Tag Archives: Brendyn Schneider

The Movies 2.0

Charlotte and Randall joined the end of the ticket holder’s line a little way down Holden Street.  It wrapped around the corner to the Royal Caulfield box office window – the one Randall no longer had to stand on tiptoe to see inside.

“Think we’ll get in, Mom?”

“Sure,” Charlotte lit a cigarette.  “We better.  Otherwise, all that ‘Now MORE Seating!’ stuff on the theater’s site is just a bunch of hooey.”

“Hooey?”

“Yeah, junk, crap.”

“Like empty promises from The Man?”

She laughed.  “Where’d you learn that?”

“Dad.  When he came home tonight, I asked him how was work and he said it was another day of empty promises from The Man.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s the same thing.”

The line moved a few feet and an elderly couple filed in behind them.

“Do you think that Conan will be just as good as The Karate Kid, Mom?”

“Maybe.  They say it’s the best movie in years.”

“Jackie Chan was awesome as Miyagi.  Did you hear that the guy who played Captain Kirk in the Star Trek movies was almost gonna be Green Lantern?”

“Did you hear that Orlando Bloom is going to be in Saturday Night Fever?”

Randall made a face.  “Saturday Night Fever?  Ullgh.  That’s a mom movie.”

“What’s wrong with mom movies?”

“They’re not real movies like The Wolfman or GI Joe or Fright Night..  Yeah!  That’s a movie I can’t wait to see.”

“You’re going to be waiting a long time for that one, pal,” she replied.

“Jake from school is gonna see it.  His parents are lettin’ him.”

“Then they’re chumps.”

They rounded the corner.  The light from the marquee shined red, green and white in the windows across the street.

“Hey Mom?  What’s a ‘remake’?”

Charlotte put her cigarette out, keeping her cool.  “Just another name for a movie.”

“See, that’s what I said but Jake said that there was a Conan when you and Dad and Jake’s parents were our age so it made this one a remake.”

Charlotte looked around.  Had the woman in front of them been listening?  What about the couple behind?

“Again with this Jake,” Charlotte smiled.  “Hey, do you think we’ll see the trailer for the new Transformers movie?”

“I already saw it online.  Mom, was there really another Conan?  One with different actors and stuff and not like the Star Wars show that Dad keeps saying they’re making but like, y’know, a completely different movie with a whole different strong guy?”

Randall’s questions had been a lot easier to field when he was younger.  There was the time he asked where the name “Royal Caulfield” had come from.  Easy.  Queen Elizabeth II was once quoted as saying that she loved its “charming atmosphere.”  It had been “Royal” ever since.  And “Caulfield”?  Even easier.  No one knew.  There was no record.  It was probably the name of some old 20th Century owner.

Randall’s 10th birthday had been somewhat of a light switch.  The questions now called for more pointed truths and, as all parents know, the balance between truth and embarrassment is extremely delicate.

“Honey, how can there be another Conan if we’re all in line to see it right now?  If that were the case, wouldn’t we have all stayed home and watched it on TV?”

Randall traced the bricks of the adjacent building. “Yeah, I guess so.”

They were only a few yards from the box office window. Charlotte tried to relax.  Soon they’d be inside.  The snack bar alone would do the trick.

“Mom?”

“Jeez, Randall!  What are you writing a book tonight?  So many questions!”

“What’s an original?”

And there it was.  She knew he’d ask one day but never expected it to come so soon.  It hadn’t been “Mom, what’s sex?” or “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but…the other question.

The woman in front of them had heard too.  Her head was cocked. Charlotte knew she was listening.  Who else had been?  Of all the places for the boy to ask, did it have to be in the middle of town, with so many people around?

Charlotte knelt before her son.  “Now, listen to me, Randall.  That isn’t a nice word.”

“But Jake said–”

“Enough about Jake!” she cried, losing her temper for the briefest of moments.

He was a boy, just a boy.  The people in line knew that.  But now would have to be the time.  She looked around again and placed her hands on his shoulders.

“I’m sorry for yelling, Ran.  It’s just that…okay, you know how there are bad words that your dad and I don’t want you to say?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, we don’t like those words because they each stand for something bad – disrespectful things, things the world frowns upon.”

Randall furrowed his brow.  “Like the bad guys in jail?”

“No, not evil, more like…picking your nose or burping at the dinner table or–”

“Or spitting in front of Grandma?”

“Right!”Charlotte beamed.  “Like spitting in front of Grandma.”

