Deep in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still,
But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.
Only The Lonely
“Live in Three…Two…One.”
The countdown reverberated through her headphones, triggering ritual actions that were so automatic that she scarcely noticed performing them: a quick sip of tepid coffee, an imperceptible uptake of heart rate, and a straightening of her spine as she leaned into the microphone.
The studio was her domain, familiar and empowering. She could say whatever she wanted, minus a few words prohibited by the FCC. The time slot was perfect too. Conversing with her faceless friends and followers allowed her to forget about the empty spaces in her life and in her bed, but tonight the void coursed through her veins with a prickly agitation.
Her lips brushed the cold steel as the timbre of her voice made love to the airwaves.
“Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again. You’re listening to KJZM late night talk radio. I’m your host, Summer Solstice and this is: Only the Lonely.
We have about an hour and a half remaining in tonight’s show. I’m reaching out to touch all of the lonely people—you know who you are—so call and tell me your story.
Are you sighing in the solitude of a darkened room like some long-forgotten ghost trying to make contact with the human world? Are you in bed, wrapped in the warmth of a dependable blanket instead of in the protective arms of a lover?
I want you to use your finger and push my buttons. You know what I’m talking about St. Louis—I crave to learn every last detail of what landed you in the mournful condition that you now find yourself in.
Our phone lines are open and we’ll be taking our next caller right after a word from Naughty by Night Oils and Unguents, creator of the most requested brand of lubricant: Snakeye and Slick.”
Summer removed her headphones and shook her ash blonde hair into place. The leather of the studio chair creaked like a rusty hinge as she leaned back and propped her black-stockinged legs on the console.
Glancing at the clock, weariness settled over her.
It had been a long night of characterless callers full of insipid platitudes. No one wanted to admit how truly miserable they were so they justified it with cliché references about the fortitude building benefits of solitude.
Being alone was sometimes a very good thing; being lonely always sucked. After doing this gig for so many years, Summer sensed that it had begun to take its toll. Cynicism was wrapping its roots around her soul. So many sad stories…so many miserable lives…so much misery and too few solutions.
“Hey Summer, you’re sounding great tonight.” A voice echoed from behind the glass of the control room.
Summer peered past the soundproof glass into the blue light of the control room. Reliable Melody…always good for an encouraging comment. Summer grinned at her production assistant who was smiling and signaling the ‘thumbs up’ sign. At least Summer thought that she was smiling. It might have been the light glinting off of one of her lip piercings.
Summer knew she couldn’t do this show without Melody. She and Melody had been a team for over twelve years—moving from one radio market to the next like a pair of gypsies until finally landing at KJZM. Now they hosted the top Arbitron rated late night show in the Midwest market.
Closer than sisters, they knew and kept each other’s secrets. They truly were the oddest of pairs, Summer thought. Even when Summer stretched herself to her full five foot four inches, she was dwarfed by Melody who towered nearly five foot ten in her combat boots. Summer frequently wore her hair twisted carelessly around a number two pencil at the nape of her neck, preferring the classic look of a simple pencil skirt, a couture blouse and a stylish pair of pumps, while Melody was all leather and metal, studs and tats.
Melody was in-your-face brash sensuality. She was tough as nails, but with the heart of a lion.
Summer couldn’t afford such self-expression. As the front woman for their team, she needed to be taken seriously. She consciously chose to tone down her own sexuality for a more buttoned-up naughty school teacher appearance.
“Who’s cued up on the lines?” Summer asked while reaching for her coffee mug.
“Let’s see, I have Jerry, of course, on line one,” replied Melody, her tongue ring softly clacking against her teeth as she spoke.
Jerry...Summer banged her head once softly on the back of her chair. She was in no mood for Jerry's antics tonight, but if she didn't take his call, he would only harass Melody, whining and pleading that he had to get through tonight, claiming falsely that it was a matter of life and death.
“There’s a Bob from Creve Couer on line two, and Lucien from Lafayette Square on three. He sounds very cute and has a super sexy French accent.”
“Well, I suppose we should get Jerry over with for the night so put him through first, Summer winced. “Save Lucien from Lafayette Square for last.”
