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by Mary-Jane Holmes

Vocal Star. Not a new machine with Bluetooth or digital display, but buttons and dials, 8-track and reel-to-reel tape. He’d found it while stripping copper from refrigerators at the recycling centre. There were rules against that but Dianne, who manned the weighbridge every Saturday morning, didn’t mind, just hummed a tune, let him through. Dianne loved Karaoke, went to Dream-Sing every Saturday night. “Come,” she’d said, “we could duet Son of a Preacher Man.” Derek winced; his father made him mime hymns so his flock wouldn’t know his son was tone-deaf. But maybe he could woo her with this.

In the Anderson shelter in his parents’ garden where he “tinkered”, as his mother put it, he found the tamper-proof sentinel screws easier to remove than he’d envisaged. There was the problem: the tape jammed and torn. He searched the shelves for acetone amongst the bibles and candle snuffers his father stored there, drew the ribbon from its housing to splice it. It was then he felt the magnetic pull of a note buzz through his fingers, tug at his groin, fill the empty orchestra of his heart until his throat produced a sound so rounded, so rich it chimed like a copper bell, setting his father’s incense candles tinkling like choristers.

Early Saturday, Derek slipped into the weighbridge office, placed the machine on the desk, climbed inside, clicking the casing back in place. Then he settled into the spool’s curl and waited for Dianne to turn him on.

Mary-Jane Holmes has been published in such places as The Best Small Fictions Anthology 2016 and 2018, MslexiaThe Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Prole, The Tishman ReviewThe Lonely Crowd and Firewords Quarterly. She is the winner of the 2018 Mslexia Flash Fiction Competition, 2017 Bridport Poetry Prize, the Martin Starkie Poetry Prize, the Bedford International Poetry Prize and the Dromineer Flash Fiction Prize. She was runner up in the 2019 Doolin Poetry competition.