The Fate of the Telegraph Operator
Cigarettes had no effect on him. They tanned his tongue into hide, left his throat cracked and dry like a shriveled salt flat. And yet the telegraph operator kept smoking.
It was a remote outpost, some thirty miles from civilization on all sides of him, though a settlement of Catholic missionaries had made camp no more than ten minutes from his post, and no more than three minutes from the closest brothel. In this part of the country, the forest still laid claim to the horizon.
The telegraph operator’s post sat in the middle of a semi circular clearing. It was an elevated box, its four support beams sagging ever closer towards the little room’s center. Telegraph lines ran straight through the forest, though to say their paths were clear would mean amount as much as a politician’s word. A great spool of black wire coiled itself around a log post the color of wet rock, into the telegraph operator’s machine.
The room could fit no more than two people claustrophobically, and was best suited to accommodating one person uncomfortably. There was a latch on the floor that the telegraph operator needed to move any time he wanted to leave, as his chair sat directly atop it; his desk faced the large rectangular opening where a window was supposed to be, and from which the frizzy hair of telegraph wire nested itself into his loins.
The desk was far too small for him, as it was built to accommodate a small room, rather than to accommodate a large man. The telegraph operator was not a large man, but he never missed an opportunity complain.
The man slept in the brothel most nights. The half finished cabin the company had constructed for him was abandoned and would likely stay abandoned; one of the laborers had fathered a bastard with one of the Madam’s girls, which wouldn’t have been a problem if he had managed to pay his dues regularly.
The man and his unwilling companion had left in the dead of night one windy August afternoon. The telegraph operator slept in the woman’s bed, when he wasn’t busy using all the other ones.
It was a quiet existence. Bland. Boring. Predictable.
But many men died for such boring dreams. Many more have killed vying for it.
A year into his post, when his eyes had grown haggard and his crotch burned red from overactivity, he got his first message.
There is a man at one of our remote posts. He does not work for the Company. Be aware.
The telegraph operator rubbed the sleep from his eyes, pouring out a finger of breakfast. If only I could read, he thought.