follow us:

EVERY Friday night, Inception Noise and I rode the Earth to the Harkins Cinema at Tempe Marketplace. The Earth was one of eight free neighborhood shuttles—Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and so on—collectively called the Orbit, because they orbited the university, the city’s sun, so to speak. That night, a woman with a backpack full of black puppies told us there used to be a Pluto shuttle. It only went up and down one block, so they decided it wasn’t worth the expenditure, she said. I laughed, but she insisted it was true. Her backpack rippled with the movement of tiny dogs. Inception Noise, as always, stayed quiet so no one would recognize him, though some passengers kept glancing where he sat, wondering at his shape in the air.

It was May, which meant the promise of summer blockbusters, and trailers for more summer blockbusters stacked on top of them. At the Harkins, Inception Noise made me buy the tickets, because if he so much as opened his mouth in public, we’d get swarmed by bros in tank-tops begging him to make the sound again, doing their own crude imitations: BWOOOOOOOW. I purchased two for Fast & Furious 6, because it was being shown in the big Cine Capri, but it didn’t really matter what was playing. We wouldn’t be staying long.

Inception Noise, of course, wasn’t his real name. His first major role wasn’t even in Inception, but Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Still, Inception Noise was how everyone knew him. He’s like Propeller Guy in Titanic, or Jet Engine Guy from the pilot of LOST. Inception Noise didn’t appreciate when I included him in a list of actors known only for gruesome on-screen deaths related to rotor blades. After all, Inception Noise’s part in Inception was more important and prolonged than that—a starring role even. I didn’t point out to him it was uncredited, just like those dead guys. That when Inception ended, everybody saw Hans Zimmer’s name, while Inception Noise was merely a noise, ringing in their ears.

Besides, he wouldn’t want me using his real name here, not after what happened—what almost happened—between Kara and me. My own voice in my head begins the story I’m trying to tell: Sam Martone and Inception Noise were best friends until one day, and an image of an empty hammock swinging sadly in the breeze fades in as on a black screen. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the concessions, I bought a box of cookie dough bites, my favorite movie treat. Used to be I could get them at the Target across the way for a buck each, but the only place I found them anymore was theaters themselves, where they were four times as expensive. Inception Noise rumbled beside me. He wanted to give me a spiel about wasteful spending. He was a frugal noise, but I guess he had to be. He had a wife and two kids to feed.

We found seats somewhere in the middle, not too close. I guessed at the trivia questions appearing on the screen, and by the third time they cycled through, I was answering all of them correctly. Inception Noise rolled his eyes, vibrated in lieu of letting loose his booming laughter. When showtime hit, giant beige curtains closed across the screen. One of the managers, a skinny college kid wearing a suit that hung off him like a deflated balloon, came out with a microphone and asked if everyone was ready for the new Fast & Furious. When the crowd’s initial reaction was deemed unworthy, which it always was, he yelled, I said, are you ready for the new Fast & Furious? Then the audience reacted appropriately raucous. If only Inception Noise could contribute to the cheers.

The manager told us all about the Cine Capri’s digital sound and size specifications. He said, It’s one of the biggest screens in Arizona. The theater did this little song and dance before every Cine Capri showing. They used to say it was the biggest screen, but then they built another Cine Capri up in Glendale. Kind of killed the magic. I wanted my viewing experience to be unique, not identical to another audience’s forty-five minutes away. The Cine Capri was really only impressive in its singularity, because really, how big does a big screen need to be?

When the manager wrapped up his speech, the lights dimmed. The curtains reopened and spotlights swirled around. Beside me, Inception Noise shifted in his seat. Sitting wasn’t really easy for—what is he? A sentient sonic phenomenon? Both tangible and not, visible like an optical illusion, an outline, a mirage wavering like the air on hot days. He bent the light in such a way that you couldn’t focus on him. But he was there. If you touched him, he felt like Jell-O. People only knew who he was if he talked, because he couldn’t get a sentence out before his voice, his whole being, turned into a booming BWOOOOOOOW and, well, then he’d be impossible to mistake for anyone else.

