South of Chicago, past the Kankakee turnoff, the baby starts to cry. First several whimpers, then a shoulder-rolling set of sobs building to a full-on wail. I pull onto the shoulder. I lean back and see he’s pulled loose his hearing aid and put it in his mouth. It makes a whistling feedback noise as he tries to swallow it.
I walk around, pull him from the car, and we step over the guardrail to walk along the edge of the hunched cornstalks with the withered, stringy cobs hanging slack, reaching back to the dirt.
I rock him.
An occasional semi blasts by.
A hawk calls out from a fence post.
My son’s screams burrow deep into the center of an otherwise empty place. There’s a rut cut through the drought-dead corn where the wheels of the irrigation lines ran, and walking that into that hip-high wilt brings us to the center of the filed, the center of the state, the center of the country, and most likely, the center of my life.
In moments he’s onto those warm, after-scream deep breaths. A sound I love. I hook the hearing aid back on and hope it will pluck the noise from the air and whisper it into his heart.
A dozen white windmills whir in the distance.
Blackbirds dart over the limp tassels.
Dry leaves scratch at the stalks.
Our breath syncs as I hoist my son who gets confused and tries to swallow all the strange new noise thrumming through his little earbuds.
I stand still so we can listen to the day.
Since he failed his hearing test at the hospital I’ve been attuned to each new noise and am amazed by all the sounds that come and all the bridges sound makes in a life.
Last week, our dog was skunked in the yard. Yellow goop hung on his face as he ran across the grass. When the dog retched it reminded me of something. A bridge was made. When I was young, a dog came running across the school’s football field. It bit into its own tail, drawing blood, then took deep gnawing strikes into its side.
That dog made ancient pain noises.
Our teacher gathered us children, her voice turned high with panic. It was slow work as we all watched the poisoned dog try to dig out what was making it sick.
Then a sheriff drove onto the track, crunched over the gravel, and popped his trunk. He pulled out a shotgun and slid several rounds into the chamber.
His first two shots missed, and the echoes raced each other over the field. The third shot found purchase in the back hip from forty yards out, marked by the football field’s sharp white hashes. The forth shot went to the side of the head and left a ringing in my ear.
All those shots still echo.
Sounds loop back.
They sing note to note through time.
As we walk away from the cornfield, over the brown grass, I lift and ease my son into his car seat, buckle him, kiss his forehead, his cheek, his cheek again. He giggles, then begins to talk to me in the loose vowels of his own precious music. I start the car and pull out. The road thrums tire songs as gravel clanks, and the breath of the exhaust braids into the holy notes of symphony.