Donna B. McNicol (@DBMcNicol on Twitter), has a neat little blog that prompts you to write for ten minutes on whatever topic she has posted for the day. It’s called Write 4 Ten, so please check it out.
Now, I have to admit that I’m not very good at following rules…or laws for that matter…but that’s a different topic. The writing exercise calls for ten minutes of writing on the given topic. I did manage to stay on topic. Barely. But the ten minute thing? Well, let’s just say I did it in 10×12. I couldn’t exactly stop until I finished the story, you know? Yeah, I know you do. So, here’s my take on “A Song Memory” – sorry Donna.
“Frank, please don’t do this,” she pleaded, leaning through the driver’s side window. She could smell the alcohol on his breath. He wasn’t drunk, yet. That would change if he ended up at a bar, which is where he claimed he was going. She knew better though. “Please. Just come back inside. I’ll get them to fix you a sandwich and we can talk.”
He looked at her then. She watched his eyes as they went from angry to sad in less than a heartbeat. The smile that he gave her seemed forced.
“There’s nothing left to talk about Katie. That’s all we’ve done is talk. The banks, the finance companies, the government, family, friends…” he trailed off.
“We still haven’t heard back from Saint Jude’s. There’s a really good chance that we can get him in…”
“No! There isn’t. Nobody cares about us or our son Kate. They’ve taken our house, our car, and now fate wants to take away our son! I’m sorry, but I can’t let that happen. I’m done talking about it,” he reached over and turned the radio on, the bulge in his jacket pocket becoming more pronounced.
She knew it was a gun, and she knew that she was about to lose the only man she had ever loved.
“I need you Frankie.”
He looked up and gave her a genuine smile. “I know you do. I need you too. We also need our son,” he cranked the radio up, put the car in gear and sped off.
Kate was left standing on the curb beside the mission center, their home for the past several weeks. She watched him drive off in the old blue Honda that her brother had loaned them. The car turned right at the stop sign, and the rock and roll music slowly faded away; much like her hopes. The closest bars in town were in the other direction.
Frank had no intention of going to a bar. Not that he had money for it anyway. Nearly every cent of his paltry paycheck went to pay medical bills. At his current rate of pay it would take nearly twenty years to pay them off. But they just kept adding up.
Josh had the best doctor in the country last year. This year it was a chore to even get him an appointment outside of a free clinic. The insurance had long since dried up, and most medical facilities refused to even see him, let alone treat the cancer that was eating away inside his seven year old body.
The car had gone first, quickly followed by the house. The bank and finance companies were ruthless, taking just about everything they owned. Frank couldn’t manage to talk a single lawyer into working on the case pro-bono.
On the bright side, he would likely get a public defender if the plan today didn’t work out. He no longer had an account at Apollo Financial Trust, but damned if he wouldn’t make a withdrawal just the same. The important thing was to ensure nobody got hurt in the process. He wouldn’t pull out the gun unless it was absolutely necessary. Even so, he knew it would be just for show.
Frank took the next onramp into the heart of the city, planning his escape route on the way. Tom Petty was on the radio singing, ‘I Won’t Back Down’, which seemed an appropriate theme song for the day. He sang along while remembering the look that Kate gave him as he drove away. Even without the makeup she was the prettiest girl he had ever known. Seeing her with puffy red eyes from weeks of crying, though not in front of Josh, never in front of Josh, just broke his heart. There was something about that last look though. Realization? Resignation? It was almost like she never expected to see him again. She knew. “Damn it!”
Kate stood in the long hallway next to the payphone. She could hear the kids a few rooms down in the playroom. The laughter gave no hint of their poverty stricken station in life. The Phoenix Mission Center was one of the few places that allowed both adults in need and their children to stay free of charge. The waiting list was six months long, the guidelines and paperwork endless, but she had managed to secure a place for them inside of a month.
She was not Catholic and had never even spoken to a priest before her first visit here, yet she managed to talk Father Albert into putting them at the top of the waiting list. The timing was perfect. The family moved into the center the same day the bank took final possession of their home. Frank took the lead and made it seem like a vacation, telling Josh about all the new people they would meet and adventures they would have.
Things had been rough the first week but had gotten better, up until someone stole Josh’s medication a few days ago. Although the cancer was supposed to be in remission, the little pink and while pills were the only hope of keeping him healthy. The medication was very expensive and replacing it was not currently in their means. They needed money, fast.
“Brian, it’s me, Kate. Please don’t hang up.”
“I’m broke Kate. I’ve told you that a million times. I live paycheck to paycheck, and seventy percent of that goes for child support. I gave you guys what I could. Hell, I even gave you my old jalopy. I’ve got nothing left. Seriously.”
