by Lenny Levine
Vera Antonelli had never felt so happy, and so homicidal, to see anyone in her life.
“What the hell is the matter with you?” she yelled at Simon Clark as he stumbled into the control room. “Why are you so late? We’re on the air in twenty seconds!”
He wasn’t looking at her. His eyes roamed the control room as he tried to steady himself against the console. He shook his head, and his long, gray ponytail moved in accompaniment.
“I almost died,” he muttered.
“You and me both,” she said as she grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the door to the studio. “And the station too. We were this close to dead air.”
“I almost died,” he said again.
She opened the studio door and pushed him toward the table with its microphone and headset.
“I cued up ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ so all you have to do is the station ID and the opening. Then we can work out the rest.”
He sat down heavily in the chair. She picked up the headphones and handed them to him.
“We’ve got five seconds,” Vera said over her shoulder as she stepped back into the control room. She slid behind the board, hastily adjusted a fader, then flipped on the intercom and said, “Go!”
He was sitting there, idly fingering his scraggly beard and staring ahead.
She panicked. Should she start playing the music? That would blow the station ID, and you had to deliver it on the hour, according to the FCC. Should she go in there and do it herself, even though she was petrified to speak on-air? She was just about to lose it, when he spoke.
“You’re listening to 99.9 WCR-FM, the home of Classic Rock,” he intoned in his buttery voice, his eyes still off somewhere. “And we’ve got a whole a.m. filled with your favorites. I am Simon Clark, at your service, along with my young, able-bodied producer (and if you saw her, you’d know what I mean), Vera Antonelli. Let’s start it off with a little Led Zep.”
Vera cued in the music and the lacy-fingered guitar intro to “Stairway to Heaven” filled the control room. Through the glass she could see him sitting, catatonically, at the mic. She hit the intercom again.
“Simon, are you okay? You’re not drunk, are you? What’s going on?”
“I told you,” he said, still not looking at her, “I almost died.”
“Jeez,” Vera muttered to herself as she pushed open the door to the studio. It was a good thing she’d picked “Stairway to Heaven” because it gave her eight full minutes to deal with this, whatever it was.
She plunked herself down in the chair opposite him, the one they used for guests.
“Okay, what happened to you?”
His eyes lit up. “Hey, I just realized—we’re playing ‘Stairway to Heaven.’”
“Congratulations, you’ve named that tune.”
“No, no, it’s perfect, don’t you see? I almost died.”
“What an amazing coincidence. Now, do you want to tell me about it?”
“Wait, wait, I’m getting an idea. Go in there and fade the music when he gets to ‘Ooh, and it makes me wonder.’”
“Just do it.”
“But we’re not supposed to fade a song in the middle.”
“I don’t care. Hurry, it’s almost up to that part.”
“Just go with me on this, Vera. Now move your ass!”
She jumped out of the chair and dove toward the door to the control room, making it to the board just in time to fade the music and bring up his mic level. She nodded to him through the glass.
“Ooh, and it makes me wonder, all right,” he said. “It makes me wonder why I’m still alive. By all rights, I should be a dead man. I should’ve been crushed underneath that Jeep Cherokee that came through the window of the Dunkin’ Donuts.”
Vera drew a breath. That story had just come in on the newswire. She’d noticed because it happened on Route 47, which was close by.
“Why am I not dead?” Simon pulled the microphone closer, and Vera had to quickly adjust the level. “Maybe it was the half-and-half dispenser that was empty, so I had to ask the clerk for some, and it took me that much longer to get to the table. Maybe it was the traffic light I missed on the way there. It annoyed me at the time, but it was one of the things that saved me. One of the many little things that, combined together, had me approaching that table just as the car crashed through the window. Not sitting, drinking my coffee in the seat it landed on.”
“How many other things happened in my life before that moment? Little things that had nothing to do with each other, but were crucial. I can’t even count them.”
“And never mind me, how about the woman who was driving the car? I heard she’s okay, and I’m glad, but how many little things happened in her life this morning? Why was the accident right at that instant and not a few lethal seconds later?”
“And do you know what’s amazing? I’ll bet everyone who’s listening has a story like mine. A moment, maybe on the highway, maybe in your home, when it all could’ve ended, but it didn’t. Because a lot of little things just happened to happen. And they saved your life.”
“Well, I want to hear that story. Up till now, this station has only taken song requests, but today is different. Today is Near-Death Experience Day. Every song we play this morning will either have something to do with dying or will have the words ‘little thing’ in the title. And while we’re playing them, I want to hear from you. I want to know why we’re all still alive.”
