Every morning for the past twenty-five years, at 6 o’clock, Sable-on-the-water’s telephone booth rings. It’s not entirely punctual. It’s often a minute early or three minutes late. But according to the tourists, that’s what makes it so marvellously charming. The rumour goes like this: whoever picks up will hear their destiny: their life’s mission will be revealed. The telephone booth is very ordinary, standard fire engine red, located by the water and Sable-on-the-water’s pier. The view of the bay and the surrounding hills is pretty, but it’s an unremarkable place to experience a life-changing announcement.
Travellers flock to hear their fortune. Only a single person can answer the phone every day, but people are mostly civilized and queue up respectfully. Whoever’s first in line that morning picks up. The next person has to wait another full day. The tourists bring tents and set up camp, often for months at a time. The locals know not to bring their cars down to the pier because driving past is impossible. In the summer, matters are made worse by the 24-hour market that the mayor set up at the water’s edge. It caters to the needs of visitors who hadn’t expected to be so cold or thirsty, and business is good.
Jasper grew up in a nearby town. He’s been feeling low for a while. He works at the Marbled Fortune, the pub nearest to the telephone booth and therefore famous. It opens up early in the morning and is full of tourists who will never make it first to the phone but want to watch others experience their revelation. The pub’s owners are easy-going and Jasper makes a decent wage. But every morning (or night, depending on the shift he’s working), he wakes up wondering what he’s doing and why. He thinks there must be more to life and wonders where to find an answer. He daydreams about picking up the phone, but he can’t bring himself to queue for days, and his colleagues would laugh so hard.
One morning in March, unable to sleep, he gets up early and goes for a stroll to the pier. It’s a grey overcast day, not even raining, but there is absolutely no one around. Where are the tourists? Jasper stares around himself, then glances at his watch — 6:01. He speeds up. The phone rings just as he touches the booth’s door. He hesitates for a moment, dazed and uncertain. He grabs the door and tumbles in. He unhooks the phone from the receiver.
“Happy morning,” he hears.
The voice reminds him, unexpectedly, of a marshmallow — all round edges, soft, and muffled. He imagined something more sprightly or solemn for delivering such important news.
“I’m tired of this and I want to retire. Would you like to take over?”