Saturdays, I’m the only one in the office. It is very quiet.
It is very quiet, except for the sounds of our building, which, when you remove the people—the shuffling din of comings and goings—become accentuated.
It takes a little time to become familiar with the sounds of an unpeopled building—the broken clunk of the heating or cooling units turning on and revving up, the neighbors opening and slamming doors, the passing traffic outside. Even the patio-diners at the brewery across the street, their joyful conversations from the picnic tables seem to float up from the sidewalk, murmuring softly across the street.
When the building’s cooling unit suddenly shuts itself off, its background hush evaporates, pulling back the curtains on the tiny, inaudible tinkerings. The footsteps in the hallway outside, the expanding tic-tic-tic of the sunbaked rooftop, comes rushing back.
Despite the eeriness of a building void of both people and their busyness, the sounds of a breathing structure become oddly comforting.
The only other sound I’ve known like it had the complete opposite effect—a home I’d lived in for two years. After it’s sale and thorough cleaning, I took one last walk-through and was overcome with the emptiness of the place. You would think, living in a place would make you an authority on its goings on. You come to know a room as having a feel, which floorboards complain the loudest. But when the furniture is gone, the rugs are gone and the clothes and the mess are all gone, a house becomes resonant and empty—alien. As if departing a beloved home wasn’t emotional enough, the disquieting newness of sounds is a swift kick in the pants on your way out the door. It is a reminder that, underneath the familiar surface of things—the things we think we own and know—is a broiling, churning inconstant and we are only visitors.
This is a silent pact I’ve made with our empty office: you leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone and maybe, together, we might be able to just enjoy one another.