When the music dies
“Next up, we’ve got Love is Strange by Sylvia and Mickey!” The radio announcer’s cheerful voice filled the empty spaces inside the 1957 Chevy parked on an empty highway road.
Love… love is strange…
“Ugh, I can’t stand to listen to that coon crap.” Letting go of the steering wheel completely, the man shot for the dial and jerked it hard to the left. Immediately, Sylvia’s crooning was replaced with piercing, incomprehensible static.
The woman in the passenger seat instinctively clutched her ears, first in shock and then in pain, but her eyes remained fixed on the bewildering scene outside. Her thoughts traitorously replaying her most recent regret: that she hadn’t stood her ground after church and insisted they wait out the storm. She knew this would happen. She knew, and yet here she was.
“God damnit!” The man fiddled with the radio trying to get a station - any station - to come through, but all that came through was static no matter how gently he turned the dial on the dashboard.
“Great! Now we don’t have any music at all. Stuck here in a damn blizzard without even so much as music to listen to! Well how’s that?”
The woman stared straight ahead as if she hadn’t heard a thing.
He shrugged his shoulders, not really caring whether she had heard him or not, and went back to trying to make the radio work. He kept switching between the same handful of stations he knew, but the static persisted as tireless as the storm around them.
After what felt like an hour of snow and static, she turned to her husband, her fingers almost knuckle deep in her ears and begged him to turn the radio off. The noise of it was splitting her head open, and she longed for the peace of quiet.
“No, I want to listen to some music. It was just working a second ago, I just need to adjust it right.”
The high pitched screeching and scratching that reverberated from the speakers started boring a hole into her already cracked skull, and still he continued on with the radio, convinced he could make it work.
Unsure how much longer she could stand it, she offered to sing for him instead.
“Well, alright then. But only if it’s one I like.”
Put your head on my shoulder…. whisper in my ear… baby….
He closed his eyes, enjoying the soothing melody for several stanzas before joining in.
A game you just can’t win… if there’s a way…
I’ll find it someday...
I’ll find it someway… “Wait, stop. Sing that last part again.”
If there’s a way… I’ll find it someday…
“No. You’ve got the lyric wrong, it’s ‘I’ll find it someway.’
“No, it’s ‘I’ll find it someday.’”
“No, it’s not. It’s ‘I’ll find it someway.’”
“It’s someday, not someway.”
“No it’s not!” She felt the full force of his anger as viscerally as if he’d reached across the front seat and smacked her. “You know what, if you’re not going to sing it correctly, I don’t want you to sing it at all!”
Shifting her body closer to the door, she returned to staring out the windows into the empty white world around them. The blizzard was wild with rebellion, and forceful… it clearly had no intention of stopping anytime soon.
Beside her, her husband fidgeted restlessly in his seat, itching to try once more to get the radio to work. His self-control lasted all of a minute in the quiet of their car before the static once again assaulted their senses..
Her hands whipped up to either side of her face as she tried to bury her entire fists in each ear.
If it was even possible, the static seemed to have increased in volume. And whether it was possible or not, it had definitely increased in magnitude.
She couldn’t do it.
“How about a game?”
Her husband looked over at his wife. She was staring straight ahead, but her words could have been directed at no one else.
“A game?” The radio went silent for a moment, giving her a moment’s respite from the pain.
“Yes, like a car game. Like ‘I Spy’” she looked around her as she spoke, realizing the absurdity of her own suggestion. Even if he agreed, how long could such a game last when the entire world was white?
Mentally preparing herself for a rejection and the subsequent assault on her psyche, she was surprised when he responded “My brother and I used to play a game called alphabet categories when we were kids. Let’s play that.”
He didn’t wait for her reply, or even bother to explain the rules, before starting the game with the first category: apples.
Her blank stare irritated him. “What are you waiting for? I came up with the category, now you have to say a type of apple.”
Before he could change his mind and return to playing with the radio dial, she responded, “Granny Smith.”
What did it matter if she didn’t know the rules. Anything was better than suffering through even another second of static.
“What color is a gala apple?”
“What color is a gala apple?”
“Well then it doesn’t count. I’ve already said red.”
“It doesn’t count. You can’t repeat an answer I already gave…”
“... but it’s a different answer.”
“No it’s not. You just said gala apples are red. I already listed red apples, so I win this round and now it’s your turn.”
If any other option had been available to her, she would have stopped playing his idiotic game right then and there, but she knew what would happen if they stopped, so she bared her teeth and continued on. They played most of the other letters without any issues. It probably helped that he won almost every round because of a new “rule” he remembered.
“The next category is…. Radio stations,” he said wistfully looking at their car radio.
“But you skipped Q.”
“You can’t just skip letters.”
“Everyone knows you can skip Q and X because those don’t have enough words to make categories.”
“There’s questions and queens and...”
“Questions and queens? You would come up with such stupid categories. Like I said, the next category is Radio Stations.”
He waited for her to supply the name of a radio station, but she sat in complete silence.
“You can’t take longer than 30 seconds to come up with a word.” He said, adding another rule to their game. “Otherwise, I win.”
He clearly thought this would spur her to action, but she sat in stony silence, barely even blinking as she looked out into the frozen wasteland in front of them.
“Oh c’mon, this one is easy!”
The words escaped her mouth before she could stop them: “that’s not the point.”
“The point? The point?! The point is that we’re stuck in a fucking blizzard with nothing else to do! That’s the fucking point! For Chrissake Charlotte!”
Her silence filled the space between them, making itself comfortable in the already cramped car.
He cracked his jaw in anger and reached again for the radio dial.
Instantly, it was as if thousands of angry wasps were trying to burrow deep inside her mind. And then, out of nowhere, they all vanished at once.
“I’ll try again in another ten minutes. We had music before, so it’s bound to come through again.”
She looked into the abyss that lay just outside her window and seriously doubted that.
The blessed silence was soon broken by a low rumbling sound. A pathetic groaning that demanded to be heard.
The man clutched his stomach thinking about how long it had been since his last meal. Hours, at least.
“I think chicken for dinner tonight,” he belched out into the car, picturing himself biting into a fat, juicy leg. “But use my mother’s recipe, your fried chicken isn’t as good.”
Receiving no response from the wife beside him, he raised his voice, “Hey, did you hear me? I want fried chicken for dinner tonight.”
She stared calmly into the fury of snow and ice that surrounded them. Emboldened by the desolate world around her, she whispered her response, “I want a divorce.”
Shocked into a choked silence that lasted only as long as it took for his anger to build, he all but screamed back at her, “What!?”
“I want a divorce,” she said to the mountain of snow that had consumed the hood of their car.
A volcano of fury erupted in their car, no less dangerous for being in the middle of a blizzard.
“Well you’re not getting one. I won’t agree to it!”
He grabbed her and turned her body to face him, holding her chin in his hand so tightly she couldn’t move her head even a centimeter in either direction.
“Now, look here. You and I made vows to one another. Until death do us part, do you remember? And you’re going to honor those vows. Whether you like it or not.”
He let go of her head, tossing it aside as forcefully as he had held it.
“Now I don’t want to hear any more nonsense out of you. And when we get home, I want my mother’s fried chicken for dinner.”
He went back to fiddling with the radio as they waited for the storm to pass.
The tear that had begun to trail its way down her face froze in its tracks as she pressed her cheek to the window. Slumped over in her seat, she pressed herself entirely against the cold metal of the car door, welcoming the blizzard into her body until it penetrated deep into her brain, dulling her overwrought senses and making each moment trapped inside that car slightly more tolerable than the last.
Her husband and the static continued on, but her mind froze in peaceful silence.