Warning: this story contains unplanned, unmediated human contact

As I mentioned the other day, the only reason we maintain a landline is so the kids can call 911 when the weak blood vessel in my brain finally ruptures while I’m screaming at them.

Otherwise, I rely entirely on cellular telecommunication, and really no one has my number if I haven’t given it to them, and since I’m under fifty most of my friends would never be so rude as to call me without opening negotiations first via text message. As a result, I’m totally out of the habit of getting unexpected, non-commercial phone calls.

Tonight I was cleaning up in the kitchen while the children did their homework at the kitchen table, by which I mean they were sulking and complaining about and resisting doing their homework, when the phone rang.

The landline phone.

I let three rings go by while I continued scrubbing avocado smears off of a bamboo cutting board. I was just starting to consider glancing at the caller ID when Coen picked it up and said “hello” in a goofy, jokey tone. This displeased me, a little, but since I figured there more than even odds he was talking to a robot I didn’t jump all over him, just held my hand out for the phone.

“Hello,” I said, and was startled when an older man’s voice simply answered “hello” after a moment’s dead air.

“Is this Sutton Stokes?” he asked, then gave my address.

The other day I saw the suggestion that, when telephone solicitors ask you something like this, you should tell them that they have the wrong number, the thinking being that they’ll then delete your record on the grounds that it contains inaccurate information.

I was drawing breath to give this a try but something changed my mind.

“Who’s this?” I asked, impatiently, instead.

The pause was long enough to make me think it really was a telephone solicitor, and I was getting ready to end the call.

“Well, I’m a neighbor of yours,” he started, giving a name I didn’t recognize and explaining his house had the same number as mine, on the street one block over.

“It looks like I got a package that’s addressed to you,” he said. “They must have gotten the streets confused.”

That wasn’t surprising. I’d been standing near the door earlier when I heard the perfunctory knock of the UPS man and surprised him by opening right up as he shoved the last of three boxes onto our porch. Harried is the word I’d use to describe him. I pity these guys around the holidays.

I apologized for my curt tone, explained I’d been expecting a telephone solicitor, and said I’d be right over.

I would have been, except Maya insisted on joining me, so I had to wait a half hour while she put on her coat and boots and hat and mittens and then took off those mittens and put other ones on.

It took us another half hour to get to the end of our block, where she made a quick Family Circus-style detour through someone’s darkened front yard and then started whining that she had snow in her boots. I helped her with the snow, then picked her up and put her on my shoulders so I could pick up the pace, snow and black ice be damned. Sometimes, even death is more appealing than walking at a five-year-old’s pace.

And then finally there we were, on the front porch of a charming, well-kept home: Christmas lights circling the windows, an American flag on a pole extending from the porch roof.

A smiling man answered my knock and we exchanged pleasantries. Then he stooped, picked up a good-sized box with a crushed corner, and handed it over, saying, “I hope it’s all right, looks like it got a little dinged up.”

“Oh, probably it’ll be all right,” I said, balancing it on one arm. “Thanks!”

I took Maya’s hand, and we started down the steps.

I realized I was forgetting something obvious.

“Merry Christmas!” I said, over my shoulder.

“Merry Christmas!” he replied, and Maya and I walked home through the dark evening, all dressed up like Inuits.

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