Phreak

Jen Durbent
Apr 26, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo Credit: Lisa Baird

Nobody noticed the young boy sitting on the curb in front of a pay phone. A Delorean pulled into the parking lot, Survivor blaring through the speakers. Or was it some Skylark playing Huey Lewis? It didn’t matter to Michael. He was 5 years old and cars were cars. He was also miles from home and lost.

His mom had dropped him off at Ralph’s house for his birthday party, but Ralph got an NES and then had a tantrum. Then Ralph’s mom made everyone go home because he wanted to play Mario Brothers all by himself an d not give anyone else a turn. So he had to go. But he had nowhere to go.

He saw a phone and remembered mom had made him memorize her work number. And she had given him a quarter but he wanted some candy the other day and now he didn’t have the quarter any more.

He didn’t cry because he wasn’t supposed to cry. He was only 5 and he probably shouldn’t have been alone but mom was at work and dad was in jail. Mom had to work and so it was just them two for now, but dad would be out of jail in a few months mom said and then she said it would be OK because they would all be back together. He started to cry anyway because he didn’t know if he would ever see mom again.

There was a bell; someone had walked out of the convenience store but he didn’t look up right away until she said, “What’s up, little dude?”

He looked then and she stood over him. The leather jacket she wore (it was summer, right?) had patches all over and swears on some of them. She had green hair — green! And it was spiked into a mohawk that seriously must’ve been like 5 foot tall, he swears you guys. She had a ring through her nose and a safety pin in her ear! A pin! An her eyes were like covered in black makeup eyeliner or whatever mom said he shouldn’t touch because he was a boy. And she looked like she had been in a fight or even three! Super tuff. With, like, 15 “f”s.

Seriously, he fell in love right there. Seriously. Well, at least as much as a 5 year old can.

She asked again, “What’s up?” Holy poop she was talking to him! Gosh!

He was scared because stranger danger but she was nice and pretty and he loved her so he had to say something so he looked up blurted out, “I need to call my mom but I don’t have any money.”

“You know the number?” She sucked on the straw of her fountain drink.

“Yeah. I memorizes it.”

“Oh, dude. A quarter, though? You don’t need a quarter to call to call your moms. Ma Bell can pick up that tab.”

“Ma Bell? Is she a great grandma?”

She laughed and smiled at him, “Kinda, kid. Kinda. Let me show you something. You see that nail over there?” She pointed down a bit on the curb.

“Yeah,” he said. “I see it.”

“Bring it here,” she said. And he did

“Ok, little dude. I’m gonna show you a trick. Don’t share this trick with anyone,” she said. She said quietly. “I shouldn’t even tell you but you seem cool,” he smiled and she smiled back and oh gosh she smelled like smoke, “OK. This pay phone has a bunch of circuits inside. They count the coins and all that stuff, right?”

“Got it.”

“And if you short circuit one of them, you can make the phone think you put coins in.”

“Neat!”

“It is,” she smiled at him. “Gimme that nail, here,” she held out her hand. There was a tattoo on her wrist — oh god, she was so cool. “With that nail you, carefully now, bang it into the mouthpiece like so.” She tapped the handset with the nail against the brick of the store, so it poked in a bit. “You go too far and you can ruin the microphone. That’s no good. You just want it to touch the microphone inside. So… gently.”

“Gently,” he repeats, staring up at her like a goddess.

“Yeah, little dude,” she says again.”Okay. So after you hang up.” she pulls down the lever, “Then pick up,” she lets go, “ touch that nail to the coin box, here.” She demonstrated. “Now you can make a call. It thinks it’s got money in it.”

“That’s cool!”

“Yup,” she tossed the nail back on the ground. Now be careful with that information. It’s just a computer, don’t let it be your boss, you understand?”

He didn’t, but he nodded anyway.

“Suze!” another woman called. “You done messing around with that kid? We gotta get. Show starts soon.”

“Be right there, Jane. Relax.” She said, then turned back to him, “now you can call your mom. You cool with that?”

“Yeah.”

“I gotta go, but remember that little trick. Don’t let anyone keep people apart if they love one another. See you later, little dude.”

She stood to go and he nodded. But then he pointed to her spiked hair. “Did that hurt?”

She laughed and laughed. “No. No. Do you want to touch it?”

He nodded.

“Go on.”

She squatted down and her knees cracked. She watched him as he reached up and touched her hair. She saw something metaphorical short circuit him and etch into his memory.

Jane watched Suze humor the kid, but she swore the shadow against the brick of the store looked like he was putting on the Statue of Liberty’s crown.

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