I asked for her phone number. She gave it to me with a warning, saying that she liked chatting with her friends for long periods of time, so getting through to her would be tough. It would be next to impossible.
This was true. After trying repeatedly to call her for three hours straight I finally got tired of it and resorted to send her a telegram, which I knew would be delivered at once by a young man riding a bicycle in a Western Union uniform and a cap, which is sure to get her attention. The telegram said, “Get off the phone. I’m trying to call you.”
Then I dialed again. It rang.
The Bell phone operator came on. I could hear her fumbling about at the switchboard, which I imagined as a high back panel, consisting of rows of front and back keys, front and back lamps, and cords all about, extending every which way, connecting the entire mess into circuits.
At the other end, “Hello,” said Natasha. Her voice sounded intermittent.
“She said, Hello,” said the operator.
“Oh, hi,” said I.
“He said, Hi,” said the operator.
We laughed. I could barely hear what I thought were giggles, as they were breaking off, coming back on. After a while the connection got better, but at the risk of it deteriorating again, we found ourselves talking rather fast.
I asked Natasha if she got my photograph, the one I had sent earlier that month. It showed me amongst others in a group of Marines, all of us dressed in uniforms, looking exactly alike.
She said yes, and was I the Marine second from the left, squatting, and in return I should expect a photograph of hers, which I’d better treat with extreme care, not the way I had treated her first envelope, which meant placing it in a dry, safe place, preferably close to my heart, because this is the earliest picture she had with her papa, so it was dear to her, and she’s giving it to me as a special gift, and on an entirely different note, what would I say if she told me that this summer she plans to take some time off from performances, which would give us an opportunity to meet, and even if her Mama would object to this idea, because she protects her only daughter from dates with men, and with soldiers in particular, because in her opinion they’re good-for-nothing low-lives who sleep who-knows-where with God-knows-who, she, Natasha, would love to see me if—and that’s a big if—I could arrange a visit.
Lenny in The Music of Us (narrated by Don Warrick)
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Volume I & II, woven together: Apart from Love