Mags was breathing heavily through her welders mask. The blue flame of her blow torch lit up the room and threw odd shadows across the moulding walls. She had to narrow her eyes against the brightness of the jumping sparks as she manipulated the brass metal sheet into a flowered horn shape. She had been working since early that morning, determined to finish by evening. She smiled under her mask as she imagined the music she would hear and how it would make her feel. Her fantasy was abruptly interrupted by a sudden noise.
Shutting off her blow torch and listening intently she heard another bang and a creek. Someone was in her house and she had a pretty good idea as to who it would be.
Ditching the blow torch and welders mask, she grabbed her head scarf, pulled her hair into it and ascended the stairs. Her stomach twisted uncomfortably as she peered around the door of the basement. She saw the lean back of the boy in a different plaid shirt. He was riffling through her cutlery drawer.
“What are you doing?” Mags asked in a calm voice as she came into view.
The boy jumped at her voice and spun around, holding up a bent copper fork. Mags raised her eyebrow into an almost laugh at the image.
“I was curious?” He responded.
Mags nodded as if this explained why he was poking his nose in her belongings. She knew she should be angry at the intrusion but she was strangely glad to see him. Mags quickly chalked this up to not having contact with humans for such a long time.
“How did you know this was my house?” She asked.
“The scraps from the metal sheet are outside,” he answered as he put the fork gently back in the drawer with his eyes still on her. “What are you doing with it?”
Every fibre in her body was telling her not to, but once again she didn’t listen. Mags beckoned the boy down to the basement.
“Should I be concerned that a stranger is taking me to their basement?” Mags could hear the grin in his voice.
Mags watched his face as he descended the stairs, trying to gage his reaction. His face lit up with curiosity. He glanced at the scraps on the table and then the machines lining the walls, taking particular interest in the jukebox.
“You made this?”
“I fixed it. I rebuild things I find in the scrapyard,” Mags shrugged. “It keeps me busy.”
The boy nodded, running his hand along the curved wood of the jukebox.
“This is what I’m working now,” Mags pulled the part-made machine into view and put it on the table.
At that moment it looked like a normal turntable, and worked like one, except no sound emanated from it. She turned the cranks.
“It’s a gramophone?”
“Yeah,” Mags’s stomach flipped with excitement.
“And the metal’s for the horn?” He continued. “Do you have any records?”
“Actually, I do.” Mags dug out an old, falling apart box. Inside were rows of records from various decades, the covers crumbling with dampness.
The boy moved his fingers gently through them. “Wow, there’s some good stuff in here. Did you find these at the scrapyard?”
Mags smiled and almost laughed. “No, of course not. They were my father’s.”
He looked at her questioningly. Mags looked at the dirty floor as she continued.
“He died about two years ago. The chemicals reached his lungs. These records where his pride and joy. I’ve never heard them so I just figured —“ Mags trailed off with a shrug.
She felt uneasy explaining her life to this stranger but it felt cleansing at the same time. Glancing at the boy, she realised he was watching her with an expression of awe. She turned and brought the sheet of metal, now cooled, over and pointed out what she had to do.
“I’m about halfway done.” She mumbled, stroking the edges with her finger.
“Can I stay until you’ve finished?” He asked.
Mags felt herself pulled two different way. She admitted she would like the company but this was a very private thing.
“Alright,” she said finally. “Just face somewhere else okay? I have to take my headscarf and jumper off because it get’s so hot.”
A frown and a look of hurt flashed across the boys face. “I don’t care what you look like,” he said.
Mags pressed her lips together and decided that if he ran screaming it wasn’t like she had lost anything. She took a deep breath and pulled her scarf off, revealing the deformed skin around her face and neck and the bald patch above her ear. She kept her eyes on the ground as she reached for the mask.
“Hang on,” the boy said and Mags looked up. He was laughing.
Mags’s heart fell, embarrassment flooded her cheeks and she turned away, reaching for her scarf.
“Sorry, no!” He spluttered, realising he had offended her. “It’s just — people wear their hair like that outside.”
Mags frowned at him.
“Yeah, they shave the bit above their ear. It’s called an undercut.”
Mag’s eyebrow rose. She didn’t know if he was playing a nasty trick on her.
“Why?” She asked.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “It’s supposed to be punk or something.”
Mags smiled properly for the first time in the boy’s presence and soon he was grinning back. It felt like a weight had been lifted. Not only had the boy not been disgusted by how she looked but people actually styled their hair like hers.
Mags put the welders mask on and went back to work on the metal. The sparks lit up the room again, throwing the boy’s shadows across the walls. She could feel the smile playing on her lips under the mask.
Mags hadn’t stopped working on the metal in hours and the boy had sat there patiently watching. Occasionally he would get up, stretch, look around the room, or play with the jukebox but he never distracted her.
Finally she pulled the welders mask off, her face relishing the cool air. Mags held up the flowered horn for him to inspect. He nodded his approval. Concentrating hard, she fixed the horn to the turntable. The boy looked politely over her shoulder.
“Pick a record,” she told him.
He passed one over, he had it pick out the entire time. It was white with black markings like a wall. Mags tried to read the print but it was smudged with damp. She could only pick out ‘pink’ and ‘wall’.
Mags shrugged and put the record on the turntable. Just as she was about to put the needle down the boy stopped her by grabbing her wrist. She winced but tried to hide it.
“Oh! Sorry.” He let go instantly. “This is the song you want.”
He moved the needle to a different position.
Suddenly sound filled the room, a beat and lyrics emanating from the horn. The boy turned the dial and the music became louder. The music swelled in her chest and she felt lighter than she had in years. Closing her eyes, Mags bobbed her head automatically, smiling as she listened.
When she opened them again, the boy was watching her with a grin.
“Pink Floyd. They’re bloody brilliant.” He said over the music.
“Pink Floyd?” She repeated, still grinning broadly.
“Yeah, the band. Your father had good taste.”
Mags continued to smile but a new sense of pride washed over her. She watched the record turn as she listened to her father’s music for the first time. She felt content. Happy, even.