“Fed Ex from Andrew!” said Marilyn with a wink.
Tina was out of the office having her hair colored, so Annie quickly opened the box. Inside was another box and inside that was a cell phone, tucked into bubble wrap. Annie stared at it as if a good-sized salmon had arrived on her desk. Raw. Without a recipe.
|1993 cell phone, |
No, there was a recipe, three words scrawled in black ink on a piece of scrap paper taped to the phone: Turn Me On.
OK, Andrew, she thought, and pressed Power. Immediately there was a ringing at the other end.
“Annie Sullivan!” She tried to make her voice as firm as his.
“You got it!” Now he was smiling, she could tell.
“You know,” she said, “it probably won’t work around here.”
“Keep it on anyway, OK? The account is in my name, the bill will come to me. At night, recharge it. If I can remember to recharge my phone—
“Darlin’, I have another call. I’ll call you later, OK?”
OK. It was Tuesday, and in Waco, Texas, the Branch Davidian standoff had begun, and Andy was on the scene, covering it for Democracy Today. The previous Friday, just past noon, a bomb had gone off in the garage of the World Trade Center. Catherine had been driving back to the office after covering an Economic Development Committee meeting in Schuyler and heard about it on the radio. She had rushed upstairs to Tina, who wanted to know only about economic development in Schuyler.
Annie had called Andrew, left a message. She figured he wouldn’t be on the train that night, but since she didn’t hear from him, she went to the train station, just to make sure.
“Like that Japanese dog that met the train every night for ten years, looking for his dead human,” she told Andrew when they finally talked on Saturday night.
“I hate that story,” he said.
“So do I, but probably for different reasons.”
She had sat in her car that Friday so that people wouldn’t feel sorry for her. She watched the arrivals talk animatedly with their friends, and thought how good one of Andrew’s full-body hugs would have felt just then. Instead she went home thinking about how important the story would be to him, and remembering how she used to stand in line for half-price theater tickets in the World Trade Center, and how remote that was to her now. Andrew had tried to call her on Saturday, but they kept missing each other until evening. Now she had her first cell phone.
And now it was Tuesday and the snowstorm of the century was predicted for the coming weekend. She would be buried in snow while Andrew was buried in news, real news, and he was happy, she could tell, no longer a pundit but a reporter, a journalist, on the ground covering national news while she put together the religion page for the Thursday edition of a newspaper with a total circulation of just under 15,000, including 5,727 subscribers. She took the calls from the parishioner volunteers, from the energetic Methodist to the shy elderly Lutheran who had a meltdown if her line were busy. She thought about them and their sermon titles and the Bible chapters that would be read this Sunday, or not, depending on the storm.
She was the only one on this newspaper who cared about these calls—no, Tina and Wendy cared, because it put more local names into the paper—but right now, at least, she would rather be putting together the religion page, Chloe settled at her feet in this drafty pole barn of an office. This morning, brushing her teeth, she had heard Andy’s report from Waco and she thought, how did he find that out? And she thought, if he is screwing another beautiful photographer, well, she, Annie, would have to live with that, wouldn’t she; for example, she wouldn’t have to read the cell phone manual.
This week she was off on Wednesday and Thursday, during which time Tina has instructed her to stock up on canned food, candles and batteries as if she were a nitwit who had never lived through a storm before. The storm did make Annie anxious, however; the stores would run out of canned soup, batteries, and candles, so she would buy them tomorrow, and over the weekend the electricity would inevitably go off and while it was March, not January—the pipes probably wouldn’t freeze—it would be damned uncomfortable.
Don’t turn your heat down at night was another piece of Tina advice, which Annie planned to follow, even though it would give her a nosebleed. Leave your car at the end of your driveway was important to Tina, who had a quarter-mile driveway, but not to Annie, whose only Honda would be tucked into the garage so that her neighbor Frank—this winter’s Piers Plow Man—could plow with his pickup truck.
* * *
Monday morning and the phone had rung, but on the line Annie could hear nothing but the hiss of the snow. She stood at the sliding glass door, watching icy snow blown horizontal and listening to it on the phone.
It was eight o’clock, which meant it had been snowing for 17 hours. The electricity had gone off overnight, and the county was in official lockdown, she had learned this morning from her battery-operated radio, a State of Emergency that closed roads to all but official vehicles, the only time that Tina and Wendy would give their staff a reprieve from driving to the office.
“I can’t hear you. I’m going to hang up.”
But the phone kept ringing . . . on the hour, she saw, and sometimes other times. And she thought, maybe they can hear me.
“Hello! I can’t hear you. But I’m all right. It’s still snowing hard and the electricity went off last night. But I have a gas stove. I do not use the oven to heat the house! I use the burners to melt snow for washing and for flushing the toilet. It makes a nice steam.”
“Hello! I’m still here, wearing my coat and hat. If this is Wendy, I can’t do phone interviews but I’m reading that county history you wanted me to write about, so I can do that.”
Chilled, faced with hours of minimal activity and maximum anxiety, she began to look forward to the calls, to prepare what she would report.
“Hello! My neighbor Frank stopped by, on his snowshoes, to see if I wanted to go to the shelter at the firehouse. But they can’t take pets, and I can’t see leaving Chloe here alone. Frank and Nancy aren’t going either. Nancy won’t leave their cats, and Frank won’t leave Nancy. He’ll stop by again tomorrow.”
“Hello! The blue spruce fell down . . . I loved that tree . . .” She heard her voice catch, tired of the anxiety, of being cold and trying to get Chloe to pee on the deck. “It was very polite . . . the branches just scraped the screened porch, instead of crashing onto the roof . . .”
“Hello! It’s dark now and I don’t want to light candles. The stove is off. Chloe and I are in our sweaters and jackets, under the down comforter. Good night.”
The calls stopped then and began again at daylight.
“Hello! . . . Damn, I still can’t hear anything. The snow has stopped. I’ll go to work later when the roads are cleared. Maybe they have a generator. I still don’t have electricity. If this is Andy, the cell phone still doesn’t get any signal, but your report from Waco was excellent. As for me, this morning Chloe and I will share a chicken and rigatoni soup for breakfast. I’m going to hang up now and heat it.”
It was always him. In the northeast, Kathleen and Jaime and Nick’s phones were out too. They worried a little about Annie alone, but they knew she could take care of herself—they had all been through this before—and it wasn’t January; the pipes probably wouldn’t freeze.
So it was Andrew who called and listened to her, his eyes closed, his free hand holding up his head. He listened and he thought, she cannot stay there alone, she has to come to New York, I have to find her a job in New York.
Copyright © Debby Mayer