His Time Machine

Dan was never the sort of man who discarded items just because they were out of style. The radio worked fine, and so it stayed on the nightstand on his side of the bed throughout many years of our marriage.

It wasn’t the radio that finally gave out—it was the electrical cord. Dan took it to his electrician friend, Salvador, who laughed kindly and gave him a friendly pat on the back before recommending that he replace the old relic. “It would cost more for me to try to replace this—with no guarantee it would work—than it would for you to get a new radio.”

Dan came home with the radio, dejected. “I’ve had this since boot camp,” he told me. “The first time I danced with you, this was playing the music.”

My heart gave a little flutter at that—it was a sweet memory that I had tucked away myself and assumed he had forgotten. It was nice to know he hadn’t.

“It’s not like we don’t have the money,” I told him. “If you want to try…”

“No, it’s okay. I’ll put it on the bookcase with the other time machines.”

I smiled. There were items we’d accumulated over the years that were just, frankly, too pretty to throw away, even when they were no longer useful. Dan called them “time machines” because looking at them took us back to the days when they’d been working parts of our household.

The shelf in question was currently home to an old mixer that had belonged to my mother. It was a pastel blue shade popular in the 1940s, and was displayed with its blades and bowls. It, too, had fallen victim to the dreaded worn-out electrical cord.

Also featured was my old portable record player. It had belonged to my father, who gave it to me. My daughter used it for several years. Finally, it began to overheat and smell—to be honest—dangerous when in use; the turntable no longer spun quite fast enough, causing a dragging drone in the songs she was playing. Dan confiscated it, declaring it a fire hazard and relegating it to the “Time Machine” shelves.

She got a new one as a gift—I forget if it was a birthday or Christmas. That was a long time ago.

As I watched him make a space for his beloved player of music and news, I felt bad for Dan. I determined that I would find him a new radio, one that would be simultaneously serviceable, and nostalgic.

It was a bit of a search, but before Father’s Day I received a package containing a vintage-look AM/FM radio. The speakers resembled an old automobile grill. The volume and tuning knobs looked like tail lights. The dial display looked like an old-fashioned odometer.

Personally, I found the looks somewhat marred by the headphone jack—there were no radio headphones in 1955. But overall, I was satisfied with the purchase.

Dan was delighted with his Father’s Day gift. He gave it place-of-honor status by sitting it on the night table on his side of the bed. He plugged it in. “Let’s see how she sounds,” he said, and turned it on.

Hank Williams was singing, his slightly twang-y voice belting out “Hey, Good Lookin’”, much to our delight. There wasn’t much room between the foot of our bed and the chest of drawers, but we managed a dance, anyway.

After listening to a few oldies but goodies, Dan said, “I’ve never heard this station before. It must be new. It’s almost time for the news, though, so I guess I’ll tune in the local guys.”

He turned the dial. Elvis Presley’s rich voice crooned, “Love Me Tender”. Another turn of the dial, and Patsy Cline was walking after midnight.

Dan looked at me. I looked back at him. We looked at the radio. “That’s weird,” Dan said.

Every turn of the dial brought forth songs from the past. Jim Reeves, Eddie Arnold, Perry Como, Loretta Lynn.

“What’s going on here?” I asked.

“Well, honey,” Dan said, “I think you actually found me a real time machine!”

I don’t know about that—we never left the current world. But every night, before going to bed, we danced to the songs of our youth as they floated from the speakers of that radio.

Never once did a song recorded past 1970 play on any station of that radio. No matter the time of day or night, it played our songs.

Time passed, as it always had. Dan became ill and frail. But he loved listening to that radio. When he became mostly bedridden, it played softly, day and night.

Each song held a memory. We talked for hours. We remembered all the good things. Even the harder memories were discussed and let go.

The music played on.

We were listening together the night Dan drew his last breath.

The radio stopped when he did.

A few days later, I unplugged it, believing it was broken.

That was a year ago. Today I took it to Salvador, just to see if it was worth fixing.

He plugged it in.

Switched it on—static. He twisted the tuning dial.

Lady Gaga was belting out “Applause”. The tone was perfect.

“Julia, there’s nothing wrong with this radio,” Salvador told me, frowning.

“That’s what you think,” I replied sadly.

Maybe my daughter would like a new radio. I can’t bear to keep it now.

I’ll be content with the one from boot camp. The one we listened to the first time we danced together. The one on the “Time Machine” shelf.

It won’t play anything now—but I have great memories.

This story was inspired by a Writers Unite! prompt. I highly recommend a visit to this site, where you will find stories by many talented writers.

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