The following story was published in Offshoots 13,
the magazine of The Geneva Writers Group
The Man With No Feeling
Mr. Ott, the TV repairman, had no feeling. That’s what Mom told me and my brother.
“He can’t cry?” I asked. I was only nine and for me feeling meant crying.
“No,” she said, “he can’t feel any pain. His wife has to warn him if water is too hot or he touches something sharp.”
Our TV had broken down once more and I was missing my favourite cartoon and cowboy shows.
“We’ll have to call Mr. Ott,” Mom said, “but don’t mention his condition to him. You know what a little blabbermouth you can be.”
The next day he came puffing up the porch steps of our house, lugging a heavy black case. The TV was in a corner of the living room. It was a large, clunky box with knobs at the bottom and a dial for changing channels, typical of the time.
“Well, well,” he wheezed, wiping his face with a handkerchief, “was one of you fellas fooling around with the TV again?”
He winked at my brother, who was always getting into trouble. Stevie was six years older than me and pretty clever. I was a dreamy child, which is why he called me “Dip”. Mr. Ott actually thought that was my name and whenever he came to our house, he would pat me on the shoulder and say, “How’s little Dip today?” That really cracked Stevie up.
“No, I swear, we didn’t do nothing,” I said, but that was not true. I had removed the back cover of the TV a few days before to look at the tubes. They were in different sizes and shapes and when I turned on the set, they glowed with an eerie blue light which was like the control panel of Flash Gordon’s spaceship. That’s all I did, honest.
“We’ll soon have her up and running,” Mr. Ott said as he went over to the TV. He dropped down on his knees and turned it on. A weird hissing sound came from inside, then a white point appeared on the screen, bright as a star, and vanished with a ping.
“Hummm…” Mr. Ott fiddled with the dial then he crawled behind the set and started unscrewing the back cover. His big bottom stuck up in the air.
Stevie nudged me and whispered, “Let’s see if it’s true.”
“That he has no feeling.”
“I don’t get it,” I said.
“Look, Dip,” he said, pulling me aside. “Mom says he can’t feel any pain. Let’s see if it’s true.”
“Whaddaya wanna do?” I whispered back.
“Test him. Wait here.”
Stevie took off and came back a few minutes later with a battery and some wire. He loved to mess around with stuff. Once he made a bomb by stuffing a whole bunch of matches into a jar, then lit it with a fuse. It made a loud bang and glass flew all over the garage. Luckily we were hiding behind some boxes, otherwise the splinters would have hit us in the face. Dad found out and punished us both by not letting us watch TV for a week. I didn’t want that to happen again.
“Here’s the plan,” Stevie said. “I put this wire across the front door and when Mr. Ott walks against it he’ll get an electric shock.”
“I don’t wanna hurt him!” I protested.
“It’s only a test, Dip. If he jerks, he’s faking it.”
I went back to Mr. Ott who now sat on the floor and examined the TV’s innards. He pulled a gadget out of his case and started checking the tubes. I sat down and watched him.
“There’s a bad one in there somewhere,” Mr. Ott said, glancing at me. Sweat trickled down his purple cheeks. “But we’ll fix it in a jiffy.”
He put one tube after the other into the gadget and waited for the needle to move. I liked Mr. Ott because he was calm and patient. Dad was always yelling at us. Mr. Ott had a son, Mom said, but he died in an accident a few years ago. So now he only lived with his wife who told him what not to touch. I pictured myself without any feeling, especially when Mr. Barns, the history teacher, pinched my funny bone for talking in class or Dad hit me if I got bad grades. It must be neat not to feel when somebody hurts you.
Stevie waved at me through the living room window. I got up and went out to the porch. He had hidden the battery behind a bush.
“Listen,” he said. “I’m gonna hook these wires to the battery while you hold this.” He put a switch in my hand, the kind I used to run my electric train. “Before Mr. Ott goes out the door, I’ll give you a signal, then you press this button and he’ll get an electric shock. Understand, Dip?” He laughed.
“I think it’s stupid,” I said.
“Want me to twist your arm?” Stevie threatened.
I went back in and stood by the door, holding the switch behind my back. Mr. Ott was still busy checking the tubes.
“Aha, I found it!” he suddenly exclaimed. He held up a long, thin tube, then began to poke about in his case.
“Haven’t got a new one here,” he mumbled. “Must be in the van.”
He stood up and walked towards the door. As he reached the wire, I pushed the button, even though Stevie hadn’t given me the signal. A crackling sound came from behind the bush. Stevie jumped up with a howl and dashed down the driveway, shaking his hand.
“What on earth’s the matter with him?” said Mr. Ott.
“Oh, he’s only messin’ around,” I said.
“Not you, little Dip.” He placed his heavy hand on my shoulder. “You’re always a good boy, aren’t you? Just like my son.”
I felt Mr. Ott’s fingers tremble in a strange way as if there was also a bad tube inside his head that couldn’t connect right with the rest of his body.