White Noise

First published in Issue 1.3 of What Are Birds?,June 15 2019, and pulled down the following day after dispute with editor. Copyright 2019 by Tetman Callis.

Grant and Simon Collier shared a bedroom in the front of their house. In warmer weather they slid open the single slider window and removed the screen. They could come and go, slipping in and out of the house without their mother knowing.

But of course she knew. She was their mother. She drank Pepsi spiked with bourbon and she let them come and go.

Jeff Chorus climbed up and sat on the sill. He lived across the street and knew Grant and Simon from that and from school, but they weren’t really friends. This was the day that would finally start.

Hey, guys.

Hey, Jeff.

Whatcha doin’?

Nothing. We might go to the store. Or we might go swimming.


What’re you doing?

Hanging out. I went swimming this morning.

By yourself?


You should go with us.


Mrs. Collier appeared at the bedroom doorway, glass of Pepsi in her hand.

Hello, Jeffrey.

Hi, Missus Collier.

Hanging out on the window sill, I see.

Yes, ma’am.

Well, don’t just sit there. Either come in or go out.

Yes, ma’am.

Jeff came in.

When Grant and Simon came to Jeff’s house, they came in through the front door.

Oh, hi guys. Come on back.

Jeff’s bedroom was down the hall, first door on the left.

You have a lot of books, Jeff. Simon, look at all those books.

What are they? I wanna see. Lemme see.

Simon came to where Grant stood looking at the steel and plastic canning shelving unit in Jeff’s bedroom. The steel had a faux wood finish. Jeff would have these bookshelves for twenty-five years. All the books that were on them now would be gone by then.

Andy Capp. Hagar the Horrible. B. C. Oh, look, Simon—he’s got Peanuts. Peanuts! I like Snoopy. But Peppermint Patty’s my favorite.

Who’s your favorite Peanut, Jeff?

I think Linus.

Yeah, I like Linus.

And he has Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn, and Tarzan, and The Bobbsey Twins.

Simon imitated the Tarzan yodel.

Ahh, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!

Simon! Gah.

Me Tarzan, you Jane.

More like you Jane, Simon.

Shut up, Grant! You bun-hugger. What are all those down there?

Those are military history.

Oh. Boring. I don’t wanna look at those.

Nobody said you had to, Simon.

Nobody said I wanted to, Grant.

Jeff, do you have any science books?


You should get some science books.

Oh, cool. You have your own teevee. Grant, he has his own teevee.

I see it, Simon.

My mom gave it to me for my birthday. It was one we already had.

Is it color? Is it a colored teevee?

Is it a pickaninny telly?

You guys. No, it’s black and white. It’s remote control, too. See? This thing, you point it at it and it makes it come on, and it changes the channels. You can be sitting across the room and it works.

Show us.

Jeff crossed his bedroom to the far corner. He pointed the remote control at the television and pressed its button. It made a loud click and the television came on. He pressed the button again and again there was the loud click, followed by thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk as the television changed from channel four to channel nine. Simon reached for the remote.

I wanna try it.

He pressed the button and the television thunk-thunk-thunk-thunked to channel thirteen.

Lemme see.

Grant took the remote. He pressed the button and the television thunked two more times and shut off.

Only three channels. That’s all there is.

Nunh-uh! There’s the Mexican channels.

I don’t watch those.

You should. They’re funny.

Can you get them on this teevee?

Yeah, you can change channels by hand if you want. If you use the remote, it does like what you saw.

Do you ever watch white noise?

What’s that?

Here. Turn it on. Turn it to a channel where there isn’t anything.

Jeff turned on the television and switched it to a channel with no signal. A low whooshing came from the speaker and static danced across the screen.

Oh, yeah. I know this stuff. I seen this stuff. I didn’t know it was called white noise.

It’s signals from outer space.

It’s boring. I wanna look at his clothes.

Jeff’s closet had two sliding doors. One was slid all the way open. Simon looked through the clothes.

They’re all so . . . orderly. Look, Grant—every shirt is hanging next to a pair of pants.

Yeah, I see. And they all match. I wondered about that—the way you dress, Jeff.

My mom does that. She hangs them up in outfits.

You’re mom dresses you in outfits? Grant, his mom dresses him in outfits.

Simon, I heard. Jeff, I can’t believe your mom still dresses you in outfits.

That’s just what she does. After she does the worshing and ironing, she hangs them up that way.

Worshing? You say worshing? Grant, he says worshing.

I’m not deaf, Simon.

Jeff, it’s washing.



Jeff never said worshing again. When school started again in the fall, he stopped dressing in outfits. The revolution had begun.

Simon lay across his bed and sorted his colored pencils. Grant sat next to him. Jeff sat on Grant’s bed, studying the cover of one of Grant’s record albums. Grant looked at his brother.

Simon, what are you doing?

I’m sorting these pencils. I’m sorting them by size.


Beezum. Beezum I wantsa.

Simon, you’re so weird.

So? So? Sew your pants up.

Grant, I like this song. Crimson and Clover. It reminds me of when me and Mary were going steady.

Oh, that’s right, you guys went steady. I forget about that.

Yeah, it was before you guys moved in. Simon, you and Mary have been going steady, what, almost two years now?

If you say so. I haven’t counted. But I have counted my pencils, and I have six of them—no, seven—shorter than my pointer finger. They’re hard to draw with when they get that short.

Simon, tell Jeff about how you and Mary used to pretend screw.

Oh, yeah, we had lots of fun. We’d put—

They’d put a pillow between themselves—

Shut up, I wanna tell it. We’d put a pillow between ourselves cuzz we were afraid we’d get pregnant. We kept our underwear on, too.

And we used to all play whore together.

Yeah, Mary used Q-tips for tampons.

Gah, you guys don’t have fun like that anymore!

No, we’re getting to be big boys and girls now. 

I wish I’d been your friends since you moved in.

You were, sometimes.

Sometimes. Not much. There were a lot of times my mom wouldn’t even let me cross the street.

Gah, she’s so mean. Why? Did she say why?

She said you were bad.

We are.

It is late. Jeff is alone in his room, the door closed. The only light is from the white noise on his television. He has the sound turned down low and the whooshing can barely be heard. He watches the patterns flickering across the screen.

Jeff turns off the television and goes to bed. He thinks about Simon and Mary pretend fucking. He wishes he was Simon. He and Mary wouldn’t have a pillow between them and their underwear on. No, sir. They would do it right.

At the end of summer, his mom will take the television away.

School’s about to start and I can’t be letting you have a television in your room while you’re in school.

It will be a long time before he completely forgives her for that.