Jake Shore's short stories are forthcoming or have appeared in Hobart, Litro, Ginosko Literary Journal, Eunoia Review, Soft Cartel, New American Legends, The Pitkin Review and others. In August of 2016, The Flea Theater presented his play entitled Holy Moly and its tandem novel, A Country for Fibbing. Broadwayworld states “it marks the first time a play with a correlating novel have been simultaneously released in the United States.” Shore is currently the Director of the Academic Advisement Center at St. Joseph's College. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College.
Yesterday my younger sister invited over her friend Taylor Swift to watch TV at our house. She’s in middle school. I just started high school and I feel like a high schooler but I also kinda feel like I should still be in middle school even though I hated it. It was like the worst. High school is way better. My Biology teacher, Mr. Belasko, looks like he eats junk food for breakfast. He started class on the first day talking about the time he got caught on the bunsen burner or something and fell over and someone had to give him revival so his lungs didn’t explode or something and my friend Drew was making jokes about it so much I thought I was gonna have to go to the bathroom so I didn’t pee myself. I guess Mr. Belasko wanted to let us know what to do in the event of an emergency like his hand getting stuck in a socket and electrifying himself and Drew was saying things about Mr. Belasko getting struck by lightning by a bunch of different electrical sockets at once and his clothes cooking themselves into junk food and it was so funny I thought I was gonna die.
I usually ignore my sister when she has friends over but I could tell right off the bat when she became friends with Taylor Swift that I was gonna super ignore the two of them whenever she was around, but when she came around yesterday and they were watching TV in the family room I sorta walked right in and sat down on the wicker rocking chair. I wasn’t really watching the show they had on, and I wasn’t looking at Taylor, but I had her like in my mind.
‘What do you want?’ my sister asked.
‘I gotta want something?’ I asked back.
‘We’re just trying to watch TV.’
‘Why are you holding hands?’ I asked.
‘Shut up, Biff.’
My sister calls me Biff whenever she wants to piss me off.
‘Why are you even in here?’ she asked.
‘If Taylor Swift wants me to leave,’ I said, ‘I’ll leave.’
Taylor just sat there holding my sister’s hand and I turned back and looked at the TV after I said it but I was really listening to see what she was gonna say.
‘I don’t know,’ Taylor said.
‘She doesn’t want to talk to you and neither do I, Biff. Just leave us alone.’
‘You don’t want to talk to me?’ I asked and looked right at Taylor this time.
‘I don’t know, I mean, you can watch TV if you want,’ said Taylor.
My sister started biting the nail on her thumb. Then it cut to commercial and Taylor said, ‘I don’t like commercials that much. I think they’re bad.’
‘Yeah. Commercials suck,’ said my sister.
A Doritos commercial came on.
‘This is a good one,’ I said.
‘How can this be good when commercials suck?’ said my sister.
‘Why don’t you like commercials, Taylor Swift?’ I asked.
‘Can you just get out of here?’ asked my sister. ‘There’s no reason you should be in here anyway. Leave us alone.’
‘I just think they’re lame,’ said Taylor.
Then my dad walked in.
‘How are things going in here, girls?’ asked my dad.
‘Fine, Mr. Lewis,’ said Taylor Swift.
‘This damn machine isn’t sucking you all into it, is it? This television can’t be trusted. It’s in my family room, but I sure as heck don’t trust it.’
‘I don’t like commercials,’ said Taylor.
‘That’s very wise, Taylor Swift,’ said my dad. ‘Commercials are trying to tell you how to spend your money with crackling colors and vibrant radio waves gone mad.’
‘What are you talking about, Dad?’ I asked.
‘Commercials want your soul,’ said Dad.
‘I don’t even believe in a soul,’ I said.
‘That’s because of this machine, Jeremy. The television. If this thing wasn’t here, you’d be aware of your soul with blinding clarity.’
‘Dad, can you get out of here, please? Taylor and I are trying to watch TV. And can you please take Jeremy? He’s bothering the hell out of us.’
‘Your sister is right, Jeremy. I gotta show you something in the basement anyway,’ he said.
So I followed him and when we got down to the basement he turned on one of the lights hanging from a wooden beam on the basement ceiling where you pull the metal beaded cord and the light burst on right next to Dad’s face and it was kinda like when someone is gonna start telling a ghost story around a campfire.
‘Come here,’ he said. ‘I gotta show you something.’
And he brought me over to the little workshop he’s got down there. Not really much of a workshop or a woodshop, I guess, but it’s where he helped me make the derby car when I was like ten.
‘What do you think this is?’ he asked, pointing to a stack of crap on the floor, and I started realizing what looked like a big pile of like, old crap, cleaning things and like, beat up pieces of equipment and stuff, was looking more like something Dad had put together.
‘What the hell is this?’ I asked.
‘Push that button,’ he said pointing to an old vacuum handle jetting out from the side of
this like big pile of stuff that all looked sort of connected now that I was getting a better look at it and I hit the button and a noise came out like the sound of a vacuum, the whirring sound, but it sounded different, too. Like it was being… like it was coming out of a TV or something.
