Out Of Area
Read at the Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series, June, 2016.
It was a cold winter evening. Angelika sat in her favorite chair, reading a book, when the telephone rang. She assumed that Tom had the cordless phone with him, down in the family room where he was watching TV, so when the ringing stopped and she heard his voice as he answered the call, she turned her attention back to her book.
"I think it's for you," Tom said as he walked up the stairs toward her.
She closed the book on her finger to save her place and reached for the phone as he handed it to her. "Who is it?" she asked.
"I don't know," he said with a shrug. "It's some woman speaking Polish."
Angelika gave him a puzzled look as she took the phone in her free hand and put it to her ear. "Hello?" she said. She heard some static on the line, like a radio station not tuned in completely. She also heard sounds in the background, as if the phone on the other end was in a room full of people. There was a man laughing in the distance.
"Szukam rodziny Tomasza," the woman on the phone said.
Angelika's parents had emigrated from Poland just before she was born, so she learned Polish before she learned English, but her parents insisted on learning English along with their children and spoke almost nothing but that at home once they became proficient. Her parents passed away many years ago, and it had been at least that long since she used her Polish language skills. The last few times she tried to have a conversation with someone in Polish, she found that she had forgotten much of what she knew.
"Przykro mi, Nie rozumię," Angelika replied, struggling to say that she was sorry and she didn't understand. "Czy mówisz po angielsku?" Do you speak English?
"Nie," the woman said, "waźne jest, źe mogę rozmawiać z rodziną Nosak. Jestem ich ciotka."
Angelika understood some of the words, but she was not sure what the woman was saying. She thought that the woman had said that she was Tom's aunt, but all of her husband's relatives that she had met spoke English, and none with any discernible accent. Angelika was about to reply, when the line suddenly went dead. She pressed the buttons on the phone to see where the woman was calling from, but the caller ID simply said 'Out of Area.'
She thought about it for a minute, and even tried to go back to her book, but something was troubling her. She put the book down and walked down to the family room where Tom had resumed the movie he was watching.
"Who was that, hon?" he asked, pausing the movie as she crossed the room to the bookcase.
"I don't know. She didn't seem to speak English, and I've told you my Polish is very rusty." She rummaged around on the bookshelf, picking up the small, yellow, Polish-to-English dictionary that she had bought years ago at a used book store while they were on vacation. She flipped it open to look up a few words that she was unsure of. "I think she said she was your aunt."
"My aunt? I don't have any Polish-speaking aunts, as far as I know."
"Well, she mentioned your last name, not my maiden name, so I don't think it would have been someone from my side of the family."
"Maybe she's a scammer," Tom said, "you know, like those Nigerians? She could have found my name in the phone book or on-line."
"Maybe," Angelika said, scanning the shelves. "Do you know where that family history book is?"
Tom got out of his chair and walked to the bookcase where she stood. "I think it's down here." He bent down to a lower shelf and slid some books back and forth before pulling out a thick paperback book with Nosak Family on the plain brown cover in a fancy script, above a crude coat-of-arms. This was a project from several members of Tom's extended family in Ohio, who tried to trace their genealogy. Tom and Angelika had never met any of the Ohio Nosaks, but years ago he had replied to a survey they received in the mail, and many months later, this book arrived. They looked at it a few times then, noted some of the inaccuracies for family members they knew had not replied to their own survey request, and then stuck it on the shelf.
Angelika looked at the fold-out family tree in the middle of the book and skimmed some of the surrounding pages. "It doesn't look like much of your family is left in Poland," she said.
"You think that's where she was calling from?"
"She didn't say, but the caller ID said 'Out of Area.'"
"Yeah, I saw that when I answered it." He watched her study the book. "You know, you could always call my dad. He should know if he has any Polish-speaking siblings."
She looked at the clock. "I don't know. It's kind of late. Maybe I'll call them in the morning."
"Okay," he said, and kissed her on the cheek. She put the family history book away and headed back upstairs, as Tom went back to watching the TV.
Angelika tried to read some more, but something was nagging at her. She looked at the clock again, and thought that it wasn't really that late, so picked up the phone and called Tom's parents.
"Hi, this is Sue and Thomas," said the recording. "We're not screening our calls. Honest!" She waited for the beep. "Hi, this is Angie. It's nothing important. I'll talk to you tomorrow." She hung up the phone and went back to her book.
A few minutes later, the phone rang again. Angelika picked it up and saw the caller ID said "Out of Area." She pressed the button. "Hello?"
It was the same woman's voice, and the connection was just as poor.
"To jest ciotka Sophie. Muszę powiedzieć, Thomas, źe istnieje niebezpieczeństwo."
