Background Levels

It feels like a Sunday afternoon drive through Pripyat.

The radio is silent as we come through the tunnel. Daylight fills our eyes as we approach the mouth, and it’s like opening a present. The city just appears before us, nestled in the valley.

The three rivers are still flowing.

It’s daytime, so it’s not immediately obvious, but the electricity’s out. My driver stops at a red light, at a light, anyway, unsure of what to do. He edges forward tentatively.

“I guess you treat it like a stop sign,” I tell him. He nods and we move carefully through the intersection, weaving around what’s left.

“Roll down the windows,” I say. He hesitates, but that’s why we’re here.

It’s quiet, sure, but not too quiet. It would be alright if it was too quiet. It’s half-measures. No engines, but a guy yells. No brakes or beeps, but conversations play out on the sidewalk.

There’s no hard edge, the loop doesn’t dip, it just crossfades into itself and starts from the beginning.

I pull the microphone out of my bag, and hook it up to the deck.

The needles jump when I plug it in, and then drop back to baseline. When my driver speaks, I’m more startled by the levels than the sound.

“Anything, boss?” He looks genuinely interested. I shake my head.

“Mic might be dead,” I say, and reach into my bag and pull out another. I attach the cable and aim it out the window towards the voices.

“-eally think he’s cheating on you, you should try to catch him.” The first voice is a woman’s.

The second voice, also a woman’s, replies, “I think I should just talk to him about it. He’d come clean if I confronted him. It might be nothing.”

“I’m just telling you, when I was with Andy, I thought he was going out to the bar on game nights to drink with his friends untireally think he’s cheating on you, you should try to catch him.”

It loops again. Thirteen seconds. I run the math in my head. I figure we’re about a mile and a quarter from ground zero.

We drive on, through the Strip and into Lawrenceville. I want to check in the studio, see if anybody had been playing. The door’s locked from the inside, like most of them are, and I feel like an idiot as I knock and wait like so many times before. The driver approaches and takes out his tools. He disassembles the door, and I help him set it down on the sidewalk.

There’s no electricity, but I can hear music playing. He must have been recording, maybe practicing when it happened. I grab the mic kit and head inside.

I connect and reconnect the cables. No green lights. No needles move. I’m not a scientist, I don’t know why. We can hear it, my driver hums the tune. I throw the deck at the wall and it shatters. We’re farther out, here. It loops for about a minute forty-two. Almost the whole song. It’s new. Wasn’t on any of his albums.

Nobody knew it was going to have this effect. Everybody assumes, you drop a neutron bomb, it clears out the people, instant occupation, just add new civilians and soldiers. Who could have expected this?

The driver and I sit and listen. A concert, just for us.

Hiroshima music.

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