Only Looking | Creative Writing | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Only Looking 

4+4 Fiction

Published November 23, 2005 at 5:13 p.m.


When I got home from hauling logs out of the forest on a sled, my calves burning and my eyes tearing, I found my sister Olive cranking the generator under the porch. It hadn't started yet, but she was determined and had taken off her mittens for better traction.

"Hurry and hook up the old Tube, Clementine!" she said. "Sarah downtown found movies in her attic, and I swapped three blankets for the lot."

"You crazy?" I asked, even as I got my glove around the crank and helped her pull. Olive was three years older than I but often seemed younger, which our mom said was due to her being old enough to remember the day when the big power grids failed. "Olive remembers what it's like to have 52 channels and nothing on," she'd say.

Fact was, the blankets had taken my sister weeks to knit. And the generator was only supposed to be used for emergencies - - like when you ran out of cooking wood, or you wanted to light your house like a Christmas tree so the vandals would think you had armed men inside and pass you by.

Fact also was, I was tempted. Once upon a time, we'd had a whole shelf of silver movie wafers in cardboard cases ourselves, but the ones we hadn't swapped out of state in exchange for tools had been watched till I knew them by heart.

Once we had the generator going, I scampered inside to wire up and fire up the old viewing machines, stored in their cartons under the sideboard. Mom had wanted to swap them away, too, but Dad had refused, saying that with his ability to watch old Sox games would go his humanity.

You saw bits of Dad here and there in our house, like the piece of old- time money hanging framed over the table where I was setting up the TV. It was a skinny, crumpled, murky green portrait of a guy in a wig, and I used to think it was a work of art stolen from a museum. My dad would say only, "That's the almighty George. He made our country great, and brought it down." It was my mom who patiently explained that George used to be a medium of currency. "We keep him here so he can get an eyeful of America gone to crap," my dad said, a couple of weeks before he lit out for Florida and didn't come back.

"Are you ready?" asked Olive. I flopped down without taking my boots off. The tray slid into the machine with a click, things whirred, and the dead gray screen of the old TV filled with light.

Music came out of the box, heavy bass with a rich melody. Guitars, piano, drums, a tenor - - I'd heard all the ingredients in church, but never such a soup of sound, chunky and complex and yet each part distinct. "Time is done, race not won, come with me," the singer sang, and Olive and I hummed along.

"Is there a story?" I asked, mystified. On the screen, the singer was singing his song and dancing alone, swaying his broad shoulders. He had long curly hair and looked a little like pictures of Jesus, only angrier and sexier. As he swiveled his hips, he raised his arms, and through him I could see a long street with tall houses on either side, then a stream of people hurrying down a flight of stairs into a tunnel. The world was all orange and red and sickly green and reflections off white tiles.

And then the singer was swaying alone again, and the shadows were blue, and the faces of the men playing guitar and drums were emerging around him like ghosts from a dark room - - and then he was dancing in a hall full of people and light, and a beautiful woman was giving him the eye. And all the while the music went on, weaving and wending, saying, Deeper and deeper.

"What is this?" I asked. The films I had seen were by Disney.

Olive looked superior, and I could tell she was drawing on her memories. "A video," she said. "Of a cheesy dance rock band."

Cheesy meant bad; fire and food and hard work were good. But I couldn't have cared less. I had seen a world of beauty and change and excitement - - a world that shifted as you looked at it, like the light on a grackle's wing. I was in for a life of dissatisfaction, though I didn't know it. Still, when I wrenched my eyes to the image my father had placed above the TV to watch over us, I could have sworn


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About The Author

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.


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