by GJ Hart
Two weeks ago, a man moved into the phone box at the end of my road. He could hardly walk. He slept in a ball beneath the receiver. I asked the special constable when she would be moving the poor soul on. She said never and that his name was Jeff. I didn’t mind, not really — it was heartening to see it used for something other than drug dealing and taking a piss.
Jeff looked awful — I doubted he was ever a millionaire or a famous actor. I think he just drifted. I felt terrible, seeing him like that. I wish I’d told him how he’d inspired me to engage with aspects of my life I’d neglected for far too long.
Incredible to think Jeff was once a child. He probably went on family holidays and had Christmases at home. I sat at the kitchen table, flipping through old photos — me eating cake, me on a space hopper, me behind a drum kit wearing a bandana made from tinsel.
I’d forgotten so much. Memories, they make us human — these subtle fragments of time. I wanted to know more, so one morning, noticing the phone box empty, I went through Jeff’s things — an engraved pendant, a doctor’s letter, a small stuffed puffin and a lock of hair bound with straw. Nothing really.
Later I stopped to give him the change left from the ten bottles of Shiraz Cabernet I’d bought for our dinner party. He told me to fuck off. I think he was drunk — I noticed the cider bottle beneath the Ikea box he used as a bed frame.
I sensed Jeff disliked me — the way he looked at me: like my boss looks at me, like he’s paid by the hour to hate me. My boss lives in a gated hamlet in a large house with paired chimneys and a pitched roof. Every Sunday, irrespective of weather, me and my wife visit (the hamlet, not my boss). We have a pub lunch and coo at the house prices in the estate agent window.
Sometimes clarity is a shocking thing: I realised I envied Jeff — no daily commute, no accountability. Monday morning he had his friends round. They were laughing and drinking next to my bus stop and rather than risk it I walked through the park and when I was late the boss called me in — final warning, he said.
I wanted to tell Jeff, give him the opportunity to apologise, but the next day, just like that, he was gone.
I asked the special constable where, but she didn’t know and wasn’t confident. I needed to help, so I went straight home and donated to a homeless charity online. “I am Jeff!” I proclaimed aloud — after all, we all get left outside eventually.
GJ Hart currently lives and works in Brixton, London, and is published and forthcoming in The Harpoon Review, Jersey Devil Press, 99 Pine Street, Apocrypha and Abstractions, The Jellyfish Review, Foliate Oak, The Eunoia Review and others. He can be found arguing with himself over @gj_hart.