"Wait a minute ... er ... czekać," Angelika said, reaching for the Polish translation book she brought up from the family room. This time, she clearly heard her husband's name, and a few other words seemed familiar. She flipped the pages of the book to see one of the words she thought she recognized, but wanted to make sure.
"Niebezpieczeństwo?" she asked, "Danger?"
"Tak. Tak. Muszę dostać się do nich wiadomość."
A message? To Tom? "Where are you calling from?" Angelika asked. "Um...gdzie jesteś?"
"Wadowice. Miałem sen, źe Tomas i jego źona byli w niebezpieczeństwie."
Did she say she had a dream that we were in danger? "Sen?" Dream?
"Tak, tak. Proszę!" then the line went dead again.
"Was that her again?" Tom called from the family room.
Angelika went down and grabbed the family history book again. "Yeah, it was. This time I think she said she was your Aunt Sophie."
"I don't have an Aunt Sophie," Tom said, pausing the movie again. He walked over as Angelika was flipping the pages back and forth.
She put her finger on a page. "No, you don't, but your father does. Or did." They looked at the page and saw that there was a Sophie Nosak listed as living in Poland. "But it says she was killed when the Germans invaded in 1939."
"I told you. She's trying to scam you."
"But how would a scammer know about Sophie? You didn't even know about her. And she got Sophie's home town right. Look, it says that she was from Wadowice."
"Could be a lucky guess. Isn't that where the Pope was born? Besides, if Sophie's dead, how could she be calling you?"
"Maybe the book's wrong about that, like some other stuff we found. Remember, it doesn't say anything about your brother's three boys."
"That's because he didn't return the survey."
Angelika looked at him. "I think I need to call your folks. I have a bad feeling about this." She picked up the phone that she brought down with her and redialed Tom's parents. Again, she got the recording, "Hi, this is Sue and Thomas..."
"I think we should go over there," she said, hanging up.
"What, now? It's almost ten o'clock. They're probably in bed."
"I don't know. I just really need to see if they're alright. Maybe we should call the police, too."
"Don't you think that's overreacting?"
"Please, Tom. In the CPR class I took at work, they said that if you think you need an ambulance, it's better to call one than to wait. They'd rather they have a false alarm than to be too late. I'd like to think the police are the same way"
"Okay, fine. Let me get my coat. We can call from the car." He shut off the TV and they headed to the garage.
It was a 40 minute ride to Tom's parents' house, and Angelika was on edge the whole way. She called the police and asked them to check on the house. She told the them that they had a feeling that something was wrong, but she didn't mention the phone call. She was certain they were doing the right thing.
They turned onto the street that Tom's folks lived on, and could see there were a number of emergency vehicles in front of the house. They parked as close to the house as they could get, then ran up to it, just as a fireman in full breathing apparatus walked out of the house, carrying a still-smoldering portion of carpet. They quickly found a policeman to fill them in on what happened.
"Your parents are fine, sir," the policeman said to Tom. "It's a good thing you called when you did. When we got here, the lights were all out, but we could see some smoke inside the house, and the smoke detector was going off. We called the fire department and broke in. It seems your parents had gone to bed and left a space heater on, and it somehow ignited a part of the carpet it was sitting on. The fire was small, but the fumes from that burning carpet were toxic and must have overwhelmed them while they slept. I hate to think what would have happened if we hadn't arrived when we did."
Tom and Angelika ran over to the ambulance, and saw Tom's parents sitting inside, each wearing an oxygen mask. His father pulled his mask aside. "Tommy! They say that we have you to thank for this."
"No, it was Angie," Tom said. "She insisted that we call and come over."
"It wasn't me, either," Angelika said. "It was your Aunt Sophie."
"Who?" Tom's father asked.
"Aunt Sophie. She called and said you were in danger."
"I don't have an Aunt Sophie."
"The family history book said that Grampa had a sister named Sophie back in Poland," Tom said.
His father stared at him, then his eyes widened. "That's right, I remember him mentioning a sister. But I thought she died in the War."
Angelika shrugged her shoulders. "Well, either she or someone pretending to be her called tonight to tell us that you were in danger. That's why we're here."
"It doesn't matter," Tom said. "The important thing is that you're safe. We'll make sure that the house is locked up and we'll meet you at the hospital." Tom's dad nodded and put the oxygen mask back on, leaning over to his wife, who sat on the gurney next to him. The EMT climbed in the back of the ambulance with them and closed the door. Soon the ambulance was pulling out of the driveway, lights flashing.
Tom put his arms around Angelika and gave her a squeeze. "Thanks for being so insistant."
She smiled up at him. "Don't thank me. Thank Aunt Sophie, wherever she is."
© Matthew Bieniek, 2016