The Jukebox (Give Me the Beat, Boys) - Aliset

 


1990

“So, Vincent,” Cullen asked, dragging in a wheeled pallet, “what’s the story with this jukebox?”

It was just a few weeks before Vincent and Catherine were to marry; in preparation for their new life together, Vincent was planning to expand this chamber. The downside of that, he was coming to realize, was that everything had to be packed away and moved out of the way first. Boxes lined one wall and it seemed excelsior was fairly exploding from every nook and cranny. And then it would all have to be unpacked later. Now I remember why I never moved into a different room after Devin left.

At the sound of Cullen's voice, Vincent looked up from the box of books he was packing and smiled. “Does there have to be a story behind it?”

Cullen folded his arms. “Everything has a story here – I know you. You wouldn’t go picking up stuff if it didn’t have meaning.”

Vincent closed the lid on the box and carried it over to join its fellows in the corner. “True enough. It's a fairly involved story ... do you have time to hear it?”

Cullen leaned up against a nearby dolly already loaded with boxes and grinned. “It's almost lunch anyway. How did this thing get down here?”

Vincent sat down on the bed, and heard the mattress deliver its familiar squeaking complaint. “It all began with Beethoven ...”

***

1965


Vincent glanced up from his homework as Devin entered their chamber and threw himself on the lower bunk bed with a dramatic groan. Bits of paper – forgotten remnants of Devin’s own homework – flitted to the floor. “What’s going on, Dev?” he asked.

A kick of booted feet against the multicolored quilt was his only answer for a time. Finally, Devin spoke. “I’ve been grounded.”

“For what now?” Vincent asked. In the last few months, Father had confiscated the itching powder, the whoopee cushion and any number of water balloons. With his most common props for mischief missing, what could Devin have done now?

“Father caught me with that radio.”

Ah. The radio. Found in a chamber, its origin unknown, Devin and the other boys had amused themselves trying to get a strong enough signal so that they could hear something, anything through solid rock. Vincent hadn’t found it very much fun, the static harsh on his ears, but Devin had enjoyed the snatches of music, of conversation from Above. “Why did he take it away?”

“Because he found me listening to it when I was supposed to be doing my homework in here with you.” He kicked again at the covers. “I hate doing homework. And I have to listen to three concerts and write a report, on top of being grounded. Life’s not fair!”

Vincent looked up as a wadded paper ball bounced off his head; Devin again, clearly suspecting he wasn’t being listened to. Satisfied that he had Vincent’s full attention, Devin continued, “And it’s not even real music, all that long-haired stuff Father makes us ... appreciate.”

Glaring at him from underneath his own long hair and pushing the bangs out of his eyes, Vincent glared back. “I like Beethoven.”

“You would,” Devin grumbled. “You can’t do anything wrong where Father’s concerned.”

“That’s not true!” Vincent said, throwing his own homework down. “Father yells at me too.”

“Right, for things like not eating your peas. He doesn’t yell at you for just … breathing.”

Since this was true – Father was harder on Devin than anyone else, for reasons Vincent had never understood – he changed the subject. “Well, what do you think ‘real music’ is?”

“I heard it on that radio. We got a clear signal by …” and Devin’s voice lowered as if rightly suspecting that he’d be in worse trouble if Father found out just what he’d done to hear the radio signal better, “standing in the Central Park entrance.”

Vincent’s eyes widened. The Central Park entrance itself wasn’t forbidden territory, but the children were always told not to attract attention if they did use that entrance. Picturing Devin and the other boys standing in the entrance dressed in their tunnel garb with the large radio carried between them was most certainly not what Father would term “subtle.” “And?” Vincent asked.

“And I heard this group … the Beatles. That’s real music, Fuzz.”

Vincent shook his head, trying to picture a group named after … insects? Father was right. The world Above was weird.

***

“I want a jukebox,” Devin said the next day. “So we can hear real music below.”

Winslow glanced down at him – Winslow, at almost nineteen, topped all but the tallest men in the tunnels by nearly a foot. “What you’re looking for is a bunch of trouble, boy.”

“I’m already in trouble,” Devin responded, kicking a rock on the floor. “How much worse can it get?”

