Radio Siren

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.

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Favor Owed

I should have let her have the damn seat.

Ria was running late. Lucky for her, Dr. Barelvi is usually a few minutes late for his own lectures, so he’s pretty lenient about tardiness. I’ve saved Ria’s seat enough times that people usually just leave the chair on my left empty.

Some girl I only vaguely remembered seeing in the lecture hall and at the library a few times didn’t know about the rule, though, but I didn’t sweat it too much. Dr. Barelvi followed her into the room, Ria nowhere in sight.

I was getting out my notebook when she finally rushed into the room, red-faced and wild-haired. Dr. Barelvi waived her along, and I turned to the new girl, who was tapping away at her cellphone, knee propped up on the table’s edge.

“Mind finding another seat?” I asked as I tapped her on the shoulder. “My friend’s here, sorry.”

A corner of the girl’s wide mouth quirked upwards. She met my gaze, and I felt pinned down, like a butterfly behind glass. The feeling lingered as she looked at Ria as she trotted up the steps, and the girl nodded as she got up, slipping her cellphone into her back pocket.

“Of course,” she said, voice deep and soft and airy – smoke spun into silk.

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