The junk buzzard was happy as he waved goodbye, charging off down the street and out of sight in his wrinkled truck. The woman watching him disappear into the afternoon sun was happy, too. The old TV set she struggled to get down the stairs and to the curb was gone, old Cyclops was history. Feeling guilty about not feeling guilty, she climbed the stairs leading to the apartment which once belonged to her and her mother. Now it belonged to her.
Whatever guilt Ramona Bloom felt was only pimple-sized and didn’t last any longer than it took for her to break the safety seal of the half gallon of rich and creamy moose tracks ice cream, which rested on her naked belly. She had stripped out of her work shirt and down to her bra like always. The AC went to the crapper a few summers back and now, judging from the soft ice cream, the fridge was following close behind.
Remorse was far from Ramona’s thoughts as she dug into the ice cream with the cleanest dirty spoon in the entire apartment. Since her mom’s passing, dish-washing was neglected. Dirty dishes were taking over any available space they could find in the cramped little kitchenette.
Ramona stopped reminding herself that the dish situation needed her attention some time back. Dishes were never really been part of Ramona’s routine anyway. They were her mother’s job.
To Ramona’s mom, dishes were not a job or dreaded chore. For Mrs. Verna Bloom washing dishes was of the few things she had enjoyed. Standing in front of the kitchen sink, in an apron she wore as young woman, washing dishes made Mrs. Verna feel useful. Verna also liked the window behind the kitchen sink; it provided her with the only glimpse she ever got outside of the dimly lit apartment, an apartment which felt more like a sarcophagus than a home. Of course, there had been her monthly trips to the doctor’s office, which gave Mrs. Verna a change of scenery, but they were always the same. Ramona would take an afternoon off and the two of them would ride the city bus across town. Straight there and straight back they went unless BurgerWorld was serving BigRibs. Ramona loved BigRibs. Mrs. Verna didn’t; she ate a kid’s meal, giving Ramona the toy.
“Hold onto this; it’ll be worth something one of these days,” Mrs Verna said with hopeful conviction as she watched Ramona. Busy working her way through her second of three BigRibs, she would always shoot her mother a doubtful look, shake her head and drop the toy in the pocket of her sweater. The toy would never be seen again unless it crawled out from under her bed and manage to get beneath Ramona’s feet.
Sadly, it was these rare outings and the tiny window which offered Verna her only other view of anything but the tired and peeling wallpaper, which had taken on somewhat of a sinister look in the dim lamplight of the apartment. It did no good to open the blinds. The sweet warm sunshine which long ago spilled into the once cozy apartment was now being gobbled up by high rise apartments.
Other than the window behind the kitchen sink, and the 19” screen of an ancient television set, Mrs. Verna saw very little of the outside world for a long time.
When her husband was alive, things were different. He always took the three of them here and there, down to the shore, up to the mountains.
Everything has its season and Verna resigned herself to memory trips and a few old photo albums of the three of them happy as her escape from the dimness. Of course, there was the old TV which offered some respite, though not much. Only able to catch three channels without delivering up an extra helping of eyestrain for its viewers, it did the best it could.
After the PriceGuess, Verna would switch over and watch some old western show. It was always déjà view – she saw then all more than once. There was nothing new on those afternoon channels until four; that was when the Judge shows would crank up. Until then she would watch Festus and Miss Kitty, Matt and Rowdy, and Ben and the boys. In between, she washed a few dishes, most of which Ramona had dirtied up and left behind. For a while, Mrs. Verna been promised she was going to give Ramona’s room a good cleaning when she felt better. But Mrs. Verna never got around to feeling better. Ramona’s room – there was no telling what was in there.
Sometimes Mrs. Verna was certain she heard something moving around behind the closed door of the bedroom when Ramona was at work. Verna even imagined her daughter might have a man hidden in her room; whatever moved around in there was big. As for a man being behind the door, Verna knew better. Ramona had no interest in men, not since she was stood up for her senior prom.