Winslow grunted. “Bad enough that if you keep it up, you’ll be lucky if you can sit down for dinner.”

“Father’s never hit anyone,” Devin responded.

“I know,” Winslow said. “That don’t mean he ain’t been tempted. Take your punishment and forget trying to get into more trouble.”

“But Winslow …” Devin wheedled. “Vincent’s never heard that music up top. He can’t. I want him to hear it too.”

Winslow narrowed his eyes. “You and Father just can’t seem to stop flicking at each other, can you? This ain’t about Vincent, not this time. You’re just wanting to get back at Father for taking that stupid radio and I ain’t gonna help you do it.” He turned his back on the boy. “I got work to do.”

***

Phillip looked up at the sound of tennis shoes scuffing on the rock floor. He thought he knew that step, though he’d only been in the tunnels a few months. “Hi, Devin,” Phillip said, bending to tie his shoes. “Look, about that radio – I’ve been thinking and I don’t think we can modify it to pick up a channel down here. There’s just too much rock.”

“Doesn’t matter anyway,” Devin said. “Father took the radio away.”

“Yeah, I’d heard that,” Phillip said. “Seems you should have been doing your homework – which, by the way, you didn’t tell me you hadn’t finished – instead of trying to listen to the Beatles.”

“It’s just–" Devin began.

“Look, Devin. I know Father seems harsh, but you should have been doing your homework. All those things you want to do? You won’t be able to do any of them if you don’t get a good education first.”

Devin folded his arms. With his chin thrust out, Phillip was startled to notice how very much the boy looked like Father. “What?” Devin said, noticing Phillip’s expression.

“Nothing, man. Nothing.” Phillip ran a hand through his hair. “Why did you come to see me, Devin?”

“I want to find a jukebox up-top,” Devin said, the determined set of his jaw increasing his resemblance to Father even further.

“And you were hoping I’d be able to fix it once you found one?” Phillip asked.

Devin nodded. “I probably can fix it,” Phillip said; he’d been an electrician before he’d crawled into the bottle. “But I don’t want to help you get into more trouble with Father.”

The boy seemed to mull this over. “But if I find one after I’m done being grounded?”

After you’re done being grounded and after you finish your reports and your homework,” Phillip added. “And you have to tell Father.”

A distant angry fire flashed in the boy’s dark eyes. “Father won’t understand.”

Phillip shrugged. “He might, if you give him a chance instead of going behind his back. Do you want my help or not?”

Devin nodded. “All right then,” Phillip replied. “Come see me when you’re ready.”

***

“Absolutely not,” Father said two weeks later. “You want to go above and find … a jukebox? Why? What’s wrong with the music we have here?”

“It doesn’t have words,” Devin began.

“It most certainly does,” Father countered. “Handel’s ‘Messiah’ has words, and you heard that just last weekend.”

“Yeah, but no one was singing it, Father. And it’s not rock-and-roll. You can’t dance to it.”

Father forbore to mention that people had been dancing to classical music for years; he had a vision of his own father, railing against “that new jazz music.” Am I so old? He sighed. “You’re right. It’s not rock-and-roll. But jukeboxes … Devin, they’re not likely to be in a junkyard and even if they were, how on earth would you get it down here without anyone seeing you? Aren’t they usually quite big? The very idea is preposterous.”

“But if I found one?”

“If you found one …” Father stared at Devin over his glasses. “By which I mean, it has to be discarded, not … appropriated. And discreet, which means I do not want to hear from the sentries that a bunch of you carried a large jukebox down here. Do I make myself clear?”

Devin’s head bobbed once and a vision of another sort assailed Father: Grace, nodding the same way over a plan that had seemed so dubious at first but had resulted in the first home-like touches to the tunnels. He had never been able to descend the spiral staircase without thinking of her. “And one more thing,” Father continued. “You must not involve Vincent in finding this jukebox.”

“But, Father–"

“I mean it, Devin. If you can find this jukebox, fine. But Vincent is not to go Above to help you find it. Do we understand each other?”

Devin nodded, but Father was not reassured. Where one led, the other would usually follow.

***

“So he said you could look for one?” Vincent whispered later that night.

