They had just finished making love, a rousing session, and Sullivan worried that his fiancé had been so loud that their neighbors in the house to their left, the closest house to their bedroom window, might have heard her. It was nearly midnight and the neighborhood was quiet other than the summery sound of crickets, birds, the drone of an air conditioner, a train passing in the distance. The couple next door had a neat lawn and two small children. The man, in particular, was rather standoffish. The most Sullivan could get out of him was a quick wave if they happened to cross paths. He thought perhaps the man thought ill of them because they were renters rather than owners, because their lawn was not so neat, and because they had no children. It was a neighborhood of small ranch houses with neat yards and there were lots of children roaming about. He worried that he and his fiancé stood out somehow and this man next door would think even more poorly of them if he heard the lovemaking and he might spread the news around so that everyone in the neighborhood would make fun of them and then maybe some of the kids who were a little older would sneak over one night and toilet-paper their trees. When he had been in middle-school, he had not been very popular and one night the family house had been toilet-papered and his parents blamed him for it and he had felt ashamed for several months afterward, both by this mark of his own unpopularity and by his parents’ recognition of his unpopularity.
As they lay in bed, he mentioned to his fiancé, tactfully he thought, that maybe she should be a little quieter in the future so that the neighbors would not hear her. I wasn’t that loud, she said, God, the window was closed, and who cares what the neighbors think?
I’ll tell you what, Sullivan said. How about if I stand outside the bedroom window and you make the same noises you were making, and I will listen and see if I hear you. I’ll tap on the window to tell you to stop the moment I hear something.
That’s crazy, she said, I’m not going to do that. I would feel really stupid doing that.
Okay, then, how about if you go outside and I will make the noises and you can listen and tap on the window if you hear me?
God, this is sick, she said. Fine. Whatever.
Tap on the window when you arrive.
She threw on a robe and went huffily into the night. He waited until he heard the tap on the window. He started quietly at first, making little moans and sighs. There was no tapping. By degrees he became louder and now he added in little endearments and the sort of encouragements she would use like oh, that’s wonderful, right there, there! Bring it on now! There was still no tapping so he really belted it out for some more minutes, imitating her sounds. Finally, he stopped. She came back in a minute later. Her face was dark and scowling.
She got back in bed in her robe. She lay turned away from him, keeping as far away in the bed as she could.
Shortly after, she broke up with him and they both abandoned the neighborhood. For years after, he missed her. He thought of her sounds as something beautiful that had been forever lost to him. His lover now was utterly silent.