The line moved, revealing the ticket window at last.  The woman in front of them looked back with a grin and Charlotte wiped imaginary sweat from her brow.

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

“It’s all right, Ran.  You didn’t know.  Think of yourself as a little older now with brand new lesson.”

Randall smiled.  He was older!  Just like that!  Had anyone noticed?  He turned and looked at the couple behind him.  The old woman met his eyes, shook her head and winked.  Randall stared for a moment before his mother grabbed his hand.

Into the lobby, up to the snack bar, through the film and for years beyond, Randall thought of the conversation outside the theater.  All that his mother had said made sense.

Then he’d think about the wink.

***
© 2009-2017, Brendyn Schneider, Use or reprint not authorized without permission from the author.

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© 2008-2017 Brendyn Schneider, Use or reprint not authorized without permission from the author.

Flowers

It was ten after two in the morning and I was on the roof of my building.  Off to the left, Boston’s skyline stood six inches tall. Below, Summit Avenue wound into a crop of maples and the night sky above threw the light of a full moon down onto Allston, Massachusetts.  It was usually a good spot but on this night, it did nothing for my terrible mood.  There was a parka wrapped around my brain which had suffocated all thoughts of sleep.  The fabric of this coat was a tough and relentless question: “Why don’t I have a girlfriend?” 

I was a nice enough guy, college-educated, employed, writing a book – stuff a girl would be interested in, right?  Nah.  Not really.  By that point, I had heard it all: 

“We’re just friends” (which, incidentally, I can’t believe is still in circulation),

“Ohh, I can’t think of you that way,”

“I wouldn’t want to ruin the friendship,” 

“I did at first but things are different now,”  

“But I live in another country” (that’s a long story, itself). 

See, that’s just it.  Single life can be a long story that refuses to be shelved.  Mine was a tome.  I had carried it up to the roof and was reading sections of it to the powers that be again.  At one point, I looked up from the pages and said,

“Look.  You don’t have to give me a name.  Just tell me when.  I don’t need a date.  Make it as mysterious or as symbolic as you want just, please, give me something that I can think about, something to mull over besides the tome.”

All at once, a phrase came to my mind.  It was simple:  “When the flowers come up.”

I repeated it out loud.  “When the flowers come up.’  Okay, not bad. The flowers come up in about two months.  That’s not too far away.”

I found satisfaction in the response, whether it was from the sky or not, and the parka dissolved with a yawn.  I went down to bed, tying promise to the coming spring.

The year was 2000.  I was twenty-three years old.

Well, that spring came and went, along with the summer and fall.  A year later, I sat in the same spot with the same question.  Not much had changed.  The coat around my brain was just as tough and the tome, just a little longer. 

Down in my apartment, my roommate Jay and his girlfriend Lauren were in the happy haze of a late Friday night.  Refusing to let go of my bad mood, I passed them with a grumble, seeking peace in a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.  Lauren got up and followed me into the kitchen. 

“So, Brendyn,” she said with large sympathetic eyes. 

Through the sympathy, I spotted an agenda.  Girls love playing this role.  It was the ol’ “Brendyn’s lonely so I’m gonna fix it” plan.  Only, I wasn’t going to bite.  No, I was wallowing in my own self-pity and it was my choice, dammit.

“No, Lauren.”

“You don’t even know what I’m about to say.”

“You’re not going to hook me up with one of your friends.”

Why not?!

With her outburst, I noticed that not only had all methods of subtlety been thrown out the window but the guy across the alley had looked over.

“Because,” I filled the bowl, intentionally letting some of the Puffs overflow onto the counter, “I hate hookups.  They don’t work with me.  Girls love playing the hero when someone wants a girlfriend.  Forget it.  I do that kinda shit by myself.”

“But you and Susan have soo much in common.”

I shoved the spoon into the cereal, causing more of a mess.  “Lauren, what’s my favorite movie?”

She shrugged.

“What kind of music do I like?”

“I dunno.”

“What do I look for in a girl?”

“I dunno.”

“Okay.  What turns me off from a girl?”

She snatched a Puff from the counter and ate it.

“If you don’t know any of these things, how can she be perfect for me?”

Because,” she replied, “you guys are both really nice, you’re both smart and…you would just like her.  That’s all.”

Jay walked into the kitchen and glanced out the window.  The neighbor finally looked away. 

“The important question here is,” Jay said, “does this girl put out?”

Lauren wrinkled her nose.  “That’s disgusting.”

“Come on,” he volleyed.  “You gotta make sure it’s worthwhile for the guy.”

