THE LINEMAN’S WIFE

THE LINEMAN’S WIFE

 

Grassy Ridge is high above historic Saddleton,

California.

Once a legendary outlaw hideout, “Saddle Town”,

Saddleton is now a tourist destination.

Respectable.

Today’s forecast: more hot, dry, windy conditions.

Linemen look down on Saddleton from Grassy Ridge,

“Beautiful.”

They’re “riding” the transmission towers,

4-wheelin’ along the spine of Grassy Ridge,

Looking for overloads.

I’m Aideen, visiting Barbara at her job, giggling,

“Rigid.”

Barbara, dispatching for Saddleton Electric Company, grins,

“Firm.”

Us two cowgirls snicker saddle fittings,

“Girth.”

My husband Glen, a “Tramp Hand” lineman,

Moves around wherever the electricians’ union finds jobs

[Barbara?]

“Read you, Glen, what’s up?”

Glen, [Hazy. Down the east side. What’s cookin’?]

Barbara sits straight.

“Nothin’. What can you see? Be safe.”

[Flames!]

“Glen, get off that ridge. Go now.”

Glen, [There’s men climbin’ this way.]

“Glen!”

I muzzle my outburst as Barbara shushes.

Glen, [Orange jumpsuits. Convicts. Firebreak maintenance detail. Scrambling!]

“Glen…”

Glen, [I see flames moving!]

Barbara, “I’ll send the helicopter. Where are you?”

Glen, [No time!]

Travis, Glen’s partner on this tower inspection,

Shouts,

Travis, <Those guys’re waving up to us!>

Glen, [Fire’s catchin’ the slower guys!]

[God]

Travis, <Climb! They gotta climb faster! Look!>

Glen, [A dirt bike’s coming up our trail]

<Shit!>

Barbara, “Talk, Travis! What’s happening?”

Travis, <The kid dumped his bike. Not starting!>

Glen, [C’mon, kid!]

I look out, up at the hills,

“Jesus!”

Wings of smoke unfurl behind Grassy Ridge.

Barbara fights not to sound frantic,

“Glen,…”

“Wind will push that fire over you all!”

Glen, [Tell Aideen you’re just bein’ Mother Hen…]

[<…No!!>]

Travis, <Fire ate two guys!>

Glen, [Come on you guys! Don’t look back!]

Travis, <Another one!>

Glen, [Big convict is climbing up fast!],

[Faster!]

Travis, <The slope is rolling into hell!>

Glen, [They’re burning up! Burning up!]

[Look!]

Travis, <The big convict made the ridge!>

Barbara, “Hear me! Get everyone out of there!”

“Now!”

Glen, [Big convict’s runnin’ to us!]

[He’s picked up the kid running to us!]

[He’s not real!]

Travis, <The fire’s jumped the trail ahead!>

<Fuck!>

Glen, [Can’t go back down the trail!]

[Climb! Everyone! The tower! Come on!]

“Glen!”

I’m pulling my hair out, yelling.

Travis, <Those flames gotta be twenty feet high!>

[Climb!!]

Barbara yells in sympathy, “Climb!”

We hear over the radio desperate breaths only.

We hear crackling.

We hear a stranger’s voice calling out.

{Help!}

{Here, take the kid! Can’t climb anymore!}

{I shot my wad. I’m empty!}

{Help!}

We hear a kid scream, “I’m hot!”

Travis, <Grab my hand! I got you, kid!>

<OK!>

Glen, [Big guy! You too!]

[Big guy, we got the kid. Hold on!]

{Can’t. Hold. On.}

Glen, [The helicopter! The helicopter! Hold on!]

[Hey!!]

From the window, I spot the helicopter.

A high burst of fire retardant!

“Yes!!”

Flames vanish from around the tower base.

The blaze moves away down the west slope.

“Glen!”

I see specks up there,

On the tower. The helicopter’s landing near it.

I am fainting.

Barbara is above me, cradling my head.

“Aideen!”

We both start to cry and laugh.

Days later at the memorial,

Bittersweetly,

We pray for those lost up there,

And we pray for those saved down here,

Humbly.

Glen, Travis, the kid Steve,

The convict Michael, everyone together,

Memorialize this:

Barbara’s dispatcher recording.

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