01 Feb Never Tell
I’m so glad I found this sub. Before, I’ve never known who I could open up to about this. Nobody would believe me. I’ve only brought it up to my mother, but she was hurt—said I shouldn’t make up stories about my grandmother. After that, I figured better not to have people think I’m crazy.
Four years ago, my grandma needed to be moved to an assisted living home. My papaw had passed some years before, but she’d been divorced from him for twenty years anyway. After she made the move, I was helping my parents clean out her old apartment. My mom is huge on not holding sentimental value to inanimate objects and hates clutter. I knew she would throw away pretty much everything, even though it was her own mother’s keepsakes and memories. That’s why I went down to the apartment’s storage locker while my parents were still sorting through kitchenware and the like.
The lockers for the whole building were in the basement and essentially were cages within a larger room. The moment I entered into the room, I heard, but since grates separated everybody’s things, I didn’t connect that the sound had anything to do with my grandma. It was very faint. If another person had been in there with me, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. I could tell it was music, but it wasn’t distinct enough for me to make out the melody. I couldn’t even tell if the twang was that of a guitar, banjo, or mandolin. I didn’t give it much thought either; figuring a radio must’ve somehow turned on and was buried under other things in a different locker.
So I set to work going through all my grandma’s crap (that’s mostly all it was). I found a few things I like and wanted to keep but not much. The most exciting thing to me came from one of the last boxes I opened. Inside, my grandma had a collection of old record albums. I’m not a collector, but I do have a small assortment of vintage records I come by over the years. I’d never seen ones this old, however. My grandma had grown up in a small town in Tennessee in the late ‘30s and ‘40s. The family didn’t move to PA until ’63 a couple of years after my mom was born. Needless to say, aside from a few Spike Jones novelty records, it was all old country/folk albums.
I only have a small, modern-day vinyl player, so even though there were a lot of 7” singles, I had no way to play them. Out of curiosity, I still thumbed through them, and one caught my eye. The paper sleeve said nothing on it, but the record itself said “Sun Records, Johnny Cash, ‘Never Tell’” and was dated 1956. Now, I’m an avid Cash fan, and the thing so interesting is that I’d never heard of this song before. On top of that, 1956 meant that it had to be one of his earliest recordings. I decided to take it with the other albums just for the heck of it.
It kind of left my mind after I went back up to the apartment and continued helping with the cleaning. By the time I got home, I had stuck my spoils on a bookshelf and finished up an uneventful day. But, when I went to bed that night, I noticed it: that same twanging music I’d heard down in the storage locker. It was a little clearer now, though. I could make out guitar, upright bass, and simple drums. The singing was unintelligible at the volume, but it sure sounded like Johnny Cash. It seemed to be repeating over and over again. I tried to ignore it, writing it off as my imagination. But, it continued on and on. I got out of bed, turned on the light, and dug through everything I’d brought home. I knew I hadn’t taken anything electronic, so what could it be?
I got to that Cash album and stopped. Holding it in my hand, I could’ve sworn the music was even louder. The song definitely sounded like Johnny Cash. I decided to look up “Never Tell” on the internet to see if that was the same song. The thing is… I didn’t find anything. No recording, no mention, no anything about a Johnny Cash song called “Never Tell.” It didn’t freaking exist. Yet, here next to my laptop was a vinyl stating that that wasn’t so. Thoroughly confused and creeped out by the music still playing, I resolved to visit my grandma the next day and ask her about it. Of course, I couldn’t sleep that night. The song went over and over again. I studied it. I tried to make out the words but couldn’t. I did come to the conclusion, though, that something was missing. When the voice stopped, the instruments went on playing the basic rhythm, as if there were another part that should’ve been playing/singing over those bars.
Tired and hazy from my lack of sleep, I headed out right at 8 am. The drive to the assisted living home was awful. I debated how I’d bring it up to my grandma. Do I mention the song I’m hearing? Should I approach it simply as curiosity about the obscure single? I decided on the latter. My grandma had already been awake for hours by the time I got to her room. I must’ve looked like hell because the look of joy on her face at seeing me quickly turned to concern.
“What’s wrong, honey?” she asked.
The time had come, and suddenly I had no idea how to approach the subject. Stupidly, I just held up the record.
“I wanted to ask you about this,”
Her eyes widened immediately. “I didn’t know I still had that,” she said. “I thought it got lost when your papaw and I split.”
“There’s something funny about this record,” I said, and she nodded.
“Oh,” a smile crossed her face, “you can hear his voice now. That makes sense, I suppose.”
I laughed. “How does any of this make sense?”
She shifted in her rocking chair but said nothing. After a minute of her wistfully staring at nothing in particular, she clicked the button that hung around her neck. She asked one of the caregivers if there was a record player in the facility and, of course, there was. They brought it into the room. It wasn’t from the 50s or even 60s, but it wasn’t modern either. I placed the single in and adjusted the needle for a 7”. There was a lot of crackle—if I hadn’t known otherwise, I would’ve thought the record was from the 30s, but I think it was just a low-quality recording.
As I expected, it was the same song I’d heard all along. Only now, I could make everything out in more detail. There was a female voice backing Cash, and I could understand the words now. A chill went down my spine.
Two folks of happenstance are we,
Star-crossed lovers but so sadly
Fate has paired us in wrong families
A sin of God, they’d call our coupling
Then the woman began singing lead, and I couldn’t help but shake the thought that it sounded a lot like my grandma.
If sin they call it, a sin it’ll be,
It’s you I want for eternity,
If the lord above won’t shine on us,
Then lord below, in you, we’ll trust
Then the chorus starts and they sing together. My grandma started humming along, but I don’t think she even realized.
We’ll live our lives and never tell
When we answer that final bell
With this song, we pledge together,
We’ll share our forever in Hell
The same verses repeated then they sang the chorus twice before the song ended. Tears had welled up in my grandma’s eyes.
“We had both married so young,” she said. “In those days, that’s what a woman did after high school. I didn’t know what love was. By the time I met Johnny, well, my bed had already been made. The church never would’ve sanctified a divorce. That just made me resent the church, though. The church, God, all of it. How could they be good if they denied us this? So we found another way. If we couldn’t be together in this life, why not prepare for the next?”
I shifted uncomfortably, clueless to what to say. She apologized. We tried to have a little normal conversation before I left, but both our minds were elsewhere. She wanted to keep the record. I didn’t argue.
We never spoke about it again.
My grandma died a year ago. As we cleared out her things from the home, I stumbled upon it again. I gasped. I had almost convinced myself I had imagined the whole thing. That night, sitting at home with it in my possession yet again, I heard the song. This time, however, I heard both voices. It terrified me so much that I threw the disc in the fireplace. It burned an eerie blue and the flames rose way higher than any normal fire. I could’ve sworn I heard her and Johnny laughing before the sounds ceased, and all evidence of “Never Tell” was gone.