This is your telephone—not a stylish retro, but a relic rotary, a “space saver.”

In the center of the dial is an old area code: 219.  Today, if you dial 219, you will reach someone in northwest Indiana, someone who lives in Gary, Hobart, Whiting, Crown Point, or Hammond.  For a long time, 219 was the area code for your hometown, which is due east of Gary, Hobart, Whiting, Crown Point, Hammond—on the other side of Indiana.  Now your area code is 260, though sometimes your fingers still retain a 2-1-9 memory.

Beneath the dial is a chunky, black, hard-bodied trunk, with a faded yellow label that contains four telephone numbers: one for Time and Temp, one for the Market Line, one for Emergency, and one for something called the Fun Line.  For kicks, you dial the Fun Line, but end up getting a busy tone.  Evidently, there are many people looking for Fun.

The great thing about your phone is that it’s a conversation piece. Like the time not long ago when a repairman who had come to the house noticed your antique rotary on the wall.  He was waiting for you to write him a check.  “Wow, cool phone,” he said.  “Does that thing even work?”

“Yes,” you said, “it works. Try it.”

He might have hefted the receiver had his cell phone not begun to sound off, some blaring, bump-and-jive ringtone.  He excused himself, went outside to take the call. You may not leave; you may not wander around; you must stand in one place. Your rotary phone with its coiled black cord tethers you there.

Like the time when your mother began to die on the grass between the curb and the sidewalk.  (In England, that area is known as the “grass verge.”)  The two of you had just come home from the cemetery.  Somewhere between the cemetery and home, your mother couldn’t catch her breath.  She gasped for air.  It was a beautiful spring day, the air crisp.  Your mother collapsed in the grass verge, and you ran into the house, straight to that wall-bound rotary (cell phones were still a thing of the future), and you yanked the receiver off and didn’t even have to look at the Emergency number—911, 911, 911—and of course you dialed 1-1-9.  Because you were flustered and afraid?  Because you were certain your mother was going to die right there in the grass verge, in the shade of the old maple tree?  You didn’t need to look at the number on the label, because you knew the number, everyone knows the number.

You dialed 1-1-9.

There isn’t an operational 119 prefix in the telephone world that you know of.  Not even a 119 area code in the United States.

There is a 119 country code, for New Zealand.

New Zealand is more than 8,000 miles from Indiana, about as far from you as that day your mother began to die on the grass verge.

You are numerically dyslexic.  In college, when your German professor told the class to turn to Seite funf und vierzig (page five and forty, or forty-five), you turned to page fifty-four and sat there confused.

Your mother did not die that day, the day you dialed 119 instead of 911.  Nor did she die the next day, or the next.  It was a week later, in the hospital, and afterwards, after she drew her last breath, they closed the curtain around her bed and escorted you across the hall into an empty room so they could “take care of some things.”  Alone, you sat in the dark, fingers twisted, wondering what things you yourself would now need to take care of.

Later, you went home to that empty house and sat at the desk, staring at your rotary phone, at the coiled cord, twisted and dangling.  Your area code then was 219.  Your seven-digit telephone number was the same number it is today—a simple sequence, all-even digits, some 2s, a 4, a 6, some 8s.

Debra S. Levy lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with her husband, dog and three cats.  She has published fiction and nonfiction in various literary journals, and is working on a collection of essays.