The Sound of the Universe

By Maya Shimamura

Parker never liked her mother. She never pretended to before her mother left, and the departure certainly wasn’t going to change that. Even a month after, Parker felt annoyed when sad glances followed her around the town. Worse than the eyes were the whispers. She thought that they would die in a couple of weeks, but still Parker heard the rumours.

I heard she ran away with a guy half her age.”

“I heard she didn’t care and just wanted a new start.”

“Well, it’s honestly a miracle. This must’ve been the first original thought the woman’s had in years.”

But Mika always defended her, even when Parker didn’t want it. Especially then.

When Parker felt overwhelmed by people, she just closed her eyes and grounded herself in the outside: the noises of the engines, the honks, the conversations. The thrumming was a reminder that not everything was different, that the some things would remain constant no matter how much her life changed. When Parker heard the blending of the world into a weird harmonic melody, she’d find herself with closed eyes, ears truly hearing the sound of the universe. It felt like escape.

Parker rolled out of bed and threw her hair into a bun defined by too many flyaway hairs. Her facial features were nothing special. Parker thought that they looked ordinary, averagely dirty blonde hair paired with dark brown eyes that didn’t glow gold in the sun. But Mika told her that they framed her jawline perfectly, that they were perfect. Parker squatted to look at herself in the vanity mirror placed when she was twelve, now awkwardly positioned at her chin five years and two growth spurts later. She looked down, opened her phone, and scrolled through the voicemails. Parker had already seen the notifications on her lock screen. She knew what she’d find there:  one voicemail from her Dad, two from Mika, and the one she’d hear but could never quite listen to:



it’s                                            late.                                                            You um

you don’t need to                                          to know that             







Her mother’s voice was clear and steady, melodic and soft, a contradiction of sound waves, reminding Parker of Homer’s Sirens. The words intentional yet catastrophically simultaneous. Parker understood that her mother never had a plan for anything in life, that she carried the same sentiment in the abandonment. The voicemail was her mother’s poorly concealed attempt at rectifying her own actions. Everything that Parker disliked about her mother was amplified in the recording and hearing it over the phone hurt. Parker had tried to listen to the voicemail over the past month, but as soon as she heard “Parker”, she immediately turned it off. Now, she just wanted to know. She was tired of the rumours and the questioning, of the hole that her mother had left. She just wanted them to be normal again.

           Parker’s first memories were formed when she was six years old: her mother’s soft, smoky lullabies and solemn eyes looking out the window of Parker’s bedroom. They consisted of her mother’s voice floating through the air, leaving Parker mystified. Parker was always a little enthralled by her presence. Her mother always wanted to hold onto everyone who left her, and in the process neglected those who stayed near. Her mother’s voice was blissfully cemented in the past or the future but never the present.  

“So, Parks,” it was her dad’s voice travelling across the kitchen table that interrupted the memory, “How are ya?”

She’d grown accustomed to her dad asking such plain questions, an attempt at a new normalcy. Before, they’d explored the cosmos, the meaning of life, the path to happiness in their conversations, but lately her dad only started with the mundane. Before, he would rave on about the event horizon, the possibilities of his research, the cosmos, but now he spoke about discovering the universe as if it were just another given truth in his life.

“Okay. How about you?” she mumbled an equally boring answer.

“You know…” his eyes stuck on the kitchen countertop.

She felt her phone buzz, a heartbeat, and remembered her plans for tonight. nine p.m., drive down the street, lights off until the end of the road, meet at the parking lot outside of the city, just them. The arrangement had been working for months. And while Parker knew that their arrangement was reckless and unsafe and everything that Parker normally hated, she would risk all of it for Mika. Her dad had pleasantly nodded when Parker came out to him a year ago. He’d smiled a little, and they’d moved on. Unfortunately the rest of the world didn’t share this sentiment. They didn’t nod and smile at the idea of a daughter-in-law, and Parker became too aware of this fact when she felt the stares following their first date. Even more so when Mika reached for Parker’s hand.

Mika was used to the eyes following her. She ran track, and her 400 meter time was envied across the county. Mika was never alone, always sought after by the boys around her. And while Mika enjoyed the spotlight, Parker hated it. She hated the looks on their first date, the whispers that followed them in the halls, the glares at lunch when they sat together in the cafeteria. Parker quickly found that, for her, functioning happily meant functioning quietly.

