THE LISENERS
Dan Chaon and Stacey Richter

Come along now, all you late night rock and rollers, all you lonely hearts and night owls, come along and let us fly through this thunderstorm to the sad window of Dave Deagle, the old disc jockey. Dave Deagle!—now semi-retired, now a lowly part-timer at a small town radio station, now an aging man who dwells in a third floor room in his daughter’s house. Observe if you will: Dave Deagle alone in the radio station at night, sans assistant, sans producer, sans secretary to answer the phones. He is not yet ready to admit defeat, but things conspire against him. Flashes of lightning have made him jumpy. His hands are shaking, the equipment is not compliant and he fumbles with it. He’s trying to think, trying to make the transitions between songs smooth, trying to speak in his usual mellifluous voice, but moths come. The pests get drunk on the lightbulb and then attack Dave Deagle when he turns on the mic—striking soft blows upside his head and crash-landing against his table or the sound board, fluttering madly. Another flash and his nerves stand up. The lights dim and flicker briefly and Deagle prays that the electricity doesn’t go out. He can think of nothing worse than being stranded in this studio room, in the dark.



Folks, the phone is ringing again, but Dave Deagle won’t answer it. He ignores it even after he’s finished segueing between songs, even though the red phone light above his “On the Air” sign blinks and blinks. They hate him out there, the listeners. There are, he believes, a whole group of them—boys and girls, men and women—all of them angry, vicious, unforgiving of even the most minor mistake.

The last time he’d answered the phone, it had been an unidentified male. “Can I speak to a pathetic has-been named Dave Deagle?” the caller whispered, and Deagle knew he should have hung up right away. But he’d always felt that it was important to face such people. Sometimes, you could win them over.

“You’re talking to him! Dave Deagle here!” he said manfully. “What can I do for you?”

“I was just wondering,” the caller said. “I was just trying to figure out if you even know what a good song is?”

“Well, maybe you can tell me, my friend,” Deagle said. His felt a hollowness in his throat, but his voice was calm. “Request lines are open!” he said. “What would you like to hear?”

“I’d like to hear your obituary,” said the voice. “You suck, man.” And Deagle was speechless. He could feel the malevolent lilt of the caller’s voice creeping over his skin. He sat with the phone pressed to his ear. He’d spent his life gracefully parrying such cranks, but at this moment something passed through him—a shadow, a transparency of himself drifting beyond the corporeal outlines of his body. He opened his mouth, but the caller had already hung up.



And sad to say: he can’t seem to shake it off anymore, like he used to. He signs off, he shuts down the transformers, and his skin prickles. He picks up the pace as he hurries into the parking lot toward his car, his key already extended like a small dagger, which he will use if someone attacks him bodily. But no one does—it’s completely silent and dark as only one o’clock in the morning in a small town can be, and it is dark when he arrives home, to the house of his daughter, Kat, where he is now residing in a room on the third floor. She has not even left a light on for him—does not particularly care about him, but merely tolerates his presence. Does not love him. Is not a comfort to him in these difficult times.

Yes, my hard rocking friends, these are difficult times. It might be said that this is Dave Deagle’s darkest hour, and it certainly must be admitted that he’s been humbled, disgraced, brought down by larger forces, many of them beyond his control. Several times in his life, he has stood before the stern gates of minor fame. He’d once been the # 1 rated Top 40 disc jockey in the Omaha metropolitan area. He’d been on the air in Indianapolis, in St. Louis, in Denver, and he has interviewed a number of the most luminous recording artists of the last 35 years, several of whom he’d known personally, on a first-name basis. When he turned 50, he’d appeared on local television in Denver, where he was feted as “Denver’s Oldest Teenager.”

Now, at 68, he has been let go, set out to pasture, cast aside. Due to a number of cruel circumstances and poorly handled debt, he may spend his old age as a pauper. Make no mistake: Dave Deagle is not a cynical man. He still believes that there is a chance for a final, happier chapter to his existence. But yes, a terror does come over him. Alone, removing his hairpiece, which is held to his scalp by a special, uncomfortable adhesive tape, he can’t help but look at his shrunken face in the mirror. Alone, with the thunderstorm still at work in the distance, he can’t help but listen to the sound of Kat perambulating through the hallway below him, checking on Cody, her two-year-old illegitimate son. He sits on the edge of his narrow bed, sipping furtively from a plastic bottle of scotch he has hidden in a night-table drawer. He doesn’t know whether Kat would care or not, but he’s still careful to conceal it from her. He refuses to appear pathetic. He will not give anyone the satisfaction of thinking that Dave Deagle finished out his life in despair.

 

You can read The Listeners in its entirety in issue 2 of Swink.

Dan Chaon’s most recent book is a novel called You Remind Me of Me. He lives in Cleveland.

Stacey Richter
is the author of the collection My Date with Satan. Her stories have been widely anthologized and have won many prizes, including three Pushcart prizes and the National Magazine Award. Find out more about her work at www.staceyrichter.com.

 

© 2007 Swink, Inc.