This is my seventh Pay It Forward offering. This story is for Rick! Enjoy!
When Rick opened the locker, his first thought was that it held hundreds of eyes. When he turned on the overhead light, he saw that the locker was filled with hundreds of televisions. They were all different sizes and shapes. There was one television near the front that was made out of yellow plastic while another towards the middle was made from a dark wood that shone on the light reflected off of its surface while another was housed in something that looked like teak wood.
Looking at all of the televisions, Ricks first thought was: What the fuck am I going to do with all those televisions? What he said was: “What the fuck am I going to do with all those televisions?” He wandered in a little ways amongst the TV’s and looked back at his husband Mike with wonder.
“Fucked if I know.” Mike said. “Go figure your uncle would leave you this in his will. I figured he’d leave you his teapot collection, but no, you get this massive collection of televisions. That’s so much better.” Mike tried to keep a note of sarcasm out of his voice but wasn’t entirely successful.
Rick scoffed and looked around at all the televisions. His eyes couldn’t take them all in. “There must be hundreds of them here.” He said. “Why would someone keep all of these? There must have been some reason.”
Mike shrugged. “Your uncle was an odd duck.”
Rick bristled. “He wasn’t an odd duck.”
“Yes he was. He had a whole collection of Raggedy Anne and Raggedy Andy toys and he even had the lunch boxes. He even had the old records.”
“They were antiques!” Rick said.
“Yeah, and the collection of Scooby Doo comic books? How about the original set of Star Wars figurines or the Teddy Ruxpin Dolls?”
Rick shrugged. “He had eccentric tastes.”
“And you’re surprised that he had a storage locker full of old televisions?” Mike asked, shaking his head. “I’m not surprised and he was your uncle.”
Mike came over to Rick and took Rick’s hands in his. “Listen, I know you loved him, but isn’t this a little much? What are you supposed to do with hundreds of televisions? It’s not like any of them work anymore and we certainly don’t have the space for them.”
Sighing, Rick looked at all the TV’s again. “I know, I know that. It’s just that this was my inheritance. I need to figure out why he left all of this to me. Why the televisions? Why not the Teddy Ruxpin dolls?”
“Truth be told, I always found Teddy Ruxpin kind of frightening.”
“You and me both.” Rick said. “Still, they were kind of cute in their own way.”
“Just like you,” Mike said, kissing Rick on the forehead.
“Hey, so I’m somewhat frightening but cute?” Rick let out a bark of laughter.
“You said it, not me. Listen, you take your time and look through this storage locker for as long as you want, okay? I’m going to go head into work. Did you need me to bring you anything?”
“Nah, I can go get lunch. I’ll be good.”
“Okay, call me if you need anything.” Mike kissed him softly. “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Watching Mike leave the storage locker, Rick thought how different his life would be without Mike. How Mike had saved him, but they had saved each other in a way. There are all kinds of magic in the world, Rick thought, but love is the strongest one.
His uncle Louis had been the same way, believing that love could move mountains and accomplish actual magic. Louis had given days filled with stories and mystery, letting Rick read anything on his bookshelves. His uncle had given him the world. Looking around at the televisions, Rick wondered if Louis was trying to do the same thing with the televisions.
Rick walked towards one, a large teak box with a blank eye of a screen. He liked the honey colour of the wood and the detailing that had been done around the screen. Wondering if it could be used for a planter or something like that, Rick reached out to touch the screen.
The television flickered to life, first with a white dot in the centre of the screen. Rick watched the dot expand and as it did, he saw a world of colour appearing on the television screen. He was looking at one of the shows that he had loved as a child, Lost In Space. On the screen, Captain John Robinson was talking to his wife Maureen and their robot B-9 was in the background flailing its arms wildly.
He turned the knob for the channels and was astounded when he saw that the television was also playing Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lassie, Star Trek, Flipper and Gentle Ben. They were all the shows that he had watched as a child, all the shows that had brought him joy and they had been the first inkling of actual magic for Rick.
He sat entranced for a few minutes before he realized something. Looking at the back of the television, Rick realized what he should have when it first turned itself on: it was not plugged in. Going back to the front of the TV, he turned it off and waited a few seconds. Then he clicked it on again and it was still working, this time playing Lassie and showing Timmy and the collie sharing a lovely moment on screen.
Turning the television off, he went to look at the others. Stopping in front of a small one made out of a dark wood that had speakers built into the wood on either side of the television screen, Rick reached out to touch the screen again. It happened again, only this time it was a little different. While the white dot began to grow in the middle of the screen and the sound was filled with the snow of static, a voice whispered clearly from within the snow. “Allan…” Rick jumped back a little, unsure of whether or not he had heard correctly, or whether he had just imagined it. As if hearing his thoughts, the television spoke again: “Allan…Allan…”
Okay, clearly, he wasn’t imagining things. The only Allan that Rick knew was neighbour that lived on his street. He was a chef that cooked like a dream. They had been over to each other’s houses and Rick and Mike had gotten to know him well over the past few years.