“Look,” I said with a mouthful of cereal.  “I appreciate the support from both of you.  But really, no thanks.  Situations like that put too much pressure on the people getting hooked-up.  The whole room watches and every move they make is psychoanalyzed.  It’s like watching a friggin’ football game with John Madden.  Thanks Lauren, but no.”

“But she’s really cool.”

During the third bowl of cereal:

“Please?”

“No.”

“Please?”

“No.”

Please?

“No.”

“C’mon.  Puhh-leeeeze?”

“Christ!”

Now, maybe it was the overdose of Cocoa or Lauren’s calculated brainwashing but eventually I caved.  Hell, I had been trying for years on my own with nothing but rooftop sessions with the powers that be to show for it.  It was time to try a new method.

“Alright Lauren.  I’ll do it.  I’ll meet your friend.”

“Yay!!!” she yelled, bouncing onto Jay’s bed.

Two weeks later, Lauren, Susan, her friend Jen, Jay, our roommate Alberto, and I were sitting in my living room.  Lauren’s agenda had Susan and myself as its key targets.  So, as predicted, any conversation in which we played the principle roles had the whole room rapt with attention.  When I asked Susan where she was from, the other conversations in the room ground to a halt.  Lauren’s grin trained two massive klieg lights on us. 

Yesss!” her smile cheered.  “The plan is working!” 

Susan and her family left Ireland when she was nine years old.  Although thirteen years had passed, much of her Irish accent remained.  That was refreshing with all of the New England accents that still sounded foreign to my Long Island ears. At that point, though, I was more taken by Susan’s face.  She was very pretty with the kind of eyes that shine when their owner makes a valid point.  Unfortunately, there weren’t many that night.  She was too quiet for me to judge what she was really like. Jen helmed most of the conversations.  This was fine by me.  The fact that I had more laughs with Susan’s friend illustrated my point that hook-ups just didn’t work.  I was immune and would have to find someone on my own. 

They went back to Holy Cross College the following morning and I went to work.  Little did I know that a buzz was bouncing around the Internet like a giant rubber ball.

That night, Jay came into my room.  “I got an e-mail from Lauren today.  A few, actually.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.  She got an e-mail from Susan.  Lauren thinks she likes you.”

“Jay, we spoke maybe four times last night.  How can she be interested?”

“So she’s shy,” he sat on my futon.  “Dag, this thing is really uncomfortable. 

“Give her a chance.  She’s pretty bright.  Maybe,” he gave the futon a sour look and got up, “maybe what you need is a more intimate setting.  You never know.”

So, I e-mailed Susan and the following night had us on the phone for nearly an hour.  Finally!  This was the type of conversation I had been looking for. 

There’s a groove that two people can fall into when they’re having a conversation.  It’s a pace, almost like two improv actors playing off of each other in perfect unison and confidence.  We had that but it wasn’t all laughs.  We talked about growing up, why it’s easier to find peace of mind at night, college, and how it’s different from the “real world.”  She was more than just a great accent with attractive eyes.  I was getting interested.  We decided to meet the following Friday night – ten thousand years away. 

 I awoke the morning of the date thinking that it wouldn’t feel right to meet her empty-handed.  I wanted to bring something.  But what?  Chocolate?  No.  Perfume?  No, too French.  How about flowers?  Okay, but no roses.  That would be excessive.  Never the horticulturist, I absolutely blanked on what type of flowers to bring.  Then, “lily” popped into my head. 

“Lilies,” I thought.  “I don’t even know what lilies look like.”

Eventually, I put it aside and went to work, figuring that something would come to me. 

In those days, I was working at the John Hancock Observatory as an Observation Deck Representative.  Basically, I ripped tickets and answered tourist’s questions about the city.  At seven hundred and ninety feet above Boston, it was the perfect place for reflecting.  If my mind was stuck on something, the giant blue sky could always melt away the barriers and get the flow moving again.  Unfortunately, the “flower-dam” was constructed by some pretty hard-assed beavers.  I needed help.  Sometimes, the right answers come from total strangers so I brought it up in a conversation with an English woman who was in the city for “a pleasant holiday.”

“…So, it’s just gorgeous.  We come every year around this time.”

“Yeah, it’s a great city. 

“Can I ask you something?  It’s a bit random.”

“Yes.  Sure you can.”

“Okay.  I’m taking this girl out on a first date tonight and I want to bring flowers but I don’t think roses are a good idea.”

“Oh, heavens no.  That would be too overpowering.”

