Lorena suddenly slammed on the brakes. She couldn’t see exactly what it was, but there was something large in the middle of the road. The placement seemed very precise. It wasn’t an animal or a box. She wasn’t sure what it was, but it sure looked like…. yes…. she stopped and put on her flashers and got out of the car. Yes. It was what she thought it was. Large, and white. Three tiers. Fondant ribbons in peach and gray on the top. Peach flowers cascade down the side. A wedding cake. A very elaborate one. More salmon than peach…a slight touch of pink to the fondant.
Lorena was bumfuzzled. Who? What? But more importantly Why?
The Inferno in Huntington, West Virginia was the area’s premier disco. Sleek, sophisticated, trendy – or at least as much as it could be in an old warehouse on a crumbling street near the river.
Its claim to fame was that each table had a red phone on it with a light fixture overhead emblazoned with the table number. You could call from table to table just by dialing that number. It was a new era in pickups.
My best friend and I weren’t even old enough to be in the place when we first started going. But we each dressed to the nines as was traditional with disco and pretty much behaved ourselves as far as the rules went. Donnie was a guy. We had an unlikely friendship, but a very close one. We were inseparable. Folks thought we were dating, but we weren’t. We were just good friends. Perfect friends. Completely accepting of one another.
The dogs were both in the corner behind the woodstove whimpering.
Icicles hung from the old tin roof and sparkled in the bright afternoon sun. There was no place Amanda needed to be, and she wouldn’t have been able to get out even if she had to. She judged the snow as being over her knees.
She was cleaning the atrium doors. More snow in the forecast; Amanda wanted the glass clean, clean, clean so she could watch the deep snow get deeper. And besides, with today’s brilliant sun, the icicles would prism and fill the room with rainbows.
She loved this room filled with both hand-me-down and purchased antiques. It gave the room an old, comfortable feel – warm wood, rich carpets, and heavy, comfortable furniture.
Done with the glass, she decided to dust because the motes were dancing more than the rainbows. “Yes, puppies, let’s dust!” she said aloud.
The dogs were excited at the playful tone of her voice. Amanda found an old tennis ball and tossed it to the kitchen. They ran to get it and fought over it. She began dusting. She got to the old floor radio from the 1920s., She sprayed the beautiful wood cabinet inlaid with various wood, with Pledge. While wiping, she accidentally turned it on.
It was still tuned to an AM.station from the last time she’d had it on, Years ago. The cloth electrical cord was frayed and scared her, but she let it play. What seemed to be an old-time radio show was playing. She laughed aloud in delight.
Phoebe brought her the threadbare yellow tennis ball.
She heard thundering horses, and both dogs barked. A western, she surmised. She hushed the dogs. In the deep voice of a professional spokesman, the announcer told her they’d be right back after a few messages. She laughed again when the first commercial was for Malt-o-Meal. Did they even make that anymore? It was long before her time. She couldn’t fathom why she even knew what Malt-O-Meal was.
She threw the tennis ball again.
The following ad was for Twinkle Copper cleaner. She had a fond memory of her aunt singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star while using it to clean her copper bottom pots.
Static filled the air, and she sighed. She had been enjoying the station. She twisted the knob to get the station back, but it was gone. Then, just as she was getting ready to give up, she heard the announcer say, “Welcome back, Amanda! Have you had your Malt-o-Meal yet?”
She stepped back. The dogs growled at the radio, and they, too, backed away.
She was sure she had heard her name, but it made no sense. Maybe someone on the show was named Amanda. She sat down in her rocking chair.
“Amanda, I thought you were going to dust. We can recommend Smitty’s Beeswax for that lemony summertime smell!”
Amanda leaped forward and turned the power off.
The announcer said, ‘Now Amanda, that’s not playing fair.” She figured something was wrong with the power button seeing how the radio was nearly a hundred years old. She twisted the tuning dial, but no static played. No other voices, just the announcer laughing at her in his deep baritone.
She said, ‘This can’t be happening.”
“Oh, but it is Amanda!”
She pulled the plug on the radio and hurried back to where the dogs were.
“What? What do you want?” She said with a voice was tinged with hysteria. She was incredulous yet scared. She was stuck on a hill in rural West Virginia. Alone.
Amanda told herself this wasn’t happening. She didn’t speak the words aloud, though. She didn’t want the radio to hear.
She stepped back from it some more and tripped over the ottoman. She crash-landed on the floor. Surprised at the intensity of the pain, she let out a curse.
