Serendipity - Party Line by Phyllis Anderson

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Party Line
by Phyllis Anderson

Margarine spread thin on toasted bread, he eyed the box. Scottie, his cairn terrier stared at crumbs on a down turned mouth. "No franking mark. No return address. Anonymous donation?"

Polished brogues tapped linoleum. Oak hatch propped against flock wallpaper, division between domesticity and dedication to the instrument. A reverential glance at the Art Deco Pyramid 232, haughty behind glass.

Inspection day.

Cataloguing serial numbers. Arranging telephones by era, design, aesthetics. Saved it 'til last. Fingers unpicked knotted string. Cavern of brown paper. Blue eyes distilled tears. Upturned it. "No serial number." Longed to hold it against his chest. Leapt out of his hands. An echo.

Da da! . . . ring ring.

Da da! . . . ring ring.

Scanned the museum by torchlight. Shifted switch gear. Upturned tables. "No children here in weeks!"

Slender fingers struck typewriter keys. Laid a white card beside it.

Crossley circa 1961

Sunshine yellow (child's toy)

Head of Modern Studies visited, requesting a tour for sixth formers. Completed an article "coin operated A/B models" for local press. Evening walk, skirted Simpson's field a piece of scrubland to the north of the town. "Look Scottie! A new moon."

Bed side clock confirmed it was a quarter to five. Sodden pyjamas. Molasses hair. Nasal grunts from a tartan basket. Lifted the hatch. "Can't go back now." Frozen linoleum. Bulb illumined items which fitted nowhere else. Bakelite shell glowed. Ernest detangled the cord. Something willed him to lift the receiver. Ear hairs twitched. Centre of the dial, a paper insert read

Area Code: 260

Tel. No: 008

"Oh No! Oh No! Noooooooo!"

Coated in acid, receiver clamped to ear. Features distorted in rigor. Pockets of air released in gasps. A muffled sound. Goldfish bowl chatter. Cheering. Husssshhhhh!

Happy birthday to yoooouuuuu.

Happy birthday to yoooouuuuu.

Happy birthday, dear . . .

Shook the receiver. "Stupid." Dead line.

Overslept. Next few days, a haze. Could not take his eyes off the yellow telephone. Ruled out a toy corner. Didn't want the museum over run.

A Nightmare.

Standing in a field. A box. Blue ribbon. Unfurls itself. Lid flies off. "Why, the airholes?" Butterflies in thorax. Monochrome puppy. Smudge nose. Glacial eyes. Unblinking. Frilly collar round its neck. He wakes grasping his throat. Sweat pooled in adam's apple. Gropes in drawer for a fresh set. Longing . . . to stroke the puppy. Dabs a bloody lip. Checks Scottie. Undulating tuft. Pillow sobs into candlewick. Hopes the day will match his mood.

Uneventful. Scans the press for article "Lost age of coin operated telephones". Avoids a double page spread publicising a circus. Busies himself with preparation for a school visit.

Tring Tring.

Tring Tring.

"Oh. It's you. Very well, as you ask. Now . . . Stella! You know what the answer is. How many times. . . I don't care if you reserved the best seats. You know they'll be there. It's a bloody circus! Dropping this receiver . . . NOW!"

"Clow. . . Clow. . . It's no use. Can't even say the word."

Bolted the door. Shuttered light. "A short nap. Just a short nap." Hooded eyes sink into cotton.

Da. . . da. Ring ring.

Da. . . da. Ring ring.

Steel bars on castors. Pacing. Podgy hands work side rail free. Velveteen shorts tunnel starched linen. Knees strike threadbare carpet. Lead soldiers guard a toy box. Dark oak corridor. Fingertips on skirting. A runaway stitch unravelling . . . exposing . . . a secret. Laughter gurgles into life. New sounds smack air. Spanned palms push invisible wall toward mirage of light.

Want my Da da.

Fingers tease door frame. Stumbles across threshold. Belly flop.

Ha ha ha hahaha.

Boudoir mirror on mahogany stand. Tea chests piled high, curtains folded on top. Wall clock. Time jarrs. Minute hand strikes façade. Glass snaps.

"Flap flap flap."

Child waves his arms.

"Flap flap."

. . . birds fall outta the sky, son.

Wide eyes. Finger hooks blood red lips. Stroking reflection.

"Dad. . . da! . . . Dad. . . da?

Harlequin suit. Black and white diamonds. Kipper shoes. No laces. Hanging.

I didn't want to . . . entertain. . .

Sunlight plays brass button. Fools gold, son. Clockwork toy rotates. . . stops. . .

Strokes downy forearms.

"Blanky. Blanky."

Laces. All I had . . . were . . . my . . . laces.

Look up, son.

Ruff round his neck conceals a ligature. Black tear drop eyes fix on path, strewn with buttercups. Curly wig askew. Down turned mouth. Cyanosis seeps pan stick.

I didn't want to be . . . a clown.

"Oh m'god!

Oh m'god!

Oh m'god!"

Shrill voice hurled the child air born. Helter skelter spinning top. Time fragments strike hardwood, inertia at a quarter to three. "No more soft. Again. Again. Again." Bars smash bone. "A man came. Pushed a dart into my arm. Hurty Hurty. Brave little soldiers don't cry. Floated down . . . down . . . into feathers. Then, Mummy went away. . . "

Ernest lay still. Scottie nudged his toes. Gasps morphed into sobs. Minutes into hours. Padded into kitchen.

Tring Tring.

Tring Tring.

Poured water into a kettle.

Tring Tring.

Match to flame.

Tring Tring.


Tring Tring.

"Stella. I told you not to use that line! How many times . . . !"

Bolts across thresh hold. Pulls back. Neon pulse. Tring . . . Teeth depress bottom lip . . . top lip. Trrrr. . .

"I'm sorry, son."

Tears splash bakelite. Hand rakes hairline.

"They fired me. Left me with nothing. Children's parties . . . Pahh!

I just. . . couldn't . . . I just couldn't go on . . . "

"why . . . . . . ? Why . . . a toy telephone? Dad . . . ?"

"I told you to wait in the nursery. I would ring you there. I didn't think.

I just didn't think.

Line cracks.

"No Dad. What I mean is . . . why now?"

Bbbbbbbb. "The pips." Shakes his head. Bbbbbbbb. "Daddy's gone." Receiver placed in its cradle. Turns on heel. Watches rainbow light transform into arrow headed path. Glass dome mist clears. Pyramid 232 wakes. Index finger on rotary dial. Click. The line is open.

"Stella. . . ?

. . . Ernie."

Story Copyright © 2008 by Phyllis Anderson. All rights reserved.
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About the author

Lives with Tommy the tabby cat in Scottish wilderness. (Ten minute drive to twenty four hour supermarket and multiplex.) Climbs hills for fun, the cantankerous ones called Munros. Scottish Mountaineer Magazine (Poet of the Year 2007).

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