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.
“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.