Deep Fade


by Mike Sherer

“AND THAT WAS ‘TURN DOWN DAY’ by the Cyrkle. Coming up are more of your favorite songs by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Box Tops, Bobby Hebb, and the MaCoys.  From the station that plays music that matters, the hits of the fifties and the sixties.”

Jordan sat on the edge of his double bed staring at his clock radio in bleary-eyed puzzlement. What the hell is that? He slapped the babbling DJ off as he rose and staggered into the bathroom.  Turn Down Day? The Cyrkle?  That sounded like something you’d hear on Sesame Street.  Why would my station ever play a song like that?  As he shaved and showered he couldn’t help thinking about it.  Maybe that wasn’t my station. Maybe Gloria changed it.  As a joke.  A bad joke.  As bad of a joke as my own station playing that moldie goldie oldie shit.  The station Jordan listened to played modern rock.  He liked to keep up with the newest music – indie, alternative, post-punk.  No living in the past for him.  Upwards and onwards.

But then he couldn’t find his toothbrush. There were two there, in the cabinet, his wife’s pink one and a green one.  His was blue.  He had used it last night before going to bed, like always, and had put it away, like always.  Now it was gone.  There were several unopened new brushes in the cabinet.  Pink and green.  Not a single blue.  In frustration Jordan tore open a green one.

“Did you change the station on my clock radio?” Jordan asked his wife after he had dressed and come down for breakfast.

“Why would I do that?”

“You tell me.”

“My, my, did we ever get up on the wrong side this morning.”

“I like what I like, I have things set the way I like, and I don’t like anyone messing with anything I like.”

“Hey! You are talking to someone who has lived with you for thirty years.  You think I don’t know that?”

“Then why did you throw my toothbrush away?”

“I didn’t touch your toothbrush.”

“The hell you didn’t! It’s gone.”

“So you lost your damn toothbrush. Don’t yell at me about it.”

“And where did that green one come from? And why are there no new blue ones?”

“That’s it!” Gloria slammed down her spoon into her unfinished grapefruit and shot to her feet.  “If you are having a screwed up day, that’s too bad, but you are not going to screw mine up with all this idiocy!”  She grabbed her purse and was gone.

After the slammed front door settled down, Jordan considered things a little more levelly. Could it be drift? Signal drift?  But radio stations don’t drift anymore.  Not digital transmissions.  But they do fade.  There can be interference.  Jordan finished his breakfast, then hastily straightened up the kitchen.  His wife usually did this, so he hoped she appreciated his doing it.  A peace offering.

Jordan stared at his car radio. A steel guitar and a fiddle played a duet while a female vocalist crooned a mournful ballad.  Country music? Really?   He jammed his finger into the pre-set button for his station.  Nothing happened. What is going on today? Jordan turned the dial.  There it was.  His station.  Playing the kind of rock music he enjoyed.  He pulled out of his driveway and headed for work, feeling much better.  So their broadcast is drifting after all. Or fading.  Must be some heavy interference in the air today.  Sunspots, a cosmic ray burst, smog, who knows?  Having settled the irritating disruption to his morning, Jordan was in a much improved state of mind.

Until he saw the scrape on the passenger side of his car upon getting out in the parking garage. God damn it! When the hell did that happen?   He rushed back to inspect it more closely.  It was long and deep.  And rusted.  Rust? How can there be rust?  It must have just happened.  I would have seen it.  No way I could have missed that long enough for it to rust.  That must be rust off whatever scraped me.  Damn, you can’t keep anything worth keeping anymore!  Jordan stomped away. 

Jazz music was coming from the radio on his admin’s desk. He’d never seen one on her desk before, let alone heard one.  She was on the phone.  She smiled and waved at him, deep in conversation.  She rose, still talking on the phone, and leaned across her desk to hand him a folder.  Wow, is that dress ever short. I never new Janice had such long legs.  He managed to gawk only for another moment as he took the folder.  He would let it pass this time, since it had never happened before.  Janice, a mother of two in her thirties, always dressed appropriately for the office.  Jordan wondered what had caused such a lapse.  He walked on into his office and closed the door.

Jordan stared in disbelief at his shelf stereo. From which a piano concerto played. My God, it’s a conspiracy. He turned the tuner.  Static.  He roamed up and down the dial.  Nothing but static.  And classical music.  Whatever is disrupting the airwaves this morning is getting worse. The signal-to-noise ratio must really be screwed up.

Jordan clicked the stereo off and sat down at his desk with the folder Janice had given him. Some work would clear his head, get his morning on track.  But the Monk account was not in the folder.  Brainard? Who the hell is Brainard?  Why did Janice give me an account I’ve never heard of?  She knows I’m working on the Monk account.  Not only has she suddenly turned flirtatious, but also suddenly inept.  She is always on top of things.  But then she never wore short dresses, she never had a radio at her desk, he never heard jazz music in the office.  This was the last straw.  He could yell at Janice.  She wouldn’t yell back like Gloria had this morning.  She wasn’t allowed.  He rushed to the door, with the alien folder in hand.

