Thursday, October 20, 2011

Aunt Clara's Telephone (Continued)

      I got up off my knees and began walking slowly to the other end of the big room toward the water cooler. I needed that drink of cold water more than ever. I pulled a plastic cup from the dispenser and filled it up. I raised it to my lips, closed my eyes, and drank. I filled the cup again and just as I was raising it again, I heard a slight creaking sound. I knew that sound. I'd heard it many times as a child. It was the sound of Aunt Clara's wheelchair. Her adjusting herself in it, causing the wood to squeak just a little. I closed my eyes again, half sighing, and slowly turned and looked towards the other end of the room. Towards the wheelchair. And there it was. And there she was. One hand on one of the cranks, the other under her chin. She grinned at me and motioned with her index finger for me to come down there. I set the full cup of water on top of the cooler and started towards her.
      "No, no," she said, "Bring the water, Davey, I'm thirsty, please." I picked up the cup and carried it with both hands. They were shaking and I did not want to spill the water. "It's okay, Davey. Don't be afraid. I love you, Davey. You know that, don't you?" I shook my head yes and felt a smile spread over my face. As I got closer to her I felt...what? I felt...that's it...peace. Long remembered joy. "Don't worry," she said, in a reassuring tone, "Isn't the water good? I love it, don't you, Davey?" I shook my head again and handed the cup of water to Aunt Clara. At the same time I knelt in front of her and laid my head in her lap. With one hand she smoothed my hair and whispered, "Davey, Davey, Davey, why are you crying? There's no reason to cry, Davey. Come on, tell Aunt Clara why you are crying, huh?"
     I lifted my head from her lap and looked at her face. I looked at her gentle smile. As our eyes met she said, "Why?" I wiped my eyes on my sleeve and whispered,
    "Because I've missed you."
    "Well," she said, "What a silly thing to do. Why should you miss me? You have me in your dreams, right? By the way, Davey, it's fun sometimes to be standing up. I wouldn't want to do it for a long time, but it's fun for a little while, like when I am in those dreams of yours. I know you like me standing up in dreams, but in real life I think you like me better in my wheelchair, right?"
   "Yes," I said, "I do." Aunt Clara said,
   "Now, let's see. You have me in your dreams. What else? Well, you have all of your wonderful memories of me. We had a lot of fun, Davey. Remember? I showed you how to fill the bird feeder beside the front porch. And how about when I showed you how to strike a match so that you could burn the trash in the big barrel out back? Well, the first time you tried you burned your thumb and I know that wasn't fun, but you got it right the next time and I was very proud of you. And you were proud of yourself too, right?" I smiled and said,
   "Yes, I was."
   "So," she said, "Dreams, memories...what else do you have, Davey?" It came to me then, as a revelation. I stood up there in front of her and said,
    "I have" Quickly she laughed and clapped her hands.
    "That's right, Davey. You've got my love. I told you then, when you were just a little boy, that I loved you bunches and bunches and that it would always be that way. And it still is! So you see, you shouldn't cry. You can't miss me. I haven't gone away! I've never gone away!"
    The phone rang again. I looked at it. I looked at Aunt Clara. She rolled her eyes and shook her head no. "Don't answer it," she said, "It's Don. He still calls me on that old static-y phone. And all he does is complain. I love him, don't get me wrong. He's my brother, but I just get tired of all his negativity. Plus, he's a little boring. He still wants to talk about prohibition. It's either prohibition or the Great Depression. Or, Lord have mercy, politics. Phooey, phooey, phooey. I'm just not interested. It would be a little better if he'd call me on the cell phone. I'm glad you added that to your collection. It's much clearer and easier to use. When I turn on the speaker I can talk on it when I'm flying around the shop, but you know that. You saw me last night, didn't you?"
    "Yes," I said. "I did."
    The old phone had stopped ringing. "Orville always calls me on the cell. Wilbur too. It took me a while but I've convinced a few others that those old phones are simply outdated."
   "Like who?" I said.
   "Well, besides Orville and Wilbur there's Helen Keller. Such a person she is. She was always one of my heroes and now she's one of my best friends. Then there's Sam. Sam Clemens. He is so funny to talk to. A bit of a pessimist but he's still hilarious. And let's see...oh my, yes, I love talking to Will. Will Rogers. I wish I could get Don to call him sometime. I think Will could maybe help Don look at things in a better light, but Don's stubborn. I'm the only one he calls and he always calls me on this old thing."
   She motioned me to the benched and I walked over and sat down. I had a feeling about what was to come and I was anxious about it. I sat and watched Aunt Clara turning the cranks on the wheelchair. She rolled to the center of the room, winked at me, and began to slowly turn, clockwise. In a few moments she was gracefully spinning around and around and she was laughing. I clapped my hands like a child and, naturally, slapped my knees in happy fascination. She came to a stop facing my direction, smiled big, held open her arms and chimed, "Davey, Davey, come give us a hug." I rose from my seat and walked towards my Aunt Clara as the light on her face spread to mine and soon filled the whole room.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Aunt Clara's Telephone