“Is it random? Is it fate? Call me. Tell me.”
* * *
“I was just about to step off the curb,” a woman in New York City was saying on the phone to Vera as she cross-faded “I Just Died in Your Arms” into “Every Little Thing” by the Beatles.
“I thought it was a one-way street. I only looked to my right, but it turned out that, just for that block, it was two-way. A man suddenly came up next to me and put his arm out, or I would’ve stepped right in front of a bus. He got there just at that moment. If he’d been walking any slower, or anything else was different, I’d be dead now.”
The phone lines were lighting up like a Christmas tree. Two secretaries from the outer office had been pressed into service to handle it all.
“Wow!” Vera said to the woman. “Let me put you on hold, okay?” She switched to another line. “Simon Clark, Classic Rock.”
“I had a near-death experience,” said a male voice that, according to her screen, came from Cleveland. “Me and my wife both. That plane crash in Colorado last week. We would’ve been on that plane if our son hadn’t left the front door slightly open that morning. Our cat got out in the street and a pizza van that wasn’t even supposed to be there but had gotten lost hit her.”
“Then our vet was late getting to his office. I don’t know why, but I thank God for it. It took him that much longer to set our cat’s broken leg. We got to the airport and missed that flight by only seconds.”
“Oh, man!” said Vera. “Would you hold on, please? Thanks.”
“Every Little Thing” was fading out. She signaled through the glass to Simon, who was talking to a man in Florida who’d just missed being killed by a falling air conditioner because he’d stumbled over a crack in the pavement two seconds before.
“That’s incredible. Would you stay on the line, please?” Simon told him and put him on hold.
“The Beatles,” he intoned into the microphone. “Did you know that Eric Clapton has a completely different song called ‘Every Little Thing’? Maybe we’ll play it, but meanwhile, our phones are ringing off the hook. We’re hearing some amazing stories, things that are positively mind-blowing.”
“And you’ll hear them too, just on the other side of our next pairing: Bob Marley’s ‘Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Alright’ and ‘Symphony of Destruction’ by Megadeth.”
It went on like that for the next three hours. Simon had to limit the on-air callers to two between records, or they’d have no time for anything else.
Many of the people who called claimed it was God who saved them. Simon told them he certainly couldn’t argue with that, “but if it was all random, wouldn’t that be even more astonishing?”
He was just finishing up with a call as Vera took one from a man that her screen said was local.
“I can’t stand listening to this!” he blurted out. “All this talk of little things saving people’s lives. How about the little things that cause people to die?”
The screen may have said “local,” but the man’s voice sounded far away and tinny. She had to strain to hear it.
“I lost my daughter today. She was at our house for dinner last night, and just as she was about to leave, she realized she’d misplaced her scarf. It was a beautiful scarf her mother and I had given her for her birthday, and she was very upset. So we looked around, and when we couldn’t find it right away, I told her it was no big deal. It had to be around here somewhere. We’d keep looking for it after she left, and she could pick it up next time. But she insisted on staying until she found it.
“If she hadn’t done that, she’d still be alive. She would’ve gotten home safely. Instead, because of that scarf, she was on the road at the exact moment a drunk driver, coming the other way, swerved over the line. He crashed into her, head-on.”
“These are the kind of stories you should be telling—not just those others.”
Vera felt tears well up inside her. Her voice caught in her throat as she said, “You’re absolutely right, and I’m going to put you on the air. You’ll be the next caller. Just hang on.”
She put him on hold and then couldn’t help herself. She began to weep uncontrollably, moaning as she signaled Simon through the glass.
He acknowledged it but didn’t seem to notice her distress. He went smoothly on. She heard his voice through her sobs, resonating through the speakers, not missing a beat.
“All right!” he said. “The hits and the miracles just keep on comin’!”
She couldn’t stop the tears streaming down her face. Yes, it was a sad story, but this was way over the top. Why was she so affected by it? From the start, this whole day had seemed unreal. What was happening to her?
“And we’ve got more for you, just on the other side of our next double play: the Righteous Brothers’ ‘Rock and Roll Heaven,’ and one of my favorites, Freddie Mercury and Queen, with ‘Crazy Little Thing Called…’”
As if at the flick of a switch, Vera’s world simply stopped.
* * *
Doctor Randall Johnson hated these moments. He opened the door to the hospital waiting room and approached the couple, who’d been sitting on the couch for hours. They looked up at him with vain hope in their eyes.
“There was nothing we could do,” he said. “Her brain injuries from the crash were too severe. We tried everything, but we just couldn’t save her.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Antonelli, but she’s gone.”
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing