"Any old Lavardis Nadler in a phone booth" by Benjamin McPherson Ficklin

Here in a phone booth we have Lavardis Nadler. He picks up the plastic receiver. But, really, this could be Sadie Baum-Swensen or Danez Fenty or Cynthia Aldritch or Patty Mendéz, et cetera, et cetera[1]. There’s no dial tone, but this person, they/her/him, decides it might help to spin a few random numbers in the rotary dial (2, 8, 5). They avoid looking out the glass door at the hotdog restaurant, not that this phone booth is across the street from a hotdog restaurant or anything. It, this red phone booth, is actually within the unassuming hotdog joint that one enters by walking down a short flight of stairs. They, our nervous person, hears the soon-to-be hotdog eaters drunkenly chit-chat while they shuffle in line, the squirting of ketchup and mustard, the dings and buzzes of the pinball machines outside the glass door of this phone booth, but Sadie (or Lucas or whomever this person is) doesn’t hear anything from the receiver. Nothing within the phonebooth happens. Except for maybe the lotioned or wedding-ringed or even finger-missing hands of our person becoming sweatier. There’s a glob of relish on the tiled floor. They move their tennis shoes or stilettos away from it. They look out the glass door. Nobody seems to be paying special attention to our lonely person in a phonebooth. Deborah, still pinching the receiver to her head, plucks her cellphone from her purse. He tries to turn it on. Nothing. Any hope of a kiss or a goodnight hug seems as dead as the device. It had been a hard day or month or year or decade. They need something to go right. Travis slips the phone into his back pocket. But they knew this would happen, as that’s what always happens when your cellphone dies and you’ve not had the opportunity to charge it. Alberto knocks twice on the opaque wooden wall to his left. Maybe it kinda sounds hollow. Nothing happens. Now she can smell the relish, and he worries they might smell like relish if this wall ever swings inward and gives them access to their internet date. And Cedar/Doug/Kaya/Sharleesa thinks of what simple and understandable explanation it will be: Sorry, my phone died when I was reading about this huge wildfire happening on the West Coast and there’s all these crazy pictures of (Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Boise, et cetera) where you can’t even see half the buildings. Not even the fucking sky[2]. But really Van/Terance/Satomi/Damian/TJ/Kenna had been looking at those photos, the photos of the wildfire, when they were waiting for the subway, and then, after boarding, while they were rattling with the other hand gripping a metal pole, they were surprised to find their phone, which they were very (almost painfully) aware was at 3% battery, again staring up at them with headlines and photos of other disasters: the 8.1 earthquake off the coast of Mexico (the first one, not the one that happens a month later), the Lesser Antilles devastated by Hurricane Irma, the Houstonian recovery efforts (Hurricane Harvey), the flooded Floridian streets. But here, crammed into the phone booth, the only image Jessa/Toni/Menen/Abraham/Pihu/Jack remembers is of one of one of the islands: palm trees, brick walls, shacks, high-rise hotels laid flat as if the hand of some god[3] swept backward against the land, pushing the isle’s humanity into the sea. But this person (who again finds their dead cellphone in their hand) can’t remember what island that was, and they don’t want to seem hysterical if their/her/his date is actually sipping a cocktail on the other side of this (potentially false) wall. She, Jen or Jenny or Jennifer, dials 7. Nothing. They dail 6. Nothing. The last text Hassan’s “match” sent through the dating app was something like, Text me once you’re in the phone booth and I’ll let you in. And then there was a winky face. The only information Monica remembers regarding the location was hotdog restaurant and East Village, and he’s already looked inside four other places that sell hotdogs before finding this one, and what are the chances there’s multiple hotdog restaurants with phone booths within their walls. Actually, she thinks, within this metropolis (chaos) the possibilities seem pretty good (infinite). Somebody knocks on the glass wall. Our person, this sweaty ambiguous person[4] in the phone booth, looks out at the stranger[5] and shrugs before even noticing who it is.
[1] Not to say it could be anybody. But we could say it’s any New Yorker, or any American visiting New York, or any person visiting or living in America from another country, which I guess means anybody capable of physically being in this place (the place this story occurs in), which is anybody.

[2]Though, note, the exact articulation, the parlance of this preconceived explanation would vary drastically depending on a combination of idiosyncrasies and cultural conditioning. I mean somebody from London might substitute “bloody” for “fucking”, or imagine it all in a Southern or Jamaican accent, or Ni el puto cielo, en serio, or 私は何も見ることができなかった。クソみたいな空でさえも。

[3]And by “the hand of some god” I really mean the power of any god, or any omnipotent force that inspires awe with such intensity that personal nihility is felt when considering one’s self relative to this force’s power. And spirituality, this force makes one feel spiritual. See: Allah, Thor, Satan, Haile Selassie, Science, Nature, et cetera.

[4] Perhaps a sort of you. Like a person like you but native to Florida. Like you’re a Cuban American. Or maybe you’re Mexican and you were brought here by your parents; maybe you thought you were safe and going to aspire to romance unbothered; maybe you were introduced into a reality you never asked for but never resented too much—the hand you were dealt sorta thing.

[5] Perhaps another sort of you. And don’t you just hope you’ll be kind, patient, maybe with a bit of useful knowledge (like you should dial 1), but mostly just patient and kind.
Benjamin McPherson Ficklin was born in Portland, Oregon, and now spends his life travelling. Outside of his writing, he works as a gongfu tea-master, lumberjack, commercial salmon fisherman, abstract photographer and ulu farmer. His work has been published in Lomography, Autre, Oregon Voice Magazine, and all three anthologies by The Stonecutters Union.