Sitting uncomfortably at the DMV, Teresa looked around to see if anyone else could hear the noise above her, but strangers went about their business, filling out paperwork and waiting their turn. Grasping a clipboard, Teresa heard the sound hovering over her like unannounced screeching owls coming at her. That’s what surprised her; owls hooted at night not in broad daylight. It was almost closing time—one hour before Teresa would have her last opportunity to renew her desperately needed driver’s license that would expire in a few hours.
Teresa asked the red-whiskered man in a black leather vest sitting next to her, “Excuse me Sir, do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” asked the stranger.
“That sound,” replied Teresa pointing up with her index finger.
“You don’t hear that?” Teresa asked the man as she looked up—unable to identify where exactly the noise was coming from. The man shook his head. In that undecorated large room, no one seemed to be bothered by the distinct sounds except her.
With her ears exposed to the world and fidgeting in her chair, Teresa filled in her name. Where she was writing her first name, she crossed it out several times with black ink to write her last name, Carrion. Slowing down to make sure she didn’t make anymore careless mistakes, she wrote Teresa in bold letters. Above her, the commotion kept tugging at her, and Teresa wished she could zero in on the noise above her and silence the disquietude that kept interrupting her train of thought.
Noticing her impatience, the man glanced at her ticket. 132B. “It’s not too bad,” affirmed the stranger as he rose to his feet and walked away. Wide-eyed, she nodded silently without peeping a word.
When she saw the TV screen barely announcing 115B, Teresa realized it would be excruciating for her to wait for a long period of time. It was the first time she had noticed it publicly. The mechanical syncopated noise, which seemed to be coming from the air conditioner, kept interrupting her concentration. It was unbearable. She tried to remember her mother’s date of birth as the sounds entered her mind incessantly. March or April? She questioned herself and wondered why only she could hear the noise. Trying not to call attention to herself, Teresa attempted to shake the noise off with quick sudden jerks, by moving her head from right to left several times. But she could not shut out the noise.
In that humming room, Teresa didn’t know if she could stay or if she should run out of the building. If she stayed, what would happen? And if she left, there could be serious consequences. A fine if a police officer pulled her over. The towing of her minivan. And John.
In the privacy of her home a few months prior, a restless Teresa straightened her long hair several times before she left the dinner table when her children’s mastication had become intolerable. Their little sparrow mouths emitted grotesque sounds that repudiated her. She longed to still have her childhood ears when playground ruckus had comforted her, but Teresa was now thirty-five and married with three children. Whatever she was feeling had onset inconveniently at the DMV. At home, the caws from afar entered her bedroom. What had once sounded like the cooing of doves soothing her had become unbearable caws of crows circling in on her wherever she went—to the bathroom, to the living room, to the bedroom, and to the kitchen.
Several times Teresa had worn earplugs at the dinner table, where the family ate together but separate with an invisible glass window between them. At least, she could see their little faces which swooned her with joy. But recently, John and the children’s chewing electrocuted her senses. She hadn’t told anyone but John. He shrugged it off, saying it was an exaggeration. “Just tune it out, Honey,” he’d suggest.
In Teresa’s day to day life, she worked, cleaned, and tended her children, except when the uninvited sounds invaded her mind, which seemed to appear more frequently. What could she do? Perhaps, the sounds had always been there, but for whatever reason she hadn’t noticed them before. Something had happened to her. But what?
What would people say if they found out?
She looked up at the screen, 122B. While sitting in a mustard yellow chair, Teresa heard a woman’s robotic voice escape the loud speaker, “Now serving 75C at Window 7,” and the noise running together. And then unexpectedly, from a young girl, who sat next to her immediate right, Teresa heard the annoying snapping of gum. Teresa, of course, could not tell the girl to stop—there were no signs at the DMV that read: “Chewing gum is not allowed.” So Teresa picked herself up and quickly moved thirteen rows away.
In her new seat, Teresa could still hear the air conditioner’s malfunction, but at least she could no longer hear the loud snapping of bubble gum and thick saliva. How had it come to this? Why hadn’t she noticed it before? She didn’t know what to do. 127B. Five numbers away. She wanted to desperately run out to the sanctity of her vehicle.
Straight-faced at the DMV renewing her driver’s license, Teresa looked fine. There was a bit of tremor in her eyes, but nobody knew. Nobody suspected the noise—only she could hear—was eating at her.
The first words came out unequivocally and impulsively. “Fuck this place!” She didn’t make it past the black tape as she attempted to reach for the front desk, where her right arm waved her application frantically. “I need my driver’s license today!” Teresa yelled not recognizing herself. “Fix your damn air conditioner!” she added frantically.
Startled and confused, people sitting close to her gave Teresa a pitiful look condemning her public misconduct. Running towards her, a tall, stocky security guard grasped her right arm tight and dragged her outside, where Teresa’s screams sounded like caws. The birds inside had finally broken free. The security flung her small-framed body through the double glass doors, where Teresa would no longer disturb the peace. About five-hundred feet away, distinct sirens and flashing red, white and blue lights approached the setting. In the parking lot, standing on Teresa’s head and shoulders, owls, crows, and sparrows screeched at passersby.