WE WERE WATCHING television when we heard the sound. It was strange and yet familiar at the same time, a sudden hiss of air or water, some element let loose in a hurry. It was loud, too. Graeme turned the television up and then, after the second whoosh of sound, he muted the set and we both sat up, listening.
We were sitting on opposite ends of the couch, his feet pointing towards my head, my feet adjacent to the stretch of his body. It was a large corner couch and there was a lot of soft space between us. Velure. I was in my bra and pants because I liked the feel of it on my skin while I watched television, and I had to reach for my dress and slip it on before following Graeme outside.
He was looking up. I squinted into the dark outline of leaves and the stars beyond them and there was the sound again and I knew what it was, suddenly, that whoosh of flames and hot wind and the little click of the torch being turned off as if it were a tap.
We had been up in a hot-air balloon on our first anniversary. My treat. A surprise. I remembered darkness and dew and the sleepy warmth of the cab as we headed towards the sports grounds where the balloons rose into the air like magic mushrooms, tethered by their earthbound baskets and the ropes and their tamers, wrangling them like elephants in a circus. I remembered Graeme's face drained of its sleepy glow, paling to the colour of the moon as he saw them lit up by the park lights.
‘I'm afraid of heights,' he said unsteadily, but he submitted to the trauma of the surprise ride, fingers white on the basket as we dipped down over the silver curl of the river, relaxing, finally, as the sun rose and the buildings became nothing but a patchwork quilt beneath us.
The sound of the hot-air balloon was very loud. It should have been right above us there, hovering just on the other side of the tree. We looked up past other people's balconies. We saw the blue flickering lights of televisions in other apartments. I could hear the theme song from the news program that we had been watching. There was no billow of silk or flare of torch, just the sound of the thing firing up. Perhaps it was on the other side of the building, out of sight – but still, it seemed strange.
Graeme's fingers twitched and for a moment I thought that he might reach for my hand, but he didn't. I wondered if he was remembering that morning when we drifted up above his vertigo, when he allowed me to take him somewhere unsafe and admitted eventually that he had liked it. I smiled, but it was dark and he didn't notice the change in my expression.
‘We should go back inside. We are missing the program,' he said.
We sat on the couch and Graeme watched TV and I shifted on the couch, making the velure rub back and forth against my skin, and I remembered the times we had made love on that couch and the positions and how perhaps I would get tired of the feel of the fabric one day.
The sound of the hot-air balloon continued, firing up at irregular intervals. I felt as if it were hovering right above the apartment building, looking down into our courtyard. I stood and walked outside and I could hear Graeme yelling at me to put some clothes on, but I just stood in the dark and listened, and it seemed like the sound was coming from one of the apartments, two floors up and a little to the right. The window was in darkness. I listened till the sound came again and the man in the unit directly above us stepped out on the balcony and leaned out and looked up. Then I stepped back inside, pulled the dress over my head and lay on the couch again.
‘Anything?' Graeme didn't look up from the program on the television.
I shook my head, but he wouldn't have seen this and he didn't ask again.
I settled down into the disappointment of my skin encased in a shroud of cotton.
THE SOUND OF the City Cat.
‘He is sampling.'
Graeme nodded. He was watching television. It was the time of the evening when he watched television.
‘That's why the sound of the City Cat is so loud. Normally you can hear it. That kind of noise and the bump against the dock, but it is in the distance. This is right up close. A unit on the second floor.'
He turned the volume up and leaned forward on the couch.
‘Maybe it's just an echo. Maybe it's the way it is overcast or something. Bouncing the sound.'
The sound of the catamaran engine back-washing through the river. The sound of the clean blue hull bumping against the supports of the ferry stop.
‘We hear him playing his guitar with his effects pedal or whatever it is. You've heard him. Heavy metal. When he's in a bad mood, and then he fights with her. Whoever it is he's fighting with.'
‘Yes. I've heard that.'
The sound of the City Cat. We listened. There was nothing between us but the blare of the television. I shifted further away from Graeme on the couch and took my wine glass by its delicate stem.
‘It's music,' I told him. ‘He's making music.'
He snorted but said nothing.
The movie was interrupted by the sound of the boat, docking, backing off, docking, grinding against the ferry stop.
‘Whatever it is, I wish he wouldn't do it,' Graeme said, turning the volume up as high as it could go.
THERE WAS NOTHING for three nights. Things went as they usually did. There was work. There was waking up bleary-eyed and coming home tired. There was a Saturday in between and we did the things we always did: shopping, making love, housework, reading the paper and cooking meals to freeze in little Tupperware containers for the rest of the week. At some point Graeme turned to me with his hand on the bench top, which was made of CaesarStone, and told me that he liked the bench tops, which were new and very expensive.
WE HEARD IT the next night and this time Graeme looked away from the television. He smiled and I smiled back. A thudding and a grunting. A boy and a girl making love. He turned the television down and we moved to the doorway where we could hear it but still be hidden by the awning. It was not the kind of sound that you hear in a porno. This was real lovemaking, a guttural grunting like an animal. A girl grunting along at times, softer, less regular.
Graeme nodded towards the awning. ‘They are out of sync.'
I grinned. ‘Sounds like they are two different tracks being played together. Sounds like they are making love with other people.'
I grinned again.
We listened and then we heard the man on the tape whisper turn over and the girl whisper back not yet, soon.
We said nothing. There was some more grunting and then some silence with just the sound of a bed banging against the wall. We were both picturing the bed. We needed to fix it. It was from IKEA and there were extra screws, only they weren't extra. We should have reassembled the thing, but we didn't. We threw them away, and now the bed rocked and banged against the wall.
When the sample was over Graeme moved back to the television and turned the volume up.
I stood under the awning and lit a cigarette and let the smoke drift up towards the open window.
I wished he would play the sample one more time, so that I could see if the loneliness of the thing was real or just imagined. I waited through two cigarettes. The sound of a hot-air balloon made me flinch. I stepped back inside and closed the door. I took my shirt off and lay on my side of the couch at a little distance from Graeme and settled down into the pillows. The velure felt nice on my skin. Graeme turned up the volume on the television. The sound of the hot-air balloon seemed suddenly deafening.
‘You know,' he said then, ‘I quite liked that balloon ride. Once I got over the vertigo. I liked that you got that for me. The ride.'
I shifted against the velure. I reached for my glass of wine.
‘I know you did,' I said.