‘Hit it off,’ he said.
So I did.
‘Now hit this one,’ he said pointing to another button, this one looking like it belonged to an old stereo or something so I hit it and it made this noise like a guy with a real deep voice going, booowwwww. And the noise kept repeating over and over.
‘Hit it off,’ he said, and I did, and the noise stopped, and then he hit a button connected to what looked like the guts of a computer and it made an even stranger noise, this time like a dog yipping. Then he started hitting all of the buttons and other ones and at first it all sounded like nothing, just like a bunch of weird noises and my dad swayed back and forth and I was thinking, my dad is a real crazy person for real, like, totally insane, but then it started to sound like something different. It sounded like music until he shut it off.
‘What do you think?’ he asked.
‘What the hell is this?’
‘You know what it is. You’re a smart kid.’
‘An instrument,’ I said.
‘Yeah. One of those electronic ones. You get it?’
‘What is there to get?’ I asked.
‘You can play this thing. Play it whenever you want and do stuff like I was just doing. You wanna try it?’
Our old TV looked like it was rigged up to this thing, too. I really didn’t know what to say.
‘I do,’ I said. ‘Just not now.’
‘What the heck are you doing down here?’ asked my sister. I guess she and Taylor Swift came down without us noticing.
‘Oh, hey, girls,’ said my dad. ‘I thought we were bothering your television time up there?’
‘We heard something weird coming from down here. What are you doing?’
‘I was showing your brother this.’
‘What?’ asked my sister, dumbfounded.
‘This,’ said my dad, pointing.
‘This pile of Mom’s old vacuums and our old TV?’
‘That’s not what they are anymore.’
And Taylor took a step closer and stared at one of the buttons.
‘You can hit it,’ my dad said.
‘Like this,’ I said and went to hit the button but Taylor did at the same time and we both hit it but also her hand touched mine and the sound started, the whirring sound of the vacuum, and I didn’t pull my hand away and neither did she and I knew my dad and sister were in the basement with us but it felt like it was only the two of us for a second. Then I pulled my hand away and she hit the button again and then again and was doing it to a rhythm that I guess she knew how to do and it sounded cool.
‘That’s it,’ my dad said. ‘Just like that. You got the hang of it.’
Today I got into Biology and felt like the clock stopped. Drew isn’t here so I don’t even have anyone to talk to or crack jokes with and Mr. Belasko is rambling about something that I can’t even tell what he’s talking about.
‘Do all of you understand that you can only die once?’ he says. ‘This isn’t a video game where you get a thousand lives. Nelson. Nelson, what are you doing?’
‘Nothing,’ says Nelson, sitting at his table but fidgeting with something beneath it.
‘What is the matter with you, Nelson Tunic? This is not the carnival, alright? We’re
talking about important subjects. We’re talking about what’s gonna happen if a bunsen burner catches flame and grows to my height or worse, potentially burning the school to the ground and killing everyone. Is that what you want, Nelson?’
Nelson doesn’t say anything but Martha and her table of popular kids all crack up.
Why do they all get to sit with so many kids at one table and I only get to sit with Drew?
‘If there’s a fire you hit this fire alarm and you run for your lives, alright? Who here wants to die? By a show of hands, who wants to die?’
No one raises their hand and Mr. Belasko says, ‘Good.’
At lunch I rode my bike to the middle school. Older kids used to do this when I was in middle school and I always swore I wasn’t gonna be one of those kids that got to high school and did that type of thing but for some reason I decided at lunch that I didn’t want to eat. I’m not sure what it was about the cafeteria that made me feel that way but here I am, riding my freaking bike over to the middle school and even though I don’t want to admit what it is that’s making me want to go to the middle school and ride up on my bike, I just… it’s ‘cause of that stupid girl, Taylor Swift. I dunno why or what and I mean she’s a loser but when she touched my freaking hand it’s like… I dunno. I keep thinking about it and am thinkin’ that like, if there’s another situation where I can hold her hand like that it might make… I don’t know.
I’m riding down Kent Street and the school is at the end of this street but I don’t even know if I’m gonna go now. What the hell am I even thinking? They’re probably all at lunch, too, and it doesn’t even matter if she’s at recess or something ‘cause my sister will probably be there, too, and this is just gonna backfire on me. People are playing tennis in the courts across from Kent Street pond. I hear the ball bounce back and forth as I make my way down the street on my bike. It mixes with the buzz of my wheels and sort of makes a strange mixture of those two noises. I wonder if these sounds are actually music in some other way of thinking about the world. I wonder if I’m even riding my bike right now or that’s only what I think I’m doing and I’m really doing something totally different that I don’t even know about.
The school is just up ahead and I figure I’ve made it all this way so why not just like drive by and then head back to school but there’s someone out on the school’s side lawn. Who is that? Is that my sister?
‘Ella?’ I say and hop off my bike.
