No More Words
by Steven Roisum
Hands burst through the shower curtain. My fiancée, Becca, was holding a lizard. “I think this thing just talked to me.”
I tried to recover from the intrusion. You don’t stick a lizard in a man’s face while he’s naked. “Damn alive! What the hell is that thing?”
I cranked off the pleasantly hissing warm water. I forgot I had been still lathered up and then cranked the shower on again. She shook me. Dammit, I hate being shaken. I ripped open the curtain to find them sitting on the toilet seat: the lizard, with one eye looking one way, and the other eye in another. About as big as a year-old baby in Becca’s scrawny arms.
I instinctively grabbed a brush and combed back my grey, thinning hair. I jumped into my Fruit of a Loom underwear and khakis. “Where did you find that thing?”
She said, “I heard scratching at our back door.”
“You found it just standing there?” I pulled my collar-free polo shirt over my head.
“Yep. It asked for you. At least it sounded that way.” She shrugged. “It sounds so crazy.”
I looked at her with a cocked head. That was the weirdest claim my very sane fiancée had ever said. She was the one who kept me sane. My rock. My far-better half. My almost-bride.
I glanced at those sharp claws. They had probably gouged ribbons in the wood. Sure, I can understand that she’d be a bit thrown by such a creature scratching at our door. Maybe it was a lost pet, or maybe from a fan? I don’t remember discussing anything about lizards on the air.
“And it spoke to you?”
“Yes, that’s how I know it wanted to talk to you. Can you stop looking at me like that, Dirk? I know how crazy this sounds.” She petted the lizard as if it were a cat. It didn’t move to hiss at her. It trained its eyes on me. Squinting, sinister. It seemed to be smiling, which made it look... smug?
I matched its gaze. To see what it would do. It didn’t turn away. Like it was sizing me up. I could swear it wagged its tail right then.
The stranger didn’t wear a collar. Becca was right. There wasn’t a speaker. That brought to mind another possibility. As silly as it sounds, I looked out our window to see if there were any ventriloquists hiding in our surrounding shrubbery. Nope.
Our shower drain was partially clogged. When the lizard heard the slurping sound, it ripped its claws at Becca’s hand. “Ow!” With unnatural speed, the lizard climbed on top of our tub, and then down the other side. A quiet splash.
Becca said, “What the Sam Hill was that about?”
We rushed to the tub, pulled the curtain back.
It had grown. Maybe six inches longer than just seconds ago. It turned to look up at us. What was this thing? Becca said, “You’ve got to call Animal Control on this. Can’t you get someone to cover for you?”
“I can’t it’s almost—”
“Prep o’clock.” She talked like she swallowed a much-too-strong cough drop. She was right. Prep o’clock. My nickname for four pm Monday through Friday.
You see, I was a radio personality. I pulled in a million listeners per show. Give or take.
I loved her to death. Seeing her this way pained me. Despite all this, I had to go. If my show had an audience of two hundred people, it would have been tempting to half-ass it. A million? No way.
“Exactly. Maybe whoever planted this here will call in.”
Highly unlikely. My Fit Bit alarm was going to go off in mere minutes. To our surprise, the stranger had turned the water back on. I heard a click. It had closed the drain again.
I said, “That little son a bitch. Call Animal Control.”
“Becca, we don’t know that for sure.”
“We just saw it. Good lord, Dirk, you know me. I’m the sane one.”
I nodded, and kissed the top of her head. “Yes, you are. Animal Control. Promise me. I know you get embarrassed when marked vehicles pull into our driveway, but you have to.” I yelled out, “I love you!”
She waved, “I love you too.”
* * *
My Prius sat in our driveway, car-commercial clean. When I ducked inside, I may or may not have heard a second voice. Low, and hissy through an open window: “Soon, Dirk.”
I wrote it off as my imagination. Not knowing that soon after, I’d be groveling to talk to Becca again. Right then, I had run out of words. There wasn’t any time to say anything else. I simply drove away. I shouldn’t have left her.
It was raining outside.
The radio station had been a bomb shelter. It still had the original thick metal doors and windowless walls. My medium-sized office was an offshoot from the newsroom. I had a nice, wide mahogany desk and a bank-teller lamp. When you bring in the ratings, they treat you well.
I didn’t even look at the wall clock. I could time in my head how long I was taking. After reading through three newspapers, scrolling through fifteen websites, and burning through a half-hour jotting down notes, I pushed the thoughts away with busywork, only to have them swing right back. Like a pendulum hitting my cerebral cortex.
I called her number. No answer.
Announcers were supposed to come into a show clean. No outdoor baggage. It was about being a big personality, with big bold statements, a dash of humor, and a horn-o-plenty’s worth of hubris. Lucky for me, that stuff can be faked.
As long as you remember that one nugget: no matter how you feel, The Show Must Go On. I even jotted down a reminder on a white mug. A note, written in permanent marker, to me from me. “Leave the outside world at the door, dumbass.”
I walked the hallway down to the studio. Photos of on-air announcers lined the walls. My fellow talents. Rubee Rowdy’s show Breakfast in America. Old Time Politics with Sam Slinger, finally from five to seven we had Hard Rock with Johnny Come Lately. He often left well before seven.
Most announcers pre-record their shows. Not me. My picture is the largest. Full of ridges and decorative blemishes to adorn my passable, fat face. The cost of the frame alone could have easily fixed the cracked, tile floor I had strolled in my Doc Marten’s leather shoes. I made a mental note to gripe about it again to the boss.
