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The top of the hour

Mary Little

 

. . . leaving twelve dead. More news at nine.’

Steve let the studio door swing shut behind him as he dropped the latest bulletin in the bin. He drew a breath and blew it out slowly, eyes closed. When he opened his eyes, he was exhaling into the face of Jim Sullivan, the station manager.

‘A word?’ Jim led the way to a break-out room, where he sat jiggling one knee. ‘How are you?’

Steve blinked. ‘Fine.’

‘Are you aware that you sobbed during that news bulletin?’

‘No, I didn’t.’

‘Well, me and the whole newsroom say you did. Right after the bit about the drought. You sobbed.’

‘I took a breath.’

Jim shook his head. ‘I’ve been in the news business long enough to know an on air sob when I hear it.’ He leaned forward in what was meant to be a conciliatory fashion, but his knee was still jiggling, and it jiggled his arm, too. ‘Steve, it’s not an easy job, but we have to get it right.’

‘I haven’t had any stumbles,’ protested Steve. ‘And my te reo is ka pai.’

Jim held up his hands. ‘You’re a great newsreader – no question about that. But your emotions are leaking into your bulletins. I think you need to see someone.’

Steve looked down at his knuckles and tried to relax them. ‘I am seeing someone, actually.’

‘A professional?’

‘Yes.’

Jim sat back. ‘Oh, good. I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself.’ He slapped his thighs. ‘Right. That’s that.’

 

 

‘For fuck’s sake,’ said Steve when his wife, Anna, picked him up from work. ‘I wasn’t crying on air.’

‘Sounded like crying to me, love,’ she said. ‘You’ve been down for months. Very negative. Maybe you should see someone.’

 

 

‘So I’m here,’ said Steve, the next afternoon.

Trish nodded. ‘And how do you feel about that?’

‘Well, I don’t like being told I’m not doing my job right.’

‘I’ve heard you on the radio. Those bulletins can be pretty brutal.’ She pushed her glasses up her nose and waited.

It worked. Steve filled the silence. ‘There’s a lot of bad news out there and I’m, like, the filter it has to go through.’

‘Have you ever tried cognitive behavioural therapy?’ asked Trish gently. ‘It might help. It’s about changing the way you think and talk about things. You change your habits and after a while your feelings change as well.’

Steve was sceptical.

‘Just try it. When you want to say something negative, say something positive instead. Retrain yourself to see the good instead of the bad. Give it a week and come back and tell me how it’s going.’

 

 

. . . which could mean a breakthrough in negotiations. The time is seven minutes after ten.’

Jim slapped him on the back. ‘Nice one. Much more like yourself. No more tears, eh?’

Steve ducked into the production room. ‘Do you think that was too cheerful?’ he asked Ellie, the morning show producer. She was typing up a bio for the next guest while cradling her phone between face and shoulder.

‘Sounded good,’ she said, not looking up. ‘Keep it up and we’ll stop getting texts from listeners thinking you’re losing it.’

 

 

‘The listeners thought I was losing it, but not any more,’ Steve told Anna as he cooked a bolognese that night. ‘Jim gave me two thumbs up. He’s a nice guy. That wind’s loud. I like it. Makes the evening feel dramatic.’

 

 

. . . but police remain confident they will soon see a breakthrough in the case. On a lighter note, the Kiwi team who taught a dog to fly an aeroplane have announced they are working on a feline copilot.’

Tane leaned out of the production room, his cans still on, and called to Steve, ‘That thing about the cat – that wasn’t in my script.’

‘All grist to the mill,’ said Steve, disappearing into the newsroom.

 

 

On Friday afternoon, Jim buttonholed Steve. ‘Ellie said you’ve been improvising. I trust you, Steve, and you’ve been way less . . . emotional this week, but watch it, eh? We can’t have you going rogue.’

‘Course not,’ said Steve. ‘I’m just keeping it upbeat.’

 

 

During the weekend there was a typhoon in Malaysia, the drought doubled down, and a shooting in America surprised nobody. Steve took it all in his stride. ‘As for New Zealand dairy prices,’ he quipped, ‘no news is good news, am I right?’

 

 

‘Wait, what?’ said one junior reporter on the overnight Saturday-Sunday shift. ‘The PM’s axed the refugee cap? Seriously?’

‘It was in the bulletin,’ said her colleague.

 

 

‘Keep your texts and tweets coming in,’ said the afternoon show host after the 1p.m. news. ‘Tane,’ she added, as they went to a track and the on air light flicked off, ‘if you see Steve, tell him if he goes off-script one more time, I’ll strangle him with the mic lead. Clear?’

 

 

‘I think they’re noticing my positive attitude at work,’ Steve said to Trish.

‘And how do you feel about that?’ she asked.

‘Good. It’s working at home as well. Anna said I’m much nicer to be around now I’m not bitching all the time. At first it felt forced, you know, but it’s starting to come more naturally. I think it’s really making a difference. I’ll have another pint, please.’

‘Alcohol’s a depressant, you know,’ said Trish. ‘That’ll be eight bucks fifty.’

 

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