Radio Midnight, which I’m still not sure really exists, has been running ads lately for something called hard candy. “Try hard candy,” reads the old man from his ad copy. “It’s good for your teeth.”
The old man and his station present no small mystery. Radio Midnight can’t be reached from a digital timer at all, although on an analogy tuner it reads about 88.9, which happens to be my birthday—September, 1988. That was the year, if you’ll remember, of the first big Internet worm.
There’s a scene in a movie called A Place in the Sun where Monty Clift is standing in the rain listening to a radio outside of Shelley Winters’ apartment in a very aesthetic fashion, which in general describes the mode of Radio Midnight. It pleases me greatly. I’ve been told that I look like Monty Clift, but I understand now that they may have been mocking me.
So when Radio Midnight interrupts its regular programming—a kind of music without musicians, sound without shape or place or time or means of production, a seemingly infinite arrangement of previously undisclosed Chopin and Erroll Garner—to bring hard candy to your attention, you’re willing to entertain the additional air of mystery in your life. I’d heard about hard candy before Radio Midnight, I feel certain—but what do I know of it?
“Hard candy,” says the old man. “It’s something to try at least.”
If Radio Midnight has a callsign, they’ve never shared it. Once, I thought I heard a K, which would place it west of the Mississippi—unlikely, not from this far east, but then again I couldn’t put it past them. I know that out west—and I’m thinking now of the far west, Pacifica—they manufacture something called a Charleston Chew, which is named after the dance and not the city. Chewy candy is famously bad for your teeth. Perhaps another clue? I should ask Lolly.
One thing about Lolly is that she hates Radio Midnight, especially when she’s trying to sleep—which is naturally around the same time that Radio Midnight performs at its highest level. We fall asleep together, listening, but at some point shortly thereafter she gets up, walks around the bed to my side, and turns off the radio; I wake up to irritating silence and turn the radio back on.
The last time this happened, I woke up craving hard candy. We don’t keep any hard candy in the house—only Haribo, which, historically speaking, is both my and Lolly’s favorite candy. But Haribo is famously bad for your teeth, of which Lolly is extremely protective. I don’t blame her. Her parents spent a lot of money on her teeth, while my parents spent nothing on mine; mine are worthless, and I treat them as such.
So I got in the car and drove to the 24-hour grocery, access to which is no small modern luxury. At the store, I had many options, although I knew immediately what I wanted. It was the only hard candy I had any recollection of, and the memory was strong: walking through rural Maine as a young boy to deliver eggs to the old woman on the hill, who paid me in quarters but sometimes accidentally in nickels, at which times I consoled myself with handfuls of the lemon candies she kept in a glass jar by the mantle.
The cashier looked a little like Lolly, except for the green in her eyes. I blushed when she caught my gaze. “I’m sorry,” I said. “You just have exceptionally green eyes.”
She didn’t seem offended, as I would’ve been in her place. “Late-night sweet tooth, huh?”
I paid with my phone to speed up the transaction. “Have you ever heard of hard candy?”
She laughed. People laugh all the time when I’m being serious. I’m such a funny guy, which is how I got a woman like Lolly in the first place. They even laugh when I speak at funerals, which I’ve had to do only twice now. “I don’t eat candy,” she said. “Just chocolate.”
“I understand completely,” I said, letting the receipt fall from her palm into mine without making any direct contact. “But they say that hard candy is good for your teeth.”
I searched in vain for Radio Midnight on the way home, bouncing between NPR and an iHeartMedia holding of America’s Best. When I got home, I filled my mouth with lemon candy, turned on the bedroom radio, and fell asleep listening to something like a forgotten interlude from Fiddler on the Roof or Aladdin. Lolly got up a few minutes later, walked around to my side of the bed, and turned Radio Midnight back off.
Daniel Uncapher is the Sparks Fellow at Notre Dame, where he received his MFA. His work has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, Tin House Online, Baltimore Review, Hawai'i Pacific Review, Neon, and others.