Jul/Aug 2001  •   Fiction

Jeffrey & Me

by Jürgen Fauth

Jeffrey lives downstairs with his mother. I know this because they yell at each other. "Jeffrey!" the mother shouts, her choleric face stuck out the window, the voice ricocheting off the brownstones across the street, momentarily blocking out the drone of trucks on the BQE. Other times, it is Jeffrey who is in need of his mother: "Mom!" he yells. "Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!"

I work from home over the Internet, and I don't have such direct vocal noisy touching interaction with anybody. Incoming email makes a bit of a sound, a very Brave-New-Worldish ta-daa, and instant messages appear on my screen with a playful noise deemed appropriate by AOL engineers, but when I hear Jeffrey and his mother scream for each other, I am filled with loneliness. Their need for one another is so real direct human.

"Jeffrey!" she yells. "Jeffrey! Get in the house!"

"Mom! Mom!" he shouts in front of their window. "Mom! I have to pee! Mom!"

Their yells intrigue me because I only hear them when their needs are greatest. Once mom lets her son inside, or when Jeffrey heeds and returns from his adventures down the block, their voices go quiet. Occasionally I catch bits and pieces of conversations held at lower volume, but the dénouement of their dramas always escapes my ears.

"Jeffrey! Get the fuck out of the street!"

On the weekends, when Irene is home, she laughs and giggles whenever their voices crash through our open windows. She rolls her eyes at the wild raw proletarian force of it, at the I don't give a shit what the yuppies upstairs think attitude.

"Jeffrey! Dinner's on the stove!"

Sometimes, Irene mimics the shouts. We hide behind our windows-laptops-birch Ikea furniture and laugh while Jeffrey and his mom rule the street. We laugh but we never yell. We're soft-spoken, and it makes us suspicious-like. If we had any guts, we'd shout at each other too. But we're afraid of how it will sound, and we don't.

"Mom! Mom! I lost my ball! Mom!"

Sometimes, sitting in the pale light of my computer screen, I hear their voices and I think about my own mother and how far away she is and how talking to her over a static transatlantic line costs a dollar a minute. How we speak like civilized people, animated or halting but never too loud, and I think maybe I should call her up sometime and yell into the mouthpiece: "Mom! Mom! Mom!" and then she could shout back at me, "Dinner's on the stove! Come home now! Come home!"