“Right.  That’s what I was thinking but for the life of me, I can’t think of another type of flower.”

The woman looked out the window.  “Well, lilies are nice this time of year.”

“Yeah,” I stared at her for a second.  “They crossed my mind this morning.”

I ate lunch on one of the park benches across the street.  At one point, a white truck drove by.  “LILY” was written on its side in giant red letters.  I chuckled.  Moments later, another truck with the same “LILY” made me look to the sky and say, “Alright, alright.  Lilies.  I get it.  I’ll buy her lilies.”

I stepped into Gay’s Flower Shop around five o’clock that evening.  Standing before the zinnias, I decided to lend one more opinion to the search.

“Gay, I’m going on a first date tonight.”

“Really?” She put her scissors down. “That’s wonderful.”

“Thanks.  I’m thinking I want to bring her flowers but decided against roses.”

“Oh, too overpowering.”

Riiight.  Any suggestions?”

“Well, spring is coming up.  How ‘bout lilies?”

I smiled.  “Are you all reading from the same script today?”

She laughed.  “What do you mean?”

“A woman at work suggested the same thing.”

“Well, they are beautiful,” Gay walked over to a bunch of slightly wilted flowers.  “These are lilies right here.”

I glanced toward the healthy purple and yellow blooms to the right.  “Hey, what are these?”

“Irises.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  How could I disregard obvious cosmic advice and go with irises?  Simple.  The lilies there at Gay’s looked like they were about to ask me for spare change.  I couldn’t bring them on a first date and I couldn’t just wish Gay a good night and start looking for another flower shop.  So… 

“Wrap up the irises.”

The lively conversation from earlier in the week continued during my dinner with Susan.  We ricocheted from our families to ghosts to past relationships to Monty Python to authors to Braveheart.  Traveling through each other’s personalities, we were becoming a “we” as the irises sat proudly at her side whispering, “Nice job, kid.”

After dinner, we went back to my apartment.  Sitting there on my now-comfortable futon made me think of the last time I wanted to kiss someone as badly as I wanted to kiss Susan.  That previous excursion was so nerve-wracking, with sweaty palms totally betraying a relaxed façade.  Though, with Susan, I wasn’t nervous.  As I leaned in, she smiled.  It wasn’t a hook-up.  It was just right.

Soon after, I said, “This is strange.”

“What?”

“Well,” I looked at my watch.  “It’s after midnight.  So, it’s tomorrow.  Tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day and I’m kissing a girl from Ireland.”

Susan grinned.  “Strange things happen to you, don’t they?”

“Yeah sometimes, like the lilies today.”

She sat up.  “What lilies?”

“Well, I got you irises.  I almost got you lilies.”

She laughed.  “That’s really funny.  Lilies are my favorite flower.  Did you know that, in Hebrew, ‘Susan’ or ‘Susannah’ is derived from ‘Lily’?”

My eyes widened.  “Wow.  Really?”

She nodded.

“So, like an idiot, I got you irises.”

She waved her hand.  “How could you have known?”

Thinking of the days events, how “lily” had been in my head that morning, the flower that the English woman in the observatory had suggested, what was written on the two trucks that afternoon and the kind of flower that Gay had shown me, I looked into the room and said, “Yeah…you’re right. How could I have known?”

I began to tell her a story about a boy who used to sit on his roof and complain to God about how lonely he was.  As I reached the end of the story, a simple phrase came to mind.  I smiled. 

In conversation, right there in my room, the flowers had come up.

***
© 2005-2017 Brendyn Schneider, Use or reprint not authorized without permission from the author. Flowers was published in the winter 2005 issue of Beginnings Magazine

Airwave Theatre

The evening began like any other.  Just after five o’clock, the corporate ranks flooded the sidewalks of Grant.  Streetlamps lit the way as they boarded their buses, their taxis, their trains.  Clockwork.  Routine.  Normalcy.

Even the birds in July Park had a schedule to keep.  Every evening, they’d flock to the park’s eastern corner and crowd around a solitary figure hunched inside a tattered trench coat.  They had grown accustomed to the dried pieces of rye and wheat that were mixed in with clumps of sourdough bagels.  Long ago, the birds had all agreed that this mixture was the perfect defense against the bitter edge of winter’s night.

Now, as the ranks filed by, another slice of routine was tossed out among the pigeons and sparrows.  Conversations about “that little old man in the dirty raincoat,” as he came to be known, took place every night and always carried the same sympathetic tone.  As two businesswomen walked by, their loyalty to this standard was as sure as the white sneakers beneath their black and gray power suits.