Jordan stopped abruptly in the open doorway. Electronic dance music now issued from the radio on Janice’s desk.  Only Janice wasn’t at her desk.  Someone else was.  “Where is Janice?”

The young woman looked vapidly at him. “Who?”

“My admin. Janice Baylor.  She was here a minute ago.  And what are you doing at her desk?  And could you please turn that noise off!”

The young woman rose to her feet and backed away from the desk, never taking her eyes off Jordan. It was then he realized she was wearing the same dress Janice had been wearing.  The same style, the same color, nearly identical.  Only shorter.

“What are you staring at?”

“Your dress. That is not appropriate for this office.”

“Stay away from me, creep. Who are you, anyway?”

“I’ll tell you who I am. I am the man who is going to get you fired.”

Jordan rushed down the hall. Others had heard the loud words.  The hall was filled with people pressed back against the walls out of his way, staring dumbly at him as he rushed  past.  Jordan didn’t recognize one of them. Who are these people? He rushed headlong, nearly running.  What is happening to me? Where am I? 

Jordan bounded around a corner and slammed into a body. “What the hell, Jordy?”

Jordan recognized the body. It was Ted.  “Boy, am I glad to see you.”

Ted rubbed his sore chest, which had caught Jordan’s elbow. “I sure can’t say the same about you.”  He looked down at the papers scattered across the floor.  “And that’s a hell of a way to treat the Monk account, after all the work I’ve put into it.”

Jordan hastily gathered up the now-recognizable papers. “I’m sorry, Ted.  It’s been a terrible morning.”

“Why were you running like that?”

“I got spooked. There is something in the air today.  And nothing is right.  I keep finding things wrong.  Like my radio station.  Other stations keeps drifting into its spot.  Everything keeps drifting back and forth.”  Ted stared at him quizzically.  “Like that temp that showed up outside my door after I came to work.  At Janice’s desk.  You ought to see the way she is dressed.”

“How is she dressed, Jordy?”

“Like a tramp.”

“Really? Maybe I should see this.”

“And she’s got a foul mouth on her. And an attitude.  I was just going to get her dismissed.”

“Let me check her out first. If she’s good-looking maybe I’ll forgive you for tackling me.”

“I didn’t tackle you,” Jordan corrected as they headed back up the hallway. He noticed people were still staring at him as he passed.  But at least these people looked familiar.

As they approached his office he saw that the young woman was gone and Janice was back. As they reached her desk, Ted asked, “So?  Where is she?”

“That’s what I want to find out. Janice, where is the woman who was just at your desk a moment ago?”

She stared dumbly back at him. “Who are you talking about?”

“That young tart. The one with the dress up to her armpits.”

“I haven’t seen anyone like that today, Jordy. When was this?  And what was she doing at my desk?”

“It was just a minute ago.”

“I’ve been at my desk all morning and I haven’t seen anyone like that.”

“Are you sure? You didn’t leave your desk a couple of minutes ago?”

“Of course I’m sure. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know what’s going on! And it’s driving me crazy.”

“Settle down, old man, you’re going in circles,” Ted interceded. “You’re having a turned down day.”

“What?!” Jordan exclaimed.

Ted stared in confusion. “What?”

“What did you say? Just now.  When you told me to settle down.”

“I said you’re having a downer of a day.”

“Nothing about a circle?”

“Christ, Jordy, take a pill.” They stared at each other.  “What is wrong with you?”

Jordan took a deep breath, released it. “Nothing.”

“Get a grip. And get to work on the Monk account.  I need it back this afternoon.”  Ted walked away.

Jordan watched him disappear around the corner. Then turned back toward his admin.  She was staring fretfully at him.  It was then he realized the radio was gone.  “What happened to your radio?”

“I don’t have a radio.”

“I know you don’t. But you did this morning.”

“I’m calling Gloria to come get you. I don’t think you should work or drive in your condition.”

This insanity has to end. Janice is concerned about my behavior.  And so was Ted.  This has to end, right now.  I don’t need for this lapse of sanity to go into my record here at the company.  Jordan took another deep breath.  But he couldn’t let it go.  It had all been so real.  “Just one more thing, Janice.  Humor an old man who has had a difficult morning.”

“What’s that?”

“Stand up.”

“Why?”

“That’s a very pretty dress you are wearing. Please stand up so I can see it.”

“Jordy, I wear this dress in here once a week.”

“Please humor me, Janice. I promise I’ll leave you alone for the rest of the day.”

Janice stood up, backed away from her desk, then twirled around. The dress was the same color, the same design as the one he had seen on her before, the same style as the much younger woman at that desk had been wearing.  Only now it reached her knees.

“Thank you, Janice.” Jordan shook his head as he walked into his office and closed the door.

Before him, in the center of his attention, sat his shelf stereo. Jordan strode up to it and stared at it hard. What music would it play if I turned it on? An eternity of thirty seconds later, he turned his back on it and sat down at his desk.  I’ve tuned back into my own wavelength. Why push it?  He opened the folder and focused on the Brainard account.

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