“But what if you’re the one who is supposed to bring us together?”

Help me Operator

The boy dials “4-1-1” on the rotary phone in his mother’s kitchen.  That his family has a rotary phone is a sign not of poverty but of nostalgia.  The device is beige, steel-framed with a solid plastic shell.  The numbers on its face are worn dull from constant use.  Over the weekend the boy’s absent father took him skiing at a nearby resort, where he met, on a ski lift, a young girl with an unusual name.  He thought of her as he dialed, thought of the way she had smiled at him, her teeth glaring white, one of her eye teeth slightly twisted in her gums.  He held on to the image of her imperfect smile.  And he held on to the image of the lens of her goggles: in which he saw her pale, almost colorless eyes and on which was reflected his own eyes, almost perfectly aligned with hers behind the plastic.

He hears two rings and then an operator’s voice: “What city and state?”


“I need a city, sir.”  The boy doesn’t know how to understand the operator’s “sir.”  It is the first time in his life he has been addressed as an adult.  Her voice is cool, professional, like a surgeon or automobile mechanic.

“I don’t know the city.  But the name is unusual, so maybe I’ll get lucky.”

“What’s the name?”


“And the first name?”

“That is the first name.”

“And the last name?”

“I don’t know the last name.”

There is a pause, as though the operator took a moment to organize her desk.  “I’m sorry, sir.  But without a last name there is no hope of finding the listing.”

“But she only told me her name.  Her first name.  And she told me to call her.  She told me to call her, but she forgot to give me her number.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but without a city or last name there really isn’t any hope of finding the listing.”

The boy grows desperate.  He has never been in love.

“Have you ever been in love?”

“I don’t understand your question, sir?”

“Have you ever been in love?”

The bluntness of his query startles across the line, tangling straight circuits.  Another pause, more papers to file.  The boy turns his attention to the heaviness of the receiver in his hand.

“Yes.  Yes, I have.”  The voice replies, coolth gauzed in kindness.

“And would you have done anything for that person?”

“Yes.  Anything that was possible.”

“So you will help me?”

“I’m sorry, sir.  But without a last name or city it will not be possible to find the listing.”

“But what if she’s the one that I’m meant to be with?”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“But what if you’re the one who is supposed to bring us together?”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“But what if I spend the rest of my life wondering, what if?”

“I’m sorry, sir.  But I simply have to end this call.”

The boy rests the receiver back in his cradle and rocks a while on the stool he only just became aware of.  His mother enters the kitchen without addressing him, pours herself a drink, then leaves, smoke trailing behind her like a breeze.


Gil Gallagher lives in Eugene, Oregon, where he is pursuing a Master’s degree in Teaching.  He has taught literature and writing to high school students.  His poetry has appeared in A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, and he posts poems regularly on his blog: gilgallagher.blogspot.com.


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