Monday, April 13

Ex-Husband

SHE HAD THE most unpopular radio show within the limits of the city, but Wendy Pope did not care. In a quiet way, she was proud that her radio show was so unpopular and that her radio waves were choked by the air outside of London and perished mid-flight. The owners of many stations had turned her down because they knew she would be trouble, also she had no experience. Only a dying station took her on for the late night slot - ten till one - after she revealed to the boss that her husband had just left her and she needed the money.
'It's not much,' he said.
'That's okay,' she said.
It took her a while to get used to all the controls that stood before her like little black buildings with flashing lights and things she did not understand, but she was determined and needed the money. Her ex-husband was a traffic warden, so he was not making a great deal either, but he had always like yellow paper, so the job was, she supposed, ideal for him. She wished him well. It was difficult because she still loved him and he still loved her; some things are not meant to be understood or helped, they just are, and spectators will never be able to comprehend it. It is a madness only sane to the participants.
'Good evening, how are you tonight?'
'Evening, Wendy, this is Dan… from Tooting Bec. I'm doing all right, I guess.'
'Evenin', Dan. What can I play for you tonight?'
The phones rang constantly from ten till one. Although there were not very many listeners, those who tuned in were always driven to pick up the phone, dial, wait. While songs were playing, Wendy drank cups of tea - or, if she had not eaten before, soup - and gazed wistfully out into the street where her car was always double-parked, raised in yellow streetlights, shining in dew.
'Why that song, Dan?'
Listeners phoned in and requested songs that reminded them of ex-lovers, ex-friends; songs that had been unendowed before but were suddenly engraved into the tender subconscious through a twist of fate. One cannot help such events and will seldom realise it at the time what is happening. Some time later they will hear the song in a supermarket, down the dairy aisle, and be transported - against their will, mind - back to that precise moment and so vividly does it all come flooding back!
'In my youth, I went to this party and was sharing a tent with a girl who was my best friend, a confidante, a beauty, and she was having a hard time with her fella and she was crying at it all, you know, and she starts getting undressed in front of me, and… I dunno… it was all so strange, so surreal. She was so exposed, in every sense. I just watched her getting undressed in the tent and talking to me and crying and that, and that song was playing and now every time I hear it, I think of that moment… I dunno. It's strange, especially given the message of the song, but that's how these things are, I suppose…'
'Indeed…'
'I wonder what she's up to now. We lost touch, of course, as you do, when everyone goes off to uni and that, but, yeah… that song, please.'
The song started playing. She was a whizz with the controls now.
Wendy stood up with her mug of hot tea and looked out of the window at the deadly blue of the night and the golden coins strewn across it, beaming out from their beds, and her car down in the road.
'That song always reminds me of my ex-girlfriend because we were having this blazing row one time and, you know how it is, you don't like to know you're having a row, you try and distract yourself by doing the dishes or tidying up the remote controls or something… so anyway, yeah, I picked up my guitar while we were having this row and started playing that song and the argument escalated until she stormed out. When she returned to the flat later that night, she told me, as an aside, that that was one of her favourite songs. Well, we're no longer together but I listen to that song a lot - it's on one of my favourite albums - and it always reminds me of that evening. It's such a peaceful, nostalgic song itself, it soothes me to play it on guitar. I'd love to hear it on your show.'
'I'm sure I can do that.'
'Thanks a lot. I really love listening to you every night.'
'Week nights. Ten till one.'
'Exactly.'
The song played. Wendy went to the window. Outside was the city and, though she did not have a very fulfilling view of it, buildings, triangular roofs, chimneys, billboards, she could see its glow reflected down from the clouds.
'Laughing on the bus… playing games with the faces.'
Where was her ex-husband? She often thought of him, out there, walking the streets alone while members of the public heckled him as he papered illegally parked cars. Why wouldn't he paper her car? Yellow paper, yellow tickets. She was, after all, illegally parked. Maybe because he knew it was her car, he could never paper it. Such behaviour, even after the disintegration of the marriage, was typical of him. She felt warm and she felt shivers when she thought of him.
'Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike…'
She wondered whether her radio show was making things easier for people, or more difficult. Every time a song was requested it was added to the show's playlist. If no-one called, she would cycle through the songs, picking ones she liked, talking minimally between them - perhaps recounting a story from her day (the antics of her cat or her neighbours, what she'd received in the post (no matter how boring)) or, more commonly, reminiscing about her ex-husband.
'Well, because… when my dog was put down…' The lady was crying on the other end of the line; her sniffles through the phone like static or interruption from outer space-'I came out of the vet's room, and this song was playing in the waiting room. Like, they played music in the waiting room to keep the people calm and that, and for the animals, too, maybe… I dunno… But that song was playing.'
She wanted to believe that she was helping them, that maybe these songs were being transmitted and taking some of the sorrow away, that music's ability to heal and to comfort needed its own nightly slot from ten till one.
Each shift drained Wendy; those three hours felt as though they were thirteen, so that when she stumbled into the car park in the early hours, with its deaf silence and dew, she struggled to walk. All of the stories and songs stuck with her and ran by her side the next day, and some she never shook. She simply carried around these people's sadness as if it were her duty, her lot.
Door handle a slug.
She moved around the vehicle and checked the windscreen of her double-parked car.
Nothing, no yellow paper.
She got in, started it and drove away. She did not turn the radio on as she disappeared down the road, and that is what happened to her: she disappeared down the road in silence.

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