“Must be rats,” Verna told herself. Trying not to see the droppings here and there, Verna just tuned them out watched her programs.
Most of it was the same-old-same-old, even the Judge shows. They were always another somebody-done-somebody-wrong story, somebody wrecked a car, skipped out on the rent, got bit by a dog, same old drama show after show. To Ramona, the same bored faces watched from behind losers who stood and stuttered and looked dumb, while a sharp-tongued judge gave them a verbal thrashing. It looked more like BD/SM than justice. But Verna had liked them.
By the time the evening news came on for the second time, Ramona would be home and making her usual fuss. If she was lucky, Verna was able to catch the weather forecast in between listening to Ramona complain about her day or whine about there being no clean dishes.
The weather didn’t matter too much anyway. It wasn’t like Verna was going anywhere but from the bed to her chair and maybe detouring by the kitchen sink full of dishes. As long as Ramona had her whining and moaning over and done with by the time the Treasure Wheel came on, Verna was happy.
“I just have to unwind,” Ramona explained to her mother when she shushed her. “You don’t know what it’s like to be out there wage slaving everyday of the week and a half a day on Saturday. All you have to do is sit around here all day and watch TV.”
There had been a time when Verna had the strength to comeback on Ramona, but that time passed. Toward the end, all she could manage was a hopeful shush as Mick and Donna made their smiling entrance on America’s game.
After Wheel, Verna would switch over to Channel 6 where, “Old one eye,” would stay parked until her bed time, which was around nine every night when her knee-high hose worked their way down her skinny little legs. After watching back to back Antique Travels, with Ramona chomping at the bits to change the channels, Verna would give up Flicker and hobble to her bedroom. Flicker was the name her late husband had given the remote.
Of all her shows, Antique Travels was her mother’s favorite and Ramona knew it; but that didn’t stop her from whining and moaning and trying to coerce her mother into watching just a few minutes of something else.
“Yes! Something else! Dear lord, anything is better than watching that bunch of junk vultures. Even the missing episodes of “Lost in Space” or “Flipper” would be better than this,” Ramona would argue. But Verna wouldn’t budge and only tightened her grip on the old remote.
With Verna gone, now and Ramona couldn’t deny she missed her; but she did like having her mom’s old bedroom. She took over Verna’s room and proceeded to make it her own, having given up on ever getting the one she grew up in just the way she wanted. Just like the ones in the magazines.
She liked having control of Flicker, too.
There was no time to feel guilty for Ramona Bloom, who grew accustomed to the dim light of the apartment, the crapped out AC, and even the funky smell coming from all of those dirty dishes. No time- especially when she had her most favorite ice cream in the whole world and the remote control to a new color television all to herself.
It wasn’t that she minded sharing either with her mom, but, if the truth be told, she was happier now that she didn’t have to share anymore…ever.
Sharing the ice cream with her mother was okay. All the old woman ever wanted was just a taste of whatever ice cream Ramona had dished up for herself. As for the television, that was a different story;Ramona watched on for decades, as her dear mother controlled the TV from the old-time channel switcher connected to it by a skinny wire.
“Why did she even needed a remote?” Ramona wondered out loud more than once as she eyed the little box her mom kept safely in the palm of her hand in between cigarettes or warmed over coffee. “Who needs a remote when you only watch one channel?” Ramona asked, as she jockeyed for a chance to get to flick over to another channel, if only for a minute.
“I watch other channels” she remembered her mother saying with a guarded smile that chapped Ramona’s backside.
On rare occasions, when Ramona gained control of the remote, the TV looked like a strobe light as she ran up and down the channels. On those rare occasions, the tired and old TV seemed to appreciate the workout Ramona gave it, as if it realized it could radiate more than just the news and game shows.The last of those rare occasions, had been a few years back during mom’s hip replacement. Lately, the old TV seemed content to resign itself to the one channel – Channel 6, her mom’s favorite.
