The lyrical story “Pop” by Nicole Provencher only hints at a wound, but does so indelibly. The language of mechanics, electricity and repair (including what to avoid doing), genuinely limns, as the best flash fiction does, a relationship. And the innocence of the narrator’s understanding of this kinship is rendered both touching and melancholy through the symbolism of the broken VCR.
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Pop is sitting at the table and there is a cigarette in his mouth. It waves back and forth as he works and shifts up and down. He calls them “cigs” and “ciggys” when he asks me to bring them to him. And he won’t let me call him Pop even though I’ve been watching Donna Reed at night before I go to bed. All the while the cigarette leeches to his lip. I am reading him the manual for the VCR and I’m not sure what any of it means, but Bobby is too little and Mom just won’t do it. Besides, Pop needs me to help him. I consider each of the words before I say them out loud. I like the way they sound, pulley, panel, pinch roller. I tell him things like run the cotton swab through the video head drum, avoid the loading motor, and beware of the A/C head stack. It all feels important. The VCR is cracked open on the table in front of us. The silver top is upside down and holding all of the screws that we pick from the black bottom. Pop scrunches up his face and takes long drinks from his Coors before picking up the screwdriver again and yanking out another part that I identify as the upper cylinder. We take the parts one by one until the back bottom becomes empty. Each time his hand hits the table the screws roll around in the silver top and spin in circles hitting one another. I circle the parts with a yellow marker to keep track. Next to his elbow is a red rag, damp and caked with thick lines of black where he has wiped each part as he extracts it. As he works the long trails of his cigarette drop into the machine. There are only three pieces left in the VCR when we find it. A long rubber belt shrunken from the heat of the motor head. The band is gray and cracks when I pull it apart. Pop explains to me that the resistance wears the band down. That it contains something called elasticity that will not stand the heat of the motor. I learn that the part that connects all of the pieces of the machine together is always the most fragile. I circle the belt with my yellow highlighter in the manual. I write the word in the margins next to the diagram e-l-a-s-t-i-c-i-t-y. Nick, he motions to me. Get me another ciggy? I do, and a beer also, and I wonder how long it will take me and Dad to put all of the parts back together.