I got a new set of walkie-talkies for my twelfth birthday. They were black and white and I knew my dad bought them at Radio Shack because the logo was silver and slanted to the right and aggressively displayed at the top of the speaker; REALISTIC, they read. The moment I opened the box, I tried them out. I gave my sister Kendra one walkie-talkie and she ran downstairs to the basement.
I pushed the button on the side of the device. “What’s your 20?” I mouthed into the speaker. I put my mouth really close to the holes, and I wondered if the vapor from my breath would eventually rust the speakers out and destroy my new toys.
“Downstairs, stupid!” Kendra replied. “You SAW me go downstairs. Can’t you ask a better question?”
I looked at the walkie-talkie. My sister was such an asshole. I pressed the button on the side. “Bring my walkie-talkie back,” I demanded. “You can’t use them anymore.”
Two minutes later, Kendra walked back up the stairs. She threw the walkie-talkie at my head. “Happy fucking birthday, dumbass.”
Kendra was a freshman in high school and she was always getting in trouble. She wore really tight pants and Mom always screamed at her that she was going to get pregnant dressing like that. She told me that boys liked her boobs and that she had already let Philip next door touch them.
What I didn’t tell her was that Philip had already touched mine, too.
Dad had a CB radio and sometimes I’d hear him talking on it through my walkie-talkies. There were different frequencies and megahertzes, and my dad accidentally bought the walkie-talkies whose frequencies and megahertzes were in synch with his CB radio. My dad had a thing for talking to truckers passing through on the interstate. We lived not too far off the highway, and late at night if I listened really hard, I could hear the whirr of the trucks’ big bodies rushing away from us. I’d hear Dad speaking the popular lingo to the truckers through my walkie-talkies, breaker breaker, watch out for smokies, there’s a bear trap out there. My dad sounded a little like a child when he talked to the truckers. He sounded in awe, as if he was talking to a celebrity instead of an exhausted man in need of a shower and a nap.
I heard the truckers on my walkie-talkies, too. They chatted with each other about rest stops and speed traps, the ladies who they met on the road and the ladies who were waiting at home. Some of the truckers sounded a little drunk. I couldn’t blame them if they drank a little. We were in Indiana, just a little ways into the boring part of the Midwest if you were driving west. These guys had Iowa and Nebraska to deal with. I’d probably have a drink, too, if I knew what drinking was all about. But I was only twelve. I hadn’t done that yet.
Once I gave a walkie-talkie to Philip. He told me to go into my bedroom, and he went next door to his garage. I lay in my bed while Philip gave me orders from the garage, where to put my hands, what to touch, what sounds to make. It felt worse than when he did it in front of me, because at least when he did it in front of me, I knew that he would kill me if I didn’t do the things he asked, because he said so. Here, he wasn’t even in the same room, and I did it anyway.
It felt really weird, but I didn’t think about it. I just did it. I don’t even know who was listening, and now, when I think about it, my face burns red and I feel a little bit like I’ve just gotten off the Himalaya, the way my stomach lurches and my head spins.
I keep my walkie-talkies under my pillow in bed, and late at night, I take one out and press the button on the side. I talk into the void of empty highway and the expanse of flat land on either side of the road. Whether anyone is listening is anybody’s guess. “Breaker, breaker,” I say, my mouth so close to the speaker that I can feel my breath bounce back against my lips. I am whispering a little, in a way that I think could be sexy if I were a little older.
One trucker replies. “Hey, pretty lady, who’s this?”
My brain races to try to think of a handle. My own handle is Snoopy Girl, the name my dad gave me because of the Snoopy ringer t-shirt that I wore nearly every day for a year, the same year he got the CB. I outgrew the t-shirt, but not the nickname. I keep the handle to myself, and I offer up my mother’s. “Sexy Mama,” I say.
“Pretty lady, Sexy Mama, I bet you are,” the trucker croons into the citizens band radio. It feels dirty, like I’m overhearing someone sweet talking my mother, then I realize that he’s actually talking to me, and I feel a little sick inside. “Tell me about yourself, Sexy Mama?”
I wonder about all the things that someone named Sexy Mama could tell about herself, but what I could tell him would be the things that I could only say, for example, that she sucks at her teeth when she’s angry with me. Her lap doesn’t quite fit me anymore. She is soft, though, even in the places where she is not soft, her elbows, her ankles, her chin. These are things for me to know, not things to whisper into the radio.
What I do tell him is that Sexy Mama has long brown hair and blue eyes, which is actually wrong. My mother has short red hair and green eyes. The Sexy Mama that I am describing is not my own mama, who is not sexy to me, but instead is just my mama. I am describing a person who does not exist.
There must be hundreds of women out there called Sexy Mama, right?
“Where can I find you, Sexy Mama?” the trucker says, bold, insistent. His voice hurtles through the speaker like a runaway boulder. His voice is husky and tired and something that scares me. There’s a pause before he says, angry and urgent, “Where you at, Sexy Mama?”
I hedge a little. My words try to stumble out of my mouth, but I halt.
“What are you afraid of, Sexy Mama?”
I think of the things I am afraid of. I think of the things that Sexy Mama would be afraid of. I think about what Kendra would say about the things we are afraid of.
I am scared of Philip.
“I’m not scared,” I breathe into the walkie-talkie.
I am scared of this trucker.
The trucker laughs, a low rumble like I imagine a bear would make. “Well, little lady, that’s good to know. I’d like to get to know you. Where can I meet you so that we can get acquainted?”
My heart is a thrum in my chest and my stomach is a fish, flip-flopping as if it knows it will be gutted soon. I want them both to stop, and I wonder what gave me the dumbass idea to talk to this man.
“Well?” the trucker’s voice pierces the speaker again. “Are you going to meet me or not?” He sounds a little angry this time, and I fear the sound of his voice more than I fear him at this moment.
“Kettle Kitchen,” I say, referring to the lonely restaurant out near the Motel 6, standing in a weedy lot off the edge of the highway. I’ve never gone there myself, but this seems like the type of place a trucker would go, so I suggest it.
The trucker’s voice smiles again. He gets the low, rumbly bear tenor to his voice and it sounds dirty as he says, “All right, Sexy Mama, see you in an hour.”
“10-4,” I reply, then I throw the walkie-talkie across the room. It knocks my jewelry box off my dresser, and fake plastic gems and fake gold chains scatter across the floor. The walkie-talkie rests atop them. I scoop the walkie-talkie off the floor, then grab its mate from underneath my pillow. I have an idea.
In the shed in the backyard, I climb over the broken gasoline lawnmower, the pushmower with dulling blades, the rusty rototiller. I toss both walkie-talkies behind the skeleton of an old bed frame propped along the wall. I don’t know if I’ve turned them off. I don’t even bother to look. I envision the trucker at the Kettle Kitchen, sitting at the counter I’ve only ever seen in my imagination, as I sneak back through the attached garage, up the back staircase to my bedroom, where I cover my head with a pillow and imagine the rumble of the trucker’s discontent, the hum of the desolate highway, the static of the radio threatening to corrupt my dreams.
Amy Kiger-Williams holds an MFA in Fiction from Rutgers-Newark and a bachelor's degree from New York University. She has also attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Her work has been published in the Yale Review Online, Juked, and Vestal Review. Image: "Vintage Montgomery Ward MW VIII Walkie Talkie, 8 Transistors, Cat. No. 48-20021, Made In USA", Joe Haupt, Flickr