The Week It Happened
On the day the world received its first phone call from heaven, Tess Rafferty was unwrapping a box of tea bags.
She ignored the ring and dug her nails into the plastic.
She clawed her forefinger through the bumpy part on the side.
Finally, she made a rip, then peeled off the wrapping and scrunched it in her palm. She knew the phone would go to answering machine if she didn’t grab it before one more—
“Ach, this thing,” she mumbled. She heard the machine click on her kitchen counter as it played her outgoing message.
“Hi, it’s Tess. Leave your name and number. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, thanks.”
A small beep sounded. Tess heard static. And then.
“It’s Mom. . . . I need to tell you something.”
Tess stopped breathing. The receiver fell from her fingers.
Her mother died four years ago.
The second call was barely audible over a boisterous police station argument. A clerk had hit the lottery for $28,000 and three officers were debating what they’d do with such luck.
“You pay your bills.”
“That’s what you don’t do.”
“Pay your bills.”
Jack Sellers, the police chief, backed up toward his small office.
“If you pay your bills, you just rack up new bills,” he said. The men continued arguing as he reached for the phone.
“Coldwater Police, Sellers speaking.”
Static. Then a young man’s voice.
“Dad? . . . It’s Robbie.”
Suddenly Jack couldn’t hear the other men.
“Who the hell is this?”
“I’m happy, Dad. Don’t worry about me, OK?”
Jack felt his stomach tighten. He thought about the last time he’d seen his son, clean shaven with a soldier’s tight haircut, disappearing through airport security en route to his third tour of duty.
His last tour of duty.
“It can’t be you,” Jack whispered.
Pastor Warren wiped saliva from his chin. He’d been napping on his couch at the Harvest of Hope Baptist Church.
He struggled to his feet. The church had installed a bell outside his office, because at eighty-two, his hearing had grown weak.
“Pastor, it’s Katherine Yellin. Hurry, please!”
He hobbled to the door and opened it.
But she was already past him, her coat half buttoned, her reddish hair frazzled, as if she’d dashed out of the house. She sat on the couch, rose nervously, then sat again.
“Please know I’m not crazy.”
“Diane called me.”
“Who called you?”
Warren’s head began to hurt.
“Your deceased sister called you?”
“This morning. I picked up the phone . . .”
She gripped her handbag and began to cry. Warren wondered if he should call someone for help.
“She told me not to worry,” Katherine rasped. “She said she was at peace.”
“This was a dream, then?”
“No! No! It wasn’t a dream! I spoke to my sister!”
Tears fell off the woman’s cheeks, dropping faster than she could wipe them away.
“We’ve talked about this, dear—”
“I know, but—”
“You miss her—”
“And you’re upset.”
“No, Pastor! She told me she’s in heaven. . . . Don’t you see?”
She smiled, a beatific smile, a smile Warren had never seen on her face before.
“I’m not scared of anything anymore,” she said.
A security bell sounded, and a heavy prison gate slid across a track. A tall, broad-shouldered man named Sullivan Harding walked slowly, a step at a time, head down. His heart was racing—not at the excitement of his liberation, but at the fear that someone might yank him back.
Forward. Forward. He kept his gaze on the tips of his shoes. Only when he heard approaching noise on the gravel—light footsteps, coming fast—did he look up.
He felt two small arms wrap around his legs, felt his hands sink into a mop of the boy’s curly hair. He saw his parents—mother in a navy windbreaker, father in a light brown suit—their faces collapsing as they fell into a group embrace. It was chilly and gray and the street was slick with rain. Only his wife was missing from the moment, but her absence was like a character in it.
Sullivan wanted to say something profound, but all that emerged from his lips was a whisper:
Moments later, their car disappeared down the road.
It was the day the world received its first phone call from heaven.
What happened next depends on how much you believe.