The phone started ringing just as I got to the M Street Bridge, the border between Georgetown and boring old Washington, D.C., where I lived. I ran up the scabby rise to the phone booth. The metal door folded in with a shriek. Decades of floor crud had morphed into stinky grey fuzz.
“Jeremy?” a woman said.
“Hello? Did you know this is a phone booth — you’re calling a phone booth. You must have the wrong number. I don’t know what I’d expected when I picked up the phone, but you never know, it could have been anyone, Bob Dylan or the Beatles.
“Wait, wait,” the woman rushed on, “I know it’s a pay phone. Is there a boy there, about fifteen, long brown hair? He’ll be waiting, right there. Probably in a green corduroy coat. He loves that coat.”
“It’s not that kind of place –”
“He said to call him at this number at just exactly this time. Jeremy, maybe if you call his name.”
No one was near, just cars flowing across the bridge and the streetlights coming on one by one. Looked like it might rain. I had to be home by ten. If I missed curfew again my parents would probably lock me up until Christmas and it wasn’t even October.
“I’m sorry, no one’s here. I’m not in a building, this is outside.”
I draped my arm over the top of the phone and looked into its shiny chrome front. Vicky was right, the thin sweep of brown eyeliner really did bring out the blue in my eyes. I still looked disgustingly wholesome, all rosy cheeks, shiny long brown hair. My friends went to parties looking lush and knowing. When I turned up the kid having the party called upstairs for his little sister.
“I talked to him last month, he finally called, he said call today at exactly this time. Look around again. Please.”
Sure, boy ran away from home but now he’s going to be right on time for Mommy’s call. Nope, still no one.
“I’m sorry, nobody’s here.”
Why had he split? Maybe it was her fault, who knows what she did. Maybe he decided, anywhere else would be better, anywhere but home? Maybe he changed his mind later, but by then it was too late. I might have passed him on the street, another juiced-out junkie, panhandling in front of the Waffle Shop. Or could be he was doing just fine, stitching leather belts in one of the hippie shops on Wisconsin Ave. Was he cute? Would I like him?
Jeremy’s mother was still talking. The world behind her voice rushed toward me, the scuffed yellow Formica counter, her fingers wound through the tight black spirals of the phone cord, her eyes squeezed shut. Her cigarette smoke leaked down the line.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Well, you were on your way somewhere. But, please, if you meet a boy called Jeremy, you know, looking like I said, tell him we talked.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“And tell him it’s just me and Jeannette here, no one else. And — well, just to know he’s ok. Call collect, any time, day or night. Just to know.”
The fog was deeper in the dusk, soft as mohair. I was almost across the bridge when the phone started up again.