In The Radio by George Wier

George Wier
By George Wier October 15, 2012 21:11

In The Radio by George Wier

Summary:

This short story chronicles the right of passage for a young man who must choose between two divergent paths: one leading inexorably downward and other to the light. Bobby Armbruster’s mother has been at war with the devil for the soul of her son since that time he fell in Hickman’s well. But what Bobby found in the well was the entryway to another destiny entirely than either Bobby or his mother ever imagined.

Excerpt:

I once fell down an old water-well.

My Uncle Jake floated down to me from above as if he were one of the angels that the lady from Sunday School with the tight bun on her head and bifocal eyeglasses talked about. When he was just outside of arms-reach from me, he gently but firmly spoke my name and woke me up. Uncle Jake’s sweat dripped down on me from above. It was all of a minute before I realized that Uncle Jake hadn’t floated down after all. He sat on a loop of rope, suspended in mid-air.

Later I gathered that I was supposed to have been afraid. Powerfully, overwhelming so. After Jake hauled me out, my mother was there, trembling. She squeezed me so hard that I couldn’t breathe for a few moments.

Later, at home, I had to sit in a chair in the living room while all the neighborhood ladies came to visit my mother and examine the ‘fortunate boy’ and ‘the saved boy’ and ‘the delivered one.’ They moved and spoke as if under some kind of spell and one by one they hugged my mother and then sat beside her and grasped her hand in her lap and told her things that I could not quite hear but that I knew were about me.

I once caught a large bumble bee and put it in a Mason jar. After that night when the women came to console my mother and gawk at me I vowed never again to put a living thing in a jar for the pleasure of it. I had become the bee, and I didn’t like it.

I knew instinctively that the women, including my mother, were suffering from some vague sickness, otherwise they would not be acting so strangely.

I didn’t find out what the strange malady was until the next day when I went next door to Uncle Jake’s and cross-examined him while he was digging post-holes.

“It’s fear, Bobby,” he told me. The twin blades stabbed downward into the small hole he was creating.

“Fear?” I asked.

“Animal fear. A mother protects her young. She’ll go to great lengths to do that. Sometimes she’ll go so far as to kill innocents around her that aren’t even a threat. Or she’ll do something stupid and get herself killed and then where is the cub, I ask ya?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Where is the cub? What’s a cub?”

“Exactly!” Uncle Jake said and pulled a load of dirt out of the dark hole.

“What’s ‘animal fear’?” I asked him.

The good thing about Uncle Jake was that I could ask him anything and he never got annoyed with me nor told me ‘You ask too many goddamned questions,’ which was what my father used to do before the blow-out killed him.

Uncle Jake stopped and looked at me.

“Fear?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Well, what’s your favorite possession? Some object or thing you’ve got.”

“Oh,” I reached in my pocket and brought out my pocket-knife. It was my father’s. He was dead and it was mine now and I could keep it because I was the man of the house and the man of the house should never be without a pocket knife. I never remembered where that flood of information originally came from, but that was how it worked out.

I showed it to Jake.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Bill’s knife. Well, what if I told you that you would have to be careful with it because you might lose it?”

“Why would you do that?” I asked. “I’m not gonna lose it.”

“Well, a fellow that had bad intentions might want you to not be thinking about something else and only thinking about that, so he might distract you that way. So what would you think if someone told you that?”

“That they were stupid.”

“Alright. Fair enough. But what would you think after that when you were walking along minding your own business.”

“Uh. I might put my hand on my pocket to make sure it was still there.”

“ Probably you would. That’s what fear is. It’s not wanting to lose something, even though you’re probably not going to. Because you, Bobby, are your mother’s knife.”

Jake jabbed the digger down into the hole.

I was speechless for a half a minute, which was quite a long time for me.

Something happened then. It was like a heavy weight settling down into my stomach.

I understood my mother. I understood the strange women and their whispers.

And then I understood everything.

I was supposed to have been afraid of losing me.

But I hadn’t been.

“Jake,” I said. “Daddy said I asked too many goddamned questions. How many is too many?”

“For me? I don’t know. About fourteen million. But don’t say ‘goddamn’ around the women-folk. You can say it to me, though.”

“Okay. How many is fourteen nillion?”

“Million. Don’t worry about it,” he said. “That’s too many to remember to count while you’re busy askin’.”

*****

The bottom of the well.

It was my place, I remember that much. It was cool and it was dark and the bright, hot light of the summer day was high above me, no more than a round window a world away.

The water was only inches deep and it was cold, just like the cold at the bottom of Swimming Hole Spring.

I could make sounds with my voice and they bounced around and came back to me. I tried different voices and got back different sounds that somehow seemed more real because of the effect. It was being inside of a radio speaker, just like the radio in our dining room where we gathered to listen to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night.

I made clucking sounds like chickens and twanging guitar-like sounds.

And I could raise my voice and speak like our preacher.

“And it came to pass in those days that a decree was sent out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” Not that I understood what ‘came to pass’, ‘decree’, ‘Caesar Augustus’ and ‘taxed’ meant, nor how the world could be taxed. The whole thing made no sense, but from the bottom of the well I could make my voice sound very much like the preacher’s voice.

“ If your not in the Wor-DAH, you’re out there in the Worl-DAH.”

I didn’t know the meanings of what I was saying, but I understood the intention. The preacher thought we were all going deaf and he wanted us to hear him. And he wanted to hear an “Amen!”

“Ay-men-ah!” I shouted.

“Ayyyy-men-NUH!

“AYY-men!”

I suppose I said it a bunch of times, which was how my friend Morris Wayne found me. He was walking by the well when he heard the well tell him: “Amen”. When he heard it, Morris Wayne thought that Jesus was in the well.

A head appeared above.

“Jesus?” his voice echoed down to me.

“Morris Wayne!” I exclaimed. Morris Wayne was a skinny black kid; my best friend.

“What are you doing down there, Jesus?”

“I fell in.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No. Why would I be hurt?”

“Right,” he said. “Do you need to come out?”

“No,” I said.

“Okay. ‘Bye, Jesus.”

“‘Bye, Morris Wayne.”

And he left and I was alone again for some hours.

By supper-time Morris Wayne had gotten around to everyone in the neighborhood that Jesus was in Old Man Hickman’s well. He was both molly-coddled and summarily dismissed, depending upon who heard the glad tidings. I could imagine the conversations: “Of course son. Jesus is everywhere.” “He may be everywhere, but right now he’s in a well sayin’ his amens.” Word got around to my mother, who was looking for me, and my mother being the one person in the world who had eyes in the back of her head, she knew who Morris Wayne’s Jesus was.

And the drama commenced.

*****

Uncle Jake had awakened me from a vivid dream when he came floating down to rescue me. In the dream I was a tenth of an inch tall. I was inside our radio and I was making voices that went out to our dining-room table. My Uncle Jake, Aunt Christie and my momma were there listening to me and laughing, only they didn’t know it was me doing the talking. I could see them, but I was too small to be seen, especially through the screen wire.

*****

That night when it was time for lights out, my momma came to tuck me in.

“You’ve had quite a day,” she said, and sat down on the side of my bed. “A lot of people wanted ask you about the well?”

“Yes

Copyright© George Wier. All rights reserved.

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George Wier
By George Wier October 15, 2012 21:11
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