The new phone box was a marvel, a wonderment of technology.
The polished wood gleamed, the cord looping lazily and mysteriously connected to the various parts of the apparatus.
We eyed the new contrivance with anticipation and considered its future prospects. Yet, it remained silent, though dusted weekly, the smooth wood stroked, the earpiece lifted and replaced hopefully.
The telephone was nothing more than a display of vanity. Father was insistent that we not appear to be a backward prairie town family reluctant to move into the twentieth century, so the phone was installed, but since Father did not understood how it worked, it was not connected to the main line.
“Why, the sounds could be from the nether world itself,” pronounced Father soberly. “Evil voices, impersonating our loved ones. How can a real voice travel through a wire the breadth of a mere horsehair? Impossible.” He’d open the week old city newspaper with a snap and an indignant “humph,” and the topic was closed.
If there was a list to be sent to MacArthur’s Mercantile for required goods, or if Mother wished the presence of her best friend for tea, it was done through the enlistment of my brother, Howard, or me and our bicycles. The list or note was sealed in an envelope bearing the name of the recipient in a flowing script with curly flourishes. We pedalled off amidst stern admonishments against dawdling, grimy fingerprints on the note, or losing the note altogether.
It was a trial, to be sure, to be sent off on unnecessary errands, and an embarrassment, considering the lustrous, wooden device mounted in the hallway, hallowed but hollow, and politely unproductive. Presumably, though, it was only an embarrassment if somebody knew of our vainglorious contraption. Perhaps Becky Sue down at the switchboard wondered why no calls ever came from or to our household, but she never let on.
All might have continued in the same way forever, Howard and me delivering notes until adulthood, if Aunt Sophie hadn’t come to visit.
Aunt Sophie lived in the city, where telephones were regular things, people drove motorcars, and folks read the news while it was still fresh.
She settled in nicely, which meant she commented on our growth without getting too carried away with cheek-pinching, head-patting, and whatnot.
Mother had prepared fried chicken for supper, along with mashed potatoes, new peas, baby carrots, and lemon pie. I saw the pie in the pantry before dinner, and that was the last time I ever saw it, and given the events of the next few minutes, I won’t guess what happened to that pie, piled high with a cloud of golden meringue.
I made rivers of butter in my potatoes while listening to the discussion of train tickets and lettuce prices, which seemed to be difficult to come by in Aunt Sophie’s city, by the sounds of it. Aunt Sophie thought she might grow a window box garden, but I thought this could cause envy and even riotous behaviour among her neighbours, if lettuce was really so dear.
As I scooped up a forkful of peas smothered in buttery potatoes, I heard a strangly sound from Father, rather like a dog hawking up after chewing grass, and I considered it extraordinarily rude of him. Especially when he abruptly fell from his chair.
Mother rushed to his side, loosened his tie, and undid his shirt buttons. He gave muted choking sound.
Aunt Sophie rushed from the room, and I wondered why she was leaving in the midst of a crisis. We needed steady heads, knowing hands. And surely, this called for extreme measures of the speediest note writing kind.
Father’s eyes were showing white as he gave another gagging sound. Mother was frantic, clutching his chest and pleading for him to breathe.
A child should not witness such things, so I made my exit quickly, making for the hallway.
Aunt Sophie was speaking on the phone.
Should I return to the dining room where my father was about to expire? Or remain with my aunt who was speaking into an unconnected phone?
Aunt Sophie replaced the earpiece, and with much praising of the Lord, announced the doctor would be arriving momentarily.
He did. Without any fuss, he promptly removed a chicken bone from Father’s throat.
Suffice it to say, the telephone was soon connected. Not a word was ever spoken of the night it worked when it ought not have.
Some things are better left unsaid.
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