Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: CALL (01/14/16)
- TITLE: The Wrong Number
By Francy Judge
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The rain hit the roof in pellets, mixed with sleet. I lifted one headphone off Jenna’s ear, so she could hear me over Taylor Swift’s sweet voice. “This S-T-I-N-K-S!”
“You don’t have to spell it for me, E-M-I-L-Y.” She fixed her headphone, and the song faded to a static drumbeat.
We stared at the algebra problems. Doing homework together wasn’t helping us understand the puzzle of numbers. “Do you get this?”
Jenna shook her head. “I thought I had the first answer right, but it didn’t check out. I wish it was summer, and we could dump these notebooks in the trash.”
“I wish we were playing softball right now. Let’s take a hot cocoa break.”
As the scent of rich chocolate rose with the steam from our mugs, the phone rang. The house phone that no one used anymore.
I hit speaker even though I didn’t recognize the number and wiped the foamy mustache from my lip. The lady sounded out of breath. And old. Her voice crackled as she tried to get the words out before we hung up the phone. “Harry, is that you? It’s me, your mother, dear. I called you back as soon as I heard your voice on the machine. That thing always starts yapping “I’m not available” before I can drag my old legs across the room.”
Jenna and I covered our mouths to stop the giggle chain.
“Harry, are you there?”
Jenna nudged my arm. I knew what she wanted me to do—add some excitement to our day. I could’ve said no, but I didn’t and whispered, “I better not get in trouble for this. I’m blaming you and your twisted sense of humor.”
“Hurry up and answer.”
“Yes, mother. I’m here,” I answered in my deepest voice. I already have a raspy, low-for-a-female voice, so it wasn’t too hard to drop an octave.
Silence lingered in the air for three long seconds until it sounded like the old lady was hyperventilating. “Are you okay?”
"Oh, sweet Jesus. I never thought I’d hear your voice again. They told me…oh never mind. I’m so happy.”
“It’s great to hear your voice too. I’ve missed you.” I smiled at Jenna.
“Why didn’t you call sooner?”
“Uhh…I wasn’t feeling well. I got busy…I meant to call.”
“Are you back in the States?”
I was about to hang up, but Jenna held my hand. “No,” she whispered. “You can’t hang up now.”
I covered the receiver and glared at Jenna. “What are we doing?”
“I can’t hear you, dear. My hearing aid broke, and the rain is hammering on the roof.”
“Uh, no…I mean I dropped the phone. I just got back, and I’m awfully tired, so…”
“Please come visit me. I’ve prayed every day for the Lord to protect you and bring you home. I didn’t believe the soldiers at the door who said, ‘Mrs. Burke, we are sorry to tell you…’ I knew it was a mistake. Why did they think you died? They didn’t have your body. I should return the flag to the army.”
Jenna and I glanced at each other with mouths opened. I covered the receiver again. “Mrs. Burke? The same Mrs. Burke who lives at the dead end of our street?”
“Has to be. She raised her grandson after his parents died in a plane crash. I saw him wearing his uniform last spring. He was real handsome….but I didn’t know he died.”
“What now?” I asked, trying to keep calm.
“Tell her you have to call her back.”
“I need to rest now. Can I call you back?”
“Of course, dear. I’m going to lie down and thank God for this miracle. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
“We have to tell her the truth. She thinks her dead son is coming home.”
Jenna zipped her coat. "You’re right. Let's go."
“We should bring something. Let’s pick lilacs from my mom’s greenhouse.”
The walk to her house felt like forever, yet wasn’t long enough to stir the right words. Mrs. Burke opened the door and smiled. “Hello, girls. Come in and dry off…it’s frigid outside.”
We handed her the flowers.
“They’re lovely. You’re sweet girls.”
“You may hate us when we tell you what we did.”
“We don’t hate around here. Come meet my son. He just got back from Afghanistan…it’s a miracle he survived the explosion.”
Mrs. Burke nodded. “I know.”
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