“Oliver?” Sunny asks, his lips hovering an inch above the radio mic. The rest of the small ham setup, Oliver’s old Kenwood 2-meter, sits flat on a folding table in front of him. “Hello?” He adjust the tuner with his thumb and forefinger, carefully moving the needle to the another frequency.
“I can’t stand this crap.” June mumbles. She’s sitting next to me on her camper’s small couch, proofing her Coleridge report. She seems indifferent to our brothers’ venture into early 20th century communication.
“Sunny, you there?” Oliver’s voice floats through, his distorted words echoing several times.
Sunny adjust the radio’s antenna, a thin steel rod with a magnet base, and shouts into the mic. “I’m here!” His laugh is high and dizzy.
“How do I sound?” Oliver asks. “Any static?”
“You’re real clear! Just some static at first.”The two go on about power settings, antenna ranges, and proper radio etiquette. Spread on the table is a small mountain of tech manuals, Morse code cheat sheets, and a thousand hand written flash cards with questions on HF and UHF radio waves. A lamanated ARRL Technicians License sits in the middle of it all, the words Sunny R. Radio Tech B printed in its center. Oliver, I realize now, is a good teacher, at least when it comes to radio stuff.
“He’s been going on about that damn thing since Opie let him borrow it.” June tells me. She slides the report into her backpack and lays back, propping her legs across my lap. This isn’t the first time I’ve played Ottoman for her. “And I can’t believe the little s*** past that test.”
I tell her the test’s questions and answers are posted online, he just had to memorize them.
“I mean the one for Morse code. It wasn’t a requirement.”
“Oliver pushed him on that.” I smile. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen the two of them at their lunch table, Oliver tapping out a few words as Sunny listens, eyes closed and pencil posed above a worn Despicable Me notepad. “He’s a good teacher.”
“He’s made my life easier.” June says, and you’d think that were the most important consequence to this whole affair. “I told Sunny he can only use the radio as long as he makes a B in everything.”
“B’s in everything except PE. The punk got an A in that. I should have asked for all A’s.”
We watch as Sunny sets up his Morse code paddle, adjusting the power cable and cracking his wrist before tapping out his first message. Oliver corrects several letters, and has him retry. My name is Sunny, K3KAJ. Who are you?
“Penny has a higher average than me.” June says.
I turn to her.
“One-hundred and seven.” She says. “Turkey left her grade book open on her desk and I looked. Got to be some type of confidentiality violation but screw it. You have a ninety-nine by the way.”
“Guess she got points for wearing a nightgown to school.” I say. “Girl even did her hair. She looked like a Masterpiece theater extra.”
“Did you see that huge book she carries around, The Complete Jane Austen. Says her grandmother gave it to her. What a joke.”
“Are you jealous?” I ask.
Annoyance creeps over her face. “No.”
“Well it’d be nice to get free books from someplace besides he library junk pile.” She cringes. “I’m tired of coverless copies of The Boxcar Kids and Goosebumps. And I’ve stolen all of your books.”
“Nein. Es someting else.” I take on Freud’s thick Austrian accent, one I’ve practiced during my lonely moments. And I’m pretty good, with the only things missing being black rimmed glasses and as stub cigar. “Tell me about sore grandmather, either fon.” Then, taking her hand, “Or sore mather perhaps? We may find zee root of you’re neurosis.”
“Or yours.” She says, jerking her hand away.
“I’m asking zee questions, here!”
“Stop talking like that.” June slaps my arm welt hard.
“God! Punta!” I rub my arm, tucking Freud into the back of my subconscious.
We watch Sunny struggle with Morse before steadily becoming quicker and more confident.
“Have you written Harry Potter back yet?” June asks. First words for her mean, I’m sorry for hitting you.
“Yes.” I tell her about the photos I sent Timothy of school, of us and the van, the few of words about Dad at the paper mill. I don’t tell her about the things I let filter in. TV dinners with Oliver, Morgan at MCCC, Mom’s present non-presence.
“Has Oliver’s pen pal written back?” June asks.
“No. And he’s written her twice.” I can hear my brother’s voice on the 2-meter instructing on wave frequencies. I could smack his pen pal for letting him down.
“His pen-pal a culo?” June ask. “An a**?”
“Si, un culo.”
We listen for a while as Sunny and Oliver go on. Outside the sun sets and night creeps in. Dad and Mom think, to their satisfaction, that I’m at Tammy Williams house, trying to salvage my social life. I feel sorry for them, I really do.
“I hardly knew my abuela.” June says, the words spouting out quickly, like water from a high pressure hose. “She was bartender in Waco. Is a bartender? I don’t know. She made me my first drink, a screwdriver with extra screw. She never went easy on anybody.”
“What about your Dad’s mother.” I ask, fighting down the urge to add the Austrian lisp.
“That wetback was born in a bean field. He doesn’t have anyone. Qué pasa con sus abuelas?”
“My Dad’s mom is still around. She lives up in Beulah.” I leave the Nolan line at that, not wanting to discuss crazy Grandma Mimi and her bungalow of cats. Our yearly Christmas sweaters, speckled with kitty litter and stinking of cigarettes and pee, are more than enough.
“And your Mom’s mom?” June asks.
“She died when Mom was my age. It was some kind of cancer.”
Thoroughly bummed, we listen quietly as our brothers chatter on in their alien language. They mention amplifiers, transceivers and coaxial cable, all of it meaning nothing to us. Perhaps they don’t realize it’s been an hour. I looks at the digital clock over the camper’s mini oven. Although it’s dark out, the oven blinks 3:17 P.M., whatever that means.
“Their lives are as boring as ours.” June says.”We’ll give them a few minutes.” Then cupping her hands over her mouth and yelling, ” Dorks!”
Sunny ignores her and keeps tapping.
A few minutes turns into thirty and then an hour. June curls herself into the fetal position and begins to snore. I set my phone alarm for nine-thirty, just enough time for a quick nap, and drift off to the sound of a thousand dots and dashes.