• Emer O’Hanlon

My Dead Sister’s Headphones are Top-of-the-range

By: Emer O’Hanlon


My Dead Sister’s Headphones are Top-of-the-range


By: Emer O’Hanlon




When my big sister died, I took her headphones (noise isolating, microphone attached). I got other things too, obviously, but the headphones stuck out. She must have bought them for podcasting, I said to my parents at her flat. I took them, because they looked like she’d spent a bit of money on them, and I didn’t want to toss them, even though I had no use for them.

Now, two years later, it’s practical to have a decent pair of headphones. It’s funny that my sister had the perfect equipment for Zoom meetings when she never went to one herself. Then again, she was always forward thinking like that.


I like working from home. I like staying in bed, and slotting the headphones on to listen in to meetings, and watching my colleagues talking from their dining tables or sun-rooms. The WiFi is bad, I say, I’ll have to keep my camera off. I lie down, an old festival t-shirt on and no bra, and I eat big bags of crisps with the mic muted. When I turn it on, the few times I speak, I have to be careful. My sister’s headset is so good that it always finds the crumbs on my breath, betraying my bad habits.


My sister started a true-crime podcast several months before she died, and she bought the headset so that the sound quality would be better. Non-negotiable once they got on Patreon. I’ve listened to all her old episodes so many times I know the words by heart (she only made one season). At night, I listen with her headphones on, and I say her lines as she speaks them on the show. My housemates have all left, moved in with partners or retreated to where their parents live, more spacious houses with gardens, so I could listen out loud, but I don’t want to.

Sometimes, I fall half-asleep, and half-listen as the episodes continue playing. They change as I dream. In them, my sister starts asking me questions, like she asks her co-host. Where was I the night she died and do I remember and what time do I think she arrived home at. I forget most of these by the morning, but the ones I remember are precious, the only new conversations I’ve had with her for years.

Her co-host sent us a lot of messages after she died, and for a while he wanted to end the podcast, but he never did. Fans wrote about it on social media, how tragic it was, what happened to her. You’ve probably seen people talking about the show, it’s pretty big now. They dedicate every episode to her, but he’s considering stopping this in the new season.


In meetings, too, my sister butts in. I’ll be in the middle of talking about how I think we could be doing more outreach by connecting with prominent Youtubers, and she’ll tell me to stop waffling and get a real job or at least something I care about. She’s not wrong, but I wish she’d keep out of it. I hear her heavy silence as she listens to me crunching on my crisps.

Are they Kettle crisps? She asks eventually.

Manomasa, I reply.

You’re getting through a pack a day - isn’t that a bit much?

Really low calories. My mouth is full, but the mic is on mute. I don’t care if she judges me anyway. It’s the same as having a bowl of soup for lunch.

Hmmm.


I bring the headphones out on my walks around the city. People ask what the place is like and I never know how to reply because I don’t notice much. The noise cancellation is class. I can feel as though I’m somewhere totally different when I have them on, blasting my yé-yé songs, or the soundtrack to L’Avventura.

Granda had a room at the top of his and granny’s house, where he kept all kinds of recording equipment, tapes and hi-fis. When he died, she got his dictaphone, and her and her friends recorded all sorts on it - music albums, a current affairs show, a radio drama. Listening at her door, I overheard them arguing once, should they record a story on whether abortion should be allowed here. I don’t remember who was on what side, but they couldn’t resolve the issue.


I don’t know what’s worse - my sister taking her own life, or the idea that her investment in a headset proves she planned to stay alive. I hope my sister had more to live for than some headphones, but it’s also true that she was a sad person and she really loved her podcast.


I’m finding it hard to concentrate at work, because my sister can’t stop crying. She’s weeping into my ears, and the sharp sound rings through my head. She’s choking up so much I can’t understand her words as she struggles to get them out. I can only hear the gentle tone of the therapist on the line to her, trying to ask her (if she wants to talk about it) to explain what happened to her.

Maybe we should try a more collaborative policy, I suggest, my heart pounding so much in my throat I can barely get the words out, maybe we should get involved in Instagram competitions or prize giveaways or something.

In the background, my sister’s breath wheezes.


I won’t ever tell my parents about what I’m hearing. I don’t see why they should need to know.


I try to sleep without the headphones; I know what a haunting is when I hear one. I read books until I can’t keep my eyes open. But even when I am too tired to turn off the light, there are always noises from where the headset rests on my desk. The crackling tones of my sister’s voice scratch my ears, and I catch maybe one word out of every five:

…trusting

Risky…

…cut

England…

…them.





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