James brushed dust from the box and set it on the table. It was smaller than the others that lined the wall behind him; it probably wouldn’t take long to empty out and sort.
There were so many boxes, from the attic, the basement, beneath the steps, in closets of the rooms they hardly used, his Marjorie and he. Boxes filled with dishes, papers, magazines and programs, old tools, tickets, drawings from their son, pencils, pens, paperweights, trophies, mugs, notebooks, yearbooks, paper clips and rubber bands, the bric-a-brac of nearly fifty years together, gathered up like sawdust from the blade of time and closed against the wind outside, stored and stacked like luggage on a pier waiting for delivery.
The ghosts of fifty seasons sealed up to never lose their face, their voice, to speak when all the other words were gone.
James listened to them now, one by one, shells against his ear now that Marjorie was gone.
Thirty years in this house where he now sat deciding what to keep and what to cast away.
“Dad,” his son said when the place was sold and the condo bought, “you can’t take all that stuff with you. You’ve got to get rid of most of it.”
“Most of it?” James had answered, still swirling in the fog of loss.
“Ninety percent of it,” Robert expanded, not indelicately. “The new place is maybe one-third the size of this, and it doesn’t have a basement.”
James had been looking out at the garden in the back yard, Marjorie’s garden. He turned to his son. “Well, maybe it should then.”
Robert shook his head and stepped toward his father. “Dad, he offered, cocking his head, “we’ve been all through this. We decided…”
“Yes, yes, we decided,” James said, looking at a picture on the mantel. “We decided all right.”
That was a month ago. Robert was back in Portland now, and just three days remained until the moving truck would come, just one truck. James was to thin the load to one.
The garage was already half-filled with blue bags for recycling, black ones for the trash. Every hour or so, James trundled one or the other up the steps, the sole agent of production in this line: place a box up on the table, set the contents into piles, blue, black, and ‘other’….the things he just couldn’t let go….haul the filled bags out and re-box the rest and leave it in the basement.
This new box was the smallest one so far. It seemed very old, wound at the middle with masking tape, yellowed now and brittle. Though he did not recall filling it, it seemed familiar, like an old sweater that he hadn’t worn in years. He had seen it, like the others, when he’d searched for something, when they’d moved three times, and it came along with all the plates and spoons.
He pulled the tape away like peeling skin from sunburn until the top flaps gave a little. As he opened them, the brown enclosure surrendered a warm, dry breath. James closed his eyes and took in a scent he remembered in a moment. He smiled slowly.
There was his high school graduation picture; his first college semester grade report; the program from Marjorie’s senior prom; two ticket stubs from the Beatles concert at Public Hall in ’64; Marjorie’s National Honor Society stole; the picture he took of her sitting at her kitchen table when she was sixteen, her head resting on her hands, eyes closed, her long hair falling nearly to the table top, the picture of the moment he fell in love with her, the picture he saw every time he looked at her for the nearly fifty years that followed, the picture he saw the day she…
James took a deep breath as the last item in the box came into view, as if he saw an old boyhood friend come to the door. It was his gray plastic Arvin transistor radio with the brown pebble-grain case and strap. He closed his eyes, smiled, and slowly shook his head.
His parents had given him the radio on his birthday in 1964, and for the three years that followed it had been his almost constant companion. The snap-in earpiece was there too, and he remembered placing it under his pillow late at night to listen to baseball games from the west coast, back in the early years of the Indians against the Angels.
On summer nights he would sit on the back porch glider or out on the front steps and listen to the top twenty countdown. It was on one such July night in ’64 that he first saw Marjorie. She was walking past the house on her way to the corner a block down. Mary Wells’ “My Guy” was number sixteen that week, and she smiled as she heard it going by, offering a modest, short-armed wave. James didn’t know quite what to do. By the time he thought to call out “hello,” she had already passed.
He stayed there through the countdown, all the way to “I Get Around” at number one, but she did not return.
James pressed the back of his left hand to his mouth and shook his head, remembering.
Every night that next week he had sat out on the steps with his Arvin transistor radio. Finally, on Thursday, she walked by again, just as Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” came on. That night, he waved. She stopped. They talked.
And the rest of the summer of 1964, it was the two of them and the Arvin radio with the brown pebble-grain case and strap. They and Ron ‘Tulu-baby’ Britain and Johnny Holliday on WHK; Jerry Gee and Jay ‘Jaybird’ Lawrence on KYW. All of them together and alone in the sun and shade of the summer of 1964.
The last time James saw the radio was about thirty years ago when Robert was ten. He found the Arvin in a drawer and asked his father if he could use it. James off-handedly agreed, not knowing that it was headed for the neighbor’s tree house where it would fall ten feet to the patio below.
Robert gasped as he watched it tumble. He grabbed it up, spun the on-off-volume and tuning dials to no avail, and quietly slipped it back into the drawer when he came home.
James was none the wiser until about six weeks later when he went to use it while he washed the car. Assuming that the battery had drained-—the dial was set to ‘on’—he spun it to ‘off’ and put the Arvin back, choosing instead to use the kitchen radio in a side window.
The old gray transistor remained in that desk drawer for years, being slowly buried beneath papers, receipts, the openings and closings of every day.
When they sold that first house, Marjorie put the Arvin in the small box with the other mementos, and so its exile began. It came with them unopened through another move, to the big house, and stood quietly like yesterday lined along the cinderblock in its corner of the basement.
