Copyright 2009 by Scott B. Laughlin/n7net
Jack awoke with a start. Had he had missed the paperboy for the third morning this week? Gently, he laid back the blankets, so as not to disturb Millie, then groped for his trousers.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, her voice thick with sleep.
“Nothing. Go back to sleep,” he said, tugging on his trousers. After cinching his belt he grabbing his robe and slippers and headed for the door.
Fisherman’s Wharf lay not far away. He sometimes heard waterfront activity—the shriek of boat whistles and the slow rhythm of ships. But this morning all sounds were muffled except for the throaty moan of a distant foghorn. The corner street lamp cast a grainy luster across the wet lawn.
“What on earth are you doing, Jack?”
Startled, he whirled about to find Millie on the porch, clutching her flowered robe tightly around her neck.
“I’m waiting on the paperboy,” he growled. “Go back to bed before you catch cold.”
The words hardly cleared his lips before the young man appeared on a speeding bicycle. Before Jack could draw a breath to summon the fellow, his newspaper sailed toward him and slid to a halt a few yards from where he stood.
“Hey! I want a word with you,” Jack shouted. He knew it was fruitless, this hollering business, because the speeding youngster had vanished as quickly as he’d appeared. Perhaps it was the curse of his old age that made hailing so futile. He stooped to retrieve his soggy Chronicle when the boy’s voice sounded.
“Mr. Wilcox, did you call me?”
Jack straighten and found himself looking into the face of a short, thin boy.
“I did. What’s your name, young man?”
“Do you see what’s wrong here?”
“No sir,” answered Jimmy, his dark eyes searching the newspaper that Jack thrust toward him.
“Can’t you see that it’s soaking wet?”
“Well, everything’s wet this morning, sir. It’s the fog.”
“With a bit more force you might have sailed it onto my porch.”
“You want it on your porch?“
“I can do that.”
“Good. For every morning I find it on my porch I’ll add ten cents to your weekly fee.”
The boy smiled, but Jack could see that his mind was occupied elsewhere.
“May I ask you a question?”
“Like what?” growled Jack.
“Is that a tri-bander on that tower?”
Jack glanced toward the antenna, but it was not yet visible in the predawn light. “How’d you know about that?
“I saw it when Mom was showing me my paper route.”
“And what do you know about radio antennas?”
“Not very much, only what I read in a magazine at the laundromat. Do you have a radio room?”
“Can I see it?”
Jack had no tolerance for children. They were noisy and unruly. He knew he’d frightened the boy by the way he’d grabbed his bike and fled, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t care. The little scamp had no business poking around and touching things in his radio room.
“You shouldn’t have been so short with him,” Millie complained, as Jack started for the porch.
“Well, maybe not, but I don’t want a darn kid underfoot. He’s a paperboy, for crying out loud. If I let him in one time he’ll be back every day. I don’t have time for such monkey business.”
“I suppose not, your being retired an all,” Millie said sarcastically. “How long has it been since you’ve turned on your radio? Six months? A year?”
He didn’t answer, but held the door for her, instead. He watched Millie proceed toward the kitchen. By her stride it was obvious that this conversation was not finished.
He opened the Chronicle and scanned the editorial page before placing the paper near the furnace to dry. Then he moved to his recliner, leaned back, and closed his eyes. If only Millie had stayed in bed, he thought to himself. The sun was not yet up and the situation was already out of control.
Jack pulled himself from his recliner and headed into the kitchen.
“One of the Chronicle editors thinks John Kennedy will be our next president,” Jack said as he added milk the bowl of oatmeal she’d set before him. He knew she cared nothing for politics, so maybe a bit of Washington news would derail her crusade.
“How do you feel about that?” she asked as she dried her hands on her apron and joined him at the table. Raising her hand, she swept back a few strands of gray hair that had escaped from her bun and waited for his response.
“There’s probably no difference between Kennedy and Nixon.”
“But isn’t Nixon a self-made man?” she asked.
“So they say, but that’s only because he found the incriminating Pumpkin Papers that put Alger Hiss in prison. John Kennedy is the son of a man who made his fortune bootlegging Scotch whiskey during Prohibition. How can one be better than the other? Where’s a Roosevelt when we need one?”
Millie’s eyes glazed over and she nodded mechanically while she waited for Jack to run down.
“The paperboy is interested in amateur radio. Did you not notice that?” she asked after he fell silent.
“I did. But that’s none of my affair. His father should help him, rather than me,” he said while adding milk to his coffee.
“Jimmy, is that his name?”
“Yes, that’s what he said.”
“I know his mother. She’s in our book club. She told me two weeks ago he was taking over this paper route. She’s fearful that he isn’t old enough. She’s so protective of him, being a single mother and all.”
“Divorced, I suppose,” Jack mumbled between spoonfuls.
“Actually, her husband was killed in Korea shortly before Jimmy’s birth.”
Jack blinked, but he remained silent for a moment. “That’s unfortunate, Millie, but that has no bearing on me. I’m much too old to be of any use to a ten-year-old. Have you forgotten that I’m seventy-five? What on earth would we ever find in common?”
“Radio. It’s the radio that you have in common, the same attraction that occurred between you and that old man you knew when you were a kid. What was his name?”
“Wilson. Old Man Wilson.”
“It radio that brought you two together, was it not?”
“Well, it was his wire antennas that first caught my attention. That old man taught me so much.” Jack’s voice trailed off as he focused on the past.
“How old were you?”
“I’m not sure. Eighty-something, I think.”
“Eat your breakfast, Jack.”