Rosalind GoldsmithIn an old wooden lean-to at the end of his parents’ garden a little waif of a boy was deconstructing a radio set. Around him lay the scraps and paraphernalia of his project – copper wires, screws, flat square pieces of metal. It looked like the boy was performing an autopsy on a small robot. His concentration, his fervor, were absolute. It was his intent to take apart this radio so that he could understand it. Then, having studied the assembly of its components, he would – he was sure – soon be able to construct one for himself. There was nothing he wanted so much as to build and to own a radio just like this one.
Diligently, with the precision and care of a scientist, he measured the little flat pieces of metal and wrote down their dimensions in a notebook. He observed which way the copper wires went, where they began, what they were wrapped around and where they ended, and he drew diagrams of their configuration. Above him, tiny particulates floated in the light, and on narrow shelves placed high against the walls of the shed, his father’s tools lay blanketed in a thick, dove-grey coat of dust.
The boy worked for three hours. He pulled apart, examined and drew every wire, every piece of metal. His fascination was as limitless as his will – a force like the force of fury. He never intended to stop until he had completed his task.
Late in the afternoon, the door to the shed creaked open. His father stepped inside to see his son, crouched on the floor like a squirrel, surrounded by a chaos of wires and metal – and the empty shell of his own radio.
“What on earth are you doing?” he asked.
His son looked up at him, startled. “I’m building a radio,” he said.
“That’s not what it looks like,” the father said. “It looks like you’re destroying a radio. My radio.”
“No, Papa,” said the boy, sitting back on his haunches, and twisting a copper wire in his hands. (His blue ankle socks were covered in dust.) “I’m learning how to build a radio by studying yours.”
“I see, and does that mean you can put mine back together again, after you’ve finished learning from it?”
“Well,” began the boy, and it was clear from the way he looked at the chaos around him that he had not considered this problem beforehand. “I – think I …” but he did not continue.
He looked up at his father, his whole face a squint. “I’m sorry,” he said, and bowed his head.
The father said nothing. The boy picked up a small metal bracket and tried to fit the copper wire he held into it, and then he picked up his notebook and began to examine the diagrams, holding the pages of the book very close to his face.
The father sat down beside him and crossed his ankles and hugged his knees and made himself as small as he could. “Tell me, then,” he said, “Do you know how many frequencies a single radio can use?”
“What is a frequency?” murmured the boy.
“Well,” the father began, and they talked for a long, long while.
The tiny particles became invisible in the fading light of dusk as darkness folded in upon darkness, and the inside workings of the radio lay all around them, undisturbed.
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