The One in Which I Fall In Love With the Radio

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth HayI’m half-entertaining the idea of giving myself a reading challenge. I have nothing better to do this coming year. How many books in a year would be impressive? I obviously don’t want to do anything difficult unless I can retain some bragging rights from the experience.

I’ve been reading Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay. I remember buying this book when Eric and I had just started staying up until all hours on the phone. I did what I always do: Get drawn in by a title/cover/author, read the back, read the first page and if it can hook me then and there I buy it. The first page describes one of the characters hearing another character’s voice for the first time. How he falls for her before he ever lays eyes on her. It’s beautiful, really.

I love the radio. I love falling asleep to CBC Radio 2 at night, letting the voices flow in and over me like waves. That’s part of the reason I love going to my cottage so much. Without a T.V. or a computer we are at the mercy of the radio programming. Some of my favourite memories of Luke and I are sitting on comfortable old chairs my parents have rescued, periodically stoking the fire in the wood stove, reading quietly and separately but listening to the radio together.

A hand on my arm startling me from my reverie.

“Oh, I love this song.”

The tiny room getting uncomfortably hot. Stripping slowly at first in necessity and then, just because.

Padding barefoot to the kitchen afterward to get a glass of water, droplets of sweat evaporating dry and cold on my skin. Catching eyes with myself in the dark glass in the window above the sink.

I have to remind myself it wasn’t always this way.

After awhile we ran out of things to say to each other. We would just coexist in silence and I didn’t even miss the sound of his voice. But, I did miss the music. That was the beginning of the end, I know now.

Hay has a great passage in her book that floored me for so many reasons. Well, in any case, here it is:

But there came a moment when Eddy set the wine bottle on the coffee table, and the hard, neat sound of glass on wood marked a shift in the party. In his abrupt, inscrutable way, Eddy stood up to leave, and Harry had all his suspicions confirmed. Between Dido and Eddy things were more advanced than he’d wanted to believe, more advanced, more aggressive, more potent.

He growled, “Eddy,” halting him in his progress to the door. “How did you end up in Yellowknife, anyway?”

Eddy stayed where he was standing. The music had stopped and the noise of the party had fallen off for a moment. “It’s a long story, Harry.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

With mild contempt, “Is that right?”

A pause, and then Eddy deigned to give a cold sober account of his movements. About a year ago, he said, leaning against the wall, he was driving around one day, aimless and bored, and he came to a fork in the road. He was in Montana at the time. The sign had two arrows, one pointed north, the other south. He could have gone either way. But the singer on the radio was Neil Young, so he turned north, and then he decided he might as well follow the road until it ran out, which it finally did on the north shore of Great Slave Lake.

“Are you always so impulsive?” asked Dido, who by now had joined them.

“Try decisive,” Eddy replied.

“So what was Neil Young singing?” she persisted with a faint smile.

Harry, through the pain in his heart, saw exactly what he was up against. Eddy had no sense of humour, and Dido, serious Dido, didn’t care. European to the core, she’d fallen for the lean, sardonic, tight-lipped cowboy in jeans.

Eddy flipped through Harry’s records—then dropped the needle directly onto the first note of “Helpless.”

After that Dido stopped giving Eddy a hard time, she yeilded her rights to tormenting him. And Harry, watching the play of feeling on her face, understood the power of a song to advance a man in a woman’s heart. Songs, he thought, were the seven-league boots of romance.

We share ourselves in almost imperceptible ways. A favoured greeting or a traditional goodbye. A list of words we whisper to each other late at night to find comfort. The tuning of a radio, finding something familiar, something that reminds us of how far we have come and the place from which we started. The songs we share with each other or the ones we keep for ourselves. That we listen to on our own, in our own little bubble, as our significant other putters around in determined silence. It’s like a going out of business sale for a relationship; the removal of shared music. Always followed by a lack of words. The first time he says “I love you” and you pretend you didn’t hear. The ache in your chest as you display your palms to the sky, empty. I’m sorry, baby, we’ve got nothing left.

Neil Young – Helpless

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7 thoughts on “The One in Which I Fall In Love With the Radio”

  1. Ooh, this sounds good. I’ll have to try to read it this year.

    I haven’t met anyone yet whose managed all 50 books in a year. I only got just over 30, but I know I could’ve done more. And I think that’s the point. To always be reading and enjoying a book. Whether you’ll finish five or fifty doesn’t matter, that’s more dependent on your speed and other things going on in your life than anything. The reason I wanted to do it was to remind myself that no matter how busy I got, I had to find time for books.

    1. That sounds like a challenge. Never heard of 50 books in year? The competitive spirit in my is piqued. It is a great sentiment. It was hard to keep on top of reading for pleasure when I was reading so much for my English degree, now I feel like I can get back to it. Have you started your 50 books this year yet? I think that you have. Perhaps I will to. But, when to start… hm.

      BTW so far, the book is great. I’ll update when I’m finished. Go go Can Lit!

  2. Lord, woman. That was beautiful. So well written, so well composed. That last paragraph is stunning. Love this. Love Neil Young. Love the mirrors in this post and the book.

    I’ve said it before, but I love so much that our powers are different. That you’re able to go into these deep personal spaces and lay everything bare. So insightful, so true.

  3. This is beautiful.

    I will read 1,000 books this year. I will retain nothing.

    You should find Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s version of “Helpless.”
    It, too, is beautiful.

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