“Lisa, look.  There’s that little old man in the dirty raincoat.”

“Aww.  Feeding the squirrel.  So cute, Franny.”

“Yes,” Fran replied.  “You know, my heart goes out to people like that.  It really does.  He’s there every night by himself.”

“God, he looks so alone.  Probably no wife, no children.”

“Can you imagine being single clear into your seventies?  What a shame.”

Well, not exactly.  Sometimes he was in his nineties.  Last winter, “old, dirty raincoat man” was 200, according to a student at the grammar school around the corner. Gray Holliston was seventy-three years old and, in a manner of speaking, he was married.  Like most citizens of Grant, he was married to his daily routine. 

Unlike everyone else, however, the biggest proponent of Gray’s routine was his nightly addiction to radio shows. It began innocently enough as the seven-year old lay transfixed by the hum and glow of the giant Atwater Kent.  He and his brother warmed their feet against the trusty coiled radiator as Captain Midnight and Nick Carter, Master Detective, dashed across the living room walls. 

As the years went on, Gray became a bit of a sleuth himself, seeking the shows out as they became more scarce across the radio dial.  In fact, as he frequently grumbled to the birds of Grant, “only WNUC, the college station, has enough sense to still run ‘em.  All the rest are cowards.” 

At quarter past seven, Gray’s routine had him heading toward the gates of July Park.  At twenty after, he would buy a bottle of milk and a single can of soup at Sam’s Deli.  On this night, it was beef and barley.  He always bought the one can, no more.  Now, why not stock up once a week, once a month?  Why make the daily trip?  Well, only Gray knew for sure but maybe, way in the back of his radio mind, he hoped for a sudden invitation to dinner.  Then again, if you had seen just how fast the old boy scuttled down the sidewalk, you’d swear his pants were on fire.  From the outside, it certainly seemed that his radio show routine had precedence over anything else.

By seven-thirty, Gray was in his dusty apartment, near the western edge of July Park.  If he timed it right (and you know he did), Gray would be in his Morris chair by ten to the hour, eagerly slurping his soup of choice as a growing desire for the evening’s programming lapped against the walls of the living room.

Each night, WNUC played host to the long running Airwave Theatre from eight to midnight – four hours of suspense, science fiction, comedy or horror.  This depended upon the night of the week.  There was a small square of yellowed paper taped securely to the side of Gray’s radio.  In heavy pencil, the days of the week were listed along the top and four consecutive hours beginning with EIGHT, ran down the left hand side.  At five to the hour, Gray consulted the timetable for that particular evening’s choice of programming.  This was in spite of the duplicate schedule taped to the side of his brain. 

In the old days, Airwave Theatre held its own, alongside the giants of AM radio like W.C. Fields and George Burns.  It won a Marconi Award for Broadcast Excellence back in ’43 but lately, its significance has escaped WNUC’s Program Director.  You can find the award in the display case outside his office but only the film of dust over its face knows what the inscription reads for sure.  Truth be known, the college was considering a halt on hosting Airwave, altogether.  After all, it wasn’t “the old days” anymore.  According to listener surveys, no one had any interest.  Even if they had, it would have been incomparable to Gray’s insatiable thirst. 

At three minutes to the hour, Gray would finish off his soup and turn on the radio. On this night, an announcer’s voice, one that could scratch water, shot into the room and knocked Gray’s spoon from his hand.

“Wall has got it now!  He passes to Shadwell.  Shadwell’s mid-court and passes to Couture.  Couture drives the lane…with a lay-up…and it’s good!  Ahhh, My God!  What a Gaaame!”

“What a racket.” 

“The score is even once more as we go into double overtime!” he wailed.  “I wish you can see it, folks!”

“I see it fine, Fire Truck,” Gray grumbled.  “I can see that my shows are gonna be late because of your lousy basketball team and your dog whistle yakety-yak.”

He looked at the framed picture of Dwight Eisenhower, hanging above his long since retired fireplace.  “The only thing that team has won in twenty years is my sympathy.”

“Ahh folks, what a game.  Action packed! A time-out has been called.  Hey! Hank’s Fish Market has the largest seafood selection with the lowest prices in town.”

“Tastes like hell.”

“That’s right,” the announcer continued.  “Hank’s…Fish is it!  We’d also like to remind you that Airwave Theatre will not be aired tonight so we can continue broadcasting this game and sure-to-be-exciting post game show!  Now back to the action!”

