Radio Robert

I got to mom’s place at six thirty. I said I’d be there six sharp. She’d called me at work. I hesitated before answering. We hadn’t spoken in a while. She was waiting at the window when I pulled into the driveway. She smiled when she saw the car. I saw her disappear in the rear view mirror. She opened the front door as I got out of the car.

“Hi Robert!” she said. She looked like she’d been crying. Her eyes were a bit swollen. Mine were too. But I was just tired. But I knew she’d been crying. Her smile was too big.

“Hi Mom” I said, as she gave me a hug. She held me really tight for a second or two. I felt her fingers dig into my shoulder. I felt her breath on my neck. She’d definitely been crying.

“Come in, it’s cold out! How have you been?”

I just smiled and walked in after her. The house was really warm. I took off my scarf and my jacket. I looked for the coat rack that normally sat next to the front door. It wasn’t there. I looked up at the hallway. Things were different. She’d changed a couple of the pictures and put some flowers on the sideboard. I just held my jacket a little tighter.

I followed her to the living room. Her old leather suitcase was lying open on the floor. There were photos scattered about the floor. I saw my family staring up at me. All different places at different times, all on the floor at that moment. I’d seen most of those photographs before. There were some I hadn’t seen, some I vaguely remembered, and some I could describe to you precisely from memory. I stopped at the door. I pulled my jacket in a little closer. I looked at mom. She looked older than last time. Her red eyes had started to swell with tears again. She was still smiling. It looked real.

“I’ve just been going through this old suitcase. Looking at some old things, you know.”

I nodded. I looked at each of the pictures. I saw one of me with my brother. We were both wearing hockey jerseys. I was holding my coat. We were in the countryside somewhere. We looked cold, but happy.

“I found this one,” she said, picking up a picture from the sofa and handing it to me. She looked at it again before she let me hold it. I knew exactly which picture it was from the colors. It was one of my father and I. We were lying next one another in exactly the same position. We were both leaning on our hands, reading a book, together. I had looked at this picture hundreds of times. But not for years. I could never tell if he was lying like me or I was lying like him. The picture was slightly out of focus.

I looked at the picture. I clutched it tightly in my hands to stop them from shaking a little. I tilted it under the light. I saw little fingerprints on the gloss. I imagined that they were my fingerprints from the last time I held that photo.

“Yeah, I remember this one.”

That was all I could say.

We both looked at it in my hands. I felt mom get in closer to me. She put her arm around my shoulder. She squeezed it tight again. I squeezed the coat under my arm.

“Is this why you called me?” I asked her, not looking away from the little boy and his father.  I could feel the other eyes in the other pictures looking at me from the floor. I closed my eyes and ran my fingers across the photo. I opened my eyes and realized I’d smudged the fingerprints. I felt that old lump in my throat build. I swallowed hard. I handed the picture back to mom.

“Mom? Is this why you called? To do this?” I asked.

She looked at the picture again, taking her hand from my shoulder and holding the picture in both hands.

“No.” She sniffed. She smiled again. “I found something else.”

She bent down and picked up a cassette tape. She handed it to me. I felt the old lump rise up again as I read the rough handwriting on the label.

“Radio Robert” I said, holding it in my hand.

I started to cry for the first time in ten years.

*

Mom poured me a glass of wine and sat down on the couch. I reached behind the TV and plugged the cassette player in. I hadn’t seen the cassette player in years. I didn’t know she’d kept it.

“Do you remember ‘Radio Robert’?” she asked.

“Yeah. Vaguely.”

“It was really funny. You used to,” she sniffed back some tears and washed them down with some wine, “you used to talk for hours. Into that tape recorder. You would interview me, your brother, your father.”

I didn’t say anything. I opened the tape deck and pushed the cassette in. It was already wound back to the start.

I hadn’t heard his voice for twelve years. I told mom a while back that I couldn’t remember what he sounded like. It was one of the only times we’d spoken about him. We both kind of pushed it all down. He died when I was ten and I couldn’t remember anything from that time. I had patchy memories from before then. I remembered him coming home from work in his uniform. I remembered him playing soccer with my brother and I. I remembered him taking us on camping trips. But I couldn’t remember those two years when we all cried. After the tears dried up he sort of disappeared. Never from memory. Just from conversation. But I’d told mom I wished I could hear him speak again. I always wondered how it would make me feel.

“Come and sit here with me” said mom. I looked at her. She cleared a space on the sofa. She had picked up the photographs and sat them on her lap.

I smiled. I pressed play. I picked up my coat and stood up. I walked over to her. I pulled my coat into my chest. I sat down carefully. I looked around at the living room. I looked at the photos in her lap. So much had changed. It didn’t look like the same room.

“Hi this is Robert here on Radio Robert! Thank you for listening!” I heard this child say. If I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have known. “On today’s show we have music from my favorite band in the whole wide world, Hanson.”

We both laughed. I shook my head.

“Jesus” I said, laughing again.

“And we will have an exclusive interview with my favorite dad in the whole wide world, dad!”

I bit down on my lip and pinched the bridge of my nose. I felt mom’s hand come across my back and squeeze at my shoulder. I squeezed my jacket into my chest.

