THE ALARM went off at 6 a.m. Louella stretched out her arm and hit the snooze button. That's the beauty of not having to dress up for work, she thought. At Giant that red smock makes up for a lot of wasted money on nylons.
Another snooze alert, another slap on the button. The thing would keep bleating every 10 minutes for an hour.
Louella was due at work at 8 a.m. What's happening to me? she marveled. I was always Miss Punctuality, and now look! I slide into work with seconds to spare! She slipped into a deep sleep, counting on the alarm to pull her out of it, but it didn't. She awoke to find there had been a power outage. Her watch read 7:30. She scrambled desperately to get dressed and get out the door for the 15-minute drive to work.
The phone rang as she was zipping her jeans. Louella thought about ignoring it but it might be the boss telling her the schedule had changed, so she picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"This is Maryland Relay calling. Do you know what Maryland Relay is?" The woman's voice was flat like it was reading off a script. It sounded like a sales call.
"No I don't know what it is," said Louella as politely as she could. "And I don't have time to find out!" She hung up. Glancing at her watch, she saw it was 7:40. She decided to put on her make-up as she drove to work.
The phone rang again. Louella muttered an impolite word and answered impatiently. "Yes?" It was the same woman.
"That wasn't very nice of you to hang up," she said. She now sounded like a real person. Louella felt obligated to stay on the line.
"Well, it wasn't nice of you to call me when I'm in a rush to get to work! Look, I have to run, and I can't buy what you're selling!"
"Wait! You don't understand. I'm trying to put through a call to you from someone who is hearing impaired."
"A deaf person? I don't know anyone who's deaf," blurted Louella. 7:42 a.m. Please, lady, get off the phone! "Who's calling me?"
"I don't know. Hold on."
There was the sound of someone typing in the background.
7:43 a.m. Louella paced. "Look, I don't really care who it is. I have to get to work," she said.
The relayer didn't hear her. "It's your Aunt Ella from Frederick."
"But she's not deaf!" Aunt Ella had the address under which all Pryzbylewski cars were registered for cheaper insurance. She couldn't hang up on Aunt Ella.
"Things must have changed," said the relay person.
"What does she want?" asked Louella frantically. 7:47 a.m.
The relay person typed the message to Aunt Ella. There was a pause, then more distant typing noises. Come on, come on! thought Louella. 7:49 a.m.
"She says she's going to be moving to a senior citizens' home in Baltimore next month."
"Tell her that's just great," said Louella bitterly. 7:53 a.m. "And that I'll call her back. Tell her I'm late for work." And I'll probably be fired. More typing noises. Louella prayed for the courage to hang up again, but it didn't come. 7:58 a.m.