THE BOX – SHORT STORY

14 Feb

 

 

You used to see them everywhere, the post-office red of cast iron sentinels celebrating everything that was British about Britain. Embossed with monarch’s cipher, one could trace the date of the telephone booth by the type of crown steel-stamped into its lintel; king’s crown, queen’s crown, a history lesson in metal, recalling the halcyon days of Empirical conquest. 

Crimson beacons in an otherwise dour and soggy landscape, radiating the hope that was only a series of dial tones away. One could transport oneself via the magic of Mr. Bell’s genius and suddenly be connected to the other side of the world. No longer the driving rain, ocean-sized puddles and biting cold – instead the balmy climes of Florida, the joie de vivre of la Belle France

A public time capsule, an individual transportation device activated by inserting lusterous silver coins and fingering-dialed launch codes. The digits were rotated and then, in anticipation of ringtone dissipation, a voice crackling through the static on the other end of the line.

 “Hello, this is Margery?”

“Hi Margery this is Bill, how’s the weather?”  

Mission accomplished, objective achieved, escapism realized. 

Crunched into ridiculously small compartments one could escape the cares of the world by living vicariously through all too familiar voices on the end of transatlantic telephone wires. No longer were Britains trapped in sceptered isolation but privy to public launch platforms where the world was suddenly everybody’s backyard. 

A telephonic, geographical extravaganza, the requisite destinations listed on the mission guide screwed to its wall. A large, mildew stained map of the British Isles, sequestered behind plastic screening as though it were on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum listing each and every dial code required to accomplish the journey. Listed alphabetically, the great cities of Britain, Europe – the world laid bare like ancient knowledge, just waiting to be selected and utilized by the pilot. Flight coordinates and geographical positioning for those who prefered metaphysics in easily consumed compartmentalized packages. Bite size geography, the Grande Tour on a sixpence, who would have thunk it?

 No longer limited by the boundaries of imagination or the vacuum of pocket book, one could now jaunt at will – exercising one’s freedom to roam, ramble and wonder at leisure. Satiating and slaking the wanderlust, escaping Britain’s weather-induced house arrest. 

Back before the war to end all wars (the first not the second) when the box had first been placed, the whole village had been in attendance. Sunday finery was the requisite dress, local dignitaries parading at the appointed hour. Fine words had been mumbled, cameras focused, flashed and dazzled. The inaugurate call had been made, whilst muffled singing of God Save the King and Rule Britannia penetrated through thick glass. 

The telephone box was the very model of British engineering. The door swinging open on newly oiled hinges, the bright shiny scarlet paint of the G.P.O. silken to the touch. The sheer size of the iron coffin cast at the local foundry – now a super market – a marvel in itself. The interior was lit by new fangled corporate installed electric, the bare bulb illuminating its pristine interior. 

This modern invention of long distance communication was a wonder to behold and came equipped with all the pre-requisites of 1908. There was an ash tray to hold one’s cigarette, as talking and smoking just wasn’t etiquette. An umbrella stand in the corner and a coat hook on the back of the door for raincoats and top hats. The post master general designers had thought of everything. Shelves had been placed below the Bakelite telephone apparatus containing the directory listing everybody in the market town’s catchment area. 

The public stood aghast at the gargantuan task of recording everyone’s name, address and telephone number; comparable to building the pyramids, the transcription of the Bible, the erection of the great Chinese wall. Marvelous what Englishmen could do when they put other nations men to task. Little wonder that the empire spanned half the globe – that the sun never set on the Union Jack. The divine right we islanders had been blessed with was helping to save the nations of the world. Spreading Brutishness one country at a time, so that no matter their creed or color they could enjoy afternoon tea, cricket and oppression.

 

****

 

These days the phone booth isn’t quite so grand,  still serving as a monument although this time to a country in decline and depression. The empire’s long gone, as have the coat hooks and umbrella stands. The windows smashed out by the local hoodlums and replaced with cheap plastic, bearing the scratched names of lovers, haters and rival football supporters. 

Carved memorial in faux glass. 

The paint is no longer pristine,  the box  probably two or three times its original size, judging by the thick layers of post-office-red lathered upon it over the ensuing decades. Its interior now dirty and smelly, the original Bakelite apparatus replaced by something stainless steeled and plastic blued. Directories have been torn out, the map of Britain still hidden behind the plastic. Now barely visible because of the scorch marks caused by fire-works ignited inside the booth. 

A dense mixture of odors permeates the interior, all bearing witness to its misuse, as urinal, spittoon, piss-pole, meeting place for local junkies and God only knows what else? Used by bereaved parents, persistent wooers, desperate messengers, teenage lovers, rain dodgers, bus-waiters, and all manner of humanity from every location. 

It has served Pakistanis, Hindustani’s, Bangladeshis and Jamaicans. Greeks and Turks and even the indigenous Yorkshire population. The booth is no longer the tele-transporter of yore but instead a remembrance to the generations it has attracted through its creaking portal. 

For the moment it still stands in the center of the village down by the duck pond however there are rustlings that they are going to take it away, replacing it with a shiny new plastic box. No longer the G.P.O., but some Scandinavian firm, with call centers in Vietnam and operators with unpronounceable names. 

Don’t they care that this scarlet icon is all we have left of the golden age our grandparents once enjoyed? It’s comparable to the traditional British pub, fish and chips, the local Chinese take-away. Americans arrive in their fancy cars, take their photographs and tell us how quaint we are. How they wish America had the depth of history and culture that we enjoy. We smile back of course, and from behind bad dentistry hate them for their money and their good looks. 

Lose our phone box lose our identity, lose our identity lose everything, lose everything lose the world. 

What then? Sucked up by the mélange of Europeanism and its insidious permeating effluence,  slowly choking the highways and byways of our sovereign nation? 

 NEVER! A declaration of war if ever there was one. 

Championed by the local history society we’ll fight them all the way. Who do they think they are, taking away that which is rightfully ours? What next – our homes, our wives, our livelihoods? On the beaches and in the air, down by the duck pond and behind the chippy, we will resist. We’ve fought back Romans, Normans, Spaniards, French, Dutch, Nazis and Polish immigrants. We will not be subjected to the brutal hand of corporate attrition. Down with Big Brother and his goose stepping iron heel. 

The box will not be moved! 

Everything else is gone, BRITSH STEEL, BRITISH RAILWAYS, BRITISH COAL, BRITISH EMPIRE – passed over and forgotten. However the box still survives; its electric light dimly illuminating the village square. 

Maybe that’s the last thing they can never take from us!

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