Read Donna Hemans’ essay on Ploughshares!

The operator-assisted collect call comes on a July morning in 1987. It’s still early, before 9 a.m., and except for the telephone ringing, the house is quiet, my younger sister and I the only ones at home. My father is on his way to work, or already there, and my older sister and mother are in Brooklyn, having left the previous day to get my sister settled in the city where she’ll complete her studies now that she has finished high school in Jamaica. It’s the first time all three of us girls haven’t traveled with my mother together, and what is already an unsettled time with the dynamics of our family shifting becomes even more so within minutes. On the other end of the line, a cousin speaks above the operator’s voice, trying to relay her message before the operator secures permission for the charges.

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