The Sound of Nothing

Nothing has a sound, and it’s predictably difficult to describe.

It comes in the moment when your own breath sounds like whipping wind. It comes when your shoe’s rubber-on-grass pad is audible from six feet up. It comes when the sky is clear and dark and the air is cold and crisp.

***

I never recognized the sound of nothing until it was gone.

In New York City, you never hear nothing. When I step out of my building — even at 5:00 on the blackest, most frigid morning — the sound of the Prospect Expressway carries from two blocks south and wraps everything in a warm gauze of faint and ever-present white noise. Push out and away from Manhattan into Brooklyn’s vast swaths of urbanity — bustling immigrant avenues and tree-lined streets speckled with Victorian mansions — and the sound of something and everything remains.

This always-here cushion of some sound less than noise isn’t bad. It’s actually comforting, in a way, to know that you are safely ensconced in the aural proof of human activity, whether it’s manifested in a subway car rumbling past or the highway’s impersonation of the ocean.

But sometimes you miss nothing.

***

This blog post — authored by Tully Corcoran, himself a Kansas native — paints an incredibly accurate portrait of the Flint Hills. Reading the second paragraph, I could hear the nothing that emanates from the Kansas countryside.

It’s beautiful.

***

It comes on the Fourth of July in the quilted acreage just east of Andover and west of Augusta, after the last fireworks are spent and you’re waiting in the passenger seat of that weird little green stick-shift Mazda your dad drove sometimes.

It comes in your tent, pitched just far enough from Elk City Lake that you can’t make out the lapping water over the crisp silence of the high black sky.

It comes late at night on Osie Street, when your grandparents’ screen door slams and leaves you alone in the quiet calm of residential southeast Wichita.

It comes over and over, every day.

And then it doesn’t.

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