The wrong number


The phone rang. This was the days before mobiles or even cordless. You were chained to the coil, and unless you had a desk, the phone was in the kitchen, wall mounted, like modern art. There was a crap lock on the phone, this was to prevent my sister calling her four thousand boyfriends, and five thousand friends to consult about the four thousand boyfriends. And to prevent me from having three hour conversations about Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a sort of jokey soap opera whose main character was so strange and vague, I appropriated it, and sort of became her for a few years. I might still be her. You tell me. But there was a way around the lock, which only let the rotary dial , dial to zero. If you dialled zero loads of times, you might get someone, possibly in China. Which defeated the whole purpose of keeping the bills down. We knew a number that if you rang it, the guy on the other end said Fooey Fooey. We figured this was Hong Kong, after a cartoon we knew called Hong Kong Fooey. Years later I found it was the number of a car service called Fourway. The guy had a  funny accent, and we always used Dial A Ride anyway. They gave discounts to airline staff, which none of us were at that time. My father worked for BOAC but he was long dead, and they gave my mother a sympathy job, when those things existed. Mainly she had to confiscate mangoes and other fresh fruit contraband from those flying from Jamaica. I never asked where they hid the mangoes. But she hadn’t done that for some time. Even confiscating mangoes, possibly from personal orafices, loses its new job lustre after a fashion.

So I was doing my history homework. I had to write about Franz Ferdinand, not the band, the man.  The one who got killed and then world war happened. The first one.  I was doing my homework and I thought great, it’s a friend who can talk about last night’s Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. The main thing she said, dead slow, was “Oh My God” waay before people started abbreviating it textlike, or said it with full stop after every word.

But it wasn’t. And it wasn’t a boyfriend of my sister or a friend to talk about the boyfriend. It was this guy, “Hey, how ya doin, it’s Sal.”

It didn’t sound like my friend Sally. A guy Sal.

I said sorry, I don’t know any Sal. You probably want my sister.

No, he said, you sound good to me. Tell me something, sister of the other sister. What are your feet like?

I think you have the wrong number.

Maybe, but what are your feet like? Like size and shit? 

If I tell you, can we end the phone call?


Well, they are big, bigger than the rest of me. I am a skinny girl with big feet.

He started breathing kinda heavy.

Is that enough.

No, describe em more.

Well, I have two. Ten toes. One foot, the toe kinda hides under another toe, it’s a condition.

Heavy breathing.

Um, can we go now?

Not yet.

OK, do you watch Mary Hartman?

No. Tell me about your feet.

I did, what else can I say.

Tell me the shape. 

I have flat feet. I had to get steel inserts into my shoes from Buster Brown’s special bad foot guy. When I kicked people in the shin, it really hurt.

This was totally the wrong thing to say.

Oh my God, you kicked people in the shin? Girls or boys?

I dunno, whoever pissed me off. Can I ring off now. I have to write about the first world war and I am certain this is the wrong number. 

I hung up.

A few days later, he called again. He wanted the same details, but told more slowly. He wanted a slow build. Did I still have the steel inserts? 

No, my feet grew out of them and I took ballet which helped the arch.

He breathed really fast and heavy now. Oh my God, ballet. Did you get right up on your toes?

No, I got as far as the turns, but they made me dizzy cos I could never whip my head round to spot. Can I hang up now. Have you had your jollies?

He breathed heavily and sort of gasped. I said, what do I have to do to make sure you never ever ring again.

He asked me to trace a picture of my foot. I said well one has a bump at the big toe, the other doesn’t. Which do you want.

He said the one without the bump.  I thought a bunion was like the foot equal to a tit, which I didn’t have yet. Tits. The bunion was already forming.

I had loads of tracing paper. We had to trace maps of Europe to learn where everything was. I went to a good school. For America.

So Sal gave me his address, I think it was Brooklyn, and I traced my foot and I used my sister’s black nail varnish to paint the toes. I cu it out and sent it in an envelope to Sal. I told my mother everything. She didn’t shout at me. She thought it was hysterical. 

A few days later, Sal rang.

I asked him if he got the foot.

He said yes, it was delicious. 

I said Oh My God, like Mary Hartman, it had white out where I made mistakes, and nail varnish, I coulda killed you.

He said it woulda been worth it.

Years later in London the bunion got really big and  I had to have it cut off. I am of no sexual interