The Solitary Life of Martin Trencher

by Suzy Rigdon

At six each morning, Martin rose from his worn twin mattress on the floor in the corner of his studio apartment, grabbed a handful of potato chips that no longer crunched in his mouth, and sat at the table in the center of the room. He stretched one long arm over his head and then the other, cracking each of his slender fingers; gunshots in the silence.

This was his ritual; a prayer before supper, a moment of silence before chaos. He rolled his head a few times forward and then all the way back, feeling the muscles and tendons pulling and stretching down his neck. He groaned in a loud exhalation to warm up his lungs and his voice.

He repeated, "Billy Buttons bought a big bunch of beautiful bananas" five times, and then blew a long raspberry to warm up his lips, as though he was about to step onto the polished stage at the Lincoln Center.

He was ready.

Martin Trencher, dressed in only a pair of blue and white-striped boxer shorts leaned forward onto the table and switched on one radio after another, from left to right, until all fifteen were playing. The noise from each was soft, with wisps of rush hour banter and top ten song lists wavering out, like an orchestra warming up. Alone, each radio would have kept Martin company, but together, they sang a disjointed tune that at most times was half commercial.

Five radios marked the length of the long table, with two more stacked on top of each one. When he sat, the radios towered over Martin, but that was how he liked it. For the first hour, which he'd named his adagio time, he would simply recline with his fingers laced behind his head and watch the green and yellow glows from their faces. His favorite was an old JVC RC-838-W boombox on the bottom of the far right pile. It had two large black speakers with a cassette player in the middle, and a long scrolling tuner across the top in a band. Just for nostalgia's sake, he kept that one set to WBXZ 99.3—eighties tunes from dawn to dusk. In fact, all of the radios in the right two columns mostly played music of the seventies and eighties, although one, the tiny Supersonic 11 Band Portable on top was tuned to one of those stations where they played a mix of eighties, nineties and today.

The left three piles were relegated to the more popular music that Martin couldn't stand, but which served their purpose more often than those stacked on the right. So he tolerated the bass-pumping, mind-numbing lyrics looped every hour and a half. To amuse himself on the long days, he tallied on a pad of paper each time two or more of the stations played the same song at exactly the same time.

At 7:30, Martin got up to take a piss, but before he did, he methodically turned the radios up in a smooth crescendo to their exact medium volumes, until the sounds of talk-jocks and pop-gods thrummed against the thin walls, con animato. He probably didn't need to do this—his "bathroom," a sink, a tub and a toilet was only separated from the rest of his space by a three-sided wall that stopped a foot beneath the ceiling. It wasn't much for privacy, but Martin wasn't much for guests.

On the way back to his chair, he grabbed a can of pop and a box of too-sugary cereal he got delivered once every two weeks with the rest of his groceries. Then Martin sat, and, in the same order in which he turned the radios up, he turned them down.

Morning noises were building outside, but he was safe from it all there, in front of his radios. When he finished the pop, he tossed the can in an overflowing bin under the table and then pulled out his laptop.

Suddenly, a talk jock on the middle radio on the left pile became animated, "So, you're sittin' in traffic, leaning on the horn and hating your life, right? Wrong! It's Giveaway Wednesday folks, and this week we're featuring advanced copies of Zombie Oblivion for Xbox One. These won't hit stores for another two weeks, so grab those phones and dial in. Caller fifteen takes it."

Martin picked up his landline and hit speed dial #3. The dial tone cut out, replaced by the rushed blips of the station's number. With a quick thumb, he hung up when the first flat beeps of the busy signal played. Martin leaned forward and hit #3 again. Beep—he hung up. He hit the number again and rocked his head from side to side, but hung up quick. He was fast on the draw and even faster on the hang up. His head felt light and his fingers itched as he dialed again. His heart jutted against his ribcage as he heard the longed for ring on the other end.

Ring. Ring. He counted five and then six, ignoring the voices pawing at him from his radios. Twelve and then thirteen rings. The hammer of his heart slowed in a disappointed ritardando as Martin placed the phone back on the receiver. No host let the winner hang on the line for thirteen rings. Long wait times meant they already had their caller and everyone else was just dreaming.

He turned the radio up louder. Some auto-tuned mess was straggling to a close. He wanted to hear who won—who had gotten the game and that precious twenty second airtime. Finally the song cut out.

"Hi, who's this?" the jock asked. He was far too caffeinated for this early in the day.

"Jennifer," the woman said, her voice high and wavery, as though she was terrified of speaking on the radio. Idiot, he thought.

"Where are you calling from Jennifer?"

"The car. I'm on my way to work."

"Do you like playing Xbox?" he asked. Martin was sure he already knew the answer.

"My boyfriend does."

"Well, your boyfriend is going to love you because you just won a copy of the unreleased Zombie Oblivion!"

"Wow, thank you," she said, the gratitude only a thin veneer over her voice, hardly even there.

"You're welcome. We're giving away copies every hour for the rest of the day, so stay tuned to Q106.5 for your chance to win." The jock had put her on hold. As the next song, one Martin heard at least fifteen times a day came on, he knew exactly what Jennifer was doing. He was an old pro at it, the waiting stage left, the sitting on the line in silence, face flushed with excitement and pride. Then, Martin knew, when the next song began to play for the listening masses, the jock's voice would reach out to Jennifer again, asking for her details and telling her where and when she could claim her prize.

Prizes every hour, Martin thought, and marked the time on his notepad.

At 11:30, he grabbed a piece of cold pizza from the fridge and flopped down. He had failed to win a pair of tickets to a Disney Icecapade twenty minutes earlier from that blend station on the right pile, and he still felt a little out of whack. But WABD 97.7 in the middle pile was due for a contest any minute. He placed his free hand on the phone and listened for the end of the song. When the jock—a lady with a pretty voice—called out, he dialed.

On his fourth try, it rang. Two, three times and then, click. Martin dropped the pizza and wiped his hand on his boxer shorts. He straightened up, his heart doing the quickstep again.

"Hi, who's this?" she asked.

"Martin from Ayden," he said, cool despite his growing itch to dance. He had practiced and performed that introduction dozens of times, and it sounded smooth.

"Hi Martin. Do you like beach volleyball?"

"Yeah, absolutely." The enthusiasm was real, although he had never seen a game before in his life.

"Good, because you've got tickets to the women's finals next weekend!"

"That's awesome. Thank you so much!" He said, his voice triumphant. People eating their lunches and listening to the radio would know that he had won and he was glad. He expected the silence that usually followed the thank you, but the jock kept talking.

"And that's not all. You're now qualified to win our grand prize—an all-expense paid trip to Cancun thanks to our sponsors, The Carter Brothers' Carpet Galleria."


"Just listen in tomorrow afternoon. We'll call out a name during the four o'clock New Music Hour, and you'll have thirty minutes to call back if it's you. Good luck!" she said, and that familiar phone silence replaced her high voice.

She continued her spiel for the other listeners as Martin waited, his eyes roving over the long wooden built-in bookcase along the far side of the apartment. He stopped on the mustard yellow mug he'd won from WAAC Classical last year, and a signed copy of a Matt Damon movie he'd gotten before it had been released. He had various other games and movies, as well as tickets, which he had taken time to frame, unused. Everything was unused, just displayed as mementos to his years of successful wins, except for those prizes he'd had to sell. The only other things he hadn't framed were the cash prizes he'd won. Those had paid his rent.

He could hardly convey his details to the jock when she came back on the line, his mind too full of white sandy beaches and fruity drinks.

* * *

The following day went exactly as each day always did. Martin rose early, had a snack, turned on the radios, stretched out and got ready to call in. He took his usual piss break, timed for when most stations were on commercials, and then manned his rostrum once again, ready. He tried six times to call in to various competitions, but he only got the beeps of the busy signal, not even the post-win long rings. But that was okay with him. He was in it for the big prize today. The trip to Cancun.

Martin was jittery. He'd never been qualified for a grand prize before, and winning this time was far further out of his hands than normal. They had to call his name. If they didn't, no fast dialing would save him. He had to wait for the four o'clock New Music Hour and then hope that the woman would choose him.

At 3:55, Martin took his mid-afternoon break. He usually saved this for 4:30—the natural pause between his day's carefully planned movements—but he wasn't taking any chances. Sure, he had thirty minutes to call in once they said his name, but he didn't want to miss a beat.

