'Boxes' by GJ Hart
Two weeks ago, a man moved into the phone box at the end of my road. He could hardly walk. He slept in a ball beneath the receiver. I asked the special constable when she would be moving the poor soul on. She said *never* and that his name was Jeff. I didn’t mind, not really: it was heartening to see it being used for something other than drug dealing and taking a piss. Jeff looked awful, I doubted he was ever a millionaire or a famous actor - I think he just drifted. I felt terrible seeing him like that, shivering behind the glass and wish I'd told him how he'd inspired me to take a step back and examine aspects of my life I'd ignored for far too long. Incredible to think Jeff was once a child. He probably went on family holidays and spent many, merry Christmases at home. Later, I sat at the kitchen table, flipping through some old photos - me eating cake, me on a space hopper, me behind a drum kit wearing a bandana made from tinsel. I’d forgotten so much. Memories - those subtle fragments of time - they make us human. I needed to know more, so one morning, noticing the phone box empty, I went through Jeff's things. Tucked in a corner, in a greasy carrier bag, I found an engraved pendant, a doctor’s letter, a small felt puffin and a lock of hair bound with straw - nothing really. The next evening, I stopped to give him the change left from the ten bottles of Shiraz Cabernet I’d bought for our dinner party. He told me to fuck off - I think he was drunk: I noticed the empty cider bottle hidden beneath the Ikea box he used as a blanket . I sensed Jeff disliked me, the way he looked at me, like my boss looks at me, like he's paid by the hour to hate me. My boss lives in a gated hamlet in a large house with paired chimneys and a pitched roof. Every Sunday - irrespective of weather - me and the wife visit, (The hamlet, not my boss). We have a pub lunch and coo at the house prices in the estate agent's window. Sometimes clarity is a shocking thing: I realised I envied Jeff - no daily commute, no accountability. Monday morning he had his friends round. They were laughing and drinking next to my bus stop and rather than risk it I walked through the park and when I was late the boss called me in - final warning he said. I wanted to tell Jeff, give him the opportunity to apologise, but the next day, just like that, he was gone. I asked the special constable where but she didn’t know and wasn’t confident. I needed to help, so I went straight home and donated to a homeless charity online. I am Jeff! I proclaimed aloud. After all, we all get left outside eventually.