ON THE MARKET
I stood in front of the table saw imagining what it would feel like for it to rip through my finger. The skin would disappear, muscle and bone tearing like paper. In fact, I thought about that every time I used it.
For four years. I bought it to make simple items for our new home. Shelves. Side tables. Stuff like that. The warranty was good for five years, but I didn’t make it the full term.
“I think it needs to be plugged in.”
I turned around. Brian Lawson stood just outside the open garage door. I had been happy when they moved in next door. I’d always wanted to be friendly with a neighbor.
“Yeah.” I ran a hand through my sweaty hair. The afternoon sun wasn’t kidding around. “I was just kinda looking at it.”
Brian ducked beneath the mostly-opened garage door and stepped up to the table saw. I turned back around and we stood shoulder-to-shoulder.
“She sure is a beaut,” he said.
“You want it?”
I nodded. I wouldn’t be building any crooked shelves or lopsided tables for the house anytime soon. Or ever again, for that matter. It would probably be on the market this time next week. We kept that part quiet, though. In fact, we kept every part quiet. I turned to my neighbor of three years and clapped my hand on his shoulder.
“It’s all yours, my friend. Just watch those fingers.”
He smiled a closed-mouth smile and strained his eyes to the corners of his sockets. He could’ve just turned his head a little.
“You gonna kill yourself?” he asked.
“They always say people start giving their stuff away right before they off themselves. I’m not gonna hear you swinging by your neck from these rafters am I?” He pointed above himself and my attention followed his fingers.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think they’d support my weight.”
“Okay then. It’s settled.” He stepped forward and grabbed the table saw by the sides. I thought about helping him, but it was pretty small. I got the cheap one.
“Thanks,” he said over his shoulder as he shuffled back into the sunshine and heat and humidity. The power cord dragged behind him.
The air conditioning welcomed me into the house with a soft, loving embrace.
“Was that Brian with your saw?” She stood in the living room. I don’t know what she was doing. No music played. No show on the TV. She was just standing there. But then again, nothing she didn’t made sense to me anymore.
I nodded to her and turned to the kitchen. I needed some water.
“Was that the one you were going to cut everything in half with?” she asked from around the corner.
We all say things we don’t mean when we’re upset.
“That’s the one.” I filled a glass from the pitcher in the refrigerator. Even the coolness of the glass against my skin felt delicious.
“Have you made it to the dump yet?” Her voice sounded muffled from the living room.
So many boxes kept for no other reason than we had the room. CDs and DVDs. Outdated clothes. Shared memories that lost their connection—mere relics of a past life.
“Yes,” I lied.
“No I’m not.”
She appeared around the corner, trapping me next to the refrigerator, between her and the pantry. Her mouth stretched into a smile, which was a surprise.
“So if I walk outside and look in the back of your car, I won’t see boxes of junk?”
She won’t do that.
“Correct,” I said.
She stared at me for a minute before turning and breaking the seal along the sides of the door. It opened with a slurp and the air conditioning jousted with the humidity. There was nothing I could do but watch out the window and take another luxurious drink of water. She didn’t have to walk all the way down the driveway—the boxes were visible through the windshield.
“So easy,” she said when she finally closed the door behind her.
“I just haven’t made the trip yet.”
“No, I meant to call your bluff. But yeah the task is pretty easy, too.”
“The task? Am I at work?”
“Just because you’re not at work doesn’t mean you can avoid working.”
A powerful whine erupted through our quiet neighborhood. Brian must have fired up his new table saw.
She muttered something and walked back into the living room.
“What?” I asked.
I followed her into the living room to find her again just standing there.
She turned her head to the left and looked at the shelves we hung four years earlier. They didn’t need more than a few crosscuts on the table saw. The hard part was finding the damn stud in the wall so the whole thing didn’t come crashing down.
Was that what she was thinking about?
She turned back to me.
“We never should have bought this house.”
I instinctively opened my mouth to argue, but for some reason that hurt more than anything else she said over the last year. Since it started going bad.
So instead of answering, I turned around and walked back into the humidity and sunshine. I didn’t hop in the car and go to the dump. I walked across the grass and turned left down Brian’s driveway.
He stood just inside his garage. A pile of sawdust clouded his feet. He had his hands on his hips looking at the saw, just as I had done maybe fifteen minutes earlier.
