Radio Plays

Also published on NEW WAVE VOMIT.

The voice pipes in on evenings when you would rather not be alone. You close your eyes and float over sound waves like falling asleep after a long day of swimming as a child and you can still feel yourself bobbing around at night, being buoyed up by nothing you can see. Sound offers that same weightless feeling after a little wine and even littler sleep because you want to feel propelled by something, pushed forward by waves. Give me a sine, baby. You don’t throw cards or read your daily horoscope but there is something comforting about radio weather broadcasts, telling you how to dress in the morning. Like an invisible friend telling you, hey there is an eighty percent chance of rain today. You might want to grab a raincoat on your way out the door. Yeah, okay, you think. Maybe I will. Tonight you don’t know what to do with yourself so you listen. Radio voice says: Listen in five minutes from now for part one of an orignal radio play by [local semi-unknown writer] featuring [local theatre actors whose names you forget immediately after they are said].

You wait for the broadcast to start. Cars pass outside sounding like wind or water coming up over the beach.

An animal barks on the airwaves, sound goes in one ear and out the other hand making a dog shadow puppet broadcasting across the kitchen to the blank wall space beneath the calendar still stuck on last month’s image because you like it and what do you have to schedule anyway? The unseen dog says bark bark bark Yap yap yap. Also, yip. Hand moves out of time with sound. A man says something you did not catch but it sounds mildly threatening and “won’t anyone shut that damn dog up?” There is the sound of flesh slapping the top of something, head or table, you don’t know. But the animal sounds stop. The hand still yaps, now unlike a puppet dog and more like mocking loquaciousness. The play has begun in the middle of a domestic dispute about whether or not both parties involved in a marriage have had affairs. You think some people are better off just calling it quits. Just quit trying.

Quick cut for commercial. A word from our sponsors and also a note about our upcoming pledge drive, you may have received a postcard from us in a mail. Please send donations in soon so we can get a head start on the drive and return you to your regularly scheduled programming more quickly. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming where the woman is pleading with the man, it is mostly trite but there is something about the particular tone and timber of her voice that catches your attention. A drawer slides open, it sounds like someone is quickly moving silverware around.

-Wait! What are you doing!

You, the listener, fall asleep and do not hear the man leaving the woman, the house and the possibly abused dog, nor do you hear the entrance of another character and when you wake up there is suddenly a monster there, inside the radio. There is a roar or scream followed by a car door slam. But then you realize you have been asleep for far longer than you thought, maybe an entire half hour of the broadcast and you can no longer tell what the story is about. The roar was in your dream; there is no beast in the room or radio. There was a one year period in adolescence when all of your nightmares were just audio. That is when you first started listening to the radio at night.

Silence is followed by the sound of feet hitting pavement hard. Four feet. There is someone else with the first man. You have most definitely missed something. Where is the wife? You think you know but you don’t want to.

-Look at my hands, man! Look at my fucking hands!

-Hey, be quiet. Follow me over here, okay? Just calm down. Let’s think this over.

(Feet stomp stomp stomp the ground again.)

-I think we acted a little irrationally back there, man. I don’t know, man. I don’t know what we’re gonna do now.

-Well, right now you’re going to follow me and then we’ll deal with her okay?

(Wait, did you miss something? Is someone dead? You think someone’s dead! And for a moment you get really panicked and wonder what kind of despicable people these are. Then you blink a few more times, wake up a little more thoroughly and remember this is fiction and you were just sleeping and sometimes you get confused. Hey, it’s okay, you. You flex your fingers, smooth the table cloth.)

There is silence for a full, uncomfortable five seconds before the voices come in again.

-Don’t just stand there, come on.

– I need to get this stuff off my hands. Oh no. It’s under my nails too. God, this is such a mess. Hey, let go. Let go of me.

You hear the sounds of a scuffle, someone’s finger nails making that awful squeaky grating sound against a windbreaker type jacket. You think the husband character with dirty hands is over reacting a bit. They’re just hands. Hands can be washed.

The accomplice says something that is obscured by static sounds. But it sounds like the actor is repeating the line when the signal is good again.

-Let’s get you cleaned up, buddy.

The voice of the husband’s companion is too calm and you wonder if this is what failed voice actors do. The sound of running water first comes through the right speaker as the characters walk toward a stream, maybe? Where are they now? Some woods? What is it with murderers and woods? And why does it seem so many murders happen in these things in places where there are easily accessible woods? Maybe all murderers have a predilection for country living. Maybe murderers like living in Vermont. Imagine the smell of soft decay coupled with maple. This is now what “Vermont” will always mean for you.

-Stick your hands under the water. (There is a clearly studio made Foley sound of something like flip-flops hitting water. Definitely not the sound of hands in a cold East Coast creak)  There you go,  rub your hands together like that. Get the damn spot out.

(You, the listener do not appreciate, the allusion to Macbeth.)

-Okay. Okay. (The sound of a deep, slow breath.)

-Better now?


The dog barks return. Your hand is still, flat on the table top, no shadow puppets this time.

-Oh, shit. The dog.

The radio personality suggests you tune in next week for the conclusion of this two part murder drama. You probably won’t.

There is some dead air. For a moment. Three notes make a generic, ignorable radio intro. There is time for station identification. Radio voice says: The time is one-oh-one in the eh em. Good morning.


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