White noise – a short story

She sat by the pier, absentmindedly pushing each bead forward with her thumb. The soft ocean breeze blew more salt into her already tangled hair, but her hair’s demise was not really a priority. In fact, everything that once mattered so dearly had been cast aside. All she had on her mind now was the tactile comfort of rough, stone beads going clack, clack, clack.

The briny sea assaulted her nostrils, pulling her back to her surroundings. Old men in white singlets and age-worn bermuda pants sauntered down the pier, expressions a curious mix of determination and weariness only a fishermen could carry. It was easy to spot the veterans and the saplings, simply by the sheer contrast in preparedness each party took for their day out fishing. While the experienced carried a single cooler and a well-used rod, the newcomers lugged coolers, backpacks, multiple brand new fishing rods (some with the tags still attached), and always the token straw hat.

She wondered if they realised the hats betrayed their wide-eyed inexperience more than their grimace and squeals at baiting a live worm. Clack, clack, as she tossed her head quickly and harshly, as though trying to dislodge a thought. Clack, clack, clack.  Bright, humid sunshine sprawled across her shoulders and cheeks, burning their warmth into her.

When was the last time she could safely visit any other place besides the pier without her noise-cancelling headphones, dark sunglasses and her rosary beads? She felt like a sham, carrying them around like a pious woman, giving off false impressions of purity, cleansing and soft church sounds. She sighed, feeling the beads snap against each other with each calculated push. When she grew tired of pushing them, she took to rubbing her thumb over the largest rosary bead, feeling the coarse landscape of its stony heritage. The worn out grooves and grainy sediments threatening to leave the bead smooth, but the constant rubbing and clacking made sure that their infinitely comforting textures prevented any betrayal.

She noticed the looks and whispers, of course. A woman alone with rosary beads by the pier, staring motionless out into the sea. Too young to be a nun, they whispered, unless she was jilted? Ignoring them made things harder, and sometimes it got so bad that she had to pull on her uniform of headphones and sunglasses for a whole 10 minutes before the clacking of her beads slowed down. Twice now, someone had approached her asking if she was alright, clearly worried she was suicidal. Back at the start, she tried to explain the noise sensitivity, the loudness of her mind, her need for tactile comfort but it only drew panicked looks fearing insanity. These days, she simply smiles and tells them that she’s fine and thanks them for being concerned, which is all they need to feel good about their kindness and empathy, and all she needs to get them off her back.

As the sun began to set, she stood up slowly and has a nice long stretch. Drawing her finger slowly over the stone, she whispered, “Soothe…”, exhaling as she did so, and brought herself back to reality; to life shouting in your face and to silence grating her skull as night pressed further on.

Clack, clack clack. “Soothe…” Clack, clack, clack. “Soothe…”

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