Gray froze.  He stared dumbly at the General Electric Logo in the center of the radio. Cancelled?  Actually cancelled??  His muscles tensed, his jaw tightened and the air pressure in the room dropped a few notches. 

“Sure to be exciting?  Back to the action?!”

He slammed a pallid fist down onto his spoon, catapulting it and several bits of beef across the room.

Picking up the radio, Gray shouted into the speaker. “You little shit!  Airwave broadcasts every night!  There’s no change! No basketball!  STOP THE GAME!!

But it was true.  For the first time in its 60-year run, Airwave Theatre had been pre-empted. He slammed the radio back down onto the end table and the basketball game was gone.  A low murmur of static began trickling from the speaker.

“Oh no,” Gray whimpered.  “Now, what am I going to do?”

After a moment, his wizened face hardened.  He stomped over to the other side of the room and picked up the spoon, leaving the small pieces of meat on the wall out of spite.  Grabbing the bowl from the table, Gray looked up at the picture of Eisenhower. 

“They stole my shows, Dwight.  They stole my shows then broke the God damn radio.”

He stormed into the kitchen and threw his spoon and bowl into the sink.

Back in the living room, the former president stared at the radio.  Over the years, he had seen the exterminator come and go along with electricians, plumbers and Gray’s fair-weather friends.  An indifferent smile had always stretched across his face.  Those visitors would return or others like them.  No cause for alarm.  No reason to think the next day would be any different from the last. However, as the low murmur from the radio grew louder, Eisenhower suddenly had reason to raise his eyebrows – if they hadn’t been made of acrylic.  The static became rhythmic chunks of sound and the chunks formed pieces of conversation, spoken between two women.

“Oh…it’s grand, Agnes.  It matches perfectly,” said one.

“You’d never guess that you lost the original and this is a replacement!” replied the other.

“Good job, ol’ girl!  Good job!”

Gray stumbled into the living room and looked around, frantically.  “What’s that?  Who’s in here?”

No one.  The room was empty.  No one near his chair.  No one near the front door.  Gray nodded at Eisenhower.  Eisenhower smiled back.

“The transistor!” Gray clasped his hands together.  “It’s working again!”

The speaker sent the beep and bing of a cash register into the room and Gray sat down with giddy legs.

Airwave Theatre back on the air!” he pumped two scrawny fists in the air.  “They came to their senses and killed Fire Truck!” 

“Helen, have a good night,” said the second, “Be careful out there now, okay?”

“A shopkeeper,” Gray said to Eisenhower.  “Standard banter for a general store or pharmacy.”

“I’ll be fine,” voice #1 a.k.a. “Helen” replied.  “It takes a lot to get over on this ol’ battle axe!”

Gray chuckled.  “‘Battle axe.’  I like that.  Let’s see,” he looked at the ceiling. “Fifties…no, sixties.  Yes, early sixties.  Maybe a little overweight but she takes care of herself…Helen. Helen takes care of herself.”

He heard the jingle of bells.  Then, a door opened and closed.  Wind whistled as shoes clip-clicked down a cobblestone sidewalk. 

City sounds filled Gray’s living room.  A city bus drove into the kitchen and crowds of people walked past his Morris chair.  Once more, a seven-year old watched phantom scenes play out across the opposite wall.  The sound of a brass band grew steadily louder and a single bell tolled.

“Every penny counts this holiday season!  Every penny counts!”

“Good evening, young man,” Helen said.

“Hello.”

Coins clinked into a stiff metal cup and cold air shot across Gray’s chest.

“Thank you, ma’am.  Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you too, son,” Helen said sweetly.

The sound of the band faded and soon only the clip-click of Helen’s shoes remained.

“Outstanding effects!” Gray cheered.  “Boy, that Salvation Army band must have been taped with a high quality mic.  I know the difference between a cheapo and the good stuff, Dwight.  Not since…oh, that Superman serial in ‘43 have I heard such high standards!”

The clip-click of Helen’s shoes went on for another minute.  Occasionally, the sound of a passing car broke the monotony.  Other times, she’d start humming a song then stop.  Her halt was always in the same spot followed by a slightly agitated “hmm.” 

“Okay, I get it,” Gray moaned.  “She’s walking and humming.  Pretty voice but let’s get on with it.  This is starting to get boring.  By the way, Helen, the rest is ‘da da dada da da d-dah dahhh.’  ‘The Entertainer,’ Scott Joplin, 1902.  Great old song.”

