The Last Payphone by Al McDermid

The city’s last payphone rings as I pass it. I consider walking on but the phone is insistent. I look up and down the darkening street. I see no one so I answer it.

An operator comes on and says, “Long distance for Mr. Smith.” Her voice has a tinny quality, as if coming from out of the past, from before direct dialing.

“John Smith?” I say, confused.

“Yes, sir,” the operator says. “Are you Mr. Smith?”

“Yes,” I say, suddenly unsure if I am or not. “This is John Smith.”

“Please hold. I’ll connect you.”

The line momentarily goes dead, and then another woman comes on. “John?” she says in a voice as sweet as a forgotten dream. I struggle and fail to match a face to her voice.

“Speaking?” I say.

“Don’t bother,” she says. This time I catch a hint of an accent I can’t place.

“Don’t bother?”

“Si, don’t bother?” Si? That explains the accent, but it doesn’t help. I want her to say something else, anything. I want to ask her name but don’t. What if she’s someone I should know?

So instead I simply say, “All right.” With that, she hangs up. “Hello?” I repeat uselessly, clicking the switch hook several times, but she’s gone.

I return every night at the same time, hoping the phone will ring. After a week, I pick up the receiver. The line is as silent as a secret taken to a watery grave.


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Filed under Al McDermid

14 responses to “The Last Payphone by Al McDermid

  1. randalhoule

    Si, Hello? is this thing on?
    This might be too philosophical of me, but it seems we, as human beings, miss the marvelous opportunities only because the situation is misplaced. Your story made me think, and damn you, because now I have to resolve this in meditation. HAHA

    • Al McDermid

      No philosophy here, just me being surreal, though you nailed the ‘missed opportunity’. How many times have we said, ‘if I’d only just talked to her/him’. :)

  2. Missy

    That would scare me!

    Very Twilight Zone-ish and I love Twilight Zone.

    • Al McDermid

      Probably would me too, though I’ve read a number of stories later where inexplicable things happen always to be taken in stride. Maybe it’s fun cooking up inexplicable things. Thanks for reading.

  3. Great story, so much implicated beyond the text. Also that last line is killer, as are many others in this fine writing!

    • Al McDermid

      Thanks, Robert. I appreciate it. Actually trying to avoid making weirdness my stock in trade, but I might not win that one. These are too much fun.

  4. The watery grave and forgotten dream references made me think someone from his past, maybe someone he blocked out. I agree that it’s *very* Twilight-Zone-ish! Great job.

    • Al McDermid

      I originally wrote this as a poem with no idea of where the call came from, hinted at the past here without much thought, but yeah, that works well. Like answering the question, if you could get a call from the past, who would you want it to be.

  5. Surreal stuff. Plus what everyone else said. Great stuff, Al. Peace…

  6. Pingback: Week #38 – Long distance | 52|250 A Year of Flash

  7. Really, really like this, Al. It has the wonderful mix of mystery and reality that is the most terrifying of all.

    • Al McDermid

      Thanks, Susan. Hadn’t really though it particularly terrifying, but the comments got me thinking, yeah, it probably would be.

  8. Pingback: The Last Payphone | Tokyo Exile

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