Border Radio XERB

The Word: FIDDLE

There had to be something on the radio between Grand Junction and the California border, Louise thought, fiddling with the dial, luminous in the dark. Did stations go off the air in Utah after dark? Or maybe it wasn’t even Utah anymore. She gazed out at the wide, lunar plain before her, cut by the dust-shouldered highway.

She’d left Fort Morgan at 2:45 in the afternoon.

It had been time to think about dinner. The maize-yellow Frigidaire was full of food, and yet, when she stood in front of the open door, she couldn’t decide. And she’d begun to cry. She didn’t know what’d gotten into her, but she couldn’t stop. Honestly, she just didn’t care. Tonight, tomorrow night and all the other nights to come. Too many dinners to make, and dishes, and floors, and Dane, it all seemed too hard. She didn’t care if it were Salisbury steak or a roast or tuna casserole with the canned onion that Dane liked. She didn’t care. All she wanted to do was sit on the back porch and listen to the KCSU, the student radio station from Fort Collins that played the Rolling Stones and the Animals and Bob Dylan, Buffy St. Marie.

It had seemed like a game when she’d packed her moonflower-white American Touristers that her mother had bought her form her honeymoon, a game when called Monty–named for Montgomery Clift, the dog had the same sad, glassy-eyed stare–and loaded them all into the car. Like when she was a little girl and ran away to her neighbor’s house. It wasn’t until she stopped at the bank and took out half their savings–that was fair, half, almost a thousand dollars–that it became shockingly real. They had been saving up for a new bedroom set.

Well, it looked like they wouldn’t be needing it.

She thought she would go to Fort Collins, where the music was. She could get an apartment, and wait tables, maybe even sign up for classes. But since then, she’d put four hundred miles on the Fairlane.

She was sorry, but it was a mistake to marry Dane. “It’s nobody’s fault,” she explained to Monty, as he sat in the passenger seat, panting and smudging the passenger window. “What did I know? I was only 18.” And Dane was good looking, played basketball at Fort Morgan high, a square shooter, everyone said so. He was going places, his job with the power company.

How she used to love the grown-up feeling of washing her own dishes in her own house. Getting into bed with her husband. Her husband–how she used to thrill at the sound of that. Their wedding pictures on the wall in the hallway.

But now she was 21 and had been married three years, she had heard every story he had to tell, she’d spent hundreds of evenings with his friends and their wives. He made love the same way. He said the same things. He brushed his teeth for two minutes exactly. They attended the Methodist Church his parents went to. And now he kept talking about children. Louise didn’t want children. But Dane kept saying she’d feel different when she had them. How would he know, that’s what she wanted to know.

She’d been getting the Fort Collins station pretty strong until she hit the mountains, but it faded with the appearance of the old mining towns, their colorful gingerbread houses, and then the ski resorts–imagine, sliding down slopes with boards on your feet, like in the movies. But she didn’t stop. She kept driving, through Glenwood Springs and down the Western Slope.

Now, though, she started to get scared. They’d arrived in this wide open nothingland, sagebrush and sand and moonlight. She’d had to swerve to avoid a cow that had wandered onto the highway. What if this was the mistake? What if her marriage to Dane was the right thing and she was ruining something she would regret for the rest of her life?

She kept fiddling with the chrome knobs, praying for some human sound, even that awful Grand Junction station with their hokey Lawrence Welk.

Suddenly, a station came in. So clear, she practically swerved off the road. A gravelly, stuffy-nosed, jive-talking man, was advertising Ross dog food in a voice like chewed rust. “This is the Wolfman baby, coming to you liiiive from south of the border, baby, station XERB the Mighty 1090 coming to you from Tijuana baby, you hearin’ me out there?” He laughed like a demented chicken. “Yeah, you baby. I know you are.”

As if he were talking to her alone. XERB, she’d never heard of a station starting with X, that alone seemed strange and wrong–but not caring if it was wrong. All the way from Mexico, but not Mexican that was for sure. The Wolfman howled and Monty howled and she tried, but she was laughing too hard. What other strange things awaited when you got on the other side of the mountains.

Then the car filled with the sound of an R and B song, “Papa’s got a Brand New Bag” and she and Monty and Wolfman sang along and somewhere up ahead lay California.

(c) Janet Fitch 2010. All rights reserved.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: FILM

6 Responses to “Border Radio XERB”

  1. Brandi Says:

    Oh my God! This is perfect for how I have been feeling. I knew you were my favorite for a reason!

  2. Amanda Says:

    I finally made a response. It’s not great, but I sort of re-wrote it from another story I had written. Well, here you go.

