“If you go, you’ll die,” he whispers into the phone, barely making a sound.
Seconds pass by without a response. The gutted words hang in the air between them, untouched, as he drags a trembling hand through his hair.
Finally, a shaky breath cuts through the silence, “Then I guess I’m calling to say goodbye.”
It takes a minute for the words to wash over Tommy. ‘Goodbye’ seems to stretch on forever. The weight of the words hit him all at once. His fist shoots out and connects with the aging wood of the phone booth. Anger contorts his features as he tries to twist around, restrained by the phone cord. The battered phone becomes his next target. He tightens his grip and bashes it into the metal base repeatedly.
“Daddy, please…” the soft voice echoes through the phone. Tommy’s hand freezes. His ragged breaths fill the surrounding space. He slowly turns the phone right-side-up but makes no effort to bring it to his ear. His daughter’s quivering voice escapes the dented speaker regardless, “You’re the reason I have to go. You put me in this position.” The helplessness in her tone rings in his ears. Just as fast as it came, his anger dissipates. He pulls the phone to his chest and sinks to the wooden floor. A soft cry echoes through the booth. “I want to know why you did it,” she pleads.
Tommy takes a deep breath and brings the phone to his ear. He opens his mouth to respond, but words fail him. Instead, he feebly kicks the door. His head drops back against the doorframe.
He lets his eyes fall shut, imagining Grace standing in front of him, safe. She would twist her golden hair into a loose bun and pull strands out all day long. Instead of looking down on him like a monster, she’d smile and take the spot next to him. They’d laugh for hours about nothing and everything.
If he had a second chance, he’d never utter a word about his daughter again. To anyone. She’s the only family he’s ever had.
When Tommy’s eyes open again, he lets them linger on the empty space next to him for a single moment. Then, he clears his throat and pulls the phone to his mouth, “I can fix this,” he breathes. They both know it’s a lie, no matter how badly Tommy wants to believe his words. The damage has already been done. Another long silence fills the booth.
Grace starts again, “I guess this is…”
“No. I’m going to fix this,” Tommy cuts her off, shaking his head. His glassy eyes survey the walls, like the answer could be directly in front of him. When he comes up empty-handed, he expands his search to the street beyond the foggy windows. Car headlights dart past. They give momentary light to distant silhouettes and empty sidewalks. There’s no one there to give him answers. He’s never had anyone besides Grace anyway.
Tommy turns his attention back to the phone. The first tear breaks loose, tracing a slow line down his cheek. It breaks any self-composure he had left. “You can’t go, Grace,” he whimpers. “Please. I’m sorry.” He clamps a hand over his eyes, hiding any trace of weakness.
This is the most feared man in Penketh. This broken shell at the bottom of the phone booth.
He pulls his hand from his eyes, wiping the tear trail with it. Tommy cups the receiver instead, letting his mumbled words take over, “I’m so sorry. Please understand, it was a mistake. I never meant to hurt you. You can’t leave, Grace. Please. I can try to…” he trails off. Nothing he could say could change the fact that he used his daughter as collateral. The stakes kept getting higher, and he was feeling cocky. He didn’t realize he was being baited until it was too late.
A faint sob on the other end of the line slices through Tommy like a knife. “The car’s here, dad. I have to go,” her voice cracks on the last word.
Tommy wants nothing more than to hold her and tell her everything’s going to be okay. But he was the one that gambled with her life. Now she has to pay for it.
Tears stream down his face now. He tries to force words out, but his silent sobs choke them back. “I love you, daddy,” Grace sobs into the phone. She tries to muffle her cries with her hand, but stifled sniffles break through. “And,” another cry racks through her. She takes a deep breath and tries again, “And I forgive you.”
The strangled words are the last thing Tommy wants to hear. He doesn’t want forgiveness. He wants his daughter. If there was a way to fix this, he would do it. He would do anything.
Tommy wipes his tears with the back of his sleeve. He takes a deep breath, pulling the receiver back to his mouth. “Bye,” she whispers, moving the phone further away. The abrupt click takes Tommy by surprise.
He jolts up, screaming into the phone, “No, Grace! Please! Don’t go! I’m sorry, Gracey, please!” Waves of panic tighten in his chest. The desperation in his voice is agonizing. “I’m sorry, Grace. Listen to me! Please!” He yells loud enough for anyone in the block to hear. But Grace won’t hear. She’s already gone. The dial tone only mocks him at this point.
Tommy rips the phone back, tearing the cord from the metal base. He heaves it at the opposite side of the booth, hitting several window panes. Glass shards go flying. Some land in the street outside, while others litter the booth’s floor. Tommy doesn’t care enough to avoid them. He collapses on the floor, letting his tears flow freely. Bits of glass cut into his skin, but he relishes the pain. He wants to feel the same way his daughter feels. He wants to feel the same way the booth looks. Shattered.