A very old man sits in a worn leather armchair in his favourite room in his house. The walls are lined with shelves of vinyl records. In the centre of the farthest wall is a fireplace, casting an orange glow upon the leather armchairs that sit across from it. The armchairs are flanking a small tweed record player. It is sitting open, the little light labelled ‘on/off’ already glowing red, faded photographs pinned to its lid illuminated by the firelight. Slowly, meticulously, the old man does what he has done so many times before, unsheathes a record and lets the needle fall into its grooves. He sinks into the leather chair and bathes in the familiar crackling sound, the sound of anticipation, of emptiness soon to be filled. But when a voice trickles out of his stereo, the old man is taken aback. It is a deep, syrupy sort of sound, heavy with distortion, slow and menacing. The old man adjusts the speed on his record player, but the thick and unsettling noise persists. He turns the knob and the ‘on/off’ light fades. He stands, in the shaky way of the elderly, over his record player for a moment, accompanied only by the sputtering of the fire behind him. He is mourning.
“I thought this thing would outlive me,” he mutters, smiling sadly.
His wrinkled fingers take the photographs between them, slowly, meticulously.
A man falls into his leather armchair, exhausted down to his bones. He is an old man, but still spry, the kind of man whose face is lined and hair white but his mind sharp, his humour quick, and his legs strong, although you wouldn’t guess it today. Today he looks as though he is a breath away from toppling over. He is wearing black, from head to toe, and his eyes are watery and blank. The armchair next to him is usually inhabited by a woman, with white hair like his and quick humour like his but altogether more delicate than he in her old age. Today it is not. If she were there, she would probably request he play Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, or if she was feeling adventurous, Tom Petty. He decides she would probably want Otis, and he spins The Dock of the Bay, hoping that wherever she is now she can hear it. He spins his wedding ring absentmindedly and looks at a photograph pinned to the lid of his record player of a white-haired man and his white-haired wife, and there are tears in his eyes but he is smiling.
A man opens the door for his four-year-old son, who is excited because his father has never let him into this room before. The door was kept locked and the key high above the boy’s sticky fingers, on top of the refrigerator. He had dreamt up a number of fantastical worlds that might lay behind this door: Dinosaurs, princesses, enterprises of espionage. He enters the room, greeted instead by shelf after shelf of thin cardboard covers, two armchairs, and a small tweed box. He looks up to his father, disappointed. His father lifts him into one of the armchairs.
“Son,” he says, “you are about to experience something very special.”
He selects an album from his walls, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, and he hands his son the thin piece of shellac, letting him flip it over in his tiny hands. He puts it on the record player and waits. The boy is surprised, bewildered. He doesn’t understand how the shiny black disc correlates to the sound that seems to come from all around him.
“Where is the music coming from,” the boy asks his dad.
The man smiles.
A man opens the door of his new apartment for his new wife. The place is small, unfurnished, populated only by cardboard boxes and dust bunnies, except for a crooked wooden table with a small tweed record player on it.
“What do you think?” asks his wife, who picked the apartment and moved their things and hid her stress very well throughout the whole process.
“I love it,” he replied, and he smiled and he kissed her and he meant it, he loved it, and he loved her for picking it and moving their things and hiding her stress very well.
He opens one of the boxes and takes out a record, new, the cover still shiny. For you, he says, handing it to his wife. She takes it out hungrily—it’s Ella Fitzgerald. She puts it on the record player. Her husband pulls her to him and they start to dance, laughing, and she feels her stress melting away. Suddenly he pulls away.
“I think I’d like to start a new tradition,” he says, and he finds his Polaroid camera and he asks her to smile, and she obliges, although she hates having her picture taken. He shakes the photo, takes a pin from a box on the dusty floor and he drives it into the back of the record player. I want to cover it like this, he says, with photographs of people like you and moments like this. She ruffles his hair, still many years away from growing white.
“That’s a great idea,” she says.
A young boy scampers down the stairs in plaid pyjamas, dragging his parents behind him. It is Christmas morning. Quickly, excitedly, he tears open his gift, carefully wrapped by his quiet mother, carefully chosen by his loud father. It is a small tweed box. What is it, he asks his father. His father smiles, eyes crinkling, and says “Son, you are about to experience something very special.”
Many decades later, a very old man unpins the last picture, one with a young boy smiling big and holding The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds, and for the last time, he closes the small tweed box.
—Zoë Mason first-year political science and history.