Listening to the Radio Naked
The farm seems so far away, even though it is only an hour by train. I can’t wait for you to come join me at the end of the summer. My mother always says God brought us together because we are alike in spirit and I have never found a reason to doubt this.
The school is a strange and lonely place at night. With the dim lighting and empty hallways, it feels like somewhere we shouldn’t be, our classroom the only conscious tendril of an otherwise sleeping brain. I usually arrive ten minutes before my students, and as I wait and listen for the opening and shutting of a distant door, I think about you and our lives to come, out here together in the world. I’ve started drinking coffee, too.
It feels odd to be teaching my elders. I cannot tell if my students wish I was older. Their expressions stay the same throughout class: tired, stoic, diligent. There is one named Holly who I sense a lot of melancholy from, even when she smiles, as if the world is filled with things she needs help with that there is no help for, things that our weekly sessions on local agriculture certainly can’t change. She has dirty blonde hair and a skeptical face. When she rolls up her sleeves I can see the beginnings of intricate tattoos on her forearms. She does not take as many notes as the others, though she nods and squints a lot. She told me at the beginning of class that she wanted to go into dog breeding. I think she is my mother’s age, but she is so different, Rebecca. There was this one time I scared my mother by hiding in the closet and jumping out when she came in, and she cursed and then apologized and laughed at herself, and she was smiling a private sort of smile, and for a second I didn’t totally recognize her. Holly is like the person my mother was for that moment.
Do you think you’ll take the train when you come? My apartment is close to the rail-yard and I can hear the trains coming and going. When the weather is bad, the radio my mother gave me gets bad reception, and the moaning of the trains is the only sound in the apartment. Sometimes I hear my neighbors through the wall, too, but they speak a different language. I miss you, Rebecca. I have a lot of excitement and fear about my life, our life, but there is no one to share it with, and sometimes I worry it is settling into a tepid, disappointed thing, with no desire to be seen.
Today I did something new. I pray you won’t judge me too harshly for it, but I believe you will understand. I drank alcohol. I went to the school to collect my first paycheck and upon leaving I saw Holly in the parking lot outside. She was leaning against her weathered blue pickup truck, smoking a cigarette. I approached to say hello and she offered me one, which I of course declined. I asked her how she was and she said, not great, just like that, just flat and honest about it. I apologized and asked if there was anything I could do, and she took a drag and said, get a drink with me? I told her that I didn’t drink, but would be happy to join her wherever she was going and talk. She put out her cigarette on the ground. Well fuck it, she said. Follow me, teach. I couldn’t help but laugh; she talks so differently from everyone on the farm, Rebecca. But I am making a novelty of her, and this says that we are separate. Do you think we are doomed to always carry this dynamic with the world? To see everyone as other? I long to be a part of, and I think you do too. I hope it is not too late.
Holly led me through the quiet streets of town to a place called Mitzy’s. We sat down and she told me she was failing her classes at the college. She watches her sister’s kid three days a week and works nights at the liquor store and it’s all too much to keep up with. I reminded her that she wasn’t failing my class (though it is only pass/fail based on attendance) and she winked and said, never say never, and we laughed. Holly’s laugh is deep and toothy. She drank beer from a brown bottle, and when I returned from the bathroom, she had set one down on my end of the table. I smiled and shook my head and she raised her eyebrows at me. This was the moment where I either had to tell her why I didn’t drink, or drink. And I didn’t want to be separate yet.
I have to tell you Rebecca, I enjoyed the way it made me feel. The clenched fist of my excitement and fear loosened and breathed. I started to feel more connected to Holly, like maybe we were friends, like maybe none of the other stuff would make a difference. She told me that she used to be in a band that played hard rock music. I said I hadn’t heard that before and she said, you serious? and then got up and went to a machine that lets you pick out a song and play it for a dollar. I guess it was broken though because she came back and said, no dice, and the bar stayed quiet. For some reason it made me think about the way we hummed together while we fed the chickens, and that one day we tried beatboxing instead. We were so bad at it, but we kept going. You laughed so hard that your eyes squinched up and you could hardly breathe and I remember thinking that maybe God didn’t wish us to be as contained within ourselves as we thought. In the bar I began laughing to myself. The bartender brought Holly another drink and she said, we got a lightweight here.
