I live in an on-campus house, in a cul-de-sac off of Theme Row. The house is small and painted yellow and I always enter it through the backdoor. Next to the house is a lamp, and bolted to the base of the lamp is a payphone.
Every night when I walk back to the house, I see the payphone in the halo of light cast by the lamp. The phone is black and there are cobwebs stretched across the dial pad from 1 to 9. The receiver is attached to the phone by a silver ribbed cord that sways whenever a breeze passes.
I walk to the phone every night and contemplate it under the light. I never touch the phone. Instead, I watch it like a child on a hill away from the city watches the stars. It’s like a nightlight. A soft, contained light in the middle of our cul-de-sac. It watches over us while we sleep or lay awake dreaming.
I like walking back to the house at night and seeing the light of the payphone. I tell myself I’ll use it one day to call someone at home. I pull a rusty quarter out of my pocket and place it on top of the box. It slides onto the metal with a soft clank.
A car passes on Alder Street. Its tires emit a soft hum as they roll over the gravel of the road. Its headlights brush the tips of grass on the side of the street.
It’s dark and my roommate is sleeping. I walk quietly into the room and close the door behind me. I put on my pajamas and set my alarm. Before I crawl into bed, I look out the window and glance the lighted payphone. Someone is standing in front of it, smoking a cigarette. He removes the paper from his lips and breathes out a cloud of smoke, which, as it rises, clings like fog to the leaves of a tree. He picks up the quarter that I left on the box and slides it into the coin slot. Then he waits a moment, puts the receiver to his ear and waits for the tone to sound.