Of the six coming attractions, only the preview for White House Down didn’t feature Inception Noise, although later he told me he’d recorded voice work for them, and maybe they were saving it for the second trailer. I admit, he’d developed an impressive range: in the trailer for The Wolverine, he was muted and severe, like a metal skeleton supporting the bullet train fight scenes. In Now You See Me, he bookended the beginning and end with a growling trill. And in World War Z, he ripped through center stage, electric and jagged, an angrier side of him I hadn’t ever heard. I tried to imagine what each trailer would be like with voiceover narration instead of Inception Noise’s blare. When And now, your feature presentation appeared, we got up and left. I wished we could stay for the whole movie, but Inception Noise found it hard to keep quiet for so long, to suppress himself. He is both a being that makes a noise and the noise itself. I didn’t really know what that was like, so I tried to be understanding.

Sometime during the trailers, Inception Noise’s mood had changed. I could sense it, like a shower dipping slightly in temperature. I assumed it was because, ever since Inception, Inception Noise hadn’t appeared in too many movies—just trailers. It made him bitter. It was the unspoken reason we left after coming attractions. Even though he was getting tons of work, he was tired of being typecast. He wanted directors to look at him for other genres, for feature-lengths, starring roles. He thought he could play the angry general in a military trial movie, even the leading man in a romantic comedy about aging metalheads. I had my doubts, but I kept them to myself.

Inception Noise did what he did exceptionally well, and that was why the blockbuster action flicks hired him for trailers. Think of the first time you heard that wail, an explosive hybrid of digital swells and heavy brass. It awakened something in all of us, an urgency we weren’t aware of before. We were all avalanches, tumbling hallways, we were all trains derailed and screeching down city streets. It became the alarm sounding from every superhero origin or spinout car chase or alien invasion, making every big, scary moment not just another action set piece, but necessary, essential.

Then you watched all these movies that had abused our infatuation with sound and they’d plod along like tranquilized rhinos. Majestic to witness, sure, but after awhile you needed them to get somewhere. Inception Noise, he did his job well every time, but I was growing tired of his relentless appearances. After anybody’s twentieth time playing the same character, it loses some of its appeal. We needed a new sound, and Inception Noise, he could get work elsewhere if he wanted. He’d make an ideal foghorn for a lighthouse. He was highly qualified to serve as siren in any state susceptible to tornados. I didn’t tell him this. I couldn’t. He had his heart set on movie stardom.

I guess I should come clean and say that my Inception Noise fatigue may have been exacerbated by jealousy. I met Inception Noise back when I was still on the audition circuit. All my life, I’d been told I had a voice for radio, and my day job was a DJ gig on KBZL 100.3, but I’d wanted to put my voice to other uses. I wanted to do voiceover narration in movie trailers, those voices that used to impress a seal of importance upon each film’s story, like the god of that universe was speaking directly to you. But by the time I was auditioning, voiceovers were out of vogue, they were too easily parodied, and Inception Noise was about to fill the void. It pains me to admit it, but if I’d known how ubiquitous his voice would become, I might not have approached him, told him what a big fan I was.

On the ride back, the Earth was mostly empty. You did some nice work, I told Inception Noise. He shrugged. This wasn’t his usual frustration. A man standing near the front of the shuttle sang Britney Spears. Inception Noise quivered in annoyance. Hey, what’s gotten into you? I asked him. It wasn’t me BWOOOOOOOW, he said, distraught. The windows rattled. What? I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about. Keep it down back there, the driver shouted. In the World War Z trailer BWOOOOOOOW that wasn’t me, he said. It hit me like a sonic boom. He had an imitator, someone landed the job over him. Someone did Inception Noise even better than Inception Noise—that trailer had been the standout. I stomped down the feeling rising in me, that toxic glee that bubbles in all of us when someone else’s success story goes sour. The voiceover in my head went Inception Noise had it all until someone got in his way. Now, he’s going to have to learn what life is like for everyone else, but I said I’m so sorry, man. I put my hand where his shoulder would be. He let out a sad BWOOOOOOOW, and the driver stopped the bus. That’s it, get out, she said. As we stepped off, I heard her muttering about celebrities.