For the first time in a very, very long time, Martin turned off every radio except for the one which held his fate. The singular voice sounded strange and hollow in his apartment, but it was all for the greater good. He couldn't worry about other stations and other contests right now. There would always be more.

The announcement came just after 4:20. The R&B ballad switched off and her voice, that high, sultry voice came back on.

"All right everyone. It's the big moment. We've been giving away qualifying spots all month to listeners to win the trip for two to Cancun sponsored by The Carter Brothers' Carpet Galleria. So here's what's happening: I'm going to read out a name. If it's yours, you have thirty minutes to call in and claim your prize. Deal?"

"Deal," Martin answered, his clammy palm hovering over the phone, ready to push #2 on speed dial. Ready to claim his prize. His muscles were coiled, primed to spring into action, to play the first chord of his masterpiece, which, of course, would be in D major—the hallelujah key.

"Okay, the winner is..." she paused while an inane drumroll sound effect took up precious seconds. "Martin Trencher! Okay, Martin, you have thirty minutes." A ticking clock played over the radio waves and before they could hit four ticks, Martin had dialed. His heart hammered wildly and a line of sweat had broken out over his fuzzy upper lip. This is it. This is the big time.

As the jock took his information, Martin closed his eyes. Before him were rows of red velvet-lined chairs filled to capacity with adoring patrons in tuxedos and evening dresses. In the many gold-painted balconies above, the audience rained sweet applause down on him as he bowed, his back to his orchestra. His grand prize win had earned him a standing ovation. Even when he opened his eyes and saw the empty apartment, the warmth of their adoration clung to him; a ghost of bygone days, yet still a comfort.

* * *

Just as the jock had said, his two tickets to Cancun, courtesy of The Carter Brothers' Carpet Galleria, arrived two weeks later. The envelope was sealed with clear plastic packing tape, and it bore his name in dark, rounded handwriting. As gently as he could, Martin cut a thin line down the middle of the tape, until he could open the envelope. His radios played in the background, pianissimo for the occasion.

Inside was a white folder, with the station's logo emblazoned on the front. He stroked the smooth plastic and envisioned how white the sand would be in Cancun. He could almost feel the tiny granules against his feet as he dug his toes deep into the sand. The sun would be warm, he knew, and after the gray skies of winter, would be beautiful.

Martin opened the folder to see two, pearly-white tickets, with that fat black lettering announcing all the details of the flight. He was in row 14D.

Martin paused as violins playing a familiar phrase reached his ear, and then bent forward to turn up the vintage Sony BRC-34 radio playing WAAC Classical, so that he could hear the piece more clearly. It was Allegro from Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. As the strings soared, sweet and quick, Martin lifted his hands, the tickets now his baton, and conducted along, marking the downbeat of each measure by tapping them on the table. He was standing on that polished stage once more, facing the chamber ensemble, leading them through the fast measures, as a rapt audience behind him watched.

The thrill of success rushed through his body and out to his hand holding the tickets. The murmuring of the other radios peeled away, and the orchestra, his orchestra was playing the Allegro in front of him as they had years before. The stage lights were warm on his face as his baton set the tempo, his left hand urging the violins to sing out, coaxing the cellos to fortissimo. He was the Martin Trencher again, and his musicians adored him.

After a few grand measures, Martin returned to himself, stepped off the rostrum in his mind, and crossed to his bookshelf full of prizes. As the movement transitioned to G major, he bent and pulled a medium, mahogany frame from a box on the bottom shelf and removed the back. He carefully placed the tickets inside, fanned so both faces were visible, and closed it up.

Instead of putting them among the ranks of his other prizes, Martin carried the frame to his table and placed it so the tickets faced him. The Allegro came to a close as Martin sat back down, his thumb stroking his prize through the thin pane of glass. He turned the station back to its precise level and reclined in his seat.

BIO: Suzy Rigdon's debut novel, Into the Night, was published in 2014 with Spence City Books. Gail Z. Martin called this first installment of the Selina Baker series, "unpredictable, sexy and as much fun as a girls' night out on the town!" Her short fiction has appeared in The Albion Review and Word of Mouth literary magazine. She is the Marketing Director for Fall for the Book, the annual literary festival based in Northern Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @SuzyRigdon or visit her website: http://suzannerigdonauthor.com/