‘Why are you crying? What are you doing out here? Why aren’t you in class?’
‘Oh, what the hell do you care?’ she asks and throws a handful of rocks or something onto the grass.
‘How are you out here alone?’ I ask.
‘I just came out here, that’s all.’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘What the hell do you care?’ she asks and I hug my sister and bring her in close and tell her that I love her and that I care about her because she’s crying and she’s my baby sister and I lean back out of the hug and she’s happier. She’s wiping the tears away from her little eyes.
‘What’s the matter? Are you alright?’
‘Taylor snuck into the gym room and is doing something real weird. She wanted me to help but it’s like what Dad does and it made me scared so I came out here.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Come here,’ she says and grabs my hand and leads me in through a double door and into the middle school and down a hallway and into the gym. It’s empty and big. I used to play basketball here. I know those nets and that hoop. I see myself playing here and we walk into a room off the gym and here is Taylor Swift on a blue mat on the ground with a vacuum and an old VCR, but it’s like she’s taken the back of the vacuum off and there are wires sticking out of the back of the vacuum and the same is like that with the VCR, and she’s holding the wires and sitting there.
‘Taylor,’ says my sister, ‘what are you doing?’
‘Listen to this,’ she says and joins the bunch of wires from the vacuum with the wires coming out of the VCR and it sparks and makes a loud crack, cracking noise, and then she takes the wires back apart and the noise stops.
‘Taylor Swift, you’re going to get electrified,’ my sister says.
‘No, I’m not,’ she says. ‘This is what your dad showed us how to do.’
‘This is not what my dad said to do,’ says Ella.
I walk over to Taylor and sit down next to her.
‘What are you doing?’ I ask.
‘Hold this,’ she says, handing me the guts of wires from the VCR. Its main cord is plugged into the wall. The vacuum is plugged in, too.
‘These are live wires,’ I say.
‘Hold it right there,’ she says, ‘where the plastic is.’
So I do.
Then she says, ‘watch,’ and presses the wires she’s holding up against the ones in my hand and it makes another bang, crack, crackling sound and I even feel a little jolt blast through me like a wow and boom, that was wild, and I say, ‘wow,’ and there are like sparklers still in the air between us. It’s almost like the sparklers are coming out of her eyes.
‘See?’ she says. ‘Wasn’t that something?’
It was like two seconds after that that a teacher came rushing in and saw what was happening and it all went to hell. What was I doing in the middle school? What the hell is going on? The principal gets involved. That whole sort of thing. Now I’m back at home in the living room rocking back and forth in the rocking chair with my mom and dad on the couch.
‘I don’t know if your sister is covering for you or what,’ says Mom.
‘That’s really what happened,’ I say.
‘Why didn’t you get a teacher right away?’ asks Dad. ‘Weren’t you scared for Taylor Swift?’
‘I dunno. It all happened really fast and it did really remind me of what you have in the basement. I mean, I think that’s how Taylor Swift got the idea in the first place.’
‘What?’ asks Mom.
‘I’ll show you later. Jeremy, I don’t think this has anything to do with that.’
‘It was really similar,’ I say.
Ella walks in and says, ‘Jeremy was just trying to help.’
‘Thank you, Ella,’ says Mom, ‘but the school is not happy.’
There’s a knock at the door. Dad goes out of the living room and opens the front door and Taylor Swift is there with her father. I stand and walk. There she is. She sees me. She’s scared but there’s something about her that isn’t. Like her father and mine are talking back and forth and my mother’s energy is with the adults but it’s like Taylor Swift and I are peering into something that we both have and are sure the other one knows.
‘Let me just show you here,’ says Dad and we all head down to the basement.
‘It’s just this weird idea I had,’ says Dad once we’re all surrounding the machine he made and showed me yesterday. ‘See,’ he says and hits a few of the buttons. The noises fill the basement.
‘Oh,’ says Mr. Swift.
‘Here,’ says Dad. ‘Let’s talk more upstairs.’
And they all went upstairs but I stayed down here in the basement. I wonder what they’re talking about and if any of us are gonna get in any real trouble. I used to hang out down here a lot when I was a kid. It was like the basement was a place I thought I could come and be alone. I used to watch this old TV. This one right here that looks like it’s been hooked up right into the music machine Dad built. I turn it on. It’s that static channel. Drew told me when we were in Biology that the static channel is like from the universe. Like the universe makes the loud static crackling noise. I hit one of the buttons and it mixes with the static. I know Taylor Swift is upstairs talking to her dad and my parents about what happened but it’s like she’s still in my mind on that floor in the gym room with those wires and the electricity and those sparklers that came from the wires and it’s like she’s standing with me here hitting the buttons. I hit a few more buttons and sway back and forth and the static crunches into the air and it’s like there’s a part of me that’s still in this basement but I close my eyes and hit the buttons and listen to the static from the TV and feel the rhythm and the noises and it’s like I’m on a speed of light ride out of the world and into something else new and real like drum beats from ancient times.