The night was dry, warm dark increments sat amid spots of tungsten luminescence and a day’s stale smog left a little taste in the air. The lone phone box had a window defaced with some arching illegible tag, scratched in with a knife or a pen - the BT man looked up disapprovingly. Devon shut the door and placed me on top of the box, his hands delving into the pockets of his parker for the right change. I steamed; my coffee was of the instant kind, the kind you drank as a necessity rather than as a pleasure thing.
“Hey” “Look” “I’m Sorry”
Then Devon was silent, his eyes scanned his toes, his right ear was glued to the receiver. I continued to steam, my white polystyrene seemingly glowed, looking almost angelic in the booth’s even light. I proudly shone in front of the phone box women; Dirty Lisa’s predatory eyes almost pierced me with their intensity as she inserted her finger between a pair of vibrantly rouged lips.
“I really didn’t mean it, I...”
There was a sort of eruption of static from the receiver; Devon’s head seemed to nod...no rock rather - a ‘nod’ sounds like an affirmation - Devon looked like he was reeling from a blow in the most listless way possible, like a comatose man being punched in the head, taking without resistance, without energy. He glanced up at me from below the peak of his tan flat cap and I saw a pair of eyes that looked very empty; like a light was out. He took me firmly, and sipped. I tried to catch a word spilling from the speaker...and there was something, but it was veiled by such a mixture of what was in equal parts both tears and static that it was rendered utterly beyond my comprehension. I caught a glimpse of his watch (23:25) before he reshelved me.
The night was so quiet you could almost hear a tear roll. The low hum of the city was the only sound that permeated and even that seemed subdued tonight.
A fox paused opposite us, frozen in motion, its eyes reflecting the streetlights like a pair of cautious fireflies. We weren’t a threat; all that was in the box was sad and broken, the fox stalked off into the night. My steaming was beginning to subside and I could sense my girls losing interest. I focused on insulating as best I could, tighten my fibres – if only I had a lid...
Devon’s slouch became more and more pronounced as he leaned against the scratched panel, it was as If he were trying to compress himself – does sadness make you shrink? I couldn’t think, I didn’t know, maybe he was trying to keep the heat in? – It was getting cold.
(00:30) and I was only half drained; now I was trying to keep the heat in, for Devon’s sake. “Look, I’m really sorry that it happened and I can promise you that it won’t...” (white chipmunk static) “...If you let me”.
A pair of limp fingers picked me up and dry lips drank me down a sip, by now my acrid contents was about as warm as dishwater; I wanted to say something like “sorry” but I couldn’t.
He placed me back on the box and left at (00:55).
This was the only night in London where I didn’t see a single car drive past.
The dawn had a different character: the metropolitan hum rose with the sun’s glow, it harmonised with the escalating traffic burr and street vendor chatter, all building to a rush hour crescendo. Many strutted past: women with straightened blackened hair in long flowing coats, business men with prematurely balding crowns and skinny kids with 20’s haircuts, denim shorts and Hawaiian shirts done up to their chins. It was a kaleidoscope of commotion and I watched, unnoticed in my box sitting stately off the road side, deep set in the pavement like some fossil from another age.
Time flies when you’ve got nothing to do. Actually no...I lie...time flies around you; each Perspex panel was like a television screen to a different reality TV channel, all moving too fast, and I knew I’d never find my place on the tape but at least if I could pause I’d be able to find some kind of perspective.
But I couldn’t. The sun danced on.
It must have been school closing; droves of grey blazered kids arrived, kicking footballs, kicking tins and being louder than anything. A black kid with a head of neatly picked hair dropped an empty chicken box at the base of my booth, laughing at some in joke with his friends that I didn’t care to understand. The smell emanating from the greasy box seeped into my sanctum – Mika (will lick you in every hole)’s hand was poised disgustedly over the lower half of her face. Dirty Lisa didn’t seemed to mind; licking her finger as if to say “delectable” or some word of similar meaning.
I cared for the smell even less than the joke. The day dragged on into evening and continued to drag beyond that.