A new day dawned in the life of Ramona Bloom, and on the old TV that perched in the corner of the apartment since her father lugged it up the stairs forty years before.
“Stuck on 6 you say…that’s strange”, the young TV repairman explained as he looked at the remote, not having seen anything like it in his TV repair course at the trade school. “Looks like something from an antique shop,” he mused turning his somewhat suspicious attention away from the remote and to the mysterious orange glow of vacuum tubes emanating from the backside of the television’s console.
“Kinda fuzzy,” he said, stating the obvious and studying the dim and snowy screen that had the clarity of a lint brush.
“Had it long?” he asked already knowing the answer.
“Since I was a kid,” Ramona replied.
“Maybe you should be thinking of getting yourself a new one,” he pondered as he closed his tool box, having realized that none of the tools he had were made for whatever kind of TV set he looked at.
“Yep. That’s what I was thinking,” Ramona agreed thinking about the life insurance money she would soon collect. It wasn’t everyday that a body got their hands on nearly two grand, and that would surely be enough to score her a replacement for the hunk of junk she watched for as long as she could remember.
“So the channel won’t change?” the repairman asked taking another approach to the problem.
“It will, but it jumps right back,” Ramona explained. Ramona discovered this after rushing straight home from her mother’s funeral to catch one of those reality shows that the girls at the factory were all talking about. But after settling on a channel for about thirty seconds or so, the old TV jumped right back to Channel 6 and Antique Travels.
“It always changes back to Antique Travels. See? Watch,” Ramona whined. After she flicked the old television’s channels well into the double digits, like clockwork it, switched itself right back to Channel Six and Antique Travels.
The host’s comb-over looks even worse in black and white, the repairman thought studying the screen. His mom watched this show, too. Antiques watching antiques, he decided.
“It’s like it’s trying to tell you something,” the young fellow said in a tone of mysterious confusion as he eyed the door. He had just about all that he could take of the funky smell in the apartment. On top of that, he became a little unnerved by the flirtatious looks Ramona gave him. She had introduced herself as, “the available Miss Ramona Bloom,” when she answered the door, inviting him into what looked like a nightmare gone bad. Twice he excused himself to run down to his truck and get a testing meter. Both times, it was fresh air he went after.
That was a week ago. That young repairman was long gone, and so was her mom’s television, along with Flicker. The junk buzzard in the wrinkled truck saw to that earlier in the afternoon.
Now guilt free and filling up on ice cream, there were only good times ahead for Ramona Bloom. Her mom’s TV had been replaced by the big beautiful screen of a fifty four inch entertainment center with a wireless remote, capable of launching a space shuttle.
Earlier Ramona watched with nervous anticipation, as the delivery guys grappled with the huge cardboard box. Struggling, they somehow managed to haul it up the narrow stairwell and past the curious and leery eyes of the building’s other occupants watching through cracked open doors.
The new deluxe television rested safe and sound on the once green and now yellow linoleum, which spread itself out as best it could on the living room floor. The old set was long gone, thanks to the junk buzzard who had swooped down and chucked it onto the back of his old pickup.
Off work early for the delivery of her new TV, Ramona was able to give the new set a workout. After two sitcoms, a talk show, the news, some shopping network, and at least a dozen infomercials which advertising remedies for everything from erectile dysfunction to hearing loss; Ramona began to get her second wind as she flipped through the TV guide she picked up at the supermarket. She usually only read them while standing in line waiting to be next. When her mom controlled Flicker, there was no need for a TV guide; but things were different now.
Watching the tired hands on clock over the kitchen sink approach six, it was just about time for Antique Travels.
“Not today,” she exclaimed with an air of triumph, flicking her new big screen away from Antique Travels and toward a movie that sounded pretty good.
Thirty seconds later the new set flicked back; right smack dab to Channel 6 and good old Antique Travels, which looked a little better in color, but not good enough to watch.
