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The Sound of Sirens by Garrett Socol

Karyn Alexander was petrified of sirens.  Whenever she heard one in the distance, paralysis set in to such an alarming degree that she couldn’t even raise her hands to cover her ears.  She simply closed her eyes and tried to convince herself the ambulance would veer off in another direction, which it always did – just as her blood pressure shot off the chart.  It took her a full, frantic fifteen minutes to breathe normally again.

Never had an ambulance actually been called for the slim, soft-spoken neat freak. Karyn approached daily life so carefully that she never tripped over anything, never stepped in anything, and never fell in love with anyone who was off limits until Roy Engles looked at her with such intensity that she tripped over a foot stool, bumped into a bookcase and landed in an almost empty pizza carton.

This incident took place in the small office Karyn shared with her business partner Ivy Engles.  Ivy was in the process of divorcing Roy because she had come to the realization, at the age of thirty, that she was seriously lesbian.  Falling in love with Florence Madeira was such a surprising, unexpected turn of events that Ivy never could have predicted it.

At first, Roy felt betrayed, angry, even belligerent.  He had to restrain himself from belting his wife in the jaw, pummeling her and thrashing her around until she was nothing but a bloody heap on the hardwood floor.  A union in which he had invested his entire life was suddenly declared null and void without his consent.  There was no document for him to sign, not even a verbal agreement solidified by a handshake.  The woman with whom he shared a bed and a bank account was suddenly a stranger with a completely separate future.  “What about our marriage vows?” he had shouted, shocked by his actual utterance of the words “marriage vows.”

“I’ve changed,” Ivy argued.  “The Ivy you married doesn’t exist anymore.”  She desperately, fervently tried to convince Roy he had nothing whatsoever to do with her lesbian leanings.  “You know the way you love a woman’s body?” she asked.  “Her lips, her breasts, her vagina, her legs? Well, I’ve come to admire those attributes, too.”  It took a while, but Roy finally accepted the bizarre, surreal reality of the situation, though he was far from ecstatic about it.

Now Karyn was falling for the husband of her business partner, the bewildered man left behind. She had always been aroused by the smell of his skin.  A combination of raw masculine energy and some completely unknown essence, it actually made her heart race.  But she had kept this small perversity to herself.  When Roy first noticed her as a sexual entity and gazed at her with obvious animal longing, she could hardly wait to press her nose against his body.  A heated romance blossomed, with Karyn losing herself in his unique scent; she couldn’t get enough of it. She even convinced him to stop using deodorant.

It wasn’t long before an ambulance was heard in the distance.  When Roy witnessed Karyn’s uncommon reaction to it, he panicked and assumed something was desperately wrong.  “Do you need me to call 911?”

“No, no ambulance,” she managed to say between heavy breaths.  As soon as she calmed down, she attempted to explain her irrational fear.  “Ever since I can remember,” she said, “I was petrified of that booming, deafening noise that got progressively louder until it seemed like it was right outside my door.  Other kids were afraid of ghosts and monsters; I was terrified of sirens.”

“Well, we’re all afraid of something, I guess,” Roy shrugged.

It was almost as if Karyn and Roy were destined to be together.  Roy was remodeling the office, so he was physically present Monday through Friday when Ivy was often out at business meetings.  He and Karyn had plenty of time to hang together, eat pizza, and candidly discuss Ivy’s utterly surprising new direction in love. “It shouldn’t be shocking,” Karyn explained.  “People are coming out right and left.  It’s just that Ivy’s news came out of nowhere.  I didn’t even know there was a closet she was in.”

“Neither did I,” Roy said, shaking his head with exasperation as his right hand disappeared into his thick brown hair.  Sometimes he put his left hand under his shirt, and to the casual observer it seemed like he was trying to remove his own spleen.  Karyn found these eccentricities endearing. “Sometimes I can’t help wondering what I did wrong,” he sadly confessed, “but Ivy insists it wasn’t my fault.  She says she was born this way, but it took her a really long time to recognize it.”

“Only thirty years,” Karyn said with a half smile.  Roy completed the other half and added a chuckle to it.  Karyn loved his laugh; it brought out his dimples.  In fact, she adored everything about this man – his sincerity, his compassion, his fierce dedication to recycling, and of course his one-of-a-kind odor.

It astonished Roy that his feelings for Karyn grew so rapidly.  He refused to believe this was simply a rebound romance.  He didn’t have rebound romances; he rarely had romances at all.  But once he thought about her in a sexual light, there was no turning back.  Her wavy reddish hair and pale pink fingernails were aesthetically pleasing to him, and he admired the earth tones she always wore, comforting colors that made her seem like a true participant in the planet, but it was her sweet vulnerability, her childlike quizzical expressions that conquered his heart.  He wanted to protect her almost as much as he wanted to satisfy her manually.

There was no doubt that marriage was in the future for this devoted, carnally active couple.  As soon as Roy’s divorce became final, they set a date.  Ivy gave them her enthusiastic lesbian blessing, and Karyn asked her to be her maid of honor.

The small wedding proceeded smoothly and pleasantly until the sound of a siren approaching the church essentially paralyzed Karyn.  The two dozen guests focused on the tense, agitated bride, knowing of her irrational phobia.  Karyn held her breath and broke out in red blotches as the shrieking noise grew more powerful with each passing second. Roy grasped her right hand firmly with both of his.  The siren came closer and closer until the noise engulfed the room, sucking up all of Karyn’s oxygen.  It wasn’t veering off in another direction as it normally did; the siren was getting louder and more threatening, as if death was racing toward her with nothing to stand in its way.

Considerably light-headed, Karyn struggled to remain standing as the room became a whirling kaleidoscope of blinding bright light, concerned faces and flashing red.  She used all her strength to hold onto Roy’s comforting hand; she even tried to grab a whiff of his skin, but she became so overwhelmed, so terror-stricken that her legs could no longer support her body.  The bride collapsed.  The precise moment she hit the floor, the siren stopped cold.

Thankfully, the paramedics were on the scene.

Garrett Socol's first collection of short stories, Gathered Here Together, was published in 2011 by Ampersand Books.  His plays have been produced at the Berkshire Theatre Festival and the Pasadena Playhouse.  He created and produced a long list of cable TV shows including “Talk Soup” and “The Gossip Show” for the E! Network.