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Bedtime Story

Night Lines
Mark Cunliffe

Rollo Harris placed the bulky headphones onto his ears and heaved himself into his chair, placing his blue plastic bag under the desk and his cigarettes and Zippo lighter at his side. Glancing up at the clock he could see that it was three minutes past midnight. His show was about to start.

He looked out across the next booth and saw the attractive young newsreader wrap up her bulletin, what was her name he thought as he scratched at his balding head. Lucy? Lucinda? Lucille? Lucinda he felt certain; straight out of some posh uni and into news reading for a local radio station in Manchester, yeah it was Lucinda he remembered now; and for the fourth night that week he wondered what it would be like to have her go down on him.
"The time is just after 12, and this is Night Lines" Rollo flicked the switch for the jingle and felt the usual mixture of edginess and comfort as the red on air light flashed up.
"And this is me Rollo Harris and tonight’s Night Lines topic is…Lurve! Whether you’re in love, fallen out of love, whether you’ve never been in love, whether a loved one has treated you badly or whether they’ve treated you splendidly, we’d like to hear from you so call me and lets talk, usual phone line please"

Five minutes later and with Message In A Bottle fading out Rollo leaned over into the mic to take his first call. Some tedious schmaltzy crap from Lynne, a regular caller from Salford, about her husband Dave who brings her home a bouquet of flowers every Friday evening. Christ thought Rollo; the poor bastard deserved a medal. Lynne struck him as being a moping housewife who clearly operated on a low level of mental health and had nothing in her life but his own dulcet tones every weekday and that very bouquet of flowers every Friday night. Still Lynne was good for business, guaranteed to call in at least once a week. Dave was probably having an affair, Rollo surmised internally, the flowers being a symptom of his remorse. Good luck to the sad sack.
"Well we’ll all be thinking of you tomorrow my love when you get your flowers" Rollo said cheerily as he signed off.

Scratching his salt and pepper stubble, Rollo leaned back and played another record, Love Hurts to be precise. Lets see if that shakes the buggers up, he thought.
But no, song after song after song from Spandau-sodding-Ballet to Kate Bush via The Lightning Seeds and tedious call after call about being happily married or recalling the daft pet names they have for each other, why do they want to tell people that crap Rollo thought for the thousandth time.

Come 2am, Rollo was beginning to long for his shift to be over. Sometimes he didn’t know why he bothered; he never got anything juicy. Was this really anyway for a fifty year old to spend his life he thought once more, talking to thin air?
"And our next caller is Mary from Hyde, hello Mary love?" Rollo called out into the ether of around a thousand homes and god knows how many truck cabins.
"Hello love, you’re on air and the subject is love, what’s your story my darling" Rollo emphasised his southern accent a little, he always thought it had a good effect on the shy callers and gave a nice contrast to the regular Mancunian voices the station offered at large.
"Well its not really a happy story I’m afraid" A little hesitant giggle tinged with sorrow broke out through the mic at Rollo and he edged his chair in a little closer. "Ah unlucky in love eh? Well come on m’dearie tell Uncle Rollo all about it" Yeah and god knows how many strangers too, he thought to himself.
"Well it all started at Chasers a couple of weeks back"

Chasers was a dive of a nightclub on the suspect end of Manchester. Rollo had even been in there a couple of times over the years on his nights off and got some pretty good treatment there it has to be said, being something of a local celeb.
"Uhuh" Rollo hushed into the mic
"I met this fella right and he seemed really nice y’know? He bought us a drink and talked dead nice to us and I really liked him."

What a nice voice Rollo thought, clearly a kid, must have been early twenties. It was a voice filled with innocent earnest emotion and dull flat vowels that the North was famous for. A slight cough to clear his throat and Rollo was back on; "I see, love was in the air yeah?"
"Well yeah" Mary from Hyde replied; "I thought he were nice but…"
"Appearances were deceptive huh?" Rollo asked trying to get some momentum into the tale.
"Yeah right. He was dead charming and a real gent at first, I mean he was a bit old like, but I like that y’know? I like blokes who are mature, I can’t be doing with kids, y’know immature lads yeah?"
"Sure I know" Rollo replied "Each to their own, Mary, whatever floats your boat as they say"
"Well he asked if I wanted to come back to his place and I said yeah, and he had a really expensive motor and off we went to this big swanky apartment on the other side of town and I had a really nice time. He had every drink under the sun in there and we drank quite a bit like and chatted for hours and then we… well you know"

Smooth bastard thought Rollo, oh yeah I know, I know, there you were all sweet and young and innocent downing Bacardi Breezers with your barely legal baps hanging out, next thing you know you’re dazzled by a bit of flash cash and you’re spread eagled on some dirty old man’s bed. "So you had a nice time Mary what went wrong?"
"Well it all went funny in the morning. I woke up about eight like and he was up and dressed and being dead strange with me, so I said like what’s up and he said, you’re clothes are on the bed and I’ve called you a cab"
Oh dear Rollo thought, welcome to One Night Standsville, Population: You!
"I see Mary, not quite what you thought would happen eh? How did that make you feel?" I really should have been a counsellor, Rollo thought.
"Pretty shitty to be honest!" came Mary’s honest and rather loud reply
"Oops I’m sorry sweetheart but we can’t have bad language on air, remember love this is live ok?" Rollo restrained.
"Yeah erm I’m sorry, but it did though. I mean we had a great night and then he just goes all cold on me and pretty much threw me out. I mean the cab arrived about fifteen minutes after I woke up"
"Ouch! That is bad, aw you poor darling"
"I mean I hadn’t even time for a proper shower. I felt disgusting, I was treated like some cheap whore, slung out on me ear when he was done, I was used, it was demeaning" Mary said clearly hurt.
"Some men are just creeps love and you’re clearly better off without them, I’m sure the Night Lines listeners will agree on that" Rollo empathised with her.
"Really Rollo?" asked Mary softly
"Yes love I’m sure" Rollo soothed and was about to play a record to wrap when Mary interrupted him.
"You think he was a creep, yeah?" She asked, and Rollo could see where this was going, Mary wanted some sort of validation for her fifteen minutes of fame, she wanted the next callers to ring up and sympathise with her and give her some sisterly and occasionally brotherly comfort and togetherness. Rollo had been a phone in DJ for a very long time; he’d seen it before and he’d see it again. He sighed a little and edged closer in to give some shred of tenderness and near genuine warmth and emotion into his voice, as if leaning further in to the mic would somehow make him closer to a lonely upset girl in Hyde in her early twenties.
"Yes" He finally said, "Yes I do"
"Oh good, cos the bastard’s name was Rollo Harris, it was you Rollo! You bastard!" Mary screamed down the line.
And with that Rollo heard the clunk of the phone and the line go dead, and the memories came flooding back.
"Fuck" he said softly as the phone lines sprang into action. For once Rollo Harris, DJ of longstanding was lost for words.
© Mark Cunliffe
Feb 2007

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