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Western Union Calling

Image by Ray Shrewsberry • Please Download 👍 Like Images from Pixabay 

Tom lies staring at the ceiling in his rented room downtown. Ashtray sitting on the radiator. Smoking unfiltered camels. Listening to Fred Waring on the radio. Suddenly he jumps up and puts on his shirt, adjusts his tie, slips into a jacket, grabs his hat, and heads out of the room and down the stairs.

Through the tenement he hears couples arguing, radios blasting, babies crying, scoring his descent down five flights of stairs. Out the front door and down the street to the Western Union office on the corner.

“Hey, pally, urgent message.”

The man behind the counter pulls out a paper and pen, adjusts his visor, “Yes, sir?”

The message is scribbled down, Tom pays his two bits and heads nervously back to the street.

The message, which was just going to the end of town, is picked up by another Western Union office in that part of the city. The machine rattles in on the teletype and is hastily rushed to the young delivery boy.

Like the cowboys of old, the young boy races out the front door onto his bike and rides as fast as his strong legs will pump the pedals.

Ringing his bell to herald his coming to unwitting pedestrians, he races through the main part of the neighborhood and onto tree lined side streets until he arrives at Mrs. Willingham’s Boarding House. Agatha Willingham has ran this house for years and has know the young boy all of his life. She answers the door in a robe.

“Mrs. WIllingham, I have a telegram for a Miss Hempshaw.”

Agatha turns around and bellows up the stairs, “Lillian, telegram.”

A young woman of about twenty-eight descends the stairs. She is the most beautiful woman the young boy has ever seen. She wears thick rimmed glasses, auburn hair spills over her shoulders, her lips still pristinely painted crimson. She has just returned from her secretary job in town.

Her face is pale with worry. A telegram is not sent on a whim. A telegram means important news that needs to be delivered quickly. Often, that important news is bad news. The first telegram she remembers seeing was when she was 14 and her cousin died of influenza, another when she was 20 and her grandmother also passed.

She takes the message in her hands. She is trembling as she opens it. It reads: “Hey, you up? Stop. Tom. Stop.”

Her fear turns the warm red of annoyance and color returns to her face.

“Would you like to make a reply?”, asks the boy.

“Yes.” She goes upstairs to fetch her pocketbook and returns swiftly. She scribbles a hasty reply and hands it to the boy along with a generous tip and enough money to cover the sending of her message.

Swiftly, the boy races over street and sidewalk back to the office where he hands off the message to the manager. The money is entered into the cash register and the message sent posthaste.

Across town the reply comes across the teletype with machine gun fire sounds.

The boy belonging to this office is dispensed, and he races up the block on foot. To the apartment building, up the five flights, his experienced eyes rapidly scanning each apartment number without pausing, and, alas, to Tom’s door.

Tom flings open the door halfway through the first knock.

Cigarette in the corner of his mouth, he mumbles a, “Thanks, kid.”, flips him a dime and slams the door.

Tom tears open the envelops and looks down at the Lillian’s reply.

“New house. Stop. Who’s this? Stop.”