Rick waited for the picture tubes to warm up and for the picture to become clearer. An episode of Ren and Stimpy came on and the hot tempered chihuahua and socially awkward cat that were always getting into mischief. Rick smiled and changed the channels. He found Looney Tunes and Animaniacs, showing an episode with Pinky and the Brain.
Following a hunch, Rick turned down the volume on the television and took out his cell phone and dialed Allan’s number. Allan picked up after the third ring.
“Hey man, what can I do for you?”
“This might seem like an odd question, but I’m writing a story about television shows.”
“Oh man, I loved the story you wrote for last Halloween, The Legend of Frogmore Lodge? That was gorgeous! You’re totally gifted.”
“Thanks Allan.” Rick let the joy run through him. He always experienced joy when others found joy from his writing. It filled him with such a sense of pride and accomplishment that he was able to touch people’s hearts that way.
“Don’t mention it. You wanted to know about the television shows I liked as a kid? Well, now don’t laugh, but I loved Looney Tunes, the Animaniacs, my favourites on that show were Pinky and the Brain. I also loved Ren and Stimpy.”
“I remember all of those.” Rick said.
“So, then I’m in good company. I know they’re pretty silly.” Allan said, sounding bashful.
“Hey now,” Rick said. “Entertainment that good can’t be silly. You love what you love. Thanks for the info Allan. This will be a great help.”
“My pleasure! You say hello to Mike for me, okay?”
“Will do.” Rick said, trying to keep his voice cheerful. He hung up and put his phone back in his pocked and turned around to look at the televisions. “I wonder who you all belong to?” He asked out loud. He looked at each of them and it was as if he was looking at a sea of eyes.
He approached the TV’s feeling as if he were approaching a classroom full of children. Now, Rick believed in miracles. He believed in things that had no rational explanation. Rick knew that the world held magic and there were things that could not be explained. He had spent time in a seminary before deciding that that kind of life wasn’t for him. During his time there, he had seen many wonderous events that defied description. Rick had a feeling that this was one of those things.
Looking at the television’s, each of them staring at him like an eye, Rick had an idea. He would need some help though. He took out his phone and called Mike. “Hey, can you come and help me with something? Oh, and bring post it notes and a pen, okay?”
When Rick told Mike what he wanted to do, Mike gave him a sardonic look. “You can’t be fucking serious.”
“I am serious.” Rick said. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Babe, look. I know that losing your uncle has been hard on you, but this is just too much. So, you’re like a television whisperer?” Mike snorted and tried to cover it up as a cough but wasn’t entirely successful.
“Look, I know what I heard and what I saw. I can hear who the tv is for, Mike.”
“Babe, come on.”
“No, you come on. You’re always so grounded in the here and now.”
“And your head is always in the clouds. It’s what makes us so good for each other.”
“Well, this time I need you to come up to the clouds with me, okay?”
Mike shook his head. “I know you’re grieving and so am I. Uncle Louis is still with us, his spirit at any rate. I know it will take time to grieve properly, but just give it time, Rick.”
Rick sighed. “Okay, I’ll prove it to you. Watch.”
He went to the first television near him. It was a small yellow plastic television. When Rick turned it on. Listening to the musical snow, he smiled. “This one is for Remington.” They watched the television come to life, the small eye in the centre slowly filling the whole screen. Turning the channels, they saw snippets of Mr. Dress up, Mr. Rogers and Sherry Lewis and Lamb Chop.
He went to another television, a handsome dark wood one with speakers on either side. When the snow came this time, Rick listened. This one is for Marie-Claude.” They watched as the eye opened and Rick clicked the knob to go through the channels. They watched little bits of My Little Pony, Care Bears and a shot called Astro.
“What is all this?” Mike asked. “Marie-Claude and Remington live down the street from us. And you said you talked to Allan. There must be a television here for everyone that lives in our neighbourhood.” Mike walked around the televisions and stopped at one that was set into wood that had been stained blue. “Who’s this one for?” Mike clicked it on.
Rick listened to the snow and before the eye inside the television opened, he said “It’s for Bruce.” They waited for the picture to clear and they watched part of the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Superfriends and Spiderman.
“Fine!” Mike was growing afraid now. He clicked on another television and said “Who’s this one for?” He tried to keep the fear out of his voice.
Listening to the crackle and snap and hiss of the snow, Rick motioned at the television. “That one’s for Jackie.” They watched episodes of I Dream of Jeanie, Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island and Get Smart.
“What is all this?” Mike asked again. “Are you like a psychic medium or something?”
Rick shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“Then what is this all about?” Mike asked.