Parker looked at her dad in the kitchen. His eyes wouldn’t meet hers. “It’s okay, Dad,” she was rewarded with a slight smile. She knew her mother’s absence had affected him much more than her. He was unequivocally in love with her, and Parker was sadly certain that he still was, even now, even after what her mother had done.  

She’d heard the retellings of her parents first date, their wedding day, their tenth anniversary in dreamy tones. Her mother was well-versed in the art of storytelling. Her voice reminded Parker of smoke that drifted between retelling and reliving the night. It was light, fleeting, a complexly warm melody. Her dad told the stories in concrete details: the jeans she wore (dark blue and skinny), the meal they ate (sushi from her mother’s favourite Japanese restaurant), the way the moon looked (waning, gibbous). Parker loved picturing the jeans, the meal, and the moon. She loved the way her dad built a world that she could see, while with her mother, Parker felt scared that she was intruding on private intimacies. Her mother laughed at Parker when her teenaged-self confessed this: “Parks, you’ll never understand completely. Not until you live the moments that are unforgettable.” Parker never brought it up again.

Her dad’s eyes lifted from the counter to the stove, removing a pot of boiling water and pouring the spaghetti into a strainer. Once the pasta was safely on plates, his eyes resumed their position on the counter top. He served her pasta in the kitchen, and Parker was relieved that they were having something other than take out Chinese or pizza.

“I know we never really talk about it, Parks,” he kept looking anywhere but at her.

“It’s okay,” She went back to picking at the pasta.

“Hey, maybe we should go driving today. I know you already have your license but…”

“Practice makes perfect,” she raised the corners of her mouth slightly. Since her mother left, driving and playing guitar were the only activities that she and her dad could do without an uncomfortable humming surrounding them. The space instead became filled with songs from the radio, tires crunching on the road, the engine crying as the car climbed a hill, “I’ll go grab my shoes,” she felt her phone buzz again.

She’d met Mika in Calculus, and the loud brunette was nothing like Parker. Mika owned a black Lexus, and when she first saw Parker’s used blue Honda, she’d laughed. Her looks reminded Parker of Athena: straight hair, grey eyes, and the composure of a killer. She stood a few inches shorter than Parker which, other than her own erratically beating heart, was just about the only thing that Parker noticed the first time they stood so close. Upon further inspection, Parker found that Mika’s personality had always made her seem taller than she really was. Mika had a way of gaining respect. Whether it be from her track time or her ever present smirk, Parker wasn’t sure yet. She wasn’t Parker’s first crush, but she was the first girl to make Parker look twice.

Mika was rain on a car roof (a sound that always made Parker relax). Constant and comforting. After meeting the girl, driving through a storm was never quite same. Parker thought that maybe the sound of rain on painted metal could also be the sound of the universe. It made her feel at home, lost simultaneously in the clearness of every drop and the noise of them pounding together, harmonized into familiarity. Mika was harmonization distilled into a human. She was everything Parker wanted, coming together all at once, and Parker wanted everything so badly

After her bedroom door closed, Parker pulled out her phone again. She was sure that there wouldn’t be anything of value left in the remaining two minutes and seventeen seconds of the voicemail. It would probably be filled with muffled thrumming, a disappointment. The whispy voice wouldn’t be filled with concrete reasons, just hints at truth never fully expressed. Her mother’s voice would be grace notes mixed on top of mu-major guitar chords that Parker couldn’t understand enough to play. They would be both there and not all at once.

Hey                                                 Parker

it’s                                           late.                                                                 You um

you don’t need to                                          to know that                                     







Iknow                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        you                               want

To                  know                                                                                               


Um Iknow                                                                            he wants         to

To       know                                                 I want                                                 to

To                                        to tototo                                       tell                   you.

Only you.

She was tempted to listen to all of it just to get the disappointment over with, but her phone’s notification distracted her.

Mika: hi beautiful we’re good for tonight right?

Parker hesitated before responding: Idk… I’m going on a drive but I’ll let ya know.

Parker was always nervous that Mika would get mad when she cancelled plans, but her girlfriend would casually brush it off and figure out something else to do with her night. Parker remembered being surprised when Mika had made the first move, but after six months of awkward firsts and seconds, they’d ended up dating.