“I think it needs to be plugged in,” I said.
He turned around and smiled.
“Oh, it’s plugged in all right!”
The remnants of a side table, broken down to almost unrecognizable pieces, lay scattered across the floor around him.
“Figured I’d give it a ride,” he said.
I stood next to him and stared into the teeth of the saw. His joy was once my joy. Back when I thought I understood my wife and the table saw and the world around me. But I never really understood any of it. I didn’t know what buying a house really meant to my wife. Just like I never really knew how to make a proper rip cut.
Brian bent over and grabbed one of the larger pieces of wood. Probably a leg. He held it out to me.
“One more for old time’s sake?”
I took the piece of wood in my hand. He flicked the power switch and stepped back.
The electric shriek tore into my ears, normally covered with earmuffs. It burrowed itself into my head as I watched the teeth of the saw, now a vague blur. I knew what was there, even if I couldn’t see it.
Or did I? What did I really know? Nothing. That’s what. Assumptions of understanding only led to misjudgments and a total degradation of all I thought to be concrete.
I set the piece of wood on the table and held it against the miter gauge. I relaxed my grip and moved my hand forward until I felt the bite of the invisible teeth rip into my fingers.
There’s probably not much of a difference between being truly unique and being crazy. A singular view of the world freaks people out. The easiest thing to do is dismiss it. It’s a form of self-protection, like locking your doors. We don’t want to know what strangers are capable of doing so we write them off based on superficial characteristics.
It’s okay. I do it, too.
So it’s no wonder that when I first heard the hum from the power lines along the road, nobody believed me. And then a couple days later I heard it in the walls of the house.
“How can you not hear that?” I asked Emma. We started out as roommates. Then one day we realized we were more than that.
She just shook her head and rolled her eyes like when I asked if she wanted to go backpacking. I didn’t think it mattered if we'd never gone. You’ll never be experienced if you never try anything new.
“Maybe you’re having a stroke,” she said even though neither of us thought it was funny.
Things took a turn when she walked into the kitchen two days later to find me leaning across the countertop with my ear pressed against the wall next to the toaster.
“Are you sure you can’t hear that?”
She just rolled her eyes and shook her head.
Moving in together is a big step in a relationship. I thought it was nice that we got that out of the way before we even had our first date.
The human eye is so complex that many point to it as proof of intelligent design. Evolution can stretch the neck of a giraffe but it could never focus and filter out changes of light.
Hearing electricity is one thing. Seeing it makes you rethink some things.
I sat on one of the chairs around the kitchen table that wouldn’t stop wobbling no matter how much I turned the screw in the legs. Head back. Spine curved. I stared into the ceiling light. It hurt at first. My eyes became overwhelmed and everything turned white. But I watched. And I listened as the hum of electricity became a pulsating rhythm. And then the brightness of the light dimmed and shined in time with the hum.
“What are you doing?”
I sat up and turned toward Emma’s voice. My eyes hadn’t readjusted. All I could see was the electricity filling the room.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“The room is filled with it,” I said.
“You’re starting to scare me.”
“I really wish you could hear this.” The hum grew louder. It sounded more like a Tibetan singing bowl than anything else. I wanted Emma to hear not just to prove I wasn’t crazy—although that would have been nice, too—but because the sound was so beautiful.
She pulled out the chair next to me and sat down. I rubbed my palms over my eyes until I could see through the electricity. She was beautiful, even when she wasn’t smiling.
“Explain it to me,” she said.
So I did. I told her how the outlets harmonized with each other. How the power lines sang throughout the neighborhood. And how the electricity didn’t have a shadow as it filled the room because although it wasn’t light itself, it still shined in a way all its own.
Instead of shaking her head and rolling her eyes, instead of calling me crazy, she set her hand on top of mine, smiled, and glanced around the kitchen.
Josh Rank graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before moving to various cities around the country only to return to his hometown. His fiction has appeared in The Emerson Review, The Feathertale Review, Hypertext Magazine, and elsewhere. He keeps himself busy putting together ugly woodworking projects, cooking for his wife, and wishing his dogs were better behaved. His debut novel, "THE PRESENT IS PAST," is now available from Unsolicited Press. Learn more at joshrank.com.