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THE TELEGRAPH RELAY STATION /Norman havers THREE DAYS BEYOND the fort on the stage, following the line of telegraph poles like a spider slowly clambering its web. The dry grass prairie is sere and burned looking, like brown skin with a worn ghost of hair on it, the buffalo far to the south at this time of year—Thanksgiven day—but packs of white wolves standing and looking at us curiously. What can they find to eat? All morning long we look forward to seeing the telegraph relay station, mainly because there is utterly nothing else to see. That is the place where I will depart from my two fellow passengers and wait for the stage that comes through from the north, and will take me south to my destination. There 't is! Curly hollers back down to us, and we bump each other to be first to crane our heads out the window, squinting our eyes into the dust and bits of broke-off dry grass. It's a low cabin of adobe, the same color of the bare dirt, but with a steep peaked roof to shrug off the winter snows, no trees or bushes about it. When we get closer, we see extra poles at the front, where the telegraph wire we are following goes into the building, then comes back out on the other side and rejoins the line of poles continuing straight ahead. But it is a crossroads, and the wire from the line of poles coming down from the north also enters the building, then reemerges and continues south, following the southern road. Well before we reach it, a man has emerged from the front door, a fur cap with ear flaps, buttoning his coat as he runs and stumbles towards us. He reaches us, shouting happily up at Curly, then walks alongside, directly in our dust, escorting us to the station. He is looking in the window at us, face gawped in grin, waving to us repeatedly, so that we must answer his wave half a dozen times. I see that tears are streaming his joyful face. We crawl out, patting the trip dust off our coats, out of our beards, beating our hats against our legs, unkinking our stiff backs, stamping our frozen feet on the hard ground. He ushers us in to the welcome of a hot stove, takes our coats from us, thrusts steaming tin cups of coffee at us, burning our hands and our lips The Missouri Review · 9 on the metal, the whole room filled with the savory smell of fresh buffalo steaks cooking. Thanksgiven, he says. He sits us at the rough table, neatly set, and while we eat he stands and watches us, thrilled, like a child looking at his new Christmas presents, though the only gift we have for him is our brief human presence, before we carry on in our different directions. I bid Curly, and my two fellow passengers—friends now, after two weeks of travel—adieu. And the coach, which seemed to roll so slowly when we were in it, is out of sight and hearing within minutes, and there is no sound but the steady wind whistling in the overhead wires. I turn to my host—I will be staying overnight, my connecting coach arriving the next day noon—and he is not looking down the now empty road. He is frankly staring at me, a smile hovering about his mouth, with something of the expectancy of a new groom regarding his fresh bride. I feel a little stirring of alarm, though I am certain the man is quite harmless. Will you have more to eat? he asks eagerly. I couldn't force in another bite, thank you very much. My pleasure, my pleasure. No need to thank me. More coffee, then? Yes, that would be lovely, I say (I am already sloshing). We sit across from each other at the table. With his bulky cap and coat off, my host is a small slight mostly bald man. He watches me for any least chance to serve me, leaps to the stove to set a straw ablaze to light my cigar...


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