River House Home - Refrigerator
We stayed up late, breaking records. LPs, 45s, and 16s, we sent them flying. We threw some from the stairwell, watched them spin over the parking lot to shatter against the neighboring strip mall. Others went out the window, until we got drunk enough to miss. By the time Spacewatch AM came on, the kitchenette and living room were littered with shards of broken jazz.
It was just us that night – me and my roommates, Trey and Micah. Really it was just them, because Trey was newly single and Micah’d bought two boxes of records at the flea market only to come home to a broken turntable. Without an excuse to get drunk and break things, I was just along for the ride, so I stole their cigarettes and went through fifty cds trying to find the right music. Then around two Micah ran over and switched on the radio.
“What the hell, man?” I asked – he’d switched it over while I’d been lounging in a wall of sound.
Micah said, “dude, you know what time it is,” and fiddled with the AM dial.
Then I remembered- “The fucking probe guys?”
“Oh, yeah. Motherfucking Spacewatch.”
Spacewatch Radio was a public access program hosted by the local branch of the Society for UFO Research, or SUFOR. It rested on a cushion of static that did little to smother the host’s eerie rattle of a voice. Micah listened to it every week, slumped on the couch like an enormous pariah dog while the host went over the day’s news: black helicopters, a haunted Laundromat, things seen flying over the Amazon. Tonight’s guest was a renowned expert on subliminal messages in the school system.
Micah lit a cigarette, sat down on the sofa and cracked a copy of Blonde on Blonde into fragments of fragments of fragments. I lay sideways on the couch and watched his hands, long fingers breaking off splinters, crumbs, shards of Bob Dylan. Then Trey came out of his bedroom with a glass pipe and said “I’m going to the car. Anyone wanna come?”
“Sure,” I said. Ever since Micah got arrested, we had to go to Trey’s car to smoke pot, and Trey was afraid to leave the apartment alone at night.
We went out the door and descended the stairwell to the parking lot. Most of the people in our apartment complex were college students, and most were gone for spring break, leaving the lot almost deserted. Trey’s blue Camaro was parked on the other end, its dashboard facing the highway, and I felt like a mouse as we crossed the asphalt, eyes up looking for hawks stretched out covering the moonlight.
We were halfway across when Trey said “I don’t miss Amy.”
“What?” I asked, my eyes on the ground as we passed over the spot where Micah’d spray-painted NO ONE HERE GETS OUT ALIVE on the asphalt.
“I don’t miss Amy,” he repeated. “I mean, I’m kinda pissed that she left me, but…”
I said nothing, concentrating instead on stepping only on the shadows of the skinny trees that grew on grass islands in the lot.
When we made it to the car, Trey unlocked the driver’s-side door and climbed in. There was a second where I was alone under the sky, a second that yawned open like the steel trap of the horizon, before he shoved the passenger door open.
As he packed a bowl, he went on talking about his girlfriend.
“I mean, like, I guess what really gets to me isn’t missing her, but not missing her. Like, I feel like I should, but I don’t, and there’s this, y’know, there’s this void in my life where I don’t.”
“Wait,” I said. “So you don’t miss her, but you miss missing her?”
“Yeah, man. Exactly.” He dropped marijuana seeds into his lap, and they rolled to the floor as he worked.
I told him he needed to get high, and he did, after giving me greens for listening to his bullshit. He smoked the rest without ever passing it back, and then we gazed out over the dashboard to the highway, counting the trucks as they passed and listening to Spacewatch. As Trey went to turn off the ignition, someone called in a UFO sighting.
“Shit man,” said Trey. “That mus’ be me he’s watching.”
“You’re not that high,” I said, but he wasn’t listening.
Trey turned the key, and Spacewatch went silent. “I’m gonna crash, man. Let’s get back upstairs.”
As we made our way back to the apartment, I heard something fly by my head. Then something else, which shattered behind me. It was Micah, leaning over the landing and flinging records at us.
“That’s right, fuckers,” he laughed.
“Dude, that’s not funny,” I yelled back. A record exploded to my right.
Trey and I looked for cover, then made a dash for the stairs. Micah was throwing wildly now, a grin across his face and a trail of drool from his lips to one of his dreadlocks. We tripped up the staircase and wrestled him down. The Doors album he was holding shattered against the railing, bathed us in chocolate-colored splinters. Then we rolled off him and lay there, laughing amid shards of vinyl.
We went inside, and Trey went to bed. Micah and I sat side by side on the couch, smoking cigarettes and nursing the last two beers. The radio was still on, and the host of Spacewatch was interviewing the expert on subliminal messages: “So what you’re saying is that the government is doing this in kindergartens?”
“That’s right, Rick. The government introduces this stuff subliminally over intercoms in public schools. And then they take this sound, and they time it with the pledge of Allegiance, and by the time you hit sixth grade, well…”
Micah rested his head in his hands and said “I feel like an asshole.”
“What?” I asked.
“All these records,” he whispered.
The radio told us that all they had to do was play “the noise” during campaign speeches, and we would all vote for the candidate they wanted us to vote for. I crushed my cigarette in the ashtray.
“Dude,” I said. “We broke ‘em, too.”
“Yeah, but you don’t work at a guitar shop.”
“It’s just records,” I said. “Nothing there aren’t, like, a million copies of out there.”
“I know, but…” he took a swig of his beer. “It’s like someone’s watching, and they think I’m such an ass.”
“I dunno. Dylan, Hendrix, Miles? I think Kate Bush, even. Like some big, y’know, an’ I can’t get ‘em separate. Like,” he killed his cigarette. “like music’s watching.”
I didn’t know what to say, but the radio said “…and so people are voting for their kindergarten teachers?”
And the radio answered: “Well, in a sense they’re voting for kindergarten itself.”
Eventually, Micah passed out, twitching with every splinter of guilt in his flesh. I knew Trey was doing the same, a little spasm for every white lie, stolen pen, armadillo left crushed on the side of the road. I was the only one awake, so I gazed out the window and waited to get tired. Spacewatch, which was being slowly overgrown with static, was taking callers, and I kept trying to see a UFO. I was lonely without my roommates, and almost ready to fake a sighing so that I could talk to the radio. Instead I lay on the sofa, smoked cigarettes and tried to make out words in the static until I didn’t feel lonely anymore.
I must have fallen asleep like that, because when I woke up it was dawn. The sky was an apocalyptic sepia, the radio nothing but static. The kind of dawn you float in for a while, because the world is stripped bare as Tunguska and you can land anywhere, anytime, up to your knees in blackened wood like Trey and Micah lived, but why?
I went back to sleep without checking the surface for witnesses.
Painting, entitled "At Dawn," by JF Baldwin