Shortwave

Standard

The cellar smelled somewhat of sawdust.

The walls had racks of old radio-sets, my father collected them, modified them and occasionally listened to them.

Sometimes he’d scold me for being down there, sometimes he’d teach me about ham radio.

He was protective of them but, since I was the only one in the family who took an interest in his hobby, he would let me look at them from time to time.

I went down to snoop at three in the morning once. A small, gunmetal grey set on a shelf with a piece of painter’s tape labelled “shortwave” in faded chicken scratch caught my eye that time.

I picked it off the shelf, placed it on the work bench in the corner, turned the light on, and stuck two AA batteries in it.

Immediately it sputtered to life.

A fast-paced folk tune blared out of the speakers accompanied by some interference. I could make out the guitar clearly, but the lyrics sounded like garbled, gargled gobbledygook and it was much too loud to allow it to continue.

I fumbled around looking for the volume controls.

There were two knobs on its side, three sliding switches below them, and a toggle at the top for power; I hastily picked up the radio and played with all of these but the last.

It squeaked and screamed at varying volumes and intensities, when I finally settled on the most innocuous channel I could find.

If it weren’t for some graininess, I’d have assumed nothing was playing and continued my search.

Then a sound like a marble being dropped onto a concrete floor came from the speaker.

I pivoted to scan the ambience, just to be sure nothing fell but all was still.

Another marble fell.

I placed the set back on the workbench, adjusted my seat, and decreased the volume.

“Hm,” I said, putting my ear close to the speaker.

“…9…7…9…3…2…3…8…4…6,” said a warbling male voice with an indescribable accent and cadence quite loudly.

Then grainy silence until another marble dropped.

“The hell was that?” I whispered.

I rested my elbow on the edge of the workbench.

Tak-tak-tak-tak.

I increased the volume.

“…2…6…4…3…3…8…3…2…7…”

Lumbering footsteps rang out from above me.

I wasn’t sure whether I should clean up, keep listening or try to explain what I heard to my father.

For a big guy, he was light on his feet, and already descended to the first story.

Tak-tak-tak-tak-tak.

I turned and looked at the radio, a slight crackling sound emanated from the speakers.

His feet made a “clunk, clunk, clunk,” as they hurriedly descended the stairs.

“Hey are you checking out my radios?” he asked in a sleepy voice.

“I’m- uh-”

“Careful with that one, it’s old,” he said.

Tak-tak-tak-tak.

I looked down at the set; he pivoted to check his surroundings then said “it’s getting a little late.”

“I’ll see myself out,” I said, hastily setting down the device to retreat for the stairs.

He approached the bench.

“…9…5…0…2…8…8…4…”

I heard a muffled “what the hell,” through the cellar door.

Before I went to bed, I heard another plug click into place.

“Not right now.”

I’m not allowed down there to this day.

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