Why Do We Need A Telephone?
“Pigs? You bought baby pigs?” Christine was indignant.
“I told you that as soon as we moved I intended to buy animals,” Johnny reminded her.
“But not the second day, and not baby pigs that we have to feed with little bottles!”
“Aren’t they cute, Honey?”
It was the summer of 1945. They had been married a year and a half when they moved with their six-month-old daughter Diane to a house with three acres of land just outside the western Pennsylvania town of Canonsburg.
“What are we going to do with three acres?” she asked him.
“I want a cow or two, and maybe beehives.”
She smiled and shook her head. She would let him have his way on this, just like everything else, because she loved him so much. He had always lived in town and longed for the country life.
The gray stone house had been built in 1830. It had just four large rooms: kitchen and living room downstairs, two bedrooms upstairs. A twentieth-century owner had taken part of the bigger bedroom and made a bathroom.
It was a lovely house, but it was isolated. The nearest neighbor was a ten-minute walk away, and Christine didn’t drive. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway because Johnny, who worked as a coal miner on the 3 -11 p.m. shift, needed their only car.
Christine busied her days with caring for the baby, maintaining a garden, and raising the pigs, turkeys, and chickens that delighted Johnny so much. She baked bread; tried her hand at making pasta, which always ended up as broad noodles despite her efforts to cut them thin; and picked walnuts from a tree beyond the hen house.
At night, while waiting for Johnny to come home at 11:30, she listened to the radio or read. Her only companion, besides the baby, was the beagle, Barney.
She didn’t mind being alone in the summer when it didn’t get dark until almost 9, but as autumn turned into winter she became more nervous. Earlier and earlier she would go through the house, making sure that the windows were locked and the back door and cellar door were securely bolted. She
closed the curtains as well.
“Do you think we could get a telephone?” she asked her husband.
“Why do we need a telephone?” he asked. “Who would you call? Your mother doesn’t have a phone; your sister doesn’t either.”
One night, as she lay in bed listening to the radio, a car came up the long driveway. She glanced at the bedside clock; it was only 10:40. Why was Johnny home so early?
Going to the upstairs window, she saw a truck, from which emerged a huge man.
He staggered up the steps to the front door and pounded on it with his fists. “Let me in! Let me in or I’ll break this damn door down!”
She stood frozen in terror. In the backyard Barney howled, and she realized that she had forgotten to bring him into the house. She turned out the light in the bedroom and watched the man go down the steps and then left toward the back yard. She moved to the window that faced the back. The yard was bathed in silvery moonlight, and she watched the dog race toward the intruder and growl.
The man took a swig from a large bottle and then brought it down hard on the head of the dog. Barney whimpered, retreated, and then was silent.
Christine went to the nursery, put a folded blanket onto the floor of the closet, picked up Diane from her crib, and laid her down. “Oh, please don’t cry,” she begged. If she were going to die, at least her daughter might live. Then she closed the closet door most of the way before creeping downstairs in the dark.
In the kitchen she carefully made her way to the drawer with the knives and felt the handles for the biggest one. She moved her left hand along the wall, then around the corner into the living room, along the mantle. When she found the space between the fireplace and the wall, she squeezed into it. Her wristwatch said 10:50. Johnny would be home in less an hour. Could she make it until then?
She stood there in the dark, both hands now tightly gripping the handle of the knife. The only sounds were her pounding heart and chattering teeth. Where was the man now? She began to recite a Rosary in her head. She had to go to the bathroom but was afraid to leave her hiding place, so she peed right there onto the carpet.
It seemed forever, but at 11:00 she heard the truck start and go down the driveway. Still she remained where she was, shaking with fear.
At 11:30 another car, her husband’s car, pulled next to the house. He was whistling as he let himself in with his key. He turned on the light, and Christine emerged from her hiding place, still clutching the knife.
“What are you doing?” he shouted.
She began to scream, then sob. Out poured the horrible story.
Shaking, Johnny took the knife from her hands and laid it on the table. He led her upstairs where they found the baby still asleep on the floor of the closet. He put her back into her crib and then lay on the bed, holding Christine close until she fell asleep.
He kissed her forehead and whispered, “First thing in the morning, I’ll go to the telephone company.”
“Why Do We Need A Telephone?” was awarded First Place for fiction by the California Federation of Woman’s Clubs in 2017.