Iowa Writes

BESS STREETER ALDRICH
from A Long-Distance Call From Jim


To Ella Nora Andrews, calm, unruffled, serenely humming a gay little tune, gathering her school things together—her "Teacher's Manual of Primary Methods," a box of water-colors, and a big bunch of scarlet-flamed sumac—came the sound of the telephone.

Ella Nora, in her crisp blue linen school suit, shifted her working paraphernalia and took down the receiver. Fate is a veritable chameleon for changing shape and color. This morning she had entered the fat, puffy person of asthmatic Mrs. Thomas Tuttle, and was saying:

"That you, Ella? Have you heard the news? Jim Sheldon is coming here the last of the week. He'll be here on Number Eight, Friday afternoon. And get ready now for the climax—he's bringing his bride. Wha' say? Yes, his wife. He telephoned Pa from Chicago—imagine anybody telephoning clear from Chicago, Ella! He's waited long enough to get married, I must say. He's thirty-six, if he's a day. I know, because my Eddie's just two months older. Well, we must do something for them, and we'll have to get busy right away. Wha' say? All right; I'll ask Addie Smith and Minnie Adams and Mis' Meeker—she's forever thinking of things to eat—" And on and on went the rasping, wheezing voice of Fate, while, through the window, Ella watched the red and yellow and orange zinnias in the back yard fade and run together into a smudge of prismatic coloring.

To Ella Nora Andrews, calm, unruffled, serenely humming a gay little tune, gathering her school things together—her "Teacher's Manual of Primary Methods," a box of water-colors, and a big bunch of scarlet-flamed sumac—came the sound of the telephone.

Ella Nora, in her crisp blue linen school suit, shifted her working paraphernalia and took down the receiver. Fate is a veritable chameleon for changing shape and color. This morning she had entered the fat, puffy person of asthmatic Mrs. Thomas Tuttle, and was saying:

"That you, Ella? Have you heard the news? Jim Sheldon is coming here the last of the week. He'll be here on Number Eight, Friday afternoon. And get ready now for the climax—he's bringing his bride. Wha' say? Yes, his wife. He telephoned Pa from Chicago—imagine anybody telephoning clear from Chicago, Ella! He's waited long enough to get married, I must say. He's thirty-six, if he's a day. I know, because my Eddie's just two months older. Well, we must do something for them, and we'll have to get busy right away. Wha' say? All right; I'll ask Addie Smith and Minnie Adams and Mis' Meeker—she's forever thinking of things to eat—" And on and on went the rasping, wheezing voice of Fate, while, through the window, Ella watched the red and yellow and orange zinnias in the back yard fade and run together into a smudge of prismatic coloring.

Ella hung up the receiver and leaned against the window. There was a pounding in her throat, and she couldn't seem to concentrate her thoughts. The zinnias had brightened somewhat, but were still dancing diabolically with the cosmos behind them. From the chaotic jumble of her mind the naked, leering truth picked itself out: It had happened at last—Jim was married. By which statement one gathers, and rightfully, that Ella had in some indefinable way been prepared for the news she had just heard.

In truth, Ella had been preparing for it for years. She was thirty-one now, and from her twentieth year she had been working consistently on an elaborate defense system that surrounded her heart.

Patiently she had dug the trench of an apparent and complete absorption in her school work. She had piled around it countless sand bags of mere-friendliness toward Jim, put up an intricate entanglement of the barb wire of her sharp wit, and over it all painted the deceiving screen of her evident joy-in-her-freedom. But down under all this complicated protective system was The-Thing-in-Her-Heart, palpitating, vital, strong, held a prisoner for years by the stern edict of her mind, doing penance for having been unwise enough to go wandering out into No Man's Land of Dreams.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


BESS STREETER ALDRICH

Bess Streeter Aldrich (1881-1954) was born in Cedar Falls, Iowa. She graduated from Iowa State Normal School (now the University of Northern Iowa) and moved to Nebraska where she raised a family and wrote fiction.

Read the rest of her 1919 story "A Long-Distance Call from Jim" here.

This page was first displayed
on June 03, 2006

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