Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Modern Times


This record came in a wooden box. When I opened it the hinges creaked. Inside there was an old phonograph and a dusty ’78, cracked. The label said “Modern Times”. Next to it was a cowboy hat with a snakeskin band. And a green Bible with a passage marked, dealing with the Nazarene in the garden before he was kissed. A pin-up of the singer Alicia Keyes lay curling and grimy. On the back someone had written ‘Tennessee’. Beside it was a small drum of the kind a boy might have once played as he marched into war. There were stranger things I found it hard to credence: the sound of an old man’s rasp floating in the air like wet sugar or sand. From whence this sound came I could not determine. An old film reel whirred when I touched it and in my mind I saw couples in a well-lit barn moving to a country waltz. I withdrew my hand but for a moment only. There were love letters too, but like most collected love letters they were confusing and without date: one minute loving, another lusting, another hating (“some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains”). It was not clear if they were to the same woman, or if such a woman existed at all. There was also a drawing of a man, his face thin yet jowly, his moustache thin, eyes slitty and radioactive, something like a smile playing on his face. Underneath it were the words ‘Song and Dance Man, Duluth Minnesota, 24 May 1941.’ A New Orleans newspaper lay there too, badly yellowed and stained. It showed a picture of a black man with an electric guitar. As I leant into the wooden box to read the story below it I saw water marks had washed the print into a fog of dark type. I also began to hear, as of my ear was pressed to some kind of shell, the sound of a bar band playing far off down a street of laughter and partying. At this point my bones left my body and began to dance on their ownsome. I continued to climb into the box and lay down and eventually those bones rejoined me as the song subsided. I closed the lid and even though it was dark closed my eyes as well.

- Mark Mordue

* First published in The Big Issue (Australia) #263, 25th September 2006. After it was published an incoming editor let me know it was not the kind of thing they would be looking for in future. "I wouldn't say it was your best work."
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