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