“Ok, Summer. Your lead-in ad copy is lying on the console,” directed Melody, her tattooed hands throwing switches in the sound booth. “I’m cuing the jingle.”
Augustus Gloop, Augustus Gloop, droned the jingle, don’t be a Sexual Nincompoop!
Pressing her lips closely to the microphone Summer recited, “Augustus Gloop condoms wants to remind you that the next time you stop by the candy store, or pay a visit to the chocolate factory, remember to wrap your Willie Wonka in an Augustus Gloop condom—now in two new flavors: blueberry and ever-lasting-gob-stopper.”
Summer shook her head and rolled her eyes. Lord, what a girl had to do to make a living. Who thinks up this shit she wondered. It was the curse of the late-night time slot—adult advertising that would have every prude in a hundred mile radius picketing the station if they aired during regular hours.
Summer smoothly transitioned into a call. “Hello caller,” she cooed. “Tell me why you’re lonely tonight.”
“Hi Summer, it’s Jerry, remember me?” squeaked the voice on the line.
She wasn’t up for playing his game. Her feet hurt, her stomach was empty and she needed a smoke.
“Let’s see...now let me think…Jerry…Jerry…hmmm… Oh wait! Are you the Jerry that calls me every single night and says, ‘Hi Summer, its Jerry, remember me? That Jerry—is that the one?”
Summer honestly did not know what to do with Jerry. On the one hand, his pervy little calls could be as annoying as sand in your pants. On the other hand, he was peculiarly popular with her listeners. He even had his own fan club of sorts. Jerry never missed an opportunity to hitch his wagon to Summer’s star, frequently showing up at appearances and live remotes.
Summer often bantered with Jerry and egged him on in the name of ratings, but tonight she found the sound of his nasally voice beyond irritating.
“Oh, you remember me then?”
What a dork.
“Yes Jerry, I remember you. What’s on your mind tonight?” Summer glanced at Melody, curling her lip in an exaggerated sneer. Melody responded with a full body shiver.
“What color underwear are you wearing?”
Oh, Christ. How many ways and how many times can I answer that question from him? At least once a week, he used the underwear question as his opener…or maybe it was his erection trigger. Either way, he was a bore.
“Oh, now there’s a fresh one. Who did you borrow that from Jerry? Noah?”
Summer wanted to put an end to this ridiculousness once and for all. She enjoyed healthy banter as much as the next gal, but she was fed up and she bet that her listeners were too. She could almost hear her numbers tanking as she spoke.
“See, the problem here is, Jerry -- when you call me every night, eventually you are going to run out of interesting new ways to talk dirty to me, so that’s when you are forced to resurrect the same lines that didn’t work for you back in the ‘day’ when you were just a fledging pervert trying out your wings by pestering the Prom Queen of your high school.”
Oh, this felt good. Time to wake up those sleepy listeners. If Jerry thinks he can embarrass me and put me on the spot, I’ll just have to teach him who runs this show.
For a moment, every creep that had ever made a power play on her swam through her mind…the little nerd at the donut shop who told her with a wink that he had filled an éclair especially for her…the squirrelly little mongoose of a shoe salesman who ran his hand up her skirt and a thousand other nameless douche bags that got off on seeing her squirm. Enough was enough.
“Let’s face facts. We both know, Jerry, that you are forty-seven years old and still beating the bishop in your mother’s basement.” Summer spit the retort in a single breath.
“I, um…” Jerry mumbled.
Summer leaned closer to the mike. “Listen very closely, Jerry...
“Yeah, Summer, I…”
“Ah-ah! No talking Jerry, just listening.” Summer glanced in Melody’s direction. Melody curled her fingers into the “rock-on” gesture.
“Jerry, you will never, I repeat never, have the privilege of knowing the color, type, brand or cut of my underwear. Never, ever. I don’t want to have to screen out your calls, Jerry. Sometimes you aren’t so bad to talk to. But do the city a favor and either stay on your meds, or stay off the phone.”
Her manicured finger decisively pressed a small white button, effectively ending the call.
It felt satisfying. Just like that, bam, no Jerry.
“Hello…hello…aw, so sorry, it looks like Jerry was disconnected.” Summer snickered.