Devin looked towards the chamber entrance for any flickering shadow from the corridor torches that would indicate someone coming near them. Finding no signs that they'd been heard, he climbed up the short ladder to face his brother in the top bunk. “Yeah, he sure did,” Devin whispered, peeking over the edge of the upper bed.

Vincent rolled to his side and Devin noticed the other boy's eyes reflecting in the dimness. “So, where are you going to look?”

“Junkyards, I guess,” Devin said.

“For a jukebox?” Vincent asked. “Do they throw those away up top?”

“They throw lots of good stuff away,” Devin replied. “Why not a jukebox? And Phillip said he'd help me fix it when I found it.”

“That's great!” Vincent exclaimed. “But you have to find one first.”

“Yeah, don't I know it,” Devin grumbled.

Vincent didn't ask to go with him, Devin noticed, like he used to when he was smaller. And that hurt, in a way it would take him years to understand the why of. For now, though, he was relieved; Vincent was stubborn and the fight to argue him out of going wasn't something Devin thought he could win. “Which junkyard are you going to check first?” he asked, instead of pleading to go.

“I'm getting some maps from Daniel's scavenging crew tomorrow morning. Then I'll go with the crews when they make their next run.”

“Go with Winslow's,” Vincent said.

Devin remembered Winslow's rebuff. “Why?”

Vincent rolled his eyes. “Because Winslow’s a good haggler; everyone says so. And besides, you're going to need help getting the thing down here, aren't you?”

“I dunno,” Devin replied. “We might find a smaller one and besides, Winslow doesn't think much of the idea.”

“But he'll help if you find one. He will,” the other boy said. “You just have to give him a chance. He didn't like the idea of causing more problems between you and Father.”

“I suppose,” Devin said, holding back a yawn. “I'll ask him, okay?”

***

As it happened, Winslow's scavenging party was the next one scheduled to go out. “I don't like this fool idea of yours, boy,” Winslow said when Devin told him he wanted to go. “We're out there to work, not to look for a toy.”

“I know,” Devin said, and he did. He was almost fourteen, after all. “But–"

Winslow grasped him by his sweatshirt collar – not in punishment, but to make a point. “See that gate over there, Devin?”

Devin looked over at the gate propped up against one wall of the Forge. He recognized it as being one of their security gates, though he couldn't have said which one. “That gate,” Winslow said, “is powered by a motor which hasn't worked since the rain last weekend. We've got a temporary gate up but it won't hold forever and I can't fix it that one without parts we don't have. So tomorrow morning, me and Daniel and Harry and Angus and Phillip are going to hit some junkyards. With the funds we have between us, we might have enough to purchase the replacement parts ... but we sure as hell ain't gonna have enough for no jukebox. If you want to come, come. But come to help, not to look for no jukebox.”

Devin was resolute. “But if we found a jukebox?”

Winslow blew out his breath once. “If we found one, that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.” His dark eyes narrowed. “Father know about this?”

Devin nodded. “Ask him yourself if you don't believe me.”

“I just might, at that,” Winslow replied. “Once I talk to him – and if you're planning to come and work and help us – then yeah, if we find one ...”

Devin nodded. “Okay.”

***

By late in the morning, they'd gone to four different junkyards and had managed to come up with the spare parts they'd need to repair the gate. That the parts had come off of an old washing machine, various unidentifiable and rusting bits of machinery, and the business end of a lawnmower made no difference, Devin knew, if there was one thing that everyone at the tunnels excelled at, it was making something useful out of nothing.

They were at their fifth junkyard looking for a motor (“just in case,” as Winslow had said,) when Devin saw the flash of chrome glinting in the sun – not all that unusual in a junkyard but something about the shape of the chrome made him look closer. He turned his head to see the junkyard owner – a man named Ed – lugging a jukebox out of his office. Devin tugged on Phillip's arm and smiled at the man's low whistle.

“Well, what do you know?” Phillip murmured. “I'll be damned. Hey, Ed!” Phillip called to the man. “What do you have there?”

Ed set the jukebox on a side table and came towards them, wiping the sweat off his balding head. “A jukebox that my no-count good-for-nothing brother traded me for an engine lastweek. Damned thing doesn't work.”

“It doesn't?” Phillip asked.