Just then, her footsteps stopped.  There was a shuffle as Gray imagined Helen turning around.  Had there been a second set of footsteps?  Gray leaned in.  Her humming and the familiar clip-click began once more.  She stopped again. There was another set of footsteps – not a clip-click, more of a shump-shump.  Helen increased her clip-clicks and the shump-shumps kept pace. Gray leaned still further toward the speaker. Someone was following Helen and since the sounds of the city, so lively and bunched together earlier, were now scattered and low, Gray deduced that she was in an unpopulated area, an unpleasant place…even for an ‘ol’ battle axe.’

“Very unpleasant,” Gray said.  “An alley, probably.  All we’re missing here is the alley cat.”

Just then a cat shrieked and something dropped.

“There we go,” Gray nodded.  “Who’s after you, Helen?”

There was a gasp and a quick flurry of clip-clicks followed closely by the ominous ‘shump-shumps.’  A tear of cloth and a sharp scream made Gray jump.

“Don’t move, lady,” came snarling through the speaker.  “I ain’t gonna hurt ya.”

An image of cold stubble brushed against Gray’s mind.

“Thas’ a knife against y’throat.  Unless y’want it in y’throat, y’gonna gimme y’purse and whatever y’just got from the jewelry store.  Yeah, I know where y’been…I know.”

“Just let me go,” Helen whimpered.

Don’t turn around.  I want us to get along, here.  No troubles.  Now hand it over, baby.  C’mon.”

“Okay.”

A moment later, Gray heard a dull thump on cloth and the sound of metal hitting the ground.  There was a deep groan and Helen’s clip-clicks dashed into the room once more.

“That will teach you to try something like that on an old lady!” she yelled.  “How’d that feel, baby?”

“WOO HOO!!!” Gray cheered.  “Outstanding!  No narrator, no music, and I don’t even miss it!  This is action packed!  Run Helen!  Run!!”

And she did.  There was a scrape of metal against concrete then an irregular set of shump shumps increasing in succession.

“Bad move, lady!  Now, you know what I look like.  Y’give me no choice.”

“Uh oh,” Gray muttered.  “She’s in trouble.”

 

“Please!  Someone help me!” Helen screamed.  “I’m being chased and…”

Gray couldn’t hear the rest.  What sounded like a convoy of ambulances screamed by his building.

“That figures!  That damn game is probably going into triple overtime and Fire Truck called in the reserves!  Shut Up!  Shut Up!!” he yelled, waving his arms at the window.

The sirens soon faded and Gray could hear a shallow panting from the speaker.  There was an occasional crunch.  Helen’s breathing picked up.  Gray imagined her hiding somewhere, brave but scared. 

 

 Just then, the sound of ambulances crackled in the speaker.

“That’s funny,” he pointed.  “Those sirens were just…”

The blood ran from Gray’s face.  At that moment, his mind raced at a velocity unexplored since his teens.  He quickly began stringing the evening’s events together.  Airwave Theatre had been cancelled.  Only static came from the radio.  The crisp brass band, the incredible sound effects, the lack of music and narration, and now the sirens – it all pointed toward a singular impossible truth.

“Oh God,” he said.  “This isn’t a radio show at all.”

“Jesus.  Somebody help me,” Helen whimpered.

“You can’t be far, lady,” came immediately after.

“She’s real,” Gray sat, transfixed by the radio, “and so is he.  I…I have to do something.  Think.  Okay, okay.  That sound earlier.  That crunch.  It sounded like…leaves?  Yes, leaves on the ground.  And then, the ambulances.  They’re close.  Maybe they’re in the park.  Maybe they’re right outside in July Park!”

He thought for a minute then looked up at the president.  “Oh, this is ridiculous!  None of this is real!

“I can’t make it to the other side,” Helen whispered to herself. “He’ll see me.”

“The other side,” Gray looked at the radio.  “The other side.  They are in the park!”

Gray stumbled to his feet and into his slippers.  He hurried over to the closet and swung open the door.  A box of Christmas decorations tumbled down.  He grabbed an old cardboard box on the top shelf and slammed it onto the floor.  A sloppy ball of extension cords, light bulbs and fuses rolled into the room.  After fishing out two ‘D’ batteries, he sprinted over to the radio and tore off its back cover.  Clumsily, he put the batteries inside, kicked the plug out from the wall and dashed out of his apartment.

“Talk to me, Helen,” Gray said, hitting the street.  “Where are you?”

His breath formed small puffs of white.  The cold, though, had little effect.  For the first time in his life, Gray wasn’t listening to a radio show.  He was the radio show.