When her mother left, Parker had sobbed in Mika’s black Lexus. Mika let Parker get snot and tears on her Calvin Klein crop top. The kind of sobs that sympathetically made her jaw hurt from poor attempts at containing loud gasps. Parker had heard a strange buzzing inside of her. As her chest spasmed and her body collapsed onto Mika, she didn’t hear the sobs anymore or the gasps or her girlfriend’s voice. Parker heard the world fill with buzzing. She felt detached as if she was floating away, engulfed by the sound. Then she felt the freckled girl hug her, and Parker grounded herself in the gesture until the white noise disappeared.

Parker didn’t like thinking about her break down, and as she turned the key in the ignition, put the blue Honda in drive, and began towards the familiar destination she tried to forget it. She knew the drive to the parking lot by heart, and she loved to look out at the mountains while leaning against the guard rail. It was a place Parker and her dad had visited since she was little which is probably why she was so excited when Mika first suggested they meet there.

Parker turned on the winding road as her dad hummed along to “Uptown Girl” in her car. He laughed a little in the passenger seat, and Parker let herself smile just as much. She’d sacrifice a thousand dates to hear him laugh like that.

When Parker was younger, her dad always had the radio on. Surrounding him at all times was the classic rock station and unfiltered static from the radio in the background. She’d learned to communicate through songs. Hey Dad, do you like James Taylor? She’d listen to his excited response, Listen to “Fire and Rain.” He wrote it when a friend in the mental hospital died… She’d listen to it, cherish it, and play it over and over until the chord progression was cemented in her head. She’d learn the guitar riff and hear the laugh of her dad when she added her own weird rhythm to it. Once he’d learned the strange rhythm, they’d play it together.

Understanding the art, the order of songs became special to Parker. She would save playlists on her computer, burn them onto CDs, and listen to them in the car. She and her dad would reminisce about the quality of vinyl and how the new, clear audio lessened the authenticity of the work whilst the CD was playing. Her dad would play her CDs on his way to work every day, and Parker loved the days when he would slip one in return under her door before she woke. A disk full of new artists and songs and possibilities: “Thirteen” by Big Star, “Doctor my Eyes” by Jackson Browne, “Ticket to Ride” by The Beatles. Parker still made CDs for him every Monday, a series of messages sent that would never be heard: “Long Distance Love” by Little Feat, “Songbird – Instrumental” by Fleetwood Mac, “Either Way” by Wilco. Now she didn’t wait for a plastic disk in return under her door.

As “Uptown Girl” finished, and the DJ’s voice crackled over the broken signal, Parker turned past the house with the red, tin roof onto the main road. With the boring sound of the host’s voice replacing the song, Parker began replaying the snippet of voicemail she’d heard again in her head. There weren’t any riffs or chords to memorize in the sentences. The Siren’s voice didn’t sound like a melody anymore; the words weren’t lyrics to her family’s story. Her mother’s voice was still smoky, unchanged in recording, but now Parker hated it. There was no waver, no regret, no sorrow. Parker’s phone buzzed in the cup of the center console: a heartbeat. Parker knew it was Mika.

When she was twelve, her mother had shown her how similar sound waves were to heartbeats. They both were consistent with amplitudes and crests and troughs. They were both constants in the world. Parker had always heard the sounds of the world and communicated them to her dad yet her mother had also listened. Right now, the voicemail’s soundwaves would be heartbreakingly similar. They wouldn’t possess some subliminal regret within her mother, and Parker knew that the woman’s heart would’ve been the same.

Parker looked back at the asphalt as she heard her tires grinding against it. A new song crooned through the car speakers, and she started noticing the potholes and inconsistencies concealed within the road. She was always so infatuated with getting to Mika that the weird colour changes in the asphalt and the large cracks had been hidden to her before.

“This is fun, Parks,” her dad broke the thrumming noise of the car, “we should do this more.”

“Anytime,” she knew that she’d given up a lot for him lately, but he was her dad, and Mika was her girlfriend.

She remembered the first time that she had told Mika she couldn’t hang out, that something had come up, that she and Dad were going out.

Mika: Are you kidding me? You’re blowing me off for your dad?

