Static shutters through the song as I hand the customer her change. She nods absentmindedly in tired thanks, and the jingle of bells alerts me to her departure as I go to fiddle with the radio’s dial.
The thing is old, and out in Bumfuck, Mississippi, only one station comes through with minimal static. If not for the shit my provider sells as coverage, I’d be listening to my Spotify playlist, but it is what it is.
The finicky radio is enough to make me want to turn it off some nights, but it’s never long before the kind of silence that only a rural area paired with darkness can create makes me choose static to keep me company. It’s better than the cicadas, muted by the walls, and the occasional rodent scavenging through the bins out back.
There’s always sound, but it’s the wavering white noise kind that can shove my anxiety into overdrive real quick, especially with caffeine replacing sleep – thanks to the shifts of my two jobs meeting to where time for sleep is hard to come by.
But sleep and sanity by damned; the faster I can get out of Mississippi, the better.
Fiddling with the radio dial, I soon hear a voice cracking through the static. Soon, I get it to where her voice is clear as she’s saying, “… new listener.”
I sit down and take out the book I’ve been reading.
“Miss Lottie Reyes, what are you longing for?”
My eyes snap back to the radio, my mouth forming an O as words get stuck halfway up my throat.
“Don’t be shy now, Miss Lottie.” Her accent sounds too Southern Bell to be organic. “Those who find our station have always found themselves longing for something.”
All I’ve ever wanted was to escape the hellhole I was born and raised in. My mind splits in two, at war between blurting this out and smashing the radio to pieces.
Blurting wins out:
“Ah….” The voice is saturated with a smile that makes a shiver roll up my spine.
“Being trapped and finding freedom is such a common theme in your fairytales,” she says. “So much harder to achieve than a prince discovering you, however.”
“I prefer princesses, myself,” I find myself saying.
My body tingles, and my heartrate slows.
“As do I.” Her voice seeps deep into my mind and then deeper.
Like I hear her with my soul.
“I knew one before very well,” she says. “I continue to dream of her.”
Book fallen and forgotten, I clutch the arms of my chair, nails digging into the wood. Envy and hatred for this unnamed princess the woman on the radio knew fills me.
Nothing else exists but that turmoil.
Until nothing exists but bliss when she says, “I like the sound of your voice. You sound like a born story-teller.”
Without any more prompting, I dive into the story of when two friends and I went camping in Arkansas, my first time out of Mississippi. I feel at ease, eyes unblinking as I gaze into the distance, though I see nothing but my own memories.
The woman on the radio interjects every so often to comment, my heart swelling with each positive word.
“What an amazing story,” she says once it’s finished.
My heart skips a beat, and my body feels hot.
“Can you tell me another?” she asks, voice coming from somewhere other than the radio.
I follow it as I dive into another story, this one about when I visited a friend at her college in Texas.
As I talk, I go out the back door, past the trash bins. The woods are dark; they seem to absorb the store’s security light. Yet I never trip of have my apron or hoodie sleeves get snagged by the trees or bushes.
I stop in front of a large pond and kneel down as I continue telling my story.
A woman’s pale hand reaches up from the ink-black water, and I take it with a smile.