Rick remembered something that Louis had once told him. “Life can be cruel, Ricky. When you’re young, the whole world stretches out before you with possibilities. Then, as you get older, all you are left with is your memories. Then, when you get older still, life takes those memories from you.” He had looked down at him with a sage look. “Hold on to your memories for as long as you can, Rick. In the end, they are all you have.”
Turning around to look at all of the televisions. They all looked at him and he wondered what wonders they held. “These are memories.” Rick said.
Mike snorted. “These things play old television shows. That’s odd, but they are hardly memories.”
“Okay, what was your favourite television show as a kid?”
“It was either Forest Rangers or the Flinstones.” Mike said. “I love those shows.”
“And how did you feel when you watched those shows? Do you remember sitting in front of your television and the wonder you felt seeing the images move across the screen?”
Mike looked at Rick, a growing look of wonder on his face. “Yeah.” He said simply. “Yeah, I do.”
“These televisions are from a moment in time when life was happy for whoever the television belongs to.” He paused before continuing. “And we have to deliver all of these memories to our neighbours.”
Mike looked at all the TV’s with horror. “You have to be fucking kidding me.”
“Have I told you lately how much I love you?” Rick whispered.
Mike gave him a look in the darkness that could have burned through metal. “Yeah, you’ve mentioned it several times already.” He replied in his own fierce whisper. Mike hefted another television onto a dolly. They had rented a U-Haul truck to take all of the televisions around to the different houses. Mike had written the name of each person on a Post-It note and taped it to the TV.
He started rolling it as quietly as possible to their neighbour Jen’s house. Apparently, she had loved Gargoyles, Murder She Wrote and Lois and Clark. They had dropped off televisions for Michael who had loved Howdy Doody, Maggie Muggins and Romper Room and they had left televisions for Alaina who had loved Star Trek, The ED Sullivan show and Bugs Bunny as well as a television for Dawn who had loved The Muppet Show.
Together, they had delivered all of the televisions, one to each house in their neighbourhood, Mike swearing in whispers throughout most of the journey. “Fuck that one was heavy.” He said as Rick quietly placed the last one. All the televisions had been left on the front steps of each house so that they would find them in the morning.
“Do you really think this will be worth it?” Mike asked.
Rick looked up the street, the TV’s looking even more like eyes in the dark as the streetlamps reflected off the glass. The ones with metal casings looked as if they were sparkling and he wondered if they were filled with magic or miracles.
“I don’t know.” Rick responded. “I guess we will find out in the morning.”
Mike pushed the dolly back to the truck. “Come on, miracle man. Let’s go home.”
When they got home, Rick went into their study and looked at the television that had played his shows. Mike had let him keep it, though Rick didn’t give him much of a chance to disagree. Clicking it on, Rick watched the television’s eye open wide, the sound of snow momentarily loud in the quiet room. When the picture cleared and the snow fell away, he watched Maureen and their robot B-9 from Lost in Space talking on the screen.
A smile lit his face, and something bloomed within him. He thought he knew what the feeling was: hope.
Mike came into the room and sat down on the couch beside him. “What do you think will happen?”
“I don’t know.” Rick replied. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
They watched Lost in Space for a little longer until the stars began to fill the sky.
In the morning, Rick was brushing his teeth when Mike ran into the bathroom. “Babe, you gotta come and see this!”
“What?” He said thickly, his mouth full of toothpaste. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothings wrong. Come and see!”
Rick rinsed out his mouth and wen to find Mike. He didn’t have to look far. He found Mike standing in front of the television in their bedroom. The volume was up loud so that they could both hear it.
On screen, a reporter was speaking over grainy black and white video of two men leaving televisions on the doorsteps of houses. Rick knew that that was the two of them and was thankful that they had chosen to do the drop off in the dark. Mike nudged him and motioned at the television, so Rick tuned in to what the reporter was saying.
“…people in this small suburban neighbouhood are all curious about who left the televisions on their doorsteps. Even more so, how they got the televisions to work without electricity.”
It cut to Jackie and she was smiling so brightly, her eyes filled with light. “I just want to thank whoever left me my television. To think I can watch all my old favourites! It just reminded me of being a child again!”
Jen came on screen next. “It’s really amazing.” He said. “I feel like a kid again. I remember the joy I felt, running to the TV and seeing what my friends were up to.”
The camera switched to Michael. “I just can’t understand it. I mean, how does it stay on without electricity? It’s like magic!” He smiled for the camera. “Either way, I get to be a kid again. I haven’t watched any of those shows in years!”
The reporter came on screen. “The people living here haven’t been able to find out who the two men are. The video we showed you earlier came from a doorbell camera and is the only visual we’ve been able to find. The people of this town would like to thank whoever these two mystery men are. Thank you for the magic.”
“Do you really think that’s what it is? Magic?” Mike asked.
“What else could it be?” Rick said.
He turned off the television and, just for a moment, the room was filled with the sound of snow.