        I went back to the shoe shop the very next night, at the same time as the night before when I'd witnessed Aunt Clara flying in her wheelchair, but this time she wasn't there. No wooshing sound, no elegant gliding in the half-light around the room. All I saw was the room with its myriad of antiques and collectibles, including Aunt Clara's wheelchair, just sitting there. I swallowed hard, gritted my teeth, and rounded the corner. In the incredible silence I slowly walked to the far end of the showroom. As I made my way to where the wheelchair sat on display, my mind was spinning around the vision I'd had the night before. The gentle gliding of the chair and the radiance on Aunt Clara's face. I did not want to think that it might've been a figment of my imagination. It was too real. Too beautiful. Still, I couldn't help doubting my own eyes. It was also too fantastic. My mind still spinning and my heart pounding, I reached out and touched the photograph of Aunt Clara which hangs on the wall near the wheelchair. In the photo she is sitting in her chair in front of the telephone switchboard. She is wearing headphones and a small mouth piece. She is plugging a wire into one of the small holes on the switchboard. I think the photograph was taken in the nineteen twenties or early thirties. I brushed the picture with my fingers and then walked over to a bench on the other side of the room and sat down. I was simply gazing at the wheelchair and the many pictures of Aunt Clara on the wall behind it.  In the dimness of the room there, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with exhilaration. At the same time a wave of fear washed over me.
       I needed a drink of water. I needed it badly and was just about to make my way to the other end of the room to the water cooler when there was a clanging sound over by the wheelchair. Clanging? No. I realized as the sound continued, that it was a ring. The ring of a telephone. "Brrrring, brrrring, brrrring, brrrring..." I don't know how many times it rang before I got up from the bench and leaped across the room towards my collection of telephones. I picked up the receiver on the nearest phone and put it to my ear, but the ringing continued, and I hung the receiver back on the cradle and reached for another one, an even older phone. This was the one which had sat beside the couch in Aunt Clara's living room. Her personal phone. As soon as I picked up the receiver the ringing stopped. I raised it to my ear and reached out with my other hand to the wheelchair, to steady myself. I felt dizzy and weak. Then a voice, amid the static said,
"Hello...hello, Clara? Clara, is that you? Hello..."
      I dropped the receiver and it fell with a dull thud to the floor. I bent down quickly, shaking, and grabbed the thing. I held it an arms-length away, staring at it. I was breathing hard now, but I could still hear the voice, whoever it was,
"Hello? Hello? Clara?"
     I sat it on its cradle and lowered myself to the floor and rested my body against the wheelchair. I wanted to run but I couldn't. I could only sit there and breathe, heavily. Actually, I was gasping. Had that old phone actually rang? Had I heard the voice on the other end? Was it real? Had I lost my mind? I'd had dreams about Aunt Clara many times in my life. I was ten years old when she died so I remember her well. When I was five or six, I remember standing on the footrest of the wheelchair and Aunt Clara riding me all around the house. Sometimes we would ride out onto the large porch. Then I would sit in the porch swing and watch as Aunt Clara deftly turned the wooden cranks just so, and would slowly begin to spin in place, the small swivel wheel in back making this possible. Very difficult, but possible for someone like my Aunt Clara. I would clap my hands and slap my knees wildly, as she spun around and around laughing and laughing. Then she would bring the wheelchair to a stop, facing me. She would give a big smile and open her arms wide, saying, almost singing,  "Davey, Davey, come give me a hug," and I would jump down from the swing and run to her and she would wrap her arms around me, whispering, "Davey, Davey, Davey."
       Later on, after she's passed away, I began having dreams about her. Not bad or unpleasant dreams, just dreams. The only thing that might be a little unusual about them is that she's walking. Or rather standing, usually by her kitchen sink or stove, but never in a wheelchair. Also I don't remember her even speaking in my dreams.
      But now, I wasn't dreaming. I was sitting on the floor of the shoe shop, leaning against the wheelchair, remembering. I was breathing normal now and my heart had calmed down and I was actually wishing, hoping, that the phone, her phone, would ring again. I wanted to know who it was. Who was trying to call Aunt Clara? Then, again, I began to question my own eyes. I had seen her flying the night before. I doubted my own ears and yet I had heard, just minutes before, the ringing of the phone. I had heard the man's voice. Hadn't I?
     Then, indeed, that phone rang. Again. Not believing, but knowing it was real, I swallowed hard and began to crawl across the floor. I reached the phone and picked it up on the tenth ring. I put the receiver to my ear. Static. Then a distant, muffled voice.
     "Hello, Clara? Clara? Hello? It's Don, your brother Don. Hello?"
I took a short breath and spoke into the receiver. "Hello....who is this?"
     The voice, Don's, said,  "I can't hear you, speak louder. Clara?"
I said, much louder now, "Hello, who is this? Who are you?"
     "It's Don, Don LeMaster. Clara LeMaster's brother! Who are you?!"
I said, "This is David, Aunt Clara's great nephew, but...Aunt Clara's...dead. She's been dead for more than forty years..."  It felt strange, even awkward, nearly shouting these words.
     Don said, "Hell, I know she's dead! I'm dead! Aren't you?!!"  Static. Then Don, again. "Aren't YOU??"  Static. My own silence.
     Then I said, too softly, "No, I'm not...I think..."
Then Don said, "Did you are NOT...dead?!"
     Louder now, I replied, "No, I am not dead."
Uncle Don answered, "Well...alright then, David...goodbye. Goodbye, David."
Static. I said nothing else and hung the receiver in its cradle, my heart telling me this conversation was over. My heart was also telling me I was not dead. Crazy maybe, but not dead.

(To Be Continued)