Focus. Must focus. I rubbed my left wrist with my right hand. Still that pendulum swung. Becca was at the front of my mind again. I walked into the studio at 6:50 pm. Right on time.
* * *
The studio looked like this: My announcer desk faces the control room. On the other side of that soundproof glass window, eight feet in front of me, stood Patty. My producer. Her body was rail thin. The scent of cigarette smoke in her shaved, half-inch hair. She ran my show. She played the commercials, turned my mic on and off. Answered phone calls, and sent them to me, so I could talk to guests on-air.
Inside the studio, where I sit, stood two guest chairs with microphones at the ready.
Since I couldn’t hear her, Patty began our countdown. Three fingers, two fingers, and then one, she pointed at me.
I was on the air. Adrenaline sang through my veins.
“Hi there, folks. Dirk Darklight here, the show is called Talk Back Tuesday, on your radio-eye-oh, and our phones are open to you. For the best in political talk. The topic is essentially anything you want to talk about. Caller number one. Dave is it? You’re on the air. David? Davey? I can hear you breathing, man.”
“Are you choking, Dave?”
Patty shrugged. So I said, “It’s a swing and a miss, Big D. Sorry about that.”
Line two lit right up.
“Okay then, Lowell. You’re on Talk Back Tuesdays. Before we get going, did you mistake this as Taco Tuesday? That’s not the same thing, Lowell.” I pause. Silence. “Lowell, anything? I was joking.” There’s an inherent danger with joking on-air. Once they’re out, you can’t reel the clunkers back into your mouth.
“My apologies, folks. Apparently our phone lines have been taken over by mimes. Let’s go to our first break while we figure out what’s up.”
I was off the air again. It was commercial time.
Dean’s Auto Farm was the first advertising spot. Then Sethman’s Funeral Home. Then a pre-recorded: “Now let’s return to Dirk Darklight’s Talk Back Tuesday!”
Patty gives me her 3-2-1 signal.
I’m afire again. “Thank you. I am Dirk Darklight and this is Talk Back Tuesday. We are still getting calls. Folks, we can hear background noise. The TV. Dishwasher. Barking dogs. For some reason, we can’t hear you. We can hear you moving around, just not your voice. Wait, Producer Patty has sent me a note on my trusty laptop here.”
It wasn’t from Becca. I didn’t know why I expected that. Hope, I guess. Sometimes she did send messages.
Like a true professional, I rolled on. “This is from City Dispatch. Apparently something is going on all over the place. If your phones are acting weird on you, the police say you can text them at 9-1-1, or they can trace your call. Or you can maybe find someone who can speak for you.”
Like I said before, the show must go on. “You know what, Patty?”
“Yes?” She had a mic herself that she turns on and off. She didn’t love using it, but it’s damn hard for me to just talk by myself for three hours. I could have done it. But with the phones not running, I thought it made for better radio, bouncing off someone else. Especially right then.
“Okay, here I go.” I got handsomely paid to make absurd, grandiose statements and stories. Do I actually believe them? Not so much. People respond to the dumbest premises.
I paused there to give the audience the feeling that I was churning out a noteworthy deep thought. A deep sigh to show I’m a patriot, to show how much I cared about this fabulous country. “I don’t know what makes me think of stuff like this but, I wanna toss this out for your consideration. It’s crude, but I have a brilliant point here, as I often do. Main Street usually runs in the middle of town, right? Straight. Down. The. Middle.”
That wasn’t true, either. I simplified things; that’s what the audience wanted; this wasn’t public radio. “Here’s what I think about Democrats. Here’s what I think about Republicans. Are you ready for this? The Dems and Re-pubs can live in separate communities. Let me take that thought a little further. What we need is a Mason-Dixon Line down the middle. Would everyone in this country be happy again? Would absence from each other make our hearts grow fonder? Text me with your thoughts. I’ll read them on-air if I have to.”
Then my catchphrase: “Talk to me, citizens!” I didn’t mention, of course, that there’s social media to bicker upon. I left that out on purpose so a call-in-listener could feel good about him- or herself and point it out.
The phone in the control room lit up. Since we don’t want a phone to ring on air, the light tells us someone is calling in.
Sometimes Becca did call in. Patty developed a sign for me when she was on the line. A thumbs-up followed by an A-Ok.
My heart gave a little pang of joy. It’s Becca? Already, for the sake of the show, I issued rules on myself. I couldn’t tell her I loved her. I couldn’t extend any favoritism over other callers. I certainly couldn’t get personal. Hopefully the lizard was gone again.
“Hi, Becca. You’re on.”
“This is Becca,” She confirmed it. She’s talking. Good. There was a slight wavering in her voice, my nerves prickled. “He didn’t leave, Dirk. I couldn’t call for help.”
I tried not to let my own voice waiver, but without success. “Becca?” My fingers wiggled in moments like that. Then I clenched my fist, and then wiggled my fingers again. I chose words carefully. A million were glued to their radios. “Becca, I...” This was not sounding very professional.
She replied. “You should run. Gack...”
Now she’s choking too? “Becca who has you? What’s going on?”
She screamed at someone next to her. Jostling, fighting to keep her phone. Struggling now. “Get off me... gack!” And that’s the last I heard from my dear almost-bride. My rock. The sane one.
From her phone came a new voice. “Soon is now, Dirk.” Raspy, hissy. “We are in the hallway right now.”
“Soon is now! We will be heard!”
The voice is real.
Something hit the power. The whole place went black.
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Steven Roisum