Kara will be wondering if we actually stayed for the movie this time, I said as we walked, trying to lighten the mood. We weren’t too far from our neighborhood. Inception Noise said nothing. The streets here were dimly lit, so Inception Noise was nearly invisible. It was a lonely walk. When we arrived at my house, I hugged him goodbye. His house was a few more blocks away. I’ll come by tomorrow, I said. I think I saw him nod in the alien glow of streetlight. The neighborhood association had warned him there’d be fines if he made too much noise at night. I couldn’t imagine it, not being able to readily express yourself for fear of invading another’s space. When he got back to his soundproof home, he’d be able to tell Kara everything. It was still early yet, so he wouldn’t have to worry about waking up the twins.

• • •

The next day, I went to see Inception Noise. Their house was modest but sizable, surrounded by a tall wrought iron gate. The gate had been put up more for protection than anything else—when they first moved in, angry bands of protestors circled the sidewalk, furious about the noise. Inception Noise eventually soundproofed the whole place, even installing these fancy three-paned windows. Though there were the occasional religious protestors who didn’t believe in the repulsive union between human and sound, the community had mostly grown to accept Inception Noise’s presence, and now he and Kara left their gate unlocked.

No one answered the front door, so I went around back. I heard the squeak of their hammock before I saw it. Kara was sitting in it like a porch swing, sipping an iced tea. You just missed him, she said when she saw me. She took foam plugs out of her ears. He’s already gone to auditions. I hadn’t seen Kara use those in a while. How was he? I asked. Kara sighed and shook her head. It was bad last night, she said. He was so loud. Scared the girls. He’s afraid he’ll lose everything. I didn’t know how to help. I said I didn’t know how to either. Kara motioned for me to sit, and I lowered myself beside her. I almost flipped the hammock trying to get comfortable, and Kara and I were knocked against one another, sitting closer than we might have otherwise.

In a trailer, you could see where this was going. There’d be a few close-ups: our eyes meeting, our hands accidentally touching, the hammock stretching beneath our shared weight. Then we’d lean together as the music swelled, the camera rising behind us like a sun, before the screen navigated to another part of the narrative, a zombie attack or trouble in the workplace, depending on the genre.

But this wasn’t a trailer. We sat there, a little too close, and talked. It was nice. Kara was a cellist in the Phoenix Philharmonic, and she told me about her feud with one of the violists over what snacks should be stocked in the greenroom. I’d introduced Kara to Inception Noise, and Kara and I hadn’t been able to spend too much time alone since the wedding. She told me Jade and Sage, the twins, were at swim lessons. The girls looked human, but when they opened their mouths, you knew who their father was. They had more control over their voices, could modulate their volume in a way lost to him. He was proud of their loudness and often envisioned future loud characters they might portray.

We circled back around to Inception Noise. He’s auditioning for things he doesn’t even like, she said. Multicam sitcoms. Cable news. I groaned. Can’t he be grateful for what he has? I said. Kara looked at me, her eyes like walls closing in. I mean, I know it’s not fair, I started, but she interrupted, No, I understand. I was just startled by how soft your voice is.

In a trailer, this all would’ve been cut to seconds. It would already be over. But here we felt this thing boiling slow between us, I remembered the crush I had on Kara when I saw her guiding her bow like an arrow, she remembered what it was like to be so close to a warm body with blood coursing through it, all its sounds quietly contained.

