Skip to content

Green & Roper – November 2020

Derek Roper and Christine Green traded art and words. Derek shared this untitled piece with Christine:

In response, Christine wrote this short story:

Planchette

When Aunt Clara found us with the talking board, she snatched the planchette out of our hands.

We pleaded, It’s just a game, it’s just for fun.

Don’t tell me what is fun, don’t mock me. I know you are trying to talk to. . .him. He’s good and dead, hear me? He’s buried six feet deep somewhere. Let him rot.

Before we could respond she was gone, out the door and down the rickety attic steps. George peeked out the window.

She’s headed to the garden.

I sprinted behind her knowing I couldn’t catch up but trying all the same. I gulped air as I scanned the garden from the doorway of the kitchen. I saw her skirts flutter around the oak tree, yellow leaves flying in her wake.

The pond.

I was too late. The planchette was floating atop the murky water, a little raft among the lily pads and algae.

She looked at me, her mouth a tight, hard line, her eyes narrow. 

Let him rot, she repeated and turned back towards the house. I could see George’s oval face in the attic window. I couldn’t see his tears but I knew he was crying.

I hunched over the weedy bank and reached toward the planchette, but it was no use. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it without actually entering the water. It was cold and slick-black with slime and muck. I knew that no matter how much I missed my father I wouldn’t risk falling in the pond only to get a beating later over ruined clothes. I pulled back and stood there and watched it drift. 

I thought about when Papa brought us here and asked Aunt Clara to watch us. He just needed a few weeks to secure some work, maybe something on a farm on the other side of the valley. Then he’d be back, he said. 

She had looked at us the way one might look at a mouse the cat left at the back door. We were supposed to be a gift, but instead we were a messy, unwanted burden.

It’s bad enough I haven’t seen you for seven years, John, then you show up like this with youngins’ in tow. Nothing ever changes, does it? Who is she anyway? Why can’t she take ‘em?

He just shook his head and twisted his dirty hat in his hands. 

Fine. Go. Be quick, winter is almost here and it will be near impossible to get back without a sled and a team. You have two, maybe three weeks. 

He embraced us both at once, so hard I could feel George squirm in discomfort. But I wanted the hug to last forever. I wanted him to squeeze us until my bones broke to dust. He stopped, though, and turned to go. I tried to run after him but she had me by the collar before I could step off the porch. 

For three years we waited and hoped. No letter, no telegram, no packages. No papa. Then one night at dinner Aunt Clara said, We must assume he’s dead somewhere. So stop hoping and dreaming and resign yourselves to it.

And that was it. No discussion, no Oh you poor babies. Nothing. 

Then one day last month my best friend Helen brought me a gift. During recess she beckoned me to follow her. She had hidden the talking board behind a bush at the far end of the school yard.

Where did you get this?

My older sister and her friends were playing with it, but then something scared them and she threw it in the trash bin. When no one was looking I pulled it out. I figured you could maybe talk to your father.

Helen was the only person—other than George—I told about missing papa. 

Thank you! Do you know how it works? 

Just put the triangle thing—that’s called a planchette—on the alphabet, here. She pointed to the surface of the game board where the alphabet and Yes and No were written in bold, fancy script. 

Then you ask your questions. I think that’s it. Sharon and her friends wouldn’t let me play with them, but I tried to listen at the door and it seemed easy enough.

But no matter how long George and I sat there with the board on our knees and our hands on the planchette no answer came. No spirit moved our little hands, no one uttered words of wisdom from beyond the grave. 

Now there would be no chance to connect, no answers. No papa. 

How long would it stay like that? I thought as I watched it float. Would it be like that for just a few more minutes, hours, days? Would it ever sink? Or would it float there forever teasing and taunting? 

I closed my eyes and imagined that I was a tadpole swimming deep in the pond among the blue-green water plants. I was looking up toward the tiny triangle and saw the sun around the edges, a halo. I saw my arm reaching for something I’d never get back again.

* * * * *

Christine shared this story with Derek:

Shortwave

My father took out the short wave radio on hot summer nights. The kind of nights when we played in the pool for hours past sunset and the grown-ups barbequed Italian sausages and hot dogs. The kind of summer nights when the neighbors walked around the fence to share gossip and cold beer. 

Once we came across an unusual broadcast: every few minutes a female voice recited a sequence of non-sequential numbers, then a pause, then a shrill, mechanical “beep-beep-beep.”  Repeat. 

I later found out it was a “numbers station” broadcast by an unknown government agency so that international spies and little girls wrapped in damp terry cloth sipping Fresca could receive their orders.

Why can we only use the radio at night, Daddy?

He said something about the ozone layer but I preferred to believe that the stars helped the transmission spread around the world like celestial mirrors reflecting the broadcast back to the tiny people of earth.

Last summer, while camping, my kids found a numbers  station on our hand-crank radio. I pressed my ear to the speaker and heard my dad laughing between the beep-beep-beeps, and I could smell wet concrete and grapefruit soda underneath the campfire smoke.

Grandpa Bob would have loved this. He would have loved you.

Tell us about him.

Listen to the radio he is there in the static.

He is reaching out through the radio waves.

 

In response, Derek made this image, titled “Broadcasting from Yuggoth”:

%d bloggers like this: