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In the middle of a summer night, my sister Megan stormed into my room and turned on the lights. She was such a tyrant.

“What did you do to the TV?”

The room was a static rush. Blinding and out of focus. I shielded my eyes with the blanket. It was late, past midnight, or early, before dawn. Too late or early for anyone to be awake.

“Whaddya mean?”

“You know what I mean you little twerp!” The house had been still moments ago. I could still taste it. Her rage cut through my dream like a banshee’s wild scream. “You fucked up the television.”

My defense was weak. Dad was my normal scapegoat. He would watch the nightly news and some sitcoms before bed. But he was out of town at a work conference. Mom never watched the thing. She was too busy grading papers or writing an article or something. I knew that I was the last to touch the television. Megan knew it, too.

“What the fuck? Why are you just lying there?”

I didn’t have answers. I turned to the alarm clock on my bedside table. The numbers flashed midnight. Inaccurate and unhelpful.

“Did we lose power last night?”

The clock had reset to its default setting. Midnight. And it was flashing. Those two things only happened when it was first plugged in or when the power had cut out. There might still be hope for me yet.

“I have no idea, numbnuts. You need to get out of bed and fix this. Now.”

I shifted out of bed and pulled on some pants that were lying near the door. Salvation was in sight. Blaming the power outage had worked. She was no longer focused on who was to blame. She was focused on finding a solution. I could deal with this.

Electronics were my salvation. I alone could tune the radio to our favorite station. I alone knew how to set the microwave’s clock and power levels. I alone knew how to switch the television between the Betamax, the Atari, and normal broadcast TV.

I slinked downstairs. All the lights in the house were on. Outside it was still night.

“Jesus what time is it, Megan?”

“Shut your fucking mouth and fix the TV.”

My mother was sitting on the couch wearing her yellow summer robe when I entered the living room. Her legs tucked beneath her like she was sinking in for movie night. Shadows under her eyes.

“Would you like something for breakfast, Harry? I was planning on making scrambled eggs for me and Megan.”

My mother never made breakfast for us. It was always cereal and Pop Tarts. Something was up.

I twisted the large VHF and UHF dials on the front, knowing that wouldn’t fix the problem, then shrugged a “here goes nothing” and went behind the TV. I put on an act for my sister and mother, pretending to check connections, unplug cords, reset the devices.

“I don’t get it. Nothing’s on this early.”

My sister stood an arm’s length in front of the television, staring down at the screen, willing it to life. My mother, wearing her glasses, examined a stack of ungraded papers from her students.

“The royal fucking wedding, you moron. Charles. Diana.”

“What station?”

“Any! It started an hour ago!”

“They won’t have shown anything,” mother said. “Ceremony’s not till later.”

“But we might miss the procession!”

My act was for show. The solution was simple. The box behind the television was still in “GAME” mode. I hadn’t thought to change it before bed. I was the only one interested in television with dad gone. I moved the switch to “TV,” plugged everything back in, and turned on the television.

Picture instead of static. Glory instead of defeat. But my hero’s triumph was short-lived.

“Yes! OK, now move, move,” my mother said to my sister. For once she listened, scurrying out of the way and joining my mother on the couch.

They fixated on the screen, spellbound, sighing at the grace and beauty of two strangers, mellowing in their PJs until afternoon, exchanging exclamations, but few remarks until it finished, until they returned to themselves and abandoned me, the TV, and all its magic.


Thomas Viehe

Thomas Viehe prefers pop over soda, loo over toilet, fall over autumn. He lives with his wife and dog in a remote part of the country, Washington, D.C.

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