Blip-blip. Blip-blip. Blip-blip. [Official call center phone ringing.]
"911 call center. State the nature of your emergency," requested the operator.
"May I speak with my daddy, please," asked a small child.
"Could you repeat what you said? I am uncertain that I heard you correctly. Is your daddy hurt or in some kind of trouble?"
"Yes, ma'am. No, ma'am. I'm not sure. May I speak to my daddy, Stan Willelp?"
"Honey, don't hang up."
Chonka-chonka-ooh-la-la, shazama-zam, loo- la. [Cell phone ringing.]
"Is this Stan Willelp?"
"Stan, this is Gayle, at the 911 Emergency Response Call Center," Gayle announced.
"Hey, Gayle. I'm off duty right now. I don't know who's on the schedule today, but it's not me," Stan said.
"Stan, someone just placed a 911 call from your residence."
"No. No. No. That's not possible," insisted Stan. "No one is home at my house."
"We received a call from a female child. The computer identified the number as linked to your residence."
"I'm sorry. It can't be a call from my house. No one is home. My wife is right here with me and my children are next door with my mama."
"The young lady who called said she wanted to talk to her daddy. Could that be you?" The operator tried to maintain her composure.
"I'll call you back," said Stan.
Brrring. Brrring. Brrring. [Stan's mama's phone.]
"Yeah. Still am. And, no, y'all can't come for dinner tonight. Other than that, whatcha need?"
"Mama, where's Leighann?"
"I sent her out to feed the chickens. She was bouncing off the walls in here with me. Last time I peeked out the kitchen window, I saw her in the yard playing."
"How long ago? Are you sure she's still out there?"
"Yep. Pretty sure. Why? What are you getting at," asked Mama, pulling back the curtains to get a better view of the back yard, irritated that her own son would doubt her ability to care for her grandchild.
"Someone is at our house calling 911."
Stan's Mama flinched from the sting. "Oh, Lordy. Let me call you back," she sighed, and hoofed it next door as fast as a granny can go.
Ta-ling-a-ling-a-ling. Ta-ling-a-ling-a-ling. Ta-ling-a-ling-a-ling. [Stans' home phone.]
"Hello?" a familiar voice answered.
"Mama?" asked Stan, thinking he had dialed the wrong number. "What are you doing at my house? Are you the one calling 911?"
"NO! But I know who is," and a long, dangerous pause, like a bubble in an I.V. line, traveled from one receiver to the other. Stan listened hard to indistinct shuffling and whispering, attempting to decipher the mystery.
Finally a fragile, shaky, tearful voice said, "Daddy, I've been trying to call you!"
"Leighann," Stan scolded his daughter harshly, "you can only call 911 when there is an emergency."
"I know Daddy," she sniffled, unclear about her father's anger.
"So why did you call 911 asking to talk to me?"
"It's your work number," she plaintively explained.
"My work number? Whatever gave you that idea?!" exclaimed Stan.
"It's written on the side of the ambulance you drive. Just like the exterminator has his number on the side of the truck he drives."
"Um, hm." Stan let his daughter wade in the pool of silence gathering in the low place between them. Then he said, amused, "Have you been calling the exterminator, too?"
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. E-mail Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her Web site, www.IfMama.com).