The next morning, when Aunt Joanie went to the store on the corner, he opened the top while Irene watched.
The inner lid was a mirror that stopped halfway up, at an angle. Once he got it to a certain point, it clicked into place. There was a noise from inside and another click.
He looked down into it. There was a big dark glass screen.
“It’s a television!” he said.
“Can we get Howdy-Doody?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“You better ask Aunt Joanie, or you’ll get in trouble.”
He clicked the toggle switch. Nothing happened.
“It doesn’t work,” he said.
“Maybe it’s not plugged in,” said Irene.
Eldon lay down on the bare floor at the edge of the area rug, saw the prongs of a big electric plug sticking out underneath. He pulled on it. The cord uncoiled from behind. He looked around for the outlet. The nearest one was on the far wall.
“What are you two doing?” asked Aunt Joanie, stepping into the room with a small grocery bag in her arms.
“Is … is this a television set?” asked Eldon.
“Can we get Howdy-Doody?” asked Irene.
Aunt Joanie put down the sack. “It is a television. But it won’t work any more. There’s no need to plug it in. It’s an old-style one, from before the war. They don’t work like that anymore. Your uncle Arthridge and I bought it in 1938. There were no broadcasts out here then, but we thought there would be soon.”
As she was saying this, she stepped forward, took the cord from Eldon’s hands, rewound it and placed it behind the cabinet again.
“Then came the War, and everything changed. These kind won’t work anymore. So we shan’t be playing with it, shall we? It’s probably dangerous by now.”
“Can’t we try it, just once?” said Eldon.
“I do not think so,” said Aunt Joanie. “Please put it out of your mind. Go wash up now, we’ll have lunch soon.”
Three days before they left, they found themselves alone in the house again, in the early evening. It had rained that afternoon, and was cool for summer.
Irene heard scraping in the sitting room. She went there and found Eldon pushing the television cabinet down the bare part of the floor toward the electrical outlet on the far wall.
He plugged it in. Irene sat down in front of it, made herself comfortable. “You’re going to get in trouble,” she said. “What if it explodes?”
He opened the lid. They saw the reflection of the television screen in it from the end of the couch.
He flipped the toggle. Something hummed, there was a glow in the back, and they heard something spinning. Eldon put his hand near the round part and felt pulses of air, like from a weak fan. He could see lights through the holes in the cabinet, and something was moving.
He twisted a small knob, and light sprang up in the picture-tube part, enlarged and reflected in the mirror on the lid. Lines of bright static moved up the screen and disappeared in a repeating pattern.
He turned another knob, the larger one, and the bright went dark and then bright again.
Then a picture came in.