December 22nd 10.37 a.m.
Jenny opened the trapdoor and climbed into a forgotten world. The attic was eerily dark, lit only by the occasional shaft of sunlight penetrating through the roof, in which sparkling dust particles gyrated. Draped furniture in the gloom seemed ominous and ghoul-like. The air smelt both musty and mouldy, like the decaying air-raid shelters she’d played in as a child, cold and silent even on a summer’s day.
She flicked a light switch and the room resumed a dusty normality. There was her quarry – boxes of bric-a-brac, abandoned by her parents in life as well as death. Beyond was an old Bakelite radio. She felt a pang of nostalgia, remembering her father crooning along to Sing Something Simple.
“Jen, can you start passing the stuff down?” her husband Walter called up.
December 22nd 11.55 a.m.
The boxes had languished alone through the years and seasons. Walter carried the last one downstairs. It was his idea to get these things from his in-laws’ attic for St. Margaret’s Christmas Bazaar. His mind replayed the vision of Jane, the vicar who had called round.
“Sorry to bother you but I’m organizing a bring-and-buy sale and we’re frightfully short of stuff!”
He’d noticed her tight black skirt and her legs, shapely in grey leggings. Her jacket buttons strained against her chest and, above the white dog collar, long auburn hair, a sweet smile and vibrant green eyes that seemed to send a different message to the verbal one. ‘Get a grip, Walter,’ he told himself. “Darling, should we put this radio in or just throw it?”
“No, put it in the study,” Jenny called back.
December 29th 9.25 p.m.
Christmas was over, thank God! She’d done her bit, put up countless decorations, entertained her in-laws, the Kavanaghs, deflected children’s tantrums, peeled, boiled and roasted until her life no longer seemed to exist outside the kitchen. Now here she was, alone in the study, the others decamped to the Kavanagh residence in Surrey.
Jenny stood in front of the fire, looking in the mirror above the mantelpiece. She noticed her features retained some of her youthful beauty, not yet emulsified by old age. Behind her, she caught sight of the radio.
Not knowing what to expect, she plugged it in and turned a knob. A click, then….nothing. Feeling disappointed she poured a glass of wine and pulled out her diary. Suddenly aware of a faint hiss, she turned the tuning knob. Unexpectedly-loud dance music startled her. Glenn Miller! – how appropriate she thought, amused.
–She awoke, realising she’d drifted off. The room was dark and cold, the fire almost out. The radio was hissing loudly. Against the hiss, a voice was speaking, faint, distant in time and space, as though from another planet.
December 30th 9.30 a.m.
Walter awoke. He reached out for Jenny, the cold space reminding him of where he was. Then he remembered how she had wanted to stay home on her own.
In the shower, hot water sprayed his normally Brylcreemed black hair forward over his eyes. He looked in the mirror and grinned at the apparition, he looked 20 years younger!
He called Jenny from the bedside telephone, wanting to share his good mood.
She interrupted, “Walter, listen! That radio, I’ve heard voices on it!”
“Isn’t that what it’s for!”
“No Walter. I’m not joking, I’ve heard mother and father!”
“Look darling, you’re stressed out from Christmas, you’re starting to imagine things!”
“Walter, I’m deadly serious, Mum and Dad were there and they told me things, things I can’t tell you over the phone.”
“Jen, calm down, I’ll be back in a couple of days, just relax….and keep away from that damned radio!”
“Walt, I need you down here!” She rang off.
He felt worried – ‘I shouldn’t have left Jen on her own,’ he thought. Maybe her old problem was returning? However, he didn’t want to miss New Year’s Eve with his parents!
December 29th 11.18 p.m.
“Jenny dear, we’re here, we’re right here in the room with you!” Her mother’s voice sounded remote, as though from another age and a thousand miles away. Jenny looked around but everything seemed normal.
“Mum, is that really you? I want to believe.”
The voice came again, faint and far away. “Your diary’s on the desk, it has a brown leather cover.”
Jenny felt a lump in her throat and her eyes flooded with tears, so hot they seemed to burn. The diary swam on the desk but yes, it had a brown leather cover.
“Mum, where are you?”
“Listen, Jenny, never mind where we are, it would take too long to explain. But I need to tell you, those ‘episodes’ you used to suffer, well me and your Dad, we let … we let Uncle Ted do things with you, things he shouldn’t have done. And we’re sorry, very, very sorry.” The voice broke off, distressed.
“Mum, I forgive you, I love you both so much.”
“We love you too dear, I wish we could have shown it more when we were … there.” Then, “Your father’s here.”
A man’s voice came through the hiss, faint and echoing but the distinctive voice of her father. “Jenny, it’s Dad.”
Jenny started to sob, embracing and kissing the radio.
January 1st 11.30 a.m.
It was New Year’s Day and Walter was driving back, his mouth dry from the previous night’s alcohol. He felt guilty at not having phoned Jenny again and even more so at the phone call he had made, to the new vicar of St. Margaret’s.
He found Jenny slumped over the radio. “Jenny, darling,” he tried to lift her but she was so heavy and stiff. In a state of shock, he matter-of-factly supposed she had suffered a heart attack. Her diary lay open on the desk. The entry for December 31st ended, ‘Spoke to Mum and Dad again, so good to hear their voices. They said Walter will leave me. Oh, to be with them in the New Year!’
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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