The Radio

I don't think I'll ever understand him. That's the final proof, the case for nurture over nature.

He lights a cigarette. I can't stand the smoke but I let it slide. The last time I complained, he simply gestured toward the door, but I doubt he understands the irony in that gesture, or how much pain and rage I suppressed at that moment. Two years ago, I was the Young Man With A Future while he was doing time in California.

So different, people said. How could they have had the same mother? Now, he's a junior partner in a very successful plumbing firm and I've dropped my life on the floor for reasons I still can't verbalise.

"I'm going soon," I venture.

He nods across the breakfast table. "Figured as much." Bites into toast, chews. "You can take seventy-five from the petty cash box before you go." Swallows.


"I'd rather give it to you than have you steal it.", he says.

I want to scream, to curse him, to jump over the table and claw at his throat. Instead, I sip my coffee and verbalise: "I wouldn't do that."

He nods and takes another bite.

I once quoted a statistic at him, that if you break into someone's house and steal their colour TV, you'll get three years, but if you rape a woman, you'll get one. He nodded slowly and said, "Stands to reason. I can get laid for fifty bucks, but a decent TV'll get you a hundred and fifty."

I don't think he'll ever understand me.

I wait for him to go to work, then get my knapsack and start looking for my things. It doesn't take long to pack, something I'm grateful for. The house, big and empty as it is, has been pressing in on me since I got here and I've finally reached the limits of my tolerance for it. The petty-cash box is in the back of a cupboard, out of sight of a casual burglar. I take seventy-five bucks from it, and as I'm about to put it back, my gaze falls on the radio.

It's small, the size of a really expensive walkman, and encased in high-impact plastic. There's one knob projecting from the side. I remember him cradling it in his hand early one morning, when he thought I was still asleep. He was pacing the kitchen slowly, as the scent of coffee began to fill the house. "Fucking country," I heard him mutter.

I'd padded into the kitchen and grunted interrogative.

"This," he'd said. "Back when I first got into the joint--" he loves using that word "--some religious types gave me this. It's fixed to only get their station.

"Every morning, I'd listen to it just before lights-on, with the volume way down so I wouldn't bother anyone else. Hear all about damnation and salvation. Became something to do in the morning. Now that I've moved here, all it gets is some fucking New Country station."

"You could buy another radio," I'd said.

"Yeah, but it's not the same." I had grunted sympathetic and poured myself a cup of coffee. The radio was gone when I turned my attention back to him.

I put the petty-cash box back where it belongs and carefully take out the radio. Normally, I'd be terrified of trying this, messing with someone's prized possessions, but I'll be out of reach of any possible wrath an hour from now anyway.

The screwdriver set is still in my knapsack--old habits, you know. It takes half a minute to open the case. I leave the screws in a careful pile on the kitchen table.

The radio is a standard design except, of course, for the tuner, which is a variable capacitor of the sort that only qualified service personnel are allowed to adjust. Turning it on yields a snatch of Clint Black. Then I start adjusting the capacitor. It only takes a few seconds before I hear someone preaching. I listen a few more minutes to make sure I've got the right station, then put the radio back together and in its hiding place.

Two hours later, I'm on a bus headed away. I'll call him tomorrow and see if he'll still talk to me.

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