Parker: That’s not what I’m saying.

They hadn’t talked for days. After that, Mika had started to become less angry and more accepting when Parker sacrificed their time for her dad. Mika understood. She’d tried to make a conciliatory gesture by creating a Spotify playlist, but the songs were pop and disco and everything that Parker wasn’t. When Mika played it on the AUX cord in the black Lexus, Parker couldn’t concentrate on the music. Instead, the world became sharp. She heard the playlist fade and the hum of the car engine get louder. She heard her girlfriend’s feet bump against hers a little bit off beat. She heard the wind outside trying desperately to find its way into the car.

When Mika had asked if Parker liked the playlist, Parker had smiled and replied:

“Thank you for doing this. I love you.”

“You always say I love you like it’s the first time.”

           Parker lifted her shirt collar over her face.

“Don’t hide, Parks, I think it’s cute. Hey, I love you too.”

Parker smiled under her collar.

Mika continued trying to make playlists. Parker always listened to them despite the sharpness… and the disco.

Parker heard her dad’s voice break the crunching of the tires. “Everything’s so quiet now,” his voice was faint in the car.

She knew what he meant. Her mother was an unplugged stereo cord in their lives, always buzzing in the background, filling empty space. Parker was used to the sound filling her world, and now that her mother was gone, the noise had changed. The background was now filled with muffled static of radios tuned to the wrong frequency, and Parker heard the static around her too much. Maybe that’s what she wanted out of the voicemail. Maybe she just wanted closure. For the radio static to be replaced by stereo buzzing once more.

“I know, Dad.”

Mika had kissed her first in the black Lexus with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” playing in the background. Parker loved the two chord song, and Mika was infatuated with the lyrics. Mika all but screamed the chorus, an ode to something greater than herself, and Parker loved hearing her girlfriend’s slightly sharp voice accompanying her guitar chords. She memorized the sound of Mika’s voice as it became one with the twanging guitar. Normally, Parker felt as if the instrument was too high pitched and empty and overused, but hearing Mika’s voice mix with the guitar reminded Parker of everything good in the instrument: the versatility, the range, and its role.

Mika reminded Parker why the static at the end of the song was so valuable, and Parker knew that she would listen to hours of shitty pop music for this moment. She finally understood, sitting in the black Lexus, listening to Fleetwood Mac, what her mother meant when she said some moments were unforgettable. Parker understood that some moments, some people were unforgettable, that Mika was one of them.

Parker used her left turn signal, eased into a parking space, and shifted the gear to park. The radio was off now, and the music ceased with it. The car hummed beneath her feet, and she could feel the purring of the engine, oscillating between two frequencies, warming and cooling all at once.

“Dad,” she felt her chest rise a little more than usual, “do you still love her?”

“Let’s go look at the mountains, Parks.”

The car engine stopped. The world was filled with muffled humming again. She got out of the car.

“I don’t love her anymore,” she mumbled. They were faced towards the mountains, and Parker’s fingers quickly danced across the metal guard rail. She looked at the leafless trees scattered along the mountainside.

“Don’t normally see people out here,” Parker followed her dad’s eyes from the mountains to the car parked at the edge of the car lot. In her ten years of coming to the lot, Parker had never shared it with anyone except for her dad and Mika. Once she spotted the car, Parker stopped worrying about her dad’s deflecting and more about who was in the black Lexus facing the mountains. She felt her throat tighten.

“Dad, can you wait in the car?”

Parker liked the sounds of the world. When they blended and mixed into an incoherent mess, she thought she was the one who could impose order on it, who could hear the harmonies, the sound of the universe. Or at least maybe she could hear what the universe is at its essence: the sound of wind in the winter, sirens blocks away heard from a rooftop, the rain pattering on a car roof. These weren’t those sounds. Parker couldn’t reconcile what she knew, what she saw, what she heard: her feet assaulting the pavement, her knuckles thudding against the metal of the black Lexus, a girl’s voice inside the car. It sounded like a cello, full and beautiful and everything that Parker was not. The door opened. Her girlfriend’s face appeared with lipstick smudging her mouth. Mika didn’t wear makeup, and Parker felt the world become even sharper. She felt the vibrating start from her chest, from anger, from sadness, from betrayal.