“I know, I know, and we really appreciate all you’ve done for us. You are the best brother a girl could have. It’s the car I wanted to talk to you about. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I just need you to answer a question for me if you can.”
“Okay. I’ll try. What’s the question?”
“When you gave it to me you said that it only picked up one radio station because the antenna was broke or something.”
“Yeah, that’s right. I can’t fix it if that’s what you’re asking.”
“No, nothing like that. I just need to know the name of the station.”
“Are you serious?”
“It picks up the largest station in the city, WRDK 102 FM. You trying to win a contest or something?”
“Something like that. Thanks Brian. I’ll talk to you soon,” she quickly replaced the receiver and pulled out the phone book.
Frank circled the bank for the third time. It occurred to him that this probably wasn’t the best thought out plan he’d ever had. For starters he should have at least used a different car. If anyone saw him escaping in the Honda then it would just be a matter of time before they tracked him down.
A parking spot on the corner finally opened up and Frank pulled the car into it, parallel to the bank. There were dozens of shops on the not-yet busy street, but the pedestrian traffic would pick up as lunchtime approached. Again, probably not the best plan, but at least it would throw a bit of confusion and chaos into the mix if worse came to worse. He lowered the volume on the radio a bit, rolled down the window and waited.
Kate listened to the phone ring, eyes closed, silently praying for someone to pick up the line. She was just about to hang up and try again when the phone clicked, “W.R.D.K. request line. What can I play for you?”
“I need you to play Garth Brooks ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ for the next song, then follow it up with Credence Clearwater Revival’s ‘A Bad Moon Rising’…please.”
“Well that might be a problem. First, there are about a dozen songs on the list ahead of your request. Second, we usually only take one request at a time. And finally, we don’t play Garth Brooks here. This is a rock station.”
“You don’t understand. This is a matter of life and death. If you don’t play those two songs right now I may lose my husband.”
There was a long pause and Kate listened to the music playing in the background over the phone. She wasn’t a fan of rock, but it sounded like the type of music that Frank would listen to.
“Please,” she said. “I’m serious.”
“Okay, perhaps you better explain what this is about.”
“There’s no time! It might already be too late.”
“Look lady, if I play a country song on this station I’ll probably end up losing my job. Either tell me what’s going on or find another station to listen to.”
Kate took a deep breath and began her story. She was less than two minutes into it before the DJ started looking for Garth Brooks songs on iTunes.
The lunch crowd was in full swing now. Frank watched a couple of grandparents guide their granddaughter from shop to shop. It looked as though they were on a summer shopping spree. He thought about Josh and his shoes, a half size too small. Life just wasn’t fair. The economy, Obamacare, and cancer – welcome to the real America, where bailouts are for banks, and medical care is for those that can afford it, or be deemed worthy of it.
Frank reached into his pocket and pulled out a ski mask he had rescued from the lost and found box at the center. It was pink. He was going to have to rely on a calm but tough attitude once he entered the bank. As stressed as he was, he still let out a little laugh thinking about walking into a bank robbery with a pink ski mask on.
He reached up to turn the car off when the radio grabbed his attention. His hand diverted to the volume knob and turned it up. They were playing the song that he sung to Kate on their wedding day. He had wanted to surprise her, and had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. She said this song was her favorite part of the wedding. It was now their song. All the shared memories came crashing like a wave.
There ain’t nothin’ that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the earth for you
Make you happy make your dreams come true
To make you feel my love
By the time the last verse played Frank had tears in his eyes. It had been a devastating two years, but not once had he shed a tear. He was supposed to be the rock that Katie and Josh depended upon, and he had played that part as best he could.
He wiped the tears away and looked up to see the old couple and little girl cross the street, bags in every had. They walked into the bank and disappeared just as the next song started to play. It was the same song that played on another radio station nearly two years ago.
I see the bad moon arising
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightnin’
I see bad times today
That was the last song he and Kate heard before parking the car and walking into Mercy Medical to meet with Dr. Caspberger about Josh’s test results. Frank remembered turning the song off about half-way through. It had seemed like a bad omen at the time. Frank never thought of himself as the superstitious type, but he could never listen to that song again.
His fist slammed into the radio so hard it broke the plastic cover. Still the song played. He hit it again, harder. And again, until the music stopped. He looked through watery eyes at the bleeding mess of his right hand, then wrapped the ski mask around his fingers. He drove back to the mission center with one hand on the wheel and tears in his eyes.
Had Frank not broken the radio, he would have heard a very endearing plea from the station manager at the end of that song. The station raised enough money to supply six months of medication for Josh by the time Frank found his way back to the mission. Funds for Josh became the rallying cry for WRDK over the next few days and it spread like wildfire through the city.