24th April

The Call

for Alan Taylor

Two men are walking through a small town, very late at night, one a few paces ahead of the other. They are on their way home. Home is several miles away. Apart from them, the street is deserted. The town is a place they hardly know, except by reputation. It is not a good reputation.

It would take too long to explain fully why they have ended up where they have, but the chief contributory factors are: drink; a party; pursuit of, as it has turned out, unattainable women; a dearth of transport options, either public or private; and drink.

The men do not speak, but not because they are not on speaking terms. On the contrary, they are old and firm friends. They have simply reached that stage of proceedings when speech is neither useful nor easy. Silence, of the brooding, dogged variety, reigns as they trudge along the street a few feet apart.

In the middle of the town, outside the post office, is a telephone box. (These events take place in the pre-mobile-phone era.) As they pass the box, the phone inside starts to ring. The first man ignores it. The second man pauses, observes his companion forging ahead, seems to weigh up his options, and finally, going over to the box, enters it and picks up the receiver.

‘Is that you?’ says a male voice – a very hard, unpleasant and threatening voice.

‘It is,’ the second man says. Because it is.

‘Stay there,’ the other voice says. ‘I am coming down there now, and I am going to kill you.’

The line goes dead. The man in the telephone box replaces the receiver. He steps out into the street. His companion is now sixty yards away. The second man listens – for the sound of footsteps, or a car engine – but hears nothing.

He starts walking, quickly. After half a dozen paces he breaks into a run. After fifty, when he is close on the heels of the first man, the latter hears him coming. He turns round and takes note of the look on his friend’s face. Still not a word passes between them. The first man, too, starts to run.

Reader: Cathy Macdonald
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harp: Esther Swift
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