I’m standing at the top of the basement stairs, my footprint in another man’s footprint. His shoe is wider than mine, the bottoms dustier. The print is a deep moat around my size ten loafers. First, I think nothing, and then I think someone will have to get these prints out of the carpet after the man leaves, and it’s not going to be me.
My wife Minnie and the man who made these prints are at the bottom of the stairs, around the corner, outside the soundproof booth. The treble of my wife’s voice reaches me, followed by his voice: deeper, much louder, a New York accent. I can’t hear what they’re saying, except that half of his sentences start with, Well, hey, you know…
I doubt Minnie knows.
Our old apartment had hardwood floors, thin walls, and a cranky night-shift nurse living below. Sound bled everywhere, pooling in our neighbors’ ears. We started house shopping after the fourth angry note slipped under our front door. The glass booth cost two thousand dollars, and it was another thousand to have it installed in the space under the basement steps. Minnie, a cellist with the city symphony orchestra, had dreamt of her own practice room. She spent weeks testing out booths before selecting one outside our budget. We chalked it up to an occupational necessity, a small sacrifice for her art.
The booth is tiny: it holds Minnie and her cello and a music stand and stacks of binders and not much else. Before new productions, she disappears into its cushioned walls for four hours a day, ending when I come home at six o’clock.
There’s a metallic snap, and Minnie murmurs something approvingly. My foot slips into the next dusty footprint, one step down.
A year after we moved in, the baby came. Much louder than the cello, less responsive to rehearsal. Minnie propped the cello in the corner of the booth and for a few weeks replaced the music stand with a rocking chair. I began to use the booth to take phone calls. Or to read or to watch the violent shows I couldn’t have on the television in the den. In the booth there were no interruptions, no smells from the nursery, no sighs from the kitchen.
I descend three more steps. They can’t hear me. The carpet muffles my feet. My heart tries to escape through my mouth.
When we fight in the booth, nobody knows. Not the neighbors, not the baby. Sometimes I don’t know if we know we’re fighting, the way you find yourself at home with no memory of the wheel in your hands.
There are no stairs left. They see me. He’s in a stained gray t-shirt and cargo shorts. He holds a tape measure. I am looking at his boots, and she is looking at him.
“Sorry, bud,” the man says. “She said you wouldn’t be home until six.”
I think I’m saying, “What’s all this?” but it may come out as “What?” Or it may not come out at all.
“It was supposed to be a surprise,” she says. She looks giddy and I don’t know why.
“For our anniversary. A second booth!” She glows. She might be a vision, or a memory. “One for you, one for me.”
What I could do in a booth of my own. I could meditate. I could start journaling. Whatever mindfulness is, I could do that. I could do it in my booth. I’m laughing. My body is shaking. I might collapse.
For once, she’s right — she’s right! This is exactly what we need.
Emily Weber’s work has been published in The Adroit Journal, Gordon Square Review, Into the Void, Passages North, Soundings East, and elsewhere. She works in communications and lives near Philadelphia.
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