The sun downed and by (21:00) the evening rush ran to a halt too. Sometime not long after that the fox reappeared. It circled the booth and probed the box with its olive black nose, fireflied eyes glinting with suspicion – easy meals didn’t come for free. Growing more and more confident that it was alone it circled closer and closer, eventually moving in for the killed; It’s sinewy neck and bony shoulders shook as it eat, chewing aggressively till the greasy bones were nothing more than stains on the pavement.
The night was quiet. Cars came and went but no one ventured near. The remainder of my contents had evaporated to a sliver and a slight discoloration up my sides. I felt a bit useless; a solitary pawn in a chess game that had been long concluded. A girl in a short sequined skirt burst in at...I don’t know when. She had on the kind of makeup that only looked good on a club night in the club’s light, and now her night was definitely over and she was staggering around inside a phone box. She fumbled in her alco-perfumed purse and produced a mirror. Arm outstretched with mirror clutched - both swinging as if she were on an ocean liner – she tried to adjust. After a few slappy pats and one awkward stroke of her hair she’d achieved nothing, put the mirror away, hitched up her dress and with that precarious, stilted high heeled stutter made her way off into the night.
I saw no one else till daybreak.
When it broke I was busy; lost in thought. What was it that had made phone boxes such barren, forgotten places? iPhones? Wifi? - probably. The ease of 21st century communication meant that the payphone was outdated, with their antiquated boxes just left standing for the nostalgia, left standing for the dirt, the dust and the rust to accumulate. I felt sorry for my ladies, phone numbers and private parts laid bare, legs spread wide like fisherman’s nets – just trying reel in the most attention – landlocked – So many fish out in the sea but just no fish there. They were lonely and alone and I was beginning to understand just how they felt.
It was lunchtime when we had our first caller.
A stout older woman, rain hat propped on a curly bob of grey hair, a patchwork dress and about 13 shopping bags of unassorted crap in her hands. She spat words to herself and giggled inanely. Dialling in a number (that consisted mainly of sixes) she put the receiver to her ear and launched into conversation.
“Hello aunty Darlene...Darlene, let me tell you...Fred Griffith’s said to me the other day...He got cold Corn Cob...Freddy Griffths Got Cold Corn Cob....I Just...I honestly don’t know some times I...”
She talked for about an hour.
‘Fuck-Me Madeleine’ had an eyebrow raised echoing my sentiments, she also had her right hand determinedly probing at her crotch, her meticulously manicured fingers sinking just under the waistband of her thong.
It was nice when evening’s quiet came about again.
The fox prowled by, later this time. It poised motionless, its nose scanning for chicken bits before it left, disappearing into an undercar shadow.
There was a breeze and the young oak rustled its leaves above us, making a sound much like the bag lady’s load but without the antagonism. The hushed rustling possessed that soothing quality that only something of nature could possess. Street lights danced in the leafy mirage, the empty roads looked like a peaceful apocalypse; no life bar the very occasional passing car and that night I revelled in it.
Dawn the next day was overcast; a spring mist defiantly clung to the cityscape and (about) seven (am) London looked like a daydream. Pret got packed (as it did every morning) and the roads snarled up (as they did every morning) and as the slate grey suits and the sharp black executives and the desperate to impress interns and the “metro get your metro” ’s and the man with the dog and the big issue (smiling but with the lines on his face carved into a sad statement) and the black people and the white people and the homophobes and the bi people and the god fearing people and the people who were utterly convinced they were god
(‘s equal or otherwise) emerged onto the street (as they did every morning) and I sighed.
I’d only been in the cycle for a few days and the excitement had already begun to wear.
The clouds burbled up above. In spring, on misty mornings like this the weather can develop in two possible ways: either the sun burns off the vapour and unveils something almost resembling a summer’s day, or the vapour extends itself into the heavens and a tumultuous outbreak of rain occurs - and what occurred today was the latter. Roaring thunder shook the cumulus and heavy fistuoles of rain began drumming on the tarmac and pummelling the roof of my box. Londoners ran for shelter, umbrellas blossomed like watertight orchids. A pinstripe suited man flung himself into my box and proceeded to check his hair. He slung out his iPhone and raised it to his ear.
