The first time Alex saw Ava it was in an ad for a Co-op Radio benefit. There was a photo of her and three guys– all hosts of the most popular shows. The foursome looked very bummed out because it was a benefit for the station which had burned to the ground just a week before. No one knew the hows or the whys of why it went up in flames. It was a mystery. Co-op was still was sharing space with the college radio station for the time being, and they had cut their programming by almost seventy per cent until they could raise enough money to buy a new, small studio.
When Alex saw Ava, he felt as though he had hit the mother lode. She was petite with light-haired pony tails. She had perfect, straight Bettie Page bangs and wore black-framed glasses with rhinestones. The photo was in black and white, and he wished he knew what the true color of her eyes and hair really were. In the picture, Ava wore an argyle cardigan over a concert t-shirt which Alex finally made out to be from U2’s Joshua Tree tour. He wondered where she scored the shirt since she must have been in kindergarten at the time. Maybe she had a cool aunt or uncle who passed it down to her. Or maybe she had bought it online. She didn’t seem like the kind of person who buy something like that online, so Alex concluded that it came to her in some wonderful, serendipitous way– like she had come to him. And although she was frowning for the camera, her eyes had a hint of a smile that calmed Alex to the bones.
With the cutback in the schedule, Alex had temporarily panicked thinking that “Pop Candy” would be off the air indefinitely. But Ava wasn’t cut. She was popular. Alex was relieved and disturbed by this fact. “Hey,” he thought. “Who else is listening to her? There can’t be someone out there who loves the show as much as I do.”
Alex had been doing pretty well since discovering “Pop Candy” and he looked forward to it every night. On the weekends, when Ava wasn’t on air, he would line up one album for Sat. night and one for Sun. night– recordings that Ava had talked about or recommended on air. He would sink into his bean bag, put on his garage sale headphones that made him look like a rusty robot and would listen to the entire CD from beginning to end, eyes closed. Sometimes he didn’t have any pot or beer, so it would take him nearly three songs before his mind would stop racing. But for the nights that he did score some weed or had enough for a twelve pack, he would barely make it halfway through before falling into a deep, dreamproof sleep.
He would imagine Ava sitting in a bean bag right next to him, her headphones plugged into the same stereo. Every now and then they would look up at each other, smiling and nodding to the music. Their hands would be clasped and they would tap rhythms on the back of them to keep time. Maybe she would squeeze his hand every now and then at some particularly sentimental lyric.
Tonight, he was listening to The Bends by Radiohead. When Fake Plastic Trees came on, tears began to quietly flow down his face in a torrent of salty, stinging pain. Soon, his face was hot and soaked through like a sponge. He ran the palms of his hands roughly over his eyes and pulled the tears through his dirty hair making it shine in the moonlight streaming in. He could feel the wounds of the years bursting through his skin, ravaging his body with the bold, ruthless pain of regret and fear. He didn’t quite understand what the song meant, but he cared about the person who could write something like that and lamented his own lack of ingenuity when it came to expressing such longing for something better.
At that moment, Alex’s father burst into the room, flung on the lights and took what looked to Alex like a war stance.
“Enough is enough, Alex,” Mr. Whitney said. “You’ve drained the liquor cabinet and you haven’t been out of this house for two weeks. Now you’re sitting in the dark crying like a little girl. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“What? Nothing. What?” Alex’s tears dried up like drops of water on a 400 degree skillet in summertime.
“Tomorrow, I’m locking you out of the house. And there’s nothing you or your mother can do about it. When you get a plan, a job, anything, you let me know and you can get the rest of your things. I’ll pay your first month’s rent, and then you are on your own.”
Before Alex could jump up and say “Hey, Dad. I do have a plan. I mean I have an idea, and it’s slowly getting better. I mean, I’m getting better– just give me some more time…” Mr. Whitney slammed the door shut so hard, Alex’s shelves came crashing down and his CDs fell like tarot cards across the dusty rug. His heart began to race and his eyes darted toward all of his belongings as though he had to make a split second decision on what to keep and what to let burn. He felt his world had suddenly exploded into flames and he had no idea where he was going to go once the sun came up.