Under her keyboard was a faint eeee. Feeble warble weakly insistent like a dog shut outside. The eeee was deep in her laptop’s guts. Her brother Mark was on video chat, her famous and handsome brother, mouth-breathing due to his rhinoplasty and making tattoo suggestions. But she could hear it between his sentences, the eeee.
“In Search of Cultish,” he said.
“Can you lean back just a little?” she said. “Your face is my entire view.”
“This is just how my face is,” he said.
“Has your surgeon seen a face before? Is that how they look over there?” In Denmark, eeee.
“Some bruising is normal,” he said. “In Search of Cultish.”
“It’s fine,” she said. “I’m not totally sold. I like cultishness, but is it … me?”
“Yes,” he said matter-of-factly. eeee. She leaned over to open a small window in her shitty apartment. Open, she could still hear the eeee. If anything, louder. Down on the street, headlights raced like wicks, the smell of souvlaki.
“Can you visualize my new profile yet?” He had turned his head.
“Not really.” She was savoring his brief ugliness. eeee. “Hold on.”
She picked the laptop up and pressed her ear to the keyboard. No eeee now. eeee in hiding. She had paid a friend to disable the fan awhile back—the noise had been awful—so all she heard now usually was a weak prickling sound. Her friend had warned her that removing the fan was a bad idea. “GPU meltdown,” he had stated. “It sounds like The Fiery Pits of Mordor in there,” she had told him, “Just do it.”
She put it back down.
“But isn’t advertising a love of conspiracy out in the open…wrong somehow? Shouldn’t it be more obscure?”
He shrugged. “You asked if it’s you, and it’s you. You know? You see big stuff in small stuff.”
She did a quick search on eeee sound computer while he was talking. The first result was: Are Your Internals Failing? 10 Bad Signs.
“Like that time you thought you saw a quantum event,” he said.
It was true that she had once chosen to believe she had witnessed a macroscopic quantum event while pouring water into a sink. And that she referred to throwing her car keys across a room directly into a bowl as “the most perfect thing she would ever do in that category.” She liked to assign great import to small things. It was true. But it didn’t define her.
“As a tattoo, though,” she hemmed. “I think of myself as a bit more oblique than that.”
“A little overweight, maybe. Not obese.”
She pinched her arm. “I said ‘oblique.’” eeee. The eeee was back.
“Your nose is bleeding,” she told him, and pressed her ear again down to the warm bed of keys.
“Thanks. Some bloody discharge is normal,” he explained. He pressed something over his face that muffled his voice. She thought she could hear an echo of eeee now, ear to its heart. When her friend had nixed the fan he had cleaned the case too. There had been bits of her in there: nail clippings, hair, motes of skin. Now it seemed he’d overlooked something, eeee, and it was trying to reach her.
“I mean,” she said, raising her head again, “Do I really even need a tattoo?”
People always told her she looked like their cousin from Dayton. Yeah, she would tell them, I’ve got that kind of face.
“Well,” he said, “I wouldn’t say that you’re dull. But a tattoo could spice you up.” eeee. Her brother had been born to be told he should be a sexy Viking for Halloween. Except for his nose. (No one ever said this.) Remodeled, he was finally compleeeete.
“Thanks,” she said dryly.
“It wasn’t an insult. Just trying to help.”
eeee. Was the sound getting louder, or just more lilting and tortured? Mournful, perhaps. It was like a talking toy with a dying battery. It was trying very hard to say something, eeee, but all it could say was eeee. Give up! she wanted to tell it.
“Can you hear that?” she said.
“No,” he said. “What?”
“That eeee. Is it coming from your side?”
“Are you making potatoes?” he asked. “When Margaret microwaves them, they eeee sometimes.”
Mark’s wife Margaret mainly drank water. She liked mung beans. Her main form of communication was agreeeement.
“I know,” she said. “I’ve made potatoes before.”
“So that’s it then—you’re making potatoes.”
“No!” she said. “I’m not making potatoes. I’d know if I were making fucking potatoes.”
“Just trying to help,” he said.
Margaret is meeeek, she likes to agreeee, she kept thinking.
“Fuck,” she said, “this is driving me crazy.” Crazeeee eeee.
eeee, eeee. eeee, eeee.
“Jesus fuck,” she said. “You can’t hear that?” She slid her fingernail under the g key and pulled till it popped. eeee it went.
“What was that?” he said.
She did h, j, f, and y, then she skipped to e, expecting something to happen. It didn’t; the same: eeee. Dull, febrile, weak. She turned the laptop upside-down and shook it a little. A waft of dust. Her brother’s face looked inhuman, unlike him, with his mouth at the top where his eyes should be.
Good, she thought, you can be ugly for a change.
“What’s going on?” his mouth said. “I’m sorry about the obesity. Did I hurt your feelings?”
eeee, eeee, eeee.
A breeze from the street, eeee.
“Just trying to help,” said his mouth.
“I’m sorry I have to do this,” she said, eeee, eeee, and threw him out the window.
It was a spectacular sound. She looked at it down at the street for a moment; a vaguely star-shaped constellation of garbage. She turned away. No eeee. She would call him back later.