At five in the morning an eight-year-old boy finds an oversized canary-colored tape recorder. He carries it home in the ink of dawn.
The recorder encases a cassette that the boy does not play. He rewinds it and, using the red microphone velcroed to the side of the machine, tapes over it. He covers Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" and Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle," followed by bits from Britney Spears, Nelly, and Smashmouth. He sings for thirty-five minutes in a low dramatic voice that does not awake his parents.
This is a Saturday morning, and if anyone were to play the tape back they?d hear the voice of the child whispering pop songs behind a Spike Jones collage of morning cartoons, the sound thickened by the jelly of heightened ambient noise -- the tape recorder is not expensive; its hiss flattens the boy's medley.
He flips the tape and sings away, then remembers to jam down the two oval buttons to record. Had he not done so, had he pushed only the right-hand button, the voice of Jandek would have burst in mid-snarl. The boy lives in Texas, as does Jandek.
They live in the same neighborhood. They do not know each other. One is almost always in school or at home watching cartoons. The other is almost always at home, sometimes watching cartoons.
The observer must peer into a room lit by a cartoon about hamsters. The observer cannot make heads or tails out of it; the circumstances surrounding observation are poor: what we see we see through pixellation and crude gradations of black and dusk; our lens makes out little. We don't see enough for a whole picture. We know that the boy is singing into the microphone. We suspect he has forgotten his sleeping parents, for he has raised his voice, and when it cracks or when it misses a note it sounds an awful lot like what it's taping over -- the boy sounds like Jandek. The boy's mother keeps the house spotless. When the boy sounds like his neighbor the house strikes us as corrupt -- grime on the walls, gunk on the rug, half-gone food in the fridge. We tape desperation to the posters of Spain that hang in the living room. We assign scabs to healthy knees. (We can't see knees. We can't see much. What we add we add from auditory cues.) The boy has gone from singing to shouting. He's asking that we put another coin in the jukebox, baby.
Underneath is Jandek's song about Henry Darger, unspooling, erasing itself, giving way to Joan Jett and the Black Hearts. The eight-year old boy tapes over Jandek's tape about an old man writing about dragons, God, little girls with male genitalia, generals, dismemberment, strangulation, great beauty, and great tragedy. Our videotape is not so good. What we preserved we cannot transcribe.
This much we can establish: right now the boy and the strange man are both in their houses, alone, watching cartoons. They know they sing to sentient houses. They know we're there.
They know we're there and they will keep singing. We could leave them, or we could wait until we run out of batteries, or we could press palm to throat to assure ourselves of our own corporeal state. We're no ghosts, you and I. We listen, not knowing if we should put our hands against our ears to muffle their voices. They won't care. They'll keep singing.
About the author:
Juan Martinez lives in Orlando, Florida, where he is pursuing a Master's in Creative Writing at the University of Central Florida. Visit him on the web at http://fulmerford.com