Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Call

The wind rattling the window panes made Kate dream she was on a commuter train that was coming to a screeching halt. She could feel her body being jolted, her last moment of sleep holding a thought of panic. She tumbled to the ceiling as the train capsized, and then Kate was suddenly in her bed. The phone was ringing on the night table beside her. She reached for it clumsily.

“Hel … Hello?” she stammered, struggling to remember how to speak at 2:42 a.m.

“Is this Kate Davis?”

Kate hesitated because she and her son Jimmy lived alone. Eight years ago his birth was marked by heavy rains and a lack of flowers at her hospital bedside.

“I’ll pay for the procedure and then we can move forward. We’re both not ready for this,” her boyfriend had told her when she discovered she was pregnant.

Kate, a college student at the time with hardly any income and a strained relationship with her family, was not beautiful by her own standards, and had always felt like an outcast in grade school. The last thing she wanted to lose was her boyfriend. He had become her best friend, the only person in the world who accepted her.

She was in the doctor’s office when she made her tearful decision. The energy generated by the sound of a small heartbeat turned Kate against the love of her life. Anger and outrage over his cold indifference moved Kate to push the father of her baby out of the picture, and he seemed happy to walk away from being a man.

Struggling to make ends meet and finishing her education as a single mom aged Kate prematurely. For the first time in her life she had a need for under eye concealer and lots of coffee. She began to neglect her looks. Her joy was gone. Considering herself unlovable, she had given up on romance.

It was no surprise that Kate had the feeling that any news delivered at such an hour had to be bad. She had an urge to deny her plain identity, and arrest the incoming shock, whatever it may be, but instead she sucked in her breath and answered,

“Yes. This is Kate Davis.”

A man spoke slowly on the line, in a deep, apologetic tone.

“It’s Ron. Listen, I just got a call from a Lake Shore Fire Department dispatcher that I know. He tipped me off and asked me to call you before the police knock on your door.”

At the words, “police knock on your door,” Kate felt the volume in her ears dim considerably until the sound of the man’s voice was replaced by a low ringing, (a test, perhaps, of her inner ear’s Emergency Broadcast System).

“Kate? Are you still on the line?” Ron asked.

“Yes. What did you say?” She spoke as if the man was hard of hearing.

“It’s about Jimmy. There has been an accident.”

Kate’s mind reeled at the thought. Six hours ago, she had tucked Jimmy into his bed, and handed him his special blanket, an object he still secretly slept with, even though he was in second grade. Jimmy could trust that Mommy would never tell.

Kate sat up and stepped onto the cold floor boards. She flipped on the light.

“What about Jimmy? He’s sleeping in his bed. Who is this?” she demanded, as if the man had not identified himself already.

“Kate, it’s your cousin Ron. There was an accident. I want you to hear it from family first. Jimmy was riding his bicycle on Main Street about an hour ago and was blind-sided by a car. He didn’t make it. I’m on my way over right now.”

“WHAT!” Kate’s voice was barely human. It was more like the wail of a black bear struck by a hunter’s bullet.

“WHAT!” She repeated, and the word came out disjointed from her thoughts like a movie whose sound track is off kilter.

“My son is in bed!” she shrieked, running down the hall to check, the portable phone still plastered to her ear.

For a second, Kate considered the possibility that Jimmy was not in his room. She pictured him crawling out of his covers, slipping on his coat, tying his shoes, sneaking out to the shed and taking his new bike for a spin. After all, he was so excited to finally get the black racer he had wanted for his birthday last week, the purchase she had made in celebration of her recent promotion at work.

The thought of finding Jimmy missing from his bed made Kate short of breath. Her stomach ached, her neck was hot and her hands ice cold. She pushed the door to Jimmy’s room open and felt the wall for the light switch.

The man on the line was still talking. “Kate I’m coming over now…” He was saying.

Jimmy was asleep in his bed with the Spiderman comforter pulled up to his ears. His mouth was slightly ajar and his hands were clasped comfortably under his chin as if he had forgotten in his sleep that he was no longer a baby. For an instant, Kate thought he might be dead. She felt his forehead. Jimmy was warm and breathing.

Then the air rushed out of Kate’s lungs like a popped balloon. “He’s here in his bed, sleeping. Who is this?” She repeated, too relieved to be angry, yet.

“This is Ron, your cousin.”

“I don’t have a cousin Ron…I think you have the wrong number!” She decided.

“Is this Kate Davis at 124 McCall Lane in Lake Shore?”

Her brain was in that state of shock that welcomes mistake. “No, You have the right name, but the wrong address. I’m not at 124 McCall,” Kate said in an excited tone.

The man paused and sucked in his breath.

“Oh, I am so sorry to wake you... I think I looked at the wrong number in the phone book, this must be a coincidence that you have a son named Jimmy and you live in the same town as...I'm trying to get my cousin Kate…I’m so upset. I’m sorry.” Kate heard a click and then static. It had been a terribly wrong number.

She dropped the phone and crawled onto her son’s bed, hugging him on top of his covers until he squirmed in his sleep. His tattered baby blanket muffled her sobs. Kate remembered how she had experienced one blessing after another after his birth. The days were hard and long, but doors opened for her. She got an apartment and finished school, secured a full time job with benefits. Most of all she did it alone, without hinging her identity on a romantic relationship. Jimmy’s life had inspired all of her strength, and she was successful because of his presence, no matter how defeated she felt.

Now Kate couldn’t sleep. To calm her nerves, she slipped out of her son’s room and opened her apartment door. Kate walked out into the storm and onto the grass in her nightgown. She pressed her bare feet into the ground, letting the wind rattle her hair in an effort to shake her back to her senses. Rain was pelting her face, and for the first time in years, Kate felt joyful. Jimmy was safe. The call was a wrong number, but a wake up call nonetheless.

“I am strong and independent. I am not alone. I am grateful for how far I have come.” She said aloud in the darkness.

Suddenly, standing in a storm seemed fun. A few blocks away she could hear the 3 a.m. train rumbling past the Lake Shore station, its whistle blasting. Kate imagined her old self seated in its upper deck, and smiled.

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Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.

Fondly,

Loren Christie

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