“We’ll just have to go to our next caller, Bob, from Creve Couer.” Summer consciously sweetened her tone of voice. “Hello Bob.”
“Hello, Summer,” croaked Bob.
“Bob, tell our listeners what made you the lonely person that you are today.”
“Well, Summer. I wasn’t always lonely.” His voice cracked with an odd desperation. “I used to have a family. I even had a dog—a beagle. That was a great dog. I lost everything, Summer, my wife, my kids, and my dog. There’s something wrong with me, Summer. I don’t know what it is…”
Why do we always blame ourselves when things turn to shit? Summer wondered.
“Now wait, Bob. Perhaps it isn’t your fault. It does take two to Tango. You say that there is something wrong with you. What do you think that something might be?”
Bob took in a sharp breath, held it for a moment and then slowly exhaled. “I’m not well, Summer. I see things. Things that are there, but aren’t there.”
“Hallucinations, Bob? Like big pink elephants and monsters under the bed?” This one might be above my pay grade, thought Summer.
“Not exactly, but sort of…at least the monster part. I see vampires.”
Summer’s heart skipped a beat. Her eyes darted to the control booth, but Melody wasn’t paying attention. Pursing her lips she prodded, “I’m listening, Bob. Go on.”
“I know that there’s no such thing, but it doesn’t stop me from seeing them—everywhere”
Summer reached for her cold coffee, trying to drown away the turmoil that began to swirl in her stomach.
“Summer,” he went on. “I see them everywhere. Nobody else sees ‘em. When I point them out other people just see a regular person, but I don’t Summer—I see a vampire!”
Could Bob from Creve Couer be a fellow Perceiver? No wonder his wife and kids left him. Poor bastard. His shrink probably had him on cures that were worse than the disease.
Summer had found out personally that the first step in coming to grips with being a Perceiver was assurance that you aren’t insane and that vampires are a fact of life. Once that sinks into your brain, then you have a whole new set of issues to deal with. It’s an altered reality. The world is turned upside down. Death, life, good, evil, God, or no God…nothing is as it was. No black, no white, only varying shades of grey.
But first comes assurance.
Cautiously Summer opened the subject. “I don’t know about everyone, Bob, but I believe in vampires.”
Simply knowing that another person believes you can do wonders. If Bob truly was a Perceiver, and he wasn’t sick or a nutbag, he needed to know that. In fact, there was nothing wrong with him that a few Vodka Tonics wouldn’t cure.
The truth be told, he should be celebrating his ability. St. Louis was an antique city where creatures of the night abounded in a limitless supply. Better to perceive than not to perceive.
“You do?” he asked.
“Yes Bob, I do believe in vampires. I do. I do because I too can see vampires.” Summer tried to sound cheerful and matter-of-fact. Act like it’s all much ado about nothing. As easy as saying that you see butterflies in spring.
“I’ll bet you didn’t know that, but it’s true. I can spot ‘em a mile away. That is, when they choose to make themselves visible. I haven’t quite become skilled enough to see them when they don’t want to be seen.”
She probably should be keeping her mouth shut. St. Louis could also be a dangerous place for an outted Perceiver. She knew Vamps didn't want to be seen; they wanted to blend.
However it was the very wee hours of the morning and Summer figured the vamps were drinking their last-call Bloody Mary right about now. She needed to help this guy out in some small way…give him some advice to calm his fears without giving away too much of herself.
“Listen to me, Bob. Vampires are real...as real as you or I. You are not cuckoo. You are not delusional. You are just different and that’s not a bad thing. So take heart, and take my advice. Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, or you are going to end up in the psych ward of St. John’s Mercy Hospital.”
Melody tilted her head giving Summer a “what the fuck” look.
Summer gave a “What the fuck, it’s true” shrug of her shoulders. Melody followed that by slicing her finger across her throat in a warning, her eyes bulging out like a bush baby.
Melody was mothering her again. Summer knew that behind that tough exterior lied a frustrated Jewish nana. Melody was probably right. Talking about her ability over the air was not the best idea she had ever had. Damn, won’t this night ever be over with? Summer was bone-tired and not thinking clearly.
Melody held up a typed page pointing at it, indicating that it was time for a commercial break.