Holly helped me get my bike in the back of her truck and gave me a ride home. We were quiet as the truck rumbled softly through the streets. Pictures of Holly and other people smiling and sticking their tongues out hung on a chain from the rearview mirror, pasted to an empty deck of cards. Lately coming back to my apartment has felt like pulling a cold sheet over my head, and as we drove I entertained impossible notions that Holly would be compelled to keep driving, all the way out of town and onto the highway and into some sort of fire-lit community in the woods filled with all of her friends, and you. Before long, though, Holly’s truck was parked in front of my building, engine idling as she waited for me to get out. I thanked her for the ride and she said, see you next time, teach. It seemed like her mind was already on one of the many other things she had to think about, and I got an empty sort of feeling, poignantly aware in that moment of the spaces inside me. What I miss most about the farm besides you is that it never made me feel this way. All of the blanks were filled. Of course I do not mean to say that our love is not enough for me. Of course it is more than enough, and when I am with you, I feel like we are in the heart of the entire world.
Tonight I am thinking about your body, and what it will feel like to be with you in that way. I hope it is okay for me to tell you. I want to tell you everything. I don’t think it is healthy to keep anything alone inside, at least not out here. I am excited for us to be naked together for the first time, and I am also excited for the point at which being naked together isn’t even a big deal for us. Like, we could just be listening to the radio, and sexuality will be present in our nakedness, but so will just listening to the radio together.
I know you may never read this, but I felt I needed to write it, if only for myself. Today your father came to my door after taking the train into town. For a lovely moment, I expected you to be somewhere behind him, on your way. He came inside and sat down, shifting about uncomfortably. Once I sat across from him, he told me plainly that you were not to come join me here, that our union had been severed. His tone was flat and hurried, as if executing a chore. He called my letters sinful and unfit to be read by you. He said they made it clear I had no place at the farm anymore, and that I would be unwelcome should I try to return. I pleaded with him, and then became angry. Being here has made things less clear, but I feel sure that this isn’t his decision to make.
In class tonight, I trailed off in the middle of a sentence about fertilizer, suddenly overcome by a memory of the first time we tended the farm together. Our parents had already made clear their plans for us, and there was a nervous energy in all of our actions, a great fear of something inside coming up against all of these other, more assured voices. At some point we recognized this fear as a mutual experience, and I felt the hard, steely spike of it start to melt. We began smiling more openly, letting our eyes rest on each other, arguing about which of the names we called the animals in private best suited them. It was like that trust test, where you fall, purposely, and someone is supposed to catch you. Only I didn’t just feel caught. I felt caught, and held.
Eventually I did snap out of it. Most of my students had the same steady, half-there expressions, but something in Holly’s eyes made me feel exposed, as if she could tell something was wrong. After class, she stood still while everyone filed out of the room. I was packing up my materials when she approached me and said, you okay, teach? She had that same understanding look, like she already knew, and already accepted. I nodded and told her I just missed my fiancé. Can you believe it was the first time I used that word outside the farm? Holly seemed surprised to hear it too. Fiancé? She shook her head. You young and married ones, I don’t know how you do it.
We walked out together, feet clomping down the empty halls, and Holly spoke briefly of her first marriage. It didn’t sound good, but when we got to the parking lot she smiled in a pained sort of way and said, there was some beauty there too, though. I nodded and tried to emanate the same sense of understanding that she gave to me. I’m sure there was, I said. Holly lit a cigarette and we stood and listened to the low hum of the streetlights. After a moment we said goodbye and Holly walked to her truck. I could hear her radio playing something loud and clangy as she drove away. I unlocked my bike and stood in the empty lot. There is so much emptiness out here, Rebecca. It is remarkable what people do every day, waking up and trying to fill it, again and again.
about the writer
Timothy Day poses as an adult in Portland, Oregon. His fiction has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Dream Pop Press, Pacifica Literary Review, and elsewhere. You can read more of his work here: https://concretetrampoline.wordpress.com/published-stories/