“Okay,” she said, feeling a little uneasy as she squeezed the remote’s up arrow until it almost squealed, watching the channel number blaze past until she was back to her movie. She hardly laid down the remote and picked up the spoon for her ice cream when, “Bam,” the TV switched back to Channel 6, again.
“Not again!” she screamed out at the remote, which lay innocently on the pillow beside her before she took a big bite of ice cream that had found its way onto the shovel sized spoon in her free hand. “You just wait one minute,” Ramona managed to say to her new television through a second spoonful of moose tracks.
And her new TV waited one minute and when she managed to squeeze the up arrow on the remote, the TV continued to wait and Antique Travels continued to play.
What a coincidence, she thought recognizing the backdrop of the show. It was the civic center by the factory where she worked, just across town.
“Hmmmm,” she said pausing before taking a fourth and then fifth spoon full of the rapidly melting ice cream to study the faces she saw milling around in front of the camera like they always do on shows like that.
On the screen Ramona watched a room filled with people lined up and holding heirlooms and family treasures they were sure were worth millions of dollars.
“See one episode and you’ve seen them all,” Ramona told her mother more than once. There was always some old geezer with a button off George Washington’s jacket, or an old lady with a baby doll her grandmother brought back from the war. And both would be living in their own fantasy world thinking they were going to score enough dough to start having brunch with the Kennedys or retire in Aruba.
“Not happening, dumbbell,” she said more than once while watching the show drag by with her mother and most of the time Ramona had been right. Most of the time, but there was always an exceptio when someone showed with a Mickey Mouse watch worth a mint or a painting by Van Gogh worth enough put a few generations of grandchildren through Harvard.
Ramona continued to eat her ice cream, watching on a little longer than she should have. That is, if she wanted to live out her life without gathering up more regrets to add to those she already had. Not knowing what was coming up, she kept the TV parked on Antique Travels and chuckled as the steady stream of “losers,” as she often called the guests, showed off their wares.
Then, out of nowhere, right after a commercial break for a new fast acting laxative and some kind of new gadget to unwanted hair, which left her feeling a little self conscious about her chin whiskers that she hadn’t plucked lately, she saw something that made her drop her ice cream.
It was her mom’s old TV. Beside it with remote in his hand, stood the junk buzzard, grinning from ear to ear with all four of his remaining teeth stealing the picture.
“This is unreal,” she said as she laughed inside. She really shouldn’t have laughed, though; she should have changed that channel or just turned the TV off. Her life would have ended better. But, she couldn’t. As she sucked on a chocolate covered peanut which she guessed was a moose track, she listened to the appraiser. He wore a bow tie and horned rimmed glasses and looked like the fellow who sells popcorn. He asked a lot of questions which the grinning junk buzzard answered.
“One man’s trash is truly another man’s treasure,” the appraiser said with a satisfied smile before he went into a five minute monologue about the rarity and preciousness of the old TV that only hours before sat right in front of her.
“It’s the lost LaView,” the man in the bow tie began, joined by a half a dozen other appraisers, all “ooohing,” and, “aahhhhing,” as they circled up. It was when a security guard came over brandishing a shotgun, that Ramona really felt herself getting sick. She only saw that happen once on a show.
“Can’t be happening,” she told herself forgetting all about her ice cream now working its way across the floor.
That night, the antique dealers on the Antique Travels show, had made their most valuable discovery ever, even more priceless than song Ming dynasty vases, which fetched more than two million dollars at auction.
“Exactly how much?” the appraiser said, smiling into the camera, “Well, we would rather not say. But you can be assured, Mr. Hurley will be getting a lot of seven and eight digit offers.”
There was only one way for Ramona to feel, as she sank into the here sofa and watched the old junk buzzard whose name was obviously Mr. Hurley grin big for the camera. There was only one way for her to feel and she felt that way for the rest of her miserable life.
This is a work of fiction from the author’s imagination, any resemblance those living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright Edward Reed 2019
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