Written for the Writer's Cramp Daily Challenge 8/14/19.
|The Last Telephone Box
“Okay, kids, come on and gather around.” The man was, Kevin guessed, anywhere between fifty-five and sixty five years old, give or take five years either way. At nineteen, anyone over their mid forties just looked...old.
“Hold it a minute. There’s someone using it,” the man spoke again. “We’ll show a bit of consideration and respect their privacy.”
Kevin and his fellow students waited. They had spent hours on the bus, a trip arranged for the sole purpose of seeing what was the last telephone box in England.
Strangely, it was both more and less than he expected. It was substantial, all it’s panes of glass were in place. Whatever the frame was made of looked to be much stronger and sturdier than the things that were churned out these days. But it looked kind of shabby. It was clear that a lot of care and attention was paid to it, and yet it still showed its age.
The door of the box opened and a man in a suit walked past them before he paused and crossed the road.
“I wonder how come he didn’t use his mobile?” One of the students voiced a question so many of them had in mind.
“Could be he’d run out of credit,” the man that was acting as a guide said. “Or it could be that he wanted a bit of privacy. That’s something you don’t get very often these days.”
“You can always adjust your settings,” Kevin said.
“Ah, but you can’t stop passers-by from hearing, can you. Not on a mobile phone.” Opening the heavy door, he held it. “Who’s going to be the first to try it?”
Kevin found himself pushed forward so he shrugged, walked forward.
“Go on in.” The man added in a reassuring voice, “It’s not going to bite you.”
Kevin stepped into the telephone box and the man let the door shut with a firm thunk. The noise from outside diminished. The smell was what Kevin noticed first – an unpleasant mixture of cigarette smoke, urine, vomit and disinfectant. He placed his hand on what he remembered to be the door, tempted to push it back open and step back outside to the comparative freshness of the fume-filled streets. Before he’d opened it even a crack there was a loud ringing sound.
Kevin could see the man outside, a mobile phone in his hand. The telephone was a strange contraption of plastic and metal. There was a circular dial on the front of it, with finger holes for each number going from zero to nine. There were coin-sized slots, and a molded plastic piece on the top of it. It was towards that that Kevin reached with his hand.
The man nodded encouragingly, gesturing that he should pick it up. There were rounded bits at each end. He placed one of them against his ear, then realize he had in fact got it upside down. Swapping the way round that he held it, Kevin was surprised by the clarity of the man’s voice.
“Speak into the mouthpiece,” the man urged.
Kevin used his raised voice, the one he kept for his mobile phone. The man spoke again. “No need to raise your voice. I could easily hear...a whisper.” The voice had faded in its volume but not it’s clarity.
“Hey, this is amazing,” Kevin said, clearly impressed.
While he was inside Kevin looked at the inside. The base looked like it was made of concrete. The wall behind the telephone was solid but the other three were made up of lots of small glass panels. On the solid wall there were lots of scrawled messages, combinations of numbers, various phrases that he’d never dream of saying himself. At least not in public.
The other students were beginning to pair up. The guide pulled open the door and Kevin stepped back out, suddenly hit by an increase in sounds that he should of expected but didn’t.
As the paired groups began to take it in turns, one using their mobile, the other on the telephone inside the box, Kevin walked over to the man.
“I don’t get it. The sound was amazing. Why is this the last one.”
“Money, mostly,” the guide said. “Vandals would wreck the things almost daily. Someone would have to come out, mend or replace the thing, and once more people got these mobile phones less and less of them used the telephone boxes. They were no longer viable.”
“How many were there?” Kevin was genuinely interested now.
“Well, there used to be one on almost every corner. Here in London, you’d never have to walk more than five minutes to find one. In the towns there’d be plenty too, and even villages would have at least one.”
“So where did they all go?”
The guide gave a nostalgic half-smile. “Mostly they’ve been wrecked, dumped in the telephone grave-yard. Some, the best, have been sold off to collectors all over the world.”
“I’d kind of like one,” said Kevin.
“You’d not be able to afford one, I’d imagine. Just think of the weight. You’d be talking of a small fortune just to transport the thing. And collectors, well, they’ll not give them away.”
All the students had tried out the telephone in it’s own ‘box’, some more impressed than others.
With a last lingering glance, the guide said, “Come on, let’s go inside and see what other wonders we can find.” And they all grouped up and went inside the National Science Museum.