I know Kara and Inception Noise had sex, because of their girls, but I had no idea how. I wondered what it was like for them in bed, if she might put him between her legs like her cello, touch him in such a way that manipulated his noisy core. It might seem weird to imagine friends in bed, or at least weird to admit the imagining, but I think it’s important to be upfront about things like that. In the creative writing class I took in college, the professor insisted that, despite movies and television and even video games rising up as dominant narrative arts, a written story still had power over them. A story could achieve something no other medium could approximate, something we could never truly have in real life: intimacy. A story could put you in the head of another person. Voiceovers try, but don’t quite succeed. We’re still watching outside the story. So I think it would be disingenuous of me, and detrimental to the story, with you floating around in these memories, if I left out how I pictured them together, naked and flushed, her playing him like a song.

We pulled back from one another. We looked away, embarrassed. We saw the bullet barreling for the closing gap between our mouths and dodged it. It was an optical illusion, Penrose stairs we realized we could never walk down. Nothing happened. That’s the truth. But Inception Noise, who had come home without our knowing, watched from the second floor window, stepped away to let out a howling BWOOOOOOOW as he felt his whole life slipping out of his—but what to call his hands?—and missed the nothing that happened. We couldn’t hear him, his voice deadened by the walls of his home, but maybe we sensed it. He came outside. Kara stood up, and I bounced around, caught in the shaking net of hammock. Nothing happened, I said. It was the truth. I wanted to tell him, Maybe now you know how I feel, but that would’ve been cruel, and unfair to Kara, and even if I did say it, that’s something I might choose to be dishonest about here. Get BWOOOOOOOW out, he said to me. Honey, Kara said to him in protest, but I did what he asked.

• • •

It’s Friday again. I ride the Earth by myself. Maybe I’ll stay for the whole movie, find out what happens. Maybe I won’t even go to the theater, I’ll just ride the route in a circle. Like always, I’d been hoping to run into him, but it’s just me and some drunk frat boys and a man doodling on an Etch-A-Sketch. It’s been long enough. I could just walk to his house, but I’m scared, scared of what sound he’d unleash, and what it would say about me. The man twiddles the knobs of his Etch-A-Sketch in an erratic fashion, but he seems to know what he’s doing. Something is taking shape. Here’s the thing I keep going over in my head, I say to him. The frat boys are pointing out girls on the sidewalk to one another. They love skirts, they proclaim for all the bus to hear, as though they are the first. It doesn’t even matter that nothing happened, I say, because it could’ve. There was a moment it was possible. Etch-A-Sketch keeps twiddling. A flower blooms from the lines on the gray screen. All I could ever draw were squiggles. The frat boys wish they could see Inception in theaters again. Best movie ever, they say, and imitate his sound. BWOOOOOOOW. I talk over them, my own performance, In a world where something can exist and not exist simultaneously, does it even matter what one man does? When the prevention of a kiss is also the evidence of it, will Sam Martone ever win back his friend’s trust? The frat boys’ Inception noises get louder, the silence between each BWOOOOOOOW shorter and shorter, like when the action in a trailer escalates, coming in a series of quick cuts, flashes you don’t really see, but remember the feel of: a man falling through a plaster ceiling, a ballerina on pointed toes, a thumb bent back nearly to breaking. Look man, Etch-A-Sketch says, I can’t help you. He shakes his Etch-A-Sketch. It makes a sound like sand and the drawing disappears.


Sam Martone lives and writes in New York City.

MORE: Twitter | Website

LF #102 © 2016 Sam Martone. Published by Little Fiction | Big Truths, October 2016.

Edited by Beth Gilstrap. Image from The Noun Project (credits: José Manuel de Laá).


Nothing of Nothing

by Sam martone
 DOWNLOAD: ePUB | PDF NothingOfNothing_files/Nothing%20Of%20Nothing.epubNothingOfNothing_files/SamMartone_NothingOfNothing_LF102.pdfshapeimage_26_link_0shapeimage_26_link_1