The young girl sat up in her bed, rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, threw her hair off her face in one easy motion, and scrambled out of bed. It was early Saturday morning. The house was hushed and still. With the stealth of a burglar she tiptoed down the hallway and carefully descended the creaky stairs.
After some major disruptions in the household, the ten-year old clung to the solid comfort of this familiar routine. She turned on the stereo, adjusted the tuner, and turned the volume at the lowest possible setting. Grabbing some pillows off the sofa, she plopped on the floor inches from the speaker, flat on her stomach, her elbows in the pillows and her hands cupped under her chin.
The next two hours brought radio programs for children. Thirsty for story, she drank in the drama while the rest of the house slept. Midway through the last program the jangle of the telephone ringing pierced the quiet. Like quicksilver she jumped up and grabbed the receiver before the phone rang again.
“Hello,” her high childish voice could barely be heard.
“Hi! Is your mommy there?” the other voice trilled.
“Mmm…no,” she whispered tentatively.
“Would you leave her a message, please?”
“’kay…,” her voice wavered.
“The chair she had reupholstered is finished and is ready to be picked up at the shop.”
She replaced the receiver and returned to her position on the floor.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The liturgy of the next Saturday was the same as the first. The family slept while the young girl listened to Aunt Bee, Ranger Bill, and Sailor Sam. She took every precaution to listen to her radio without waking them. Once again, the loud ring of the telephone shattered the solitude. Once again, she darted to the dining room side table and grabbed the phone before the second ring.
“Hello! I’d like to speak to Nellie Harper!”
The girl paused; she finally said, “She’s not here.”
“Well, listen hon, this is the upholstery shop calling, and I called last week and left a message. I told her when she brought it in that it would be ready in two weeks, and this chair has been in the shop for a month now, and I really need your mom to pick up this chair. Would you puh-lease let her know?” Her voice was a mixture of cloying sweetness and ill-concealed irritation.
“Hmmm.” came out in hushed tones.
“Thanks, hon, I really appreciate it. You have a good day, now.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A week went by. The light was lasting longer, birds were chirping in the trees, and school was winding down. Summer had almost arrived, though the markers of seasonal change were little noted in that house. Once again, the young girl woke up early Saturday morning, worked her way around the squeaky steps and kept her rendezvous with the radio.
She wasn’t surprised when the phone rang; she answered it as she had done before.
“Hello,” spoken softly, so softly.
“Hi!” spoken in the tone of one eager to check off items on her list.
They both recognized the other’s voice; they both had the script memorized.
“Honey, look, is your mommy home this morning?” came the coaxing plea.
“No.” The single syllable dangled in space with nothing to support it.
Exasperated, the woman on the other end of the line raised her voice.
“Well, where is she? I’ve called, I’ve left messages, and still Nellie has not picked up her chair.”
She clipped each word shorter than a buzz cut.
The moment of truth could be delayed no longer. The words that were stuck in the child’s throat, words that could not be spoken the previous Saturdays, words that were impossible to say, even today, were forcefully dislodged.
“Ummm………she………well……..ummmm. She died.”
“Ohmygosh, she died? She died? Your mommy died? What happened? Oh, honey, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. Was she in an accident? She died? I had no idea. Oh, honey, I’m so very, very sorry. Oh dear. I–am–so–sorry.”
The silence was more uncomfortable for the girl than for the woman. She sensed the shock, the awkward drop, the conversational vertigo of the voice on the other end. The ten-year old knew she would have to bridge the gap and end this call. The girl found her voice.
“It’s all right. You didn’t know. It’s okay. No one told you. I’ll tell my daddy about the chair when he wakes up, okay? He’ll come to your shop and get the chair. It’s okay. You didn’t know… Good-bye.”
She walked back to the stereo, turned the radio off, sat down on the floor and sobbed.