Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: PHONE (11/10/16)
- TITLE: Getting the Message Through
By Ann Grover
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I didn’t want to leave Mom, but I was the only one big enough to find the problem with the phone line. Stanley was just five, but he could keep an eye on three-year-old Susan. I stuffed another log into the wood stove, hugged Mom, who was clutched in another pain, and pulled the door tight.
When I was eight, back in 1947, we were making a life on the prairie, living from garden to mouth most of the time, wearing clothes until they were paper-thin, and paying the bank penny by penny. Dad had taken on work in a logging camp up north that fall, which was a blessing, but it meant he wasn’t home, and our new baby was coming.
The phone was broken.
You wouldn’t think a barbed wire fence had anything to do with telephones. But some men in Aspen Creek got the idea of using the top strand of barbed wire as a phone wire and amazingly, in the middle of nowhere, we had telephones. It was handy for making announcements for a school pageant or a branding or a christening. Sometimes, Mom and the other women just chattered all together about pickles or knitting. We even had concerts with everyone on the line joining in with their accordions or fiddles. Then there were times when someone needed help.
The fence phone line wasn’t attractive, looped between posts and over gates, but it worked. Except when it didn’t.
I headed east, hoping I wouldn’t need to go far. It wasn’t my first time checking the line. Usually, I found the problem quickly, often a long stalk of grass laying over the wire, grounding it out. I zigzagged around clumps of frozen grass and frost-covered rocks.
A raven landed on a nearby fence post. He ruffled his blue-black feathers and contemplated me with his glittering eyes as I trudged closer, then flapped away, alighting two posts ahead. Ravens are smart birds; long ago, my uncle had even taught one to speak a few words, my dad had told me.
“Help me, Mr. Raven,” I begged. The raven just gurgled, flying ahead whenever I approached.
I was soon tired and sweat ran down my back. I wanted to rest, but then I thought of Mom cranking the phone in vain, over and over. Frightened, I started to cry.
The raven cawed, as if chiding me, telling me that bawling wasn’t going to do anybody any good. Giving a loud sniffle and wiping my nose on my cuff, I followed the raven as he resumed swooping from post to post.
He stopped suddenly and gave a staccato squawk. Peering ahead, through the grass, I saw a young whitetail buck standing close to the fence. He struggled as I drew near, jerking and tossing his head, yet not darting away.
One of his antlers was twisted in the wire.
He stamped his feet. Knowing I’d not get close enough to unravel him with my hand, I ducked through the fence to the other side, away from his prancing, razor-sharp hooves. I rummaged in the grass and found what I needed: a willow stick. The raven kept up his chortling, encouraging me and soothing the buck. The deer calmed down, though he still trembled.
Inching forward, I murmured, “I won’t hurt you, little deer. You’re going to be fine. Just fine.” I reached out with my stick, wedged it between the strands, then twisted them apart. The antler tine slipped out and the deer bounded away, swift as quicksilver, tail held high.
I hung up the barbed wire again, balancing the little glass insulators on the posts. It would do. Someone would nail it up properly later.
Mom, pick up the phone now. Call for help. I imagined I could hear her voice quivering along the wire, calling someone to come and take her to the hospital.
Jubilant as the freed deer, I raced home, cheering when I saw fresh tire tracks in the dust, which meant someone had come and left again with Mom. Before I went inside to find our neighbour, Mrs. Kurylowich, feeding bread and jam to Stanley and Susan, I heard the farewell warbling of the raven.
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