Thank God, a convenient way to get off of this subject.
Summer smoothly segued.
“But, Bob, enough about you; let’s talk about me, and how much I love Frigamajig Adult Toys. As my listeners know, I only endorse and rate the Frigamajig toys that I have personally tested on myself, or others, and I want to introduce you to the newest addition to Frigamajig’s Small and Discrete line: The Pocket Porpoise.”
Gotta love the perks of this job, she thought with a sly smile, remembering her own little porpoise with a purpose in her bedside drawer.
“The Pocket Porpoise is the perfect companion for coast to coast flights. You will find that it is barely audible above the roar of the jet engines.
I give this product four out of five Gloryholes. It didn’t rate a full five Gloryholes because of battery life—they burned out within a few short days, so be sure to keep extra double A’s on hand.
The Pocket Porpoise—pick it up at any Frigamajig Adult Toy Location.”
Pushing her chair away from the console, she spun it around once and drummed her palms on the desk in a finale.
She brushed a stray strand of hair from her face. It had been a long weird night and she was ready to wrap it up. An hour left in the show and only one blinking line. The rain must have lulled everyone to sleep. Perhaps the next caller would provide some amusement.
Summer didn’t get many calls from Lafayette Square. It was a desirable neighborhood of posh restored townhomes that was studded with strategically placed manicured green spaces—an oasis amid the smoke-belching factories of the city.
Summer depressed the lone lighted button which connected her to her lone, lonely caller.
“Lucien from Lafayette Square is on the line. Lucien, I didn’t think the privileged people in Lafayette Square, were ever lonely. Isn’t it just a party twenty-four seven up there?”
Summer grudgingly acknowledged to herself that she had often passed by the stately old homes, their lamplight glittering from the handblown glass windows, and secretly wished that she could be part of it all. The sad truth of the matter was that she could live a dozen lifetimes and still not be able to afford the luxury of the Square.
She bit her tongue and resolved to stop acting like such an envious bitch.
“But I’m being presumptuous, and unfair. I’m sure that privileged people get lonely. Everyone is lonely sometime. Are you lonesome tonight, Lucien from Lafayette Square?”
“It seems as if I have been lonely for centuries.”
The voice on the line was heart-renderingly forlorn. Its tone conveyed the sorrow of certainty that whatever circumstances had caused its distress would never change, never look brighter, but instead would remain exactly as they were, until the day he died. It was a type of poignant gloom that chilled Summer to the marrow of her bones.
“Oh, I’m sure it couldn’t have been actual centuries. That’s a little dramatic,” she joked trying to lighten the mood. “I thi—“
His voice broke in, melodious with richly rounded tones and a strong, yet not thick accent that made every word sound like poetry.
“No, it has. It has been centuries,” Lucien corrected. “Since, oh, 1789… so let’s see…1789, 1889, 1989, two thousand eighty-ni—oh, alright, three and a quarter centuries. Is my math correct?”
For the first time in her loquacious life, Summer was rendered mute. Was this guy pulling her leg? Summer had a subtle suspicion that he wasn’t. She could smell bullshit like a fart in an elevator, and this didn’t reek of a lie.
“Summer, are you there?” Lucien asked, his voice disturbingly haunting.
Blinking her eyes, Summer straightened her spine, as if roused from a daydream. “Yes, yes, I’m here.”
“Summer, imagine how it might feel if you knew that you were going to live forever—always remaining in the shadows, never capable of forming lasting relationships. You have lifetimes of love to share, but know that love will forever and ever remain unrequited. So, all you see unfolding in your future, is oceans of loneliness.”
The hypnotic quality of his voice drew Summer in and for a small moment she felt a strange emptiness of spirit, as if she were only a casual and constant observer of life -- detached from all emotion, a wandering specter amid the toils and tears of humanity.
The soothing notes of the caller’s voice played on. “It’s a strange suffering knowing with certainty that year after year, century after century, there is nothing but solitude stretching out from here to eternity.”
A stinging began to burn behind Summer’s eyes. Somehow the caller had awakened her to the reality of her own solitude. She had always just assumed that one day she would find the right person to share her life. But what if there was no fairytale ending for her? Would there be a day when, like Lucien, she would resign herself to the realization that she was and always would be utterly alone? Summer choked back a lump in her throat.
