He knocks on the wall with a knuckle and listens.
“Masks help keep us from adding our own voices to the infestation,” says the one whose patch reads Pete. He speaks in nearly a whisper. He opens his case and kneels at the foot of the bed you’ve shared with your husband for nearly a decade. You notice your comforter is fraying at the corners and you have a sudden urge to rip it from the bed. To hide your secrets from these strangers in your bedroom.
“They aren’t foolproof, and you might still pick up on my voice after we leave but that’s normal.” Pete’s hands are busy with the equipment. A box covered in wires and knobs that remind you of something used for electroshock therapy. The other man stands with his hands against the wall. He isn’t wearing a mask like his partner. His head is cocked slightly and you imagine he is hearing things you can’t.
You ask him why he isn’t wearing a mask. He merely glances at you but his look is both apologetic and apprehensive.
“Alvo doesn’t speak.” Pete says this without even looking up from his work. A simple explanation.
Alvo waits until the woman leaves the room before pulling a small, worn notebook from his pocket and scribbling a few words and a question mark. He shows Pete who nods and then returns to his work. Alvo wanders from the bedroom into the hall knocking as he goes. Framed photographs in the hallway are a path of stories. A black and white wedding portrait draws Alvo’s attention. The married couple dancing. The woman’s smile is radiant but there is anxiety in her eyes. Alvo is overwhelmed by wedding stress. The wrong flowers, the cake is lopsided, the best man lost his speech, a hair in the food . . .
He jams his fingers in his ears and listens to his own breathing until he feels himself again. The wedding portrait on the wall is slightly crooked. Alvo straightens it and a rush of echoes swarm, creating a cloud of words and anger and hurt.
You think I don’t care
I don’t care
Don’t you think you’re . . .
You’re selfish . . . all you think about is . . .
All you think about is your . . .
You . . . you . . . you
Alvo pulls his notebook from his pocket and writes every echoing word.
When you called to make the appointment, the woman on the phone warned that you might want to leave the house during the initial consultation.
“It can be startling and overwhelming,” were her words. You thanked her for her concern but felt that you and your husband could handle whatever the experience threw your way.
Now, as you sit at the kitchen table, picking at a loose thread on the maroon tablecloth, you feel your resolve crumbling. You can’t tell if the sound of the front door slamming is your husband’s recent departure or simply a familiar echo reasserting itself. Before the exterminators, the echoes were the reliable drip of a leaking kitchen faucet. Now the echoes pour as if from the spout of a bathtub. They rush and trap you, threatening to submerge and eventually drown you.
The machine starts up with its mechanical hum. Alvo and Pete monitor with hands on hips. The sound is a soothing drone of white noise. Pete slides the machine under the bed, carefully tucking and hiding each wire away. While Pete makes notes on the preliminary report, Alvo wanders back through the hallway and into the kitchen where the woman sits with her head in her hands. He can’t tell if she’s crying, but he feels a rush of sympathy for her. Infestations are draining. She looks up at him and he really sees her for the first time. Her eyes are red and desperate. She hasn’t slept. The echoes are keeping her awake.
He tells her that everything will be fine, but he can never know if people understand his wordless language. He just hopes. She rubs at her eyes, stands, and asks if they have finished. He nods and hands her a form to sign. He points to the form where it states that he and Pete will return the following day for the equipment and to share the report with her and her husband. She signs the form and then he and Pete show her the machine under the bed.
“It monitors, gathers, and evaluates,” Pete explains. “Hopefully the hum won’t bother you. Most people report that it actually helps them sleep better.”
Alvo and Pete pack up and leave. Once outside, Alvo feels the heaviness of the home and its echoes drop away.
You lie in bed with the gentle hum of the machine as company. It’s nearly three in the morning when your husband comes home. You wonder if he’ll sleep on the couch, but he surprises you and climbs into bed. He faces away, his back an unmistakable boundary marking the chasm between you. You want to ask him where he went.
I don’t care . . .
If he wants to talk. You nearly apologize, if for no other reason than to end this iciness.
Cold . . .
Instead, you leave the moment wordless. For some reason, the exterminator pops into your head.
Alvo doesn’t speak . . .
His silence had been a balm. The look in his eyes spoke a language you wish you understood.
You fall asleep as the machine tugs at echoes trapped in your home.
The echo report is one of the longest he’s ever seen in all his years of exterminating. Alvo packs the machine up, carefully unhooking each wire, while Pete glances over the report making notes with a red pen.
The woman’s husband left just as they arrived. She stands in the doorway of the bedroom with her arms crossed over her chest. Alvo can see she is anxious—all unanchored energy.
“Would you like us to wait until your husband gets back to go over the report?” Pete asks, but she shakes her head. She tells them she’ll fill him in later. She says the machine was a blessing, that she hasn’t heard an echo all morning.
Alvo wishes he could tell her the machine has only treated the symptoms. The disease remains untouched. Pete reviews the report with her, pointing out the words and phrases that came up the most during the night. Making note of the frequency between the two voices. Explaining the cost breakdown. Giving a few basic and general tips to keep echoes at bay. Alvo only half listens. He wanders back to the hallway and notices the wedding portrait is crooked again. He fixes it again. The house is silent.
You spend the day cleaning the house even though the exterminators were incredibly tidy and professional. You cook your husband’s favorite meal and avoid calling him to see when he’ll be home, in case it leads to an argument. You want the meal to be a surprise, anyway. You manage to keep the rice fluffy and the butter chicken warm while you wait. You revel in the silence.
When he arrives, the food is still warm and he comments on how good it smells.
You hand him a heaping plate and you sit at the table together. You ask him about work and he complains and you commiserate. At one point, he reaches across the table and takes your hand. You watch as he spills butter chicken on the fresh tablecloth. He doesn’t move to clean it.
You’re overreacting . . .
You say nothing. You listen as he speaks.
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