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Terese Svoboda

Cordless in the Fifties

Past the pickled everything, especially relish corn, past the pastry pies, their steam vents like eyes or pocks with flesh showing through, past the stiff hem-stitched aprons flashing HOMEMADE because every seam showed perfect, past the pink and red ribbons on the sloppy first-aid kits, there-under the picture of the President-the door was open, left that way on account of the heat, slid clear into the barn side so the black beyond made the wall where the bulb-light quit.

She could hear Harriet's pig whining for oat slop. It did that. The gelding had had oat slop every night of its existence, every night ten minutes after Mom said rosary, and today it had been sold to Safeway. They were supposed to pick up the pig or hit it over the head, whichever was more convenient for them, two hours ago, and Harriet had gone home to weep in advance. But the Safeway man had been drinking at the town barbecue-she had watched out the open barn door-and had become so indisposed that he hadn't disposed of the pig, hanging around as he was with the rickrack queen, one of the Krasjewski girls whom nobody resisted on a day off or on.

She wouldn't tell Harriet. She would tell Harriet. She looked into the starry Ferris wheel turning fifty feet away, full of all the people she knew or would ever, and decided to tell her the pig screamed like hell as soon as he had a good look at the Safeway man's mussed-up hair.

She was supposed to see that no one walked off with the baked goods. The dry goods didn't have a guard. She would have taken down and stolen an apron or two, but they were so ruffly and ugly she couldn't find the desire. The only thing she did want was a turn or two or four around that Ferris wheel and hopefully that would come when she got her fair money, some fourteen dollars and forty-seven cents for some Early-to-Bed champion tomatoes she'd grown with special manure from Harriet's oat-slop pig.

She was thinking how she should probably share the money with Harriet when a boy holding a phone to his ear with no cord dragging crossed the open barn side. A car antenna poked up, whipping air over the top of him. He nodded to her and she pretended there was a lock on the barn that was stuck.

He passed by a second time and stopped. I'm from the future, he said and handed her the phone.

She didn't laugh and she took it. The why was because of his voice and eyes, eyes from that set of paintings she'd seen in the carpet store, the ones with everything looking out of them, and the voice was the voice from a prayer book reader.

You ought to work here, she said, because of your voice. They could use someone like you on the Ferris wheel.

I know, he said, and pointed the jack end of the phone into the black and said, Talk to them.

She put the receiver to her ear.

To be or not to be, she said, and giggled.

That's about right.

He walked over to the fence where so many wool jackets of the county's two marching bands were tossed over the fence that it sagged, and he spoke into the phone himself.

When he came back she said, Yes, she had heard him. Well, maybe she had.

I go to District Three, she said. District Three gives nobody the future.

I already got a patent on it. I've got two more patents, one for alarms that go off if someone touches a car and one for a sun cooker.

Wonderful, she said and she eased herself away from the door, away from the dark. The boy tapped on his phone, not noticing.

What else? she asked. She still wanted him to go on, to trip up so she could be sure he wasn't making fun of her. Others did, on occasion. But they were like the palsied jams marching in rows behind her: what you could count if you really wanted to. She wanted to like him.

I should renew the patents but that costs money, he said. My dad says wait until someone buys them, that you never put your own money into something to get it going.

You can get money winning ribbons, she said, but half of that died in her mouth. She didn't want to talk tomatoes.

But he heard well enough, like a phone.

Yeah, he said, stepping closer. Who puts up the money for the ribbons?

I don't know. She hated saying that, especially to someone who was so good with the future. A large slice of silence built up between them until somebody screamed from the Ferris wheel.

I heard they come off, he said. I heard they kill people. Now, if you had one that went around like a saucer, he said.

The Safeway man was jangling his truck keys, crossing through the dark. It had to be him, nobody else went to see pigs now. And that pig of Harriet's agreed all at once, started dithering like the Lord had called him personally just a second or two after the jangle.

This is just a mock-up, he said. The real one will be full of holes and flat-like talking to a piece of toast.

Would he put his phone down and stop touching his sweater placket? It was okay to be nervous, that was how she was, but the placket-picking increased with the pig noise. She was almost relieved when the pig got hauled off, she was almost happy to hear him ask: Do you believe me?

She didn't answer fast so he would think she was thinking of the answer. Madras shorts was all she saw in her head, what you wore in the rain to get the colors to run. He had those on. Were they a new invention to get girls to look at boys there?

While she was not answering he said, It doesn't matter, you'll remember me in the future, and he walked off, holding the phone to his ear, talking in such a voice.

He could have entered the phone in the Baby-Sitter Aids Division or Home Improvement and collected something. But she remembered about that too late, when he had already walked to where the buses from the other towns were parked, and she couldn't leave where she was to tell him because staying was what she was supposed to do. She had to stay.

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