Frequency by Claire Johnson

It was a rainy afternoon and a woman strolled into the Best-Buy. She wore a red rain-slicked poncho with black spots. It was another slow Thursday and she was the most exciting thing to come through the doors today; some of the staff joked she looked like a ladybug in her poncho.

The little ladybug woman stuffed her poncho into her cheap handbag. One of the sales associates, a young man with slicked black hair who had worked at the store for three years, thought he recognized her from college. He thought he saw her come and go from a dorm to an English class they shared, but he stopped seeing her about halfway through the semester. 

He approached her with a trained smile and said, “Hello ma’am, just browsing today or can I help you?”

“I’m looking for a TV,” she said, looking around. She didn’t recognize him. That upset him a bit. 

“We have plenty of TVs, please follow me,” he said, showing her to the many models that they had against the back wall. “Did you have a particular size in mind?”

“I want the largest one you have.”

The sales associate was stunned. What use did a young woman have for such a large TV? “What are you going to be using your TV for?” he asked. 

“I watch things on it,” she said, fixated on the film being played over all the screens set up. It was a superhero film, on repeat for weeks until the next came out. White noise. 

“Do you stream movies?” he asked, starting to feel a little nervous. His management would think he swindled her if they found out he let her buy such an unnecessary TV. “We have a lot of smart TV’s that are built for watching movies. I have one of those Insignias at home and it works great even with a smaller screen.”

“The Insignia is too small. It doesn’t seem right.”

“What room are you going to be putting this in?”

“The space won’t be an issue,” she said, pointing to an 86” LG. “I think I want that one.”

“Are you sure? That’s quite expensive.”

“Yep. That’s the one I want.”

The associate did not like selling large TVs to young women. There was something about it that made him very uneasy. He reluctantly fetched her the model she selected. She paid all two-thousand-three-hundred dollars in cash.

“Do you need help putting this in your car?” he asked her. 

She put on her ladybug poncho and grabbed the box with both arms. “Nope. I walked.”

She exited the store and went outside into the street. It’s autumn, but there were only a few colored leaves that crunched beneath her feet. Her socks squished and squelched inside her shoes, soaked with rainwater. Many people gave her odd looks as she passed by, concerned for the safety of her TV. She passed by the local grocery store, the old auto body repair shop run by a man, his wife, and now their son, and the library that had closed at the edge of town. The box was very heavy, and she had to stop and rest many times. 

The rain stopped and the temperature fell, almost audibly. The daylight was all but gone now, just leaving the pixelated gray that clung to everything. Frost creeped over the ground, a living thing, a time lapse. 

She continued walking.

Eventually the buildings gave way to a construction site, a gaping wound in the landscape festered with all sorts of manmade things. Large machinery sat motionless in the moonlight. The fetuses of buildings, with metal bones and concrete flesh, laid incomplete. They were scheduled to be finished in a year. When morning would come, the workers in yellow would march in, much like ants, build a little more, and leave.

The area had been a large forest before, cleared away to make a new mall and fields of farmland; an endless cycle of both progress and decay. The two processes were perhaps the same.

The woman with the TV remembered climbing trees here in her youth, the burn of her calves as she raced her sister to the forest’s edge. She remembered her father teaching her which songs belonged to which birds. Not far away there was an old shack with a roof that leaked. It loomed out of the dark like it had been grown there. She unlocked the door and stepped inside.

The shack was filled with ladybugs. Ladybugs on the windowsill. Ladybugs on the mattress. Ladybugs on her moving boxes, still packed with things. Ladybugs on a birthday card signed by her family. Ladybugs in a package of cheap cigarettes. Ladybugs in her dinner packed in a styrofoam box, taken from the diner she had worked at since high school. 

The ladybugs flew to her, lovingly, and gathered around while she quietly unpacked the TV. She placed it against the wall, watching with wide eyes as the screen tuned to wavy static. She plugged in an ancient VHS player and pushed in a black tape. The screen flickered to video of trees swaying in gentle breezes, white birch trees with black eyes that watched her from the other side of the television. Trees with cavities that once housed a myriad of creatures, ladybugs in the winter as they lay dormant waiting for spring.

And the woman saw memories from before. She heard her father from behind the camera, calling to her. She came running from off-screen, with unsteady toddler legs. This was the only recording she had of this place. And it would be, she had realized, the only recording. 

And the ladybugs sat, motionless, before the glow of the TV. Did they have any understanding of what they were looking at? Did they realize what had happened here? Or were they trapped by ignorance? She had no way of knowing. She liked to think the video would make them happy, if only for a moment. A pleasant break in the links of chain. 

And she found herself thinking about her life. Tomorrow she would go back to work. Continue the routine she would follow until she died, a ladybug staring at a television screen. Forever stuck in a present that had become her future and wishing she could return to the past. Stagnated. But tonight, for a moment, she spread her wings and flew. She watched for a second more, as her father set up the camera to record the natural ambiance. Then she went to warm her dinner in the microwave. And the forest began to sing.

Photo by Pixabay on

About the Author:

Claire Johnson resides in the rural Northwest Wisconsin, and works as a Community Outreach Coordinator at her local Habitat for Humanity. Her work has appeared in NOTA, and when she isn’t writing she loves to cook, read, and spend time with her four chickens. 

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