“Nah, it doesn't. I've plugged it in and all, but nothing. I've checked everything I know, but I ain't got time to screw around with it.”

Phillip placed a hand on Devin's shoulder. “What do you want for it, Ed?”

“Wasn't worth anything when he gave it to me and it's worth less now. You want it, you take it.”

“You sure?” Phillip asked, stunned.

“Yeah,” Ed replied. “I don't get much call for jukebox parts and it'd just take up space I need for other things. You want it, it's yours. And I wish you better luck than I've had with it.”

Phillip waved to Winslow, who had their one dolly. Winslow came over and just shook his head, chuckling, as he placed the small jukebox on top of their motley assortment of parts. “Only you, Devin. Only you.”

***

The jukebox was moved into Vincent and Devin's chamber to much fanfare two days later. “I don't know if it's fixed, mind,” Winslow said, as he and Phillip moved the jukebox into place. “I tried plugging it in down at the hospital chamber to test it, but it wouldn't come on.”

“It needed some simple fixes – a loose switch there, bent wires here, a board or two freed of dust,” Phillip put in. “And the chrome was dinged up. But so far as I know, it's ready to rock and roll. Smallest damn jukebox I ever seen.” He gestured to Devin and Vincent. “You guys want to try this thing?”

“You bet!” Devin said, and flipped the rocker switch on the back.

Nothing happened.

“I don't get it,” Phillip said. He flipped the rocker switch again.

Silence.

“You think maybe there was a reason Ed's brother gave this piece of junk to him?” Winslow asked as the crowd around them began to murmur.

Vincent, standing nearest the jukebox, glanced down to see if the machine was plugged in. It was. He flipped the rocker switch and the push-button switches began to glow. He watched as the single arm inside picked up a 45 and dropped it into place.

“Hey, would you look at that? How'd you do that, Vincent?” Phillip asked, shaking his head in disbelief.

Vincent shrugged, laughing. “I don't know. But it's working now.”

Devin laughed. “Good job, Fuzz!”

The strains of modern music – rock and roll – began to play: “Help!/I need somebody/Help!/ Not just anybody/Help! You know I need someone!/Help!” A delighted cheer rose from the assembled crowd, and Devin looked over at Vincent and grinned. “You like it, Fuzz?”

“I love it,” Vincent said, grinning like he used to when he was much younger – a carefree, innocent grin.

“Wait a sec,” Winslow said. “Phillip and I worked on it, but we can't get it to turn on. Devin can't get it to work, but Vincent can, just by touching it?”

“Looks like it,” Devin replied, chuckling. “Anyone want to dance?”

***

1990

“You mean to tell me that jukebox won't work for anyone, only you?” Cullen asked, finishing his sandwich. “How is that even possible?”

“Ask Devin when he comes for the wedding,” Vincent said, shrugging and unwrapping the second half of his sandwich. “He'll tell you. I'm the only one who can get it to work.”

“Prove it,” Cullen challenged, grinning.

“All right,” Vincent said, grinning in return. “It’s plugged in, as you can see. Try to turn it on. The rocker switch is in the back.”

Vincent watched as Cullen flipped the switch. Nothing happened. “Now turn it off,” he said. “And I’ll try it.”

He walked over to the jukebox and turned on the switch. The jukebox lit up and music began to play. “How … that’s crazy!” Cullen exclaimed, rocking back and forth in his merriment.

“It is,” Vincent agreed, chuckling himself.

***

“So you still have this thing?” Devin asked, the night before the wedding. He rested one hand on the chrome of the small jukebox, seeing in his mind's eye the lighted colors in the neon, things long ago and far away now.

“I do,” Vincent said. “I listen to it often.”

“And you're still the only one who can get it to work, eh?”

Vincent nodded. “What kind of music is in here now?” Devin asked.

“Rock and roll, mostly. Do you want to hear something?”

Devin nodded, and watched as Vincent pressed a button the front of the jukebox. A 45 slipped into place, and music began to play.

Day after day I'm more confused
So I look for the light in the pouring rain
You know that's a game that I hate to lose
I'm feelin' the strain, ain't it a shame

Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away

 

Vincent's big chair beside the jukebox

 

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