What the heck was going on? Surely he was pulling her leg. None of this could be true, yet without a doubt she felt that it was. His voice, his words, they were like glistening ribbons of spider silk weaving through her brain and drawing her ever deeper into his world.
No one was meant to walk a lifetime of solitary confinement, let alone dozens of lifetimes. She didn’t have a clue what to say next. Whenever her friends needed cheering up, they called on good old Summer who was always ready with a lighthearted approach. Comfort wasn’t her shtick, nor was it her occupation. Glibness was her claim to fame.
“That’s pretty heavy stuff, Lucien. But, hey no one lives forever, so that’s a plus.” She knew it was a poor attempt at a joke and cringed even as the words left her mouth.
“Well, one can hope.” The caller replied with sly sarcasm. “I heard your previous call, Summer and I am wondering, can you truly see vampires? If a person passed you on the street, could you tell if they were a vampire?”
Summer did not want to tackle that subject again—especially with this caller. Her intuition told her to proceed with caution.
“Lucien, if you are as old as you say you are, then you should have learned by now not to believe everything that you hear.”
“Of course. I was just hoping that we might have some special ability in common. I have an interesting parlor trick that I like to perform. I can look at people and discern what they have been drinking. Jack Daniels for this one, Coors Light for that one, and you, for instance, you drink Cutty Sark on the rocks—doubles.”
A stinging shock rippled up Summer’s spine causing her to snatch her hand away from the microphone. Her mind felt muddy and confused.
The radio business has a term for what happened next: Dead Air.
Summer’s eyes darted back and forth over the pulsing red and green lights of the soundboard. She tried frantically to recall if she had met this man before. Was his voice familiar? Surely she would have remembered him.
Summer’s face was on billboards and buses all over town. He could have recognized her any number of places ordering her favorite drink. Maybe she should think about getting a bodyguard. The notion made her shiver.
An insistent rapping reverberating on the glass of the sound booth returned Summer to her senses.
Crap, she’d been sitting there like a mute. For how long? She scrambled to shake the confusion from her head. Her reflection on the control room glass displayed the panicked look on her face.
Melody was whipping her index finger in rapid, tight circles, signaling for Summer to wrap it up.
“I’m sorry, but it’s time to go to a commercial break, so…” Summer tentatively recovered.
“One more thing, Summer,” Lucien interrupted. “Your top button is undone.” The floating melody of words caressed her ears and glided through her brain shattering in a million pieces with the stereophonic buzz of a dial tone.
Melody quickly cued a commercial for Rex Railback’s Herbal Male Enhancers. Summer removed her headphones. Glancing downward, she saw that her top button was open, exposing a small bit of white lace. Hairs prickled on the back of her neck with the eerie suspicion that she was being watched. She twisted her chair in the direction of the lone window of the studio. The notion that anyone could see her was ridiculous; the studio was on the fifth floor and looked out upon the blankness of a brick wall across the alleyway.
She re-buttoned her blouse, her trembling fingers betraying her struggle to regain composure.
“Hey, are you okay?” Melody’s voice called out over the intercom.
Shit, she had to get a grip. She was feeling a bit unhinged, and oddly emotional, as if she didn’t know whether she wanted to laugh or cry. And that voice…that voice. Summer tried to recall it, but it kept drifting just out of reach like a long-forgotten dream. She’d been too long without the comfort of a cigarette and some fresh air.
Gathering her things, Summer waved her hand nodding her head. “I’m fine, I’m fine. You know what, Melody? Put on something canned for awhile, I need a smoke, maybe two.”
“What do you want me to air?”
Summer didn’t give a fisherman’s fuck what she aired. She wanted to separate herself from that last call as fast as her legs could carry her.
“I don’t give a shit. Put on the Best of Jerry.” Summer flung her arms wide, palms upturned. “Whatever, Melody…just put on anything.”
Summer felt a momentary pang of regret. She didn’t like the churlish way she sounded just now, snapping at Melody.
“Sounds like somebody just let a caller get the best of her.” Melody grumbled under her breath.