They say opposites attract, and it’s hard to image two people further apart than Chris Hawkins, a black sound engineer from Chicago’s south side, and Sidonie Frame is a white, suburban venue manager. They fall in love, and decide that if they can find common happiness, so can the world around them. It turns out, it’s not that easy.
In her new novel The Alchemy of Noise (out now from She Writes Press), Lorraine Devon Wilke tells Chris and Sidonie’s story, set against the backdrop of a society splintered by questions of race, class, privilege, and prejudice. We’re pleased to present this excerpt.
FROM CHAPTER SIX After the Sound Alchemy van was loaded, and handshakes and goodbyes were exchanged, Chris caught the neon of a 24-hour market a couple of blocks north and decided to walk over for a few needed items. Armitage Avenue remained closing-time hectic. Looking for a more peaceful stroll, he pulled his jacket tight against the wind, and turned into an adjacent residential area. Walking at night was a kind of poetic meditation for him. A man whose head was filled with sound most of the time, Chris gravitated toward quietude whenever he could find it. He often took longer routes afoot, content to wander streets he didn’t know to get places he needed to be, fascinated, always, by what was noticed along the way. Curiosity had been a proclivity of his since childhood. His mother would chastise him for being a “nosy sort” when he’d stare too long at passing strangers, or listen too closely to bus stop conversations, but his inquisitiveness prevailed. The half sentence that floated by; chatter from an open window; a couple’s whispered embrace on a porch stoop. Even before he had the maturity to articulate or understand it, those brief intersections sparked a sense of existential connectedness. His mother told him it was safer to mind his own business. He found life too intriguing to ignore. As at this very moment. To his left, across a short expanse of late-winter lawn, behind a window warmed by amber lamplight, a middle-aged couple danced closely to the strains of something smooth and melodic. Chris slowed his pace, wondering who they were to each other and why they were dancing at two thirty in the morning, imagining their story to be something tender and provocative— * Woot, woot! The strident bleat of a police siren jolted him from reverie as a patrol car crossed the lane and pulled sharply to the curb. The uniformed officer on the passenger side—white, probably late-twenties—leaned out the opened window, training his flashlight on Chris’s face. “What are you doing there, buddy?” Chris felt a tick, the familiar tick. He took a breath. “Just heading to the store up on the corner.” “Oh, yeah? Up on Armitage?” “Yes.” “Then what are you doing on this street? Kind of an indirect route, isn’t it? And they don’t much appreciate strangers loitering around here.” “Not loitering. Just looking for a quieter walk.” The cop climbed out of the car, hand on his gun. “Where are you coming from?” His approach was tense, wary. “I worked at The Church tonight,” Chris remained still, responding in as neutral a tone as could be mustered. “Just wrapped it up and decided to grab a few things at the store.” “How about you show me some ID?” As Chris carefully extracted his wallet and pulled out his driver’s license, the officer behind the wheel, also white, though likely older, disembarked. Hand atop his gun, he positioned himself on Chris’s other side. No one spoke and the moment crackled with frisson. The first cop studied the license, scanned Chris’s face, then walked back to the car to run the information. Tick, tick. Chris took another slow breath. “So you work up at The Church?” the second officer asked. “Yes.” “I hear that’s a pretty nice place.” He was clearly running the “good cop” angle. “It is.” “What do you do over there?” “Ran their sound tonight.” “Huh. You don’t look like a sound guy,” he remarked. Tick, tick. “Really? What does a sound guy look like?” “I’m just saying I wouldn’t have expected that.” The first cop came back, nodded to his partner, affirmation of some kind, then handed the license back to Chris. “So why were you looking at that house? That sort of thing tends to make people nervous.” Chris turned back to the window; the couple, oblivious to the drama outside, was still dancing. “I noticed those people, that’s all. It caught my eye. It was just … I don’t know … poetic.” The two cops turned toward the window and, for one odd moment, all three men stood watching, their shadows forming an unlikely tableau on the browned lawn. A beat, then everyone shifted back to their assigned roles. “Okay well, Shakespeare, time to move on,” the first cop intoned. “And probably smart to stick to the commercial streets from now on. It’s a lot safer that way.” Safer for whom? Chris thought but didn’t ask. Both cops gave him a nod, climbed back into their cruiser, and pulled slowly away. Chris started toward the intended destination, then stopped, deciding there was nothing at the store he needed that badly. He turned and headed back to The Church parking lot.
Excerpted from The Alchemy of Noise. Copyright © 2019 by Lorraine Devon Wilke. Published by She Writes Press. All rights reserved.