Time didn’t slow down like in the movies. The event was unfortunately fast and if Parker could do it again, she would have yelled. She would have screamed. She would have filled the cracks in the road and coloured the asphalt with her voice. But she didn’t.

So, instead she heard the squeal of a car turning too fast on the round-about, the harsh caw of crows yelling between each other, of Mika’s sharp voice filling the space between them. She heard the explanation in snippets. It wouldn’t have mattered if she had heard the whole thing, but Parker wished at this moment in time that nothing was happening. She wished for the first time in her life that it was silent, and that Mika’s voice would stop ringing between her head and buzzing inside her chest.

Buzzbuzzzzzzzbuuzzbuzbuzzzzzbuzzzbbbbuzzbuuuuuzzbuzzbuzzzbuuuuzzbbbbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzz I thought you were with your Dad tonight buzzbuzzbuzzzbuzbuuuz

buzzbbbbbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbubuuuzzuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzbuzzzubuzbubububbzbuzzbuzzbbbzzbuzbubuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzz you were always with him, and I never meant it to happen bzzbuzzzzbbbuuuubuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbbuuuzzbubuzbuzzuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzz She was here buzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuzzbuz


buzzzzzbuzzzzbuzzzbuzzbuz I love you, Parks.

“Please don’t call me that. Please don’t say that,” Parker didn’t scream or yell or even cry. She whispered. Her jaw was clenched, and her teeth hurt from keeping everything in. The white noise invaded every part of her as her jaw tightened more and more and more. She didn’t hear her feet hit the pavement, or her Honda’s door as it opened and she climbed in. Parker heard the world getting sharper and sharper like a tightening guitar string. She heard her teeth grinding against each other and her muscles relax slightly before tensing again. She heard her mother’s voice in her head over and over and over again, whispy and beautiful and lying: I want to tell you. Only you.

“Parks,” her dad’s voice cut through the world. They sat in the car’s silence. The noises outside were gone, leaving Parker with the all-encompassing buzz inside of her.

“Are you upset? Um about your mom? We never really talked about it…”

Parker heard her mother’s voice in her head like a record scratching, playing with skips and repeats, obstructing the truth.

Maybe the voicemail was nothing. Maybe it was everything, but she didn’t care anymore. The voicemail didn’t change what her mother had done. What Mika had done. It didn’t bring her mother back to them, and it most definitely didn’t atone for her leaving. Parker heard the world become sharper and as her mother and Mika’s voices blended into one disgustingly heartbreaking song,

The guitar string snapped.

“Girls fucking suck,” her jaw relaxed and ragged breaths escaped her mouth. She thought that her dad would try and reassure her that it would all be better in the future or that girls grow up at some point or anything at all. She thought that he’d talk about walking her down the aisle or tell her of how exhilarating proposals were, how in love she would be.

“Yah, they do,” he spoke it as fact: concrete as the universal laws he studied. She felt tears and snot and sobs mingle with her dad’s cotton shirt.  Her dad’s hand rubbed circles on her back.

“Dad, do you still love her?” She asked more insistently this time.

“Why do you want to know, Parks?” he was tired.  

She opened the voicemail, watching her dad’s confused expression shift to one of sorrow.

Hey Parker, it’s late.

“You can listen to it. I never could. Not really,” her voice cracked between words, and she hated how broken she sounded. She handed the phone to him and closed her eyes.

You don’t need to know that, sorry.

Her mother’s heartbeat would have been as smoky as her voice, pulling her towards some new adventure away from her family. Her heart would have been singing to her, tempting her, and her mother had listened. Maybe that was what hurt Parker most. Her mother didn’t try to stay. She just left, chasing her future or her past, but refusing to live in their present. Parker heard the voicemail stop suddenly, but there was no sound for its deletion, for her family breaking again. Parker didn’t hear her dad cry or the buzzing inside of her chest stop or the universe speaking to her.

When Parker opened her eyes again, the universe was quiet.

Maya Shimamura is a senior at Indian Springs High School in Birmingham, Alabama. She hopes to earn a dual degree in Economics and Biochemistry. In the meantime, she plays softball, volleyball, and the bass. She likes dogs, straight lines, and the sound of the AC unit in her dorm room. She will be attending Georgetown University in the fall.

Art by Laura Nell Walker.