We both sat and listened to ‘Mmmbop” in silence.  I drank my whole glass of wine in three minutes. I felt myself getting short of breath as the song came closer to ending. Mom kept squeezing my shoulder. I picked up the photograph we’d looked at before. I looked at my father and I, lying there, side by side.

“Okay, that was Mmmbop by the best band in the whole wide world! Now we’ve got dad in the studio! Hi dad!”

“Hello Robert. It’s a pleasure to be here.”

I started crying again. At that moment I remembered him so clearly. I can’t really describe what it felt like. It was like having a thousand memories gush into your head at once. I felt them come in and grow bigger and bigger and turn into water and come out of my eyes. I looked up at mom. She was smiling and looking at the tape player.

“Thanks for coming in dad! How are you today?” the little boy asked.

“I’m fantastic Robert. I’m very happy to be here on the radio with you!” said the little boy’s father.

“Did you enjoy the song by Hanson?” he asked.

“Of course! I think they’re great. They’re not really my sort of thing though Robert. You know that I like classical music.”

I laughed again. I remembered what the little boy said next.

“Ugh! Your music is so boring dad! I hate violins!”

“Ahhh son, one day you’ll understand.”

“No way! I’m going to listen to Hanson forever!”

I laughed and cried. I had been listening to Mendelssohn in the car on the way here. I looked at mom. We were both crying and laughing, together. I threw my coat onto the other sofa and got comfortable. I put my arm around her and leaned into her shoulder, listening to Radio Robert.

*

Mom and I listened to Radio Robert twice that day. I heard Mmmbop four times. We sat and listened in silence the first time. I asked her if she minded listening to it again. She said she’d love to. We both sat on the floor and looked through the photographs together. She made us coffee. I picked out five photographs to take away with me. I left the photograph of dad I lying next to one another. Before I left I held the photo in my hands again. Taking in every detail and letting the memories soak back in. Before I handed it back to my mom, I looked at it under the light. There were big fingerprints on the photograph.

“You’ll come back again soon won’t you Robert?” asked mom. Her eyes had dried but they were still a little red. I could see the lines in her face from all the smiling we’d done. I could feel mine as well. They were like the memories.

“Of course. Michelle and I will come round this weekend. For dinner.”

“I’d love that.”

We looked at each other. We smiled and started to cry. I stepped in and gave her a big hug. I felt our hands dig into one another. I imagined I could feel the little fingerprints I’d left on her shoulder years ago.

I sat in the car and waved to her as I drove away. She stood out on the porch watching the car. I watched her in the rear view mirror, getting smaller and smaller. I realized I left my coat. I smiled and pushed Mendelssohn back into the CD player. Violins had never sounded so beautiful, and tears had never felt so wet.

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16 thoughts on “Radio Robert

  1. This is quite possibly my favorite thing you have written that I have read so far!

  2. rynnasaryonnah says:

    Hi Ross!
    1. Glad you updated.
    2. LOVE the cover
    3. These lines have gained the ‘permanent residence’ cards in my head:
    “Never from memory. Just from conversation.” and “tears never felt so wet.”
    Beautiful.
    4. Mmmbop, ba duba dop ba! Brings back childhood memories!

  3. katja says:

    This is my favorite story, too. Yes, beautiful. ’93 till infinity” doesn’t work for me anymore for the rest of this day. It reminds me too much of a situation I were in. I know someone else who made such tapes when he was a kid.
    What I can’t is watching videos. Never done it so far. Too much fear.

    I’m glad that I was too old for “Mmmbop”, no offense.

    • katja says:

      Can’t get “Mmmbop” out of my head. 🙂 Suddenly I begin to sing it when I’m waiting or when I’m cleaning up the house…

  4. hannah says:

    hmmm, seems like the first emotion comes when you write “we looked at each other” – before that it feels strangly disconnected… interesting. think i’ll read it again tomorrow.

  5. Christina says:

    This is beautiful, Ross. You’ve found a very fine balance between sadness and joy without being sentimental, love it!

  6. ©bruno says:

    Very nice Ross. Quite emotional but not over the top. Just the way it should be.
    “Never from memory. Just from conversation.”

  7. Shawn says:

    Lovely. I was pleasantly surprised that you were able to convey some of the feelings of the narrator in the details despite not having experienced such a close personal loss yourself (I think). And you did it well. Cases in point:

    Fingerprints. “realized I’d smudged the fingerprints” and other references. A mourner will notice these and either touch them to get a connection to the one who is lost or NOT touch them so as to preserve them.

    Voice. “After the tears dried up he sort of disappeared. Never from memory. Just from conversation. But I’d told mom I wished I could hear him speak again.” This is always a wish of someone who has lost a loved one. You tend not to forget what they looked like — especially if you have photographs, and you remember their touch or the way they smelled, but the voice …. This was very realistic.

    I had to laugh and cringe with the narrator about Hansen.

    In the beginning, I thought something tragic had happened quite recently because both the mother and the son seemed to think there was nothing amiss with the mother’s crying and holding onto him tightly. I suspected the mother was moving out of the house and changing her life after this tragedy, so I was surprised that it turned out that she just wanted to wax sentimental two years later. Maybe that’s just me.

  8. VG says:

    This is one of my favourites, it’s very relateable. Thank you

  9. San says:

    this is absolutely beautiful. the fingerprints – loved it!

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