James lifted the radio from the box like a priest raises a chalice at Mass. It filled his palm with a familiar touch. He held it to his nose. There, within the musty scent of time and resignation, was the subtle breath of leather that brushed away the years and took him in an instant to his parents’ kitchen table. He closed his eyes. It seemed like May again.
The radio’s dials extended beyond the case at the top right corner. He pressed his thumb against the on-off-volume dial and rolled it upward.
There was a snap and then the quiet sound of static. James’ head jerked back. He rolled the dial upward, and the volume of the static grew.
He moved his thumb to the larger, tuning dial. He rolled it down from 1600. A babble of voice and music sprung from the gray plastic device.
James looked left then right, as if he were once again sliding a cigarette from his father’s pack left on the living room table. He slowed the roll past 1500 on the dial. Nearing 1400, a clear, familiar voice grabbed him.
“It’s Thursday afternoon’s platter patrol!”
James’ mouth hung open.
“and this is Johnny Holliday, your doctor of discography.”
James could not blink.
“So, let’s click the turnstiles on our wax files and see who’s movin up the charts.”
James shook his head as if to clear it.
“How about the cool cat Kinks. I sure agree with them cuz your really got me!”
The two-chord intro burst from the radio. “Girl, you really got me goin…….”
James shook his head as he looked up to the basement’s dusty ceiling, barely aware that he had begun to bob in time to the driving beat. His hand began to tap rhythm on the table. A broad smile spread across his face.
“You really got me,” he began to sing along, quietly at first, looking left and right again, but soon louder. “You really got me! You really got me!”
By the time the Kinks reached the interlude, he was standing at the table almost dancing.
As the last four chords were struck, he was playing an imaginary Fender guitar held before him, his gray hair sliding forward toward his brow.
“Who else but the Kinks,” Johnny Holliday’s voice rang out. “I’m sure they’ll be coming to town soon. But not as soon as these guys, the Fab Four on their way here in September courtesy of your WHK Good uys! Right here on the 15th! And here they are right now with the tip of the top of the pop tune chart, “She Loves You”.”
James was singing from the start, still standing at the table, his “yeah, yeah, yeah” loud enough to stir the cobwebs above him.
The sun filled the window and cut into the basement, falling on his face, the table, and the radio. He picked up the Arvin by its strap and walked up the stairs and out to the front porch where he plopped into the one Adirondack rocker that he (and Robert) had determined he could take to the condo. The Beatles’ final harmonic “yeah” was ringing out as he sat down, exhilarated by the sun, the fresh young air, new grass on the lawns, the breeze across his face.
“And now,” Holliday’s voice came from the radio, “the lovely, wonderful, funderful Dusty Springfield and “Whishin and Hopin”.”
James sat back, closed his eyes, and let the music and the sunlight wash over him. He could picture Dusty Springfield’s pretty blonde face, the black mascara, the mini-skirt. He rocked in time through to the end of the song.
“That was the lovely and lively Dusty Springfield doin what a lot of you on platter patrol are doin, wishin and hopin you can win cash-in-a-flash here on WHK. Keep listening for your next chance, at the top of the hour right after this summer’s new monster hit from mister Roy Orbison, “Pretty Woman”.”
Just as the guitar riff introduced the song, the figure of a girl emerged on the sidewalk to the left. She wore cut-off jeans and a light blue top, her long brown hair falling below her shoulders. Against the new green lawns and trees, she seemed captured, carried by the sun.
James sat forward, squinting toward the figure.
“I don’t believe you; you’re not the truth. No one could look as good as you.”
He shook his head slowly.
“Pretty woman, won’t you pardon me. Pretty woman, I couldn’t help but see.”
James didn’t have his glasses, and the girl was still far enough away that he…
“Pretty woman, stop a while; pretty woman, stay a while…”
The figure drew closer. James stood up. He could now see her face.
“Pretty woman share your smile with me.”
She was just now in front of the house, and the sun shone in her hair.
James took a step off the porch.
The girl looked at him and offered a short-armed wave, still walking.
By the time he reached the lamppost where the front walk met the sidewalk, she was one house away, moving toward the sun.
“Pretty woman, don’t walk on by. Pretty woman, don’t make me cry.”
James stood watching as she passed.
“Pretty woman, don’t walk away, hey…”
He turned back toward the house.
“O.K…if that’s the way it must be, okay...”
He squinted into the sun; her profile now ablaze in light.
“I’ll guess I’ll go on home, it’s late…”
He took a step back toward the porch.
“Maybe tomorrow night, but wait…what do I see...”
They found James on the porch that afternoon. The neighbor saw him sitting in the rocker, waved, and yelled over. When he didn’t respond, she became worried and called.
“Oh, maybe a couple hours,” one medic said to the other. “Before noon, I’d guess. The other nodded as they placed him on the gurney and covered him.
“What’s this?” the first asked as they gathered up their things. He held up the old gray plastic Arvin radio with the pebble-grain case and strap.
“Wow,” the other said. “That’s an old transistor radio from back in the day.”
The first medic flicked the on-off dial, rolled the volume up, and spun the tuner.
The transistor radio did not make a sound.
John P. Kristofco, from Highland Heights, Ohio, is professor of English and the former
dean of Wayne College in Orrville. His poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared
in over a hundred different publications, including: Folio, Rattle, The Bryant Literary Review, The Cimarron Review, Poem, Grasslimb, Iodine, Small Pond, The Aurorean, Ibbetson Street, Blue Unicorn, Blueline, Sheepshead Review, and Slant. He has published three collections of poetry, A Box of Stones, Apparitions, and The Fire in Our Eyes and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times. His work appears frequently in Offcourse.