On Tape, Circa 1975

We’re out on the screened-in porch.
Birds twitter and caw, a hazy buzz of
sun-drunk insects in the background.

Like you can hear late summer, the heavy
humidity of August, but really, I have no
idea; it’s just a recording of an afternoon.

A moment captured for no obvious reason.
No great reveal, no surprises, nothing at all
notable. Singing ‘where is thumbkin, where

is thumbkin’ and I take the lead until Dad
joins in low and gentle, guiding me when
I get lost. Then he rehearses lines. Talking

to Richard, out to dinner with Janet, reading
all parts but his own. Becoming familiar with
words he’ll hear? Registering cues, perhaps?

It’s odd and slightly disturbing to hear a high-
pitched giggle rise out of his deep bass coated
in east coast timbre. I join in, admonishing

Richard, how dare he do whatever it is!
Rehearsal starts at 7.30. Home by 11.
Mom wants to visit her friend Christiana.

I think I hear slight tension, dis-ease, an
undertow dragging through the warm air
passing between them, swirling over me.

But I am 4. Singing B-I-N-G-O. Drumming
the table with my paint brushes. Unaware
of how the future will splinter, shunt me

between Connecticut and New York, give
me three hours every other weekend
in the car with my Dad, doing long-division,

earning tootsie rolls for every right answer,
singing ‘chester did you ear about hairy?’
wishing instead for something more like

this random nothing of an afternoon
captured on an aging tape, the dog-days
of summer on Aspetuck Road.

Originally from the US, Jenna Heller now lives within walking distance of a swimming beach in Christchurch, New Zealand. She is busy building a life she doesn’t need a vacation from.