“I can’t believe this,” Helen whispered from the speaker.  “I can’t run.  I can’t scream.  Ohh, he’s so close.  He’s going to find me. I know it.  Maybe if I run across the ice…”

“Ice,” Gray echoed.  “The lake!  She’s by the lake!”

He raced into the park, holding the radio with both hands.  Had it always been so heavy?  Gray couldn’t recall.  How long had it sat on that end table?

A scream shot from the speaker.

“No, please!” Gray pleaded frantically with the radio.  “Please be okay.”

He wildly scanned the lake and saw two figures running along the other side, under the glow of the full moon.  Gray started running too, attempting to match their speed.

“Give it up, lady!” the attacker screamed from the speaker, “You can’t outrun me!  You’re too old!”

Moments later, Gray heard pieces of the insult echo across the lake.  As frenzied as he was, he still marveled at the inconceivable “transmission” that he was now a part of. 

 

Helen and her attacker were nearing the eastern side of the lake.  Gray quickened his pace so that he reached it first.  He hid with his back up against a tree and waited.

Labored breathing came over the radio.  Was it Helen or the attacker?  They were very close.  The footsteps could now be heard from the speaker and from behind.   Gray’s timing would have to be perfect.  He lifted the radio to eye level.  His pulse throbbed.  Helen darted by and Gray stepped out from behind the tree, lunging the radio forward.  The impact of wood on bone broadcasted into Gray’s face before the radio split in two.  Helen looked back as the attacker fell sideways onto the frozen ground.  Blood trickled from his forehead just beside the splintered pieces of Gray’s radio.

“I guess you were too young to outrun me,” Gray said to the would-be killer.

He bent down and picked up the knife with his handkerchief, in classic Nick Carter fashion. 

 

 Helen walked over.  It was the first time Gray saw the real Helen.  She looked a lot like the “radio” version except for two subtle, beautiful differences.

A blue knit cap was cocked to one side and a tuft of blonde hair had fallen out during the chase.  There was something about that hat and tuft of hair. Gray couldn’t keep his eyes off them.  Now, maybe it was because he hadn’t imagined that part.  Or, maybe it was because reality was staring back at him.  She was flustered, random and unpredictable – the very antithesis of the scripted evenings that stretched far into his past.  It was fascinating.  For the first time in his life, humanity was more attractive than scenes spun by electric imagination.                            

 

 They stared at each other for a few moments, trying to understand the evening.

“Thank you,” she said, still breathless.

“You’re welcome, Helen,” Gray replied.

“How…how do you know my name?”

“You know, I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you.”

She looked down at her attacker, lying beside a shattered radio.  “Try me.”

“My name is Gray Holliston,” he said, extending his hand.

“Helen Briggs,” she grasped it, “but you already know that.  Oh, you’re freezing.”

“Why don’t we go somewhere where we can talk?”

Helen looked down and smiled.  “What about him?” 

 

 “My apartment is just over there,” Gray said, gesturing over his shoulder.  “We could call the police from inside if you’d like.”

“And your radio?” she asked, her eyes fixed on Gray’s.

“I, umm…I don’t think I’ll be needing it anymore.”

She smiled again and nodded.

Gray and Helen did call the police that night.  Gray claimed that he’d been walking through the park when he heard Helen scream so he rushed to her aid.  However, when he had caught up with them, he saw that she had already taken care of the situation with “her” radio.  For the record, it was to be a present for her sister.

“What a waste of a good Christmas gift,” the detective said, jotting down the report.

Gray had smiled as Helen mouthed the words “thank you.”

As time went on, the city of Grant didn’t change much.  Clockwork, routine, normalcy, it all still set the scene. 

 

 The eastern edge of July Park was no different.  Every evening, an elderly couple sat close to the lake, feeding the pigeons and sparrows dried pieces of rye and wheat mixed in with clumps of sourdough bagels.

One spring evening, two businesswomen walked by and noticed the couple sitting on a bench, surrounded by birds.

“There they are, Carol,” the first said, “Mr. and Mrs. Dirty Raincoat.”

“Look at all the birds!” the other replied.

“I hope that’s me when I get up there.”

“Oh, me too!  That’s a routine I would love to have.  Look at them.  They’ve probably been married for years.”

Well, not exactly.

 

***
© 2008-2017 Brendyn Schneider, Use or reprint not authorized without permission from the author. Airwave Theatre was published in the Winter 2008 issue of Tales of the Talisman.