“Plain white jacket, plain white sleeve,” Babs said, offering it to her husband, Milt.
Milt tipped the jacket and let the black disc slide out, stopping it with a thumb to the edge and middle fingertip in the spindle hole. Handing the jacket and sleeve to Babs, he cradled the record between his palms and tilted it to see both sides. “And the labels are torn off,” he said.
“But look at it, it’s flawless.”
“Should we get it?” Babs said. She knew she’d have to sell him on the idea, subtly, letting him come around to it on his own, or at least think he did.
“Ten bucks?” Milt said. He liked yard sales as much as she did, but he hated getting ripped off. At least this wouldn’t be another dress she’d wear once if at all, or an unopened bottle of brightly colored liqueur taking up space in its pretty vessel. He was intrigued.
“Ten bucks, no less.”
“Ten,” Babs said.
“Did you ask her what it was?”
“Our guess is as good as hers, she said. And no, she doesn’t have a record player.”
“Are there any clues at all on the label?” Milt said.
“Torn off, both sides.”
“Down to the telltale white of a failed peel.”
“Nothing on the spine, no promo stamp on the jacket.”
“Even the etchings are scratched out of the wax.”
“Like serial numbers filed off a hot gun.”
This was how they did things—found little ways to inject adventure into routine evenings out, romanticized objects found in clearance bins or thrift shops—and for a long time it masked the fact that their lives were lacking. They had adequately paid, if humdrum, jobs, no children, and their conversations, when they talked, always seemed to come back to things they bought or ate, or wanted to buy or eat. Babs loved the feeling of wanting something just to want it, and getting Milt to get it for her. Milt liked resisting just enough to make Babs feel like she had done something worth doing, acquired something worth having, especially those times when he also wanted to do or acquire the thing in question.
“I say we get it,” Babs said.
“What if it sucks?” asked Milt.
“What if it doesn’t?”
“What if it’s blank?”
“It’s got grooves.”
“Maybe it grooves.”
“Maybe we’ll love it.”
“And not know what it is.”
“And never find out.”
When they first got it home and placed it on their turntable, they howled at the short tracks of generic instrumental jazz funk, Milt dubbing it in turns Porno Promo and Super Sex Sampler. Babs took to calling it Brown Chicken, Brown Cow, a moniker that stuck, and the record became Milt’s go-to initiator for their lovemaking. Outwardly Babs laughed, inwardly she cringed the first time Milt lowered the needle, cranked up the volume, stripped and boogied nude, all belly and balls, as the tunes unfolded, saying, “Just like me: White on the outside, Black on the inside.”
Milt took to listening to the record even when Babs wasn’t home, giving the various tracks names like “Down to My Socks” and “Doggie Style Prelude.” Babs came to dread the sound of it, even when she approved Milt’s playing it; even when she suggested it. To her it represented a lack of growth in their relationship most evident in this entrenched lack of spontaneity in their lovemaking, which to her had become, even on those occasions when she was satisfied, little more than a celebration of him set to very bad music.
Milt smiled and showed her the plain white jacket one rainy Sunday afternoon when she wanted to go to the mall and catch a movie, and he said they should think about saving money. And for the first time since they’d brought it home from the yard sale, without being sick or tired or busy, she shook her head no. Milt asked her if she was okay.
“It’s not me, it’s that,” she said.
“This? This is our groove, baby,” he said.
“Not that, us.”
“What’s wrong with us?”
“Everything’s wrong. There’s nothing on the outside, crap on the inside.”
Milt, believing Brown Chicken, Brown Cow possessive of a kind of magic, nevertheless swapped it onto the turntable for the idle disc of Paderewski’s Polonia. Then he approached Babs with a goofy grin and outstretched arms, sure that one more time they could screw everything back to normal. She in answer jumped with both feet high into the air, slamming down onto the floor—which produced the effect of digging the needle into and across the unmarked disc—and stomped from the room.
Milt would spend a lot of time examining the gouge, but he would never again listen to the record, not even the still pristine side. Long after Babs was gone and the divorce was final, he would occupy afternoons scouring the jacket, the sleeve, the disc for clues to its parentage. He would spend hours in online wild goose chases and hours more trying to reclaim the scratched out etchings from the runoff groove—and find nothing.
Jeff Nazzaro is studying for his MA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Having grown up in New England, he lived in Japan for 12 years before relocating to LA. His most recent work has appeared in Rind Literary Magazine.