'The Phone Box' by Alison Wassell
Dad would have preferred to walk a dog, but Mum was allergic. I was a poor substitute, but did my best to be a faithful companion, lolloping beside him as he took his nightly stroll. Evening after evening we trudged through the drizzle. Occasionally he squeezed my hand, as though acknowledging me as his accomplice. He confided in me, told me all his troubles. It wasn’t that he didn’t love her, but sometimes two people outgrow each other. A man had to do what a man had to do. He said it like a joke, but I could tell he believed it. He dropped my hand and raised his palms in a hopeless shrug, a self-mocking grin on his face. He bought me sweets. I sucked and chewed and he patted my head. ‘Not a care in the world,’ he muttered, which showed how little he knew me. Cheating took a lot more effort in the seventies. No mobiles, no emails, no social media; if you had a forbidden love you were at the mercy of the red telephone box. All our walks led to the same one, too far from the house to be frequented by the neighbours. He’d no doubt have tied my lead to a post outside if there had been one. As it was he left me with my face pressed up to the glass of the little kiosk as he made his call. Sometimes he winked at me as the coins clattered. Students with pockets full of change, waiting to phone home, and locals needing to summon help for their emergencies glared at us and checked their watches. On he talked, until the last of his coins had been swallowed. Then he strode into the night, leaving me trotting in his wake, yapping at his heels to remind him of my existence. That last time, the clouds burst as I waited. Drenched in seconds, I wrenched open the door. Tearing the bobble from my ponytail I shook my head, showering him with drops of rain. The gaze he bestowed on me was of pure dislike. I left the bobble on top of the directories, strands of my ginger hair entangled in it. When asked where it had gone I shrugged in the manner I had learned from him. He reprimanded me; complained that I had no respect for what I was given. I sank my teeth into his hand. Yelping more with shock than pain he shook me off. I led Mum, next day, to the lost bobble. What she must have known was confirmed without a word being said. Although she ran her fingers affectionately through my red mop, I understood that she would blame me, afterwards, for ending things between them. Dad made his home, for a while, with his new woman and a red setter. It failed to last, but he never came home. I wondered, sometimes, whether the woman or the dog had disappointed him most.