    Comfortable Anxiety

    Could the church fill more than the capacity? I imagined the church swelling like bee sting as the one last person stepped inside and the church popping like a balloon. They would try, God willing.

    My picture with my prized fiddle was printed on more than a hundred pieces of one folded page pamphlets; I really hate that picture. I leaned against the brick church on the side where the parking lot was to smoke. I needed to smoke.

    “Hello!” “So glad you could come.” “What an honor to see you!” I heard those phrases so many times that they had their own synchronization. After about three hello’s there were approximately another three so glad you could come’s and followed by four what an honor to see you’s. I pulled out my last cigarette, damn, and my orange-yellow lighter. It took four tries to get the lighter to work but the flame popped out like a silent jack-in-the-box. I put my last cigarette to the flame. My head leaned against the wall as my eyes closed. I exhaled the smoke out of my mouth and my body felt sweet serenity.

    I opened my eyes and saw the colorful mosaic window of a white dove. Churches weren’t entirely my cup of tea but I always admired them. I looked away to see the parking lot filled with cars and even some parked on the side. My performance was expected to be a hit. I took another puff of my cigarette. Leaves rustled on the grass as the wind picked up speed. My hair grazed against it like a piece of fabric flapping on clothes line.

    My pitiful green Camry stuck out like a sore thumb, no better way to describe it. It sat there in plain site. I had forgotten about my cigarette as I stared at the opportunity in front of me. My keys were sitting in my pocket. I started to feel the cold metal against my clothes and onto my leg. They were tempting me, seducing me. The buds fell onto my shoes, I never noticed. My eyes still fixated on the car as I unconsciously snaked my free hand into my pocket and grabbed the keys. My fingers fiddled playfully with the metal. The sweet coldness against my skin. I could go. I could walk casually to my car, unlocked the doors, and turn the ignition. The car would be on and I would have no other choice but to put it into gear and just drive away on the one way road and watch the church grow small with every mile I went. I could my feet…

    “It’s time.” My eyes shot open and looked at the slight older woman. She smiled at me. My hand was not in my pocket anymore and my cigarette was almost gone, but I only took a few puffs of it. I returned the smile and flicked the remaining bud on the grass and stepped on it with my shoe. I never left. My shoes had made their imprints in the grass and my keys did not feel cold anymore. I turned to see my Camry still in the spot I parked it. I followed the woman into the over crowded church. It wasn’t swollen like a bee sting, but it still could pop like a balloon, when I’m done with it.

  3. stephen Says:

    Not bad. Do you, by chance, like Sylvia Plath?

  4. Dave C Says:



    I like your selection method for picking the words. When I taught design I used to put small objects in a paper bag and everyone picked one – then they had to use the object to design letter forms, a poster and a small company logo – PLUS they had to hold on to their object for the entire semester. THAT was the hard part. ‘Cause if they lots it then their grade would go down.

    It was a lot of fun.


  5. Dave C Says:

    As I entered the gallery with beautiful morning light – there it was. A small oil painting done in the late 1400s by Leonard Da Vinci. As I looked at it I knew that it was easily the most fabulous painting I’d ever seen in person. It was so exquisite that my mind could barely get a grasp on it. I’d never seen one of his paintings before, and the utter sheer beauty of it was breathtaking. It was very small, but from the wooden panel underplayed with dark umber the subjects face glowed through the white pigments and reached out to me from five long centuries. I could almost feel her stillness and smell the forest. Her eyes were riveting. In the corner of the painting there was blue sky and the in the far corner the tower of a church. Maybe it was his way of saying that religion was never too far away.

    Then I heard something familiar in the distance. I listened carefully. Was it music? At the National Gallery of Art? I didn’t think so. But the sound was beautiful in a soothing fashion and it enhanced my concentration. The model was wearing a piece of black velvet around her delicate neck and as I looked closely I could see that there was a texture to it. Black on black, in black. How did he do that? And to think the painting was done before Columbus discovered the New World was simply astonishing. I stepped back from the painting and read the description neatly printed on a cream colored card. It said the work was painted on the back as well. As I went around to the rear I could see that Leonardo had painted a juniper branch along with some beautiful serif letter forms in Latin. I wondered why he did that. I knew it had taken months to do. Yet he’d painted the back of a painting knowing full well no one would probably ever see it. But I knew that’s not he did it.

    Then the music floated in again and I recognized what it was. It was fiddles playing off in the distance. I stood there and wondered if I should go and see who was playing them, or where the music was coming from.

    I decided not to. I didn’t want to really know.

    Maybe it was supposed to be that way.

  6. I loved this piece. The “Fiddling” with the dial was very realistic and visually on the money and I love the use of a radio anytime.

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