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Radio

By Season Harper-Fox

Chris focused on their dad’s old transistor radio. He’d propped it on the kitchen table, the cord trailing to the floor. He scooted his chair close, intent on dead air, tweaked the knob as though honing in on some enigmatic signal. And in his face Sissy caught that same fevered anticipation she’d scrutinized when sneaking quick glimpses of the schizophrenic man on the number eight bus.

She’d be leaving that day—Tucson, maybe. Santa Fe. Had planned her escape speech earlier in the guest room, going over all possible arguments as she traced and retraced her restless path from closet to bookshelf to the vanity she’d coveted as a little girl. Her mother’s enameled jewelry box played “Sakura” when opened, its polished black exterior gleaming, delicate with hand-painted cherry blossoms. The tinkle of music still made Sissy’s head go light and shot her back in time, if only for a moment. Inside this heirloom, she knew, lay one strand of perfect pearls and a slim engagement ring that Mom had worn right up till the day she died.

Across the table, Chris nodded, and Sissy couldn’t help but wonder—what if the room was alive with music, or a coded message that tapped out a tinny CQDX? An SOS? Chris had been fine for years. At least that’s what she chose to believe, had assured herself on every desolate road, thumb out, not a care. Only now he sat with blackened eyes, deep gashes that reddened and swelled, the blood clotting in his goatee, crusted beneath his fingernails. Sissy knew better than to tell her brother he listened to absolute silence. Who was she to decide?

In the Marks family they’d perfected the art of nonchalant oblivion, of studying whorls in the paneling or counting the squares of tiled linoleum while pointedly ignoring Chris laughing in mad bursts over nothing, or Sissy herself tracking shadows that followed her from room to room.

In the third grade she’d gotten up the courage to tell her mother. She never spoke of visions again.

In college, Sissy studied Blake—his visions of angels in a tree, and “God at the window.” Then Professor Ellsworth asked them all to consider: If Blake were indeed a visionary, was it a blessing or a curse? Her classmates had either laughed or whispered, the more talkative among them finally succumbing to a hush. Wanda Morely, arrogant PhD candidate, had wrapped a blonde lock around her finger and pontificated. Oh, blessing. Blessings all around. Oh, for a writer to be so inhabited.

Sissy’d given Professor Ellsworth a look so that he nodded her to speak.

“Imagination," she said. "That’s a blessing. Seeing things that may or may not be ‘there,’ yet the very act of seeing marking one as insane? Or, worse yet, doubting one’s own sanity. Blake,” she continued, her voice rising, “had a screaming fit over ‘God’ checking him out from the window.” She tucked books into her tote and shot the woman a sideways glance laced with a long-simmering disgust. “Jesus, Wanda. What are you, a fucking idiot?”

She examined Chris, wanting to do something.  Anything. Clean him up. Take Mom’s Toyota and drive him to the hospital. Those scratches might need stitches. He met her gaze, as though she’d spoken, and suddenly she thought maybe she had. Maybe she’d been talking out loud all along. Chris ran a finger along the tuning dial, and Sissy broke the family rule.

“What’s on the radio?” she said.

Chris didn’t hesitate, but held it out and urged her to listen. “Hear that?” He laughed. Emphatic. “You get it now.”

Sissy did listen. For anything. For static or bleed-over or the tiniest crackle of life. And what could she say? She watched him, his eyes like lost, dark continents. Tucson faded. Santa Fe would have to wait. He stroked the radio and though Sissy heard nothing she answered truthfully. “Sure,” she told him, instinctively searching out the most soothing octaves. “I get it now.”

 

Season Harper-Fox holds a Master's in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She's published in The Cream City Review, OnTheBus, Primavera, and other journals. She's on the fiction faculty of New York City's Gotham Writers' Workshop.

Photo "Jacob's Ladder," William Blake, c1800.


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