THIS SIDE UP

A call from the beyond?

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 7/9/20

"John," the voice on the phone queried, "maybe you can help me, my phone doesn't seem to be working." "But Julie," I responded you're talking on your phone and it seems to be working fine." "It's not that. The phone doesn't ring when someone is calling."

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THIS SIDE UP

A call from the beyond?

Posted

“John,” the voice on the phone queried, “maybe you can help me, my phone doesn’t seem to be working.”

“But Julie, “I responded you’re talking on your phone and it seems to be working fine.”

“It’s not that. The phone doesn’t ring when someone is calling.”

Julie is elderly and lost her husband less than a year ago. She lives alone and was obviously distraught that she didn’t know when she was getting a call.

I said I would be over to take a look. I went to back door and Julie showed me into the parlor, where I found the green phone – one generation away from a rotary dial phone – sitting prominently on a side table. It was substantial, weighing at least three pounds. It displayed a touch keypad that was the latest in technology more than 30 years ago. It was wired into a square box painted the same color as the base molding.

I lifted the receiver. The dial tone was loud and clear.

It was old, but nothing appeared to be wrong. I turned it over to reveal a thumb-driven lever designated “loudness.” Julie must have seen my confusion.

“Oh,” she said, “that stopped ringing years ago. When it did Dave bought that,” she said pointing in the direction of the couch. Resting on another side table was a Radio Shack answering system with receiver.

Indeed, this phone was a step up. The answering system showed signs of life but the receiver was lifeless when lifted from the cradle.

I played around with the wire that plugged into a box mounted on the wall. There was nothing.

I asked if there were other phone outlets like the one her husband had installed. Julie thought not.

“It could be the phone, or it could be the wiring,” I told her.

Julie didn’t know what to say.

“Tell you what, I’ll take it home and see if it works.”

Julie looked relieved that at least we were narrowing down the problem.

I brought the phone home and plugged it in. Instantly, I had a dial tone. Obviously, the issue was the wiring.

The news wasn’t of any comfort to Julie.

“Who can fix it; what is it going to cost?”

I didn’t have answers. I couldn’t just leave.

“Were there ever any other phones in the house?”

“Dave used to move the phone into the den sometimes,” she said. Now this was promising. I asked her to show me where and she guided me into the room pointing to a junction box for cable service.

On the couch facing the TV was a highly polished wooden box with Dave’s name carved on the surface.

Julie caught my inquisitive glance.

“Dave’s on his favorite couch,” she said.

I sat on the couch and reached for the cable box. A wire leading to a computer was plugged into it. Julie said now that Dave is gone, the computer wasn’t being used.

I replaced the computer connection with the Radio Shack phone. The dial tone was clearly audible. To be sure it was working, I pulled out my cell phone and called Julie. The phone rang. We both smiled.

“This will work for now,” I told her.

But to be sure, I removed the receiver and was greeted by the dial tone.

It was then that I detected a distant voice.

“Can you hear me, can you hear me now?”

I looked over to Julie. She didn’t seem to hear it, but I asked anyway.

“No,” she said.

“There it is again,” I said.

Could this be a recording from the Radio Shack answering machine?

I quickly ruled that out when the voice asked, “Is that you John?”

Somebody was on the line but the receiver still hummed with the dial tone, yet the voice was coming from that direction. Julie looked confused but she couldn’t be as startled as I was.

Somebody was listening in.

Just as suddenly I realized, the woman wasn’t calling me, I was calling her. I had placed my cell phone back in my pocket without turning it off.

I had butt dialed a friend I had not spoken with in months. So I sat next to Dave and talked with Nancy before heading home.

For the purpose of maintaining Julie’s privacy and that of her husband, those are not their real names.

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