“I’m gonna be late” “sorry, shit weather and my brollys back at Sandra’s” – why would you come into a phonebox and talk on your mobile telephone? – there was an obvious answer...and the monsoon outside would probably yield a few clues (Jemima’s eyes shimmered with excitement – she liked watersports) – but still, I was a vessel of principals and this barging into my box to talk into another mouthpiece rang a clear insult to injury – a kind of infidelity was occurring but it was one that was difficult to articulate, one that I couldn’t put into words for reasons beyond that of me just not having a mouth with which to say them. I squared up best I could, tottering on the dusty ledge; the plan was to swan dive and spill the remnants of my residue all over his dry cleaned, striped and padded shoulder just at the right moment when the fucker leaned back - He was casually swanning around down there with that kind of arrogance that only money can buy...and I hated it. I felt empowered by the gaze of my girls, all imploring me – silently – to come on, step up and mete out some moral exactitude for them, for me, for us and I felt this as I steeled myself for the breeze that would instigate my heroic leap....
but none came.
The suit had hung up and produced a comb which he ran through his (what was probably more brill cream than) hair. He checked the weather; gauging it was safe before tentatively edging his way onto the pavement. It had stopped raining. The man looked like a parody of an MI6 agent as he stealthily dodged his way around falling swollen droplets and sidestepped puddles – all glowing gold in the intensity of the post shower shine.
The city reanimated itself and the air was filled with that wet tarmac smell. I felt sticky in the cloying air; the rising vapour and the fumes seemed to stick to me. The last of my coffee evaporated along with the rain. A geezer and his Terrier stopped by. The panting beast seemed to grin as it raised a hind leg and pissed against the glass. I was growing more and more weary with every hour. Clouds of carbon and a near collision resulting in a nonsensical fist fight signed off for the day and again
all was quiet.
Dirty Lisa’s unfaltering gaze was still resting on me. I felt pathetic, old, dirty and useless, I felt like a crust of stale bread or some 50’s motor car – once glorious and now too uneconomical to even scrap. Lisa’s hair was this brilliant flaxen and the points where her paper had begun to lift actually managed to accentuate her curves. Maybe in another life, another time we could’ve been - it would’ve been marvellous - but sadly, in this dirty scratched up phone box that was coated in about a half inch thick layer of dust, with its strip light full of dead flies and the faint smell of dog piss slowly rising – it wasn’t to be and it wasn’t.
It was a phone box full of forgotten remnants of what was long beyond useful, and with them I found myself growing musty, old and hackneyed.
If a coffee cup could cry... (but I won’t go into that now).
The door swung back into the night’s quiet breeze and a man with a flat cap, a parker and a smile on his face propped himself against the glass, and began fishing round for the right change in the pockets of his parker. His fingers seemed sprung as he hit in the digits and unhooked the receiver. Devon’s head very gently swayed as if he were listening to invisible music...drum and bass or some music of a similar sounding.
“Hey” “Yeah” “Yes”
The fox waited by the parked car over the road, attentive, sat down like a pupil in a school. It studied us from a distance, eyes like jewels, distant crystals of amber, each with a firefly suspended somewhere inside. The night felt suspended; the air was still and the oak leaves didn’t dance tonight even if Devon did.
“Yeah...listen...thank you...really...thank you so so much”
and he hung up. He flipped back the door and was about to leave when he paused – something had caught his eye.
I had caught his eye.
With a half crooked smile he snatched me up off the box and strode with me outside. The air felt vivid as I swung with his stride. Without even pausing he flicked me loose and I descended into the dark oily canvas of a bin bag. Last glance of his watch placed me at (21:05) before I landed softly, and nestled with my kind.
And finally, it was all still. And I breathed a sigh of relief, even if, on the air was the unmistakable aroma of chicken bits.