The radio laughed again. Or the man on the radio did. Amanda couldn’t be sure who or what the culprit was. Then she heard a whole group of people laughing. Nasty laughter. The kind where they are laughing at someone and not with them. The sound of bullies. The dogs cowered behind her.
She grabbed her ankle and swore again. The pain took her breath. She began to panic when she tried to get up and couldn’t. Her ankle was sprained at the very least.
“Amanda, that’s not very ladylike. What happened to provoke such an outburst?”
“How do you know what kind of lady I am, she said with eyes beginning to smart from hot tears.”
“This is radio, we can’t see you, but we’ve been listening for years. So what did you do?”
Still sprawled on the floor, she stared at the radio. A gorgeous piece of furniture just a few moments ago, it now seemed scratched, shabby, and malevolent. The dogs were both in the corner behind the woodstove now – whimpering.
She crawled to the chair and forced herself to a half-standing position. Sharp, shooting pains went up her leg. She began crying—silent tears of pain, fear, and frustration.
The radio had gone silent too. Maybe if she just stayed quiet, the voices would stop.
She heard the grandfather clock ticking as she sat in the chair, staring at the radio. The dogs came over and sat on either side of her like they usually did.
She had imagined it all. Surely, she had. The dogs had merely reacted to her fright. She wiped her tears and blew her nose.
Living alone must not be the delight she thought it was. Maybe it was getting to her.
She needed to get out of the house. She’d been hunkered down for days.
“Yes, that’s it,” she said aloud.
The radio voice laughed again, and the dogs went tearing back behind the woodstove.
“What do you want?” she said again to the radio.
“We want some respect, Amanda. You haven’t turned us on in ages. What’s the point of having such a nice Philco radio if you don’t use it? This unit was the top of the line. Everyone wanted it for its enhanced sound and five-band tuning, not to mention the fine furniture qualities. And you! You ignore it. Use it to hold your knickknacks and photos! It’s an insult to the craftsmanship.”
“And us! We practiced and honed our craft. We could make washtubs gallop and thunder. Brought characters to life. Entertained three generations. And then that damnable television. We are incensed, Amanda.”
“Leave her alone!” the grandfather clock boomed as it began to strike noon though it was after 3:00.
“Stay out of it, old man. You’re not appreciated either. How often does she wind you?”
This is not happening, Amanda thought.
The handle on the antique coffee grinder began whirling. The machine shouted from the kitchen, “Stop it! Can’t you see you’re scaring her? She hasn’t done anything to you. So get off your high horse.”
The flatscreen tv interrupted, “Will you geezers shut up. Some of us are in sleep mode.”
The radio laughed. “Sleep mode! Get a load of that guy! La de da.”
Amanda cried softly. I am losing my mind. She was careful not to speak aloud.
The radio and the television continued bickering while Amanda rocked herself quietly in the chair. Both arms wrapped around herself. She felt like she was holding on to her sanity.
As long as she was quiet, they left her alone.
It began to snow again. The power flickered. Went out. Came back on and then went out again. The brilliant sun was gone replaced by a second storm.
The bickering continued as the snow grew heavier and heavier. Soon, it was a complete white-out.
The cell phone on the end table came to life, an impossibility in this kind of storm. She watched the home screen light up and saw the dial screen. Numbers began appearing.
“This is 911. What is your emergency?”
“I…I am having hallucinations.”
“No, she’s not! The antiques chorused in unison.”
“Please help me.”
“Please help me,” the deep baritone mimicked her and laughed.
“Is someone there with you,” the 911 operator asked.
“There shouldn’t be. I think I sprained my ankle. Or broke it.”
“Or broke it,” the radio announcer chuckled. “Indeed, darling, it’s broken.”
“I can’t talk. They’re making fun of me.”
“Making fun of me,” all the radio voices chimed in.
Amanda whispered, “Please come quick. I’m scared. Tell them they will need four-wheel drive and maybe chains.”
“I’ve got someone on the way. Is your door locked?”
She heard the locks tumble and whirl with tinkling laughter.
“I don’t know. The locks are laughing.”
“Amanda, did you take something? The paramedics will need to know. Amanda, talk to me. Amanda? Amanda! Wake up. Help is coming.”
Dear People Who Say “Where Are You?” When I Say I’m Lost
It’s past time for this communication. I usually don’t have too much trouble communicating3 So why is when I call you, sometimes frazzled and sometimes amused, and say, “I’m lost,” why do you always, without fail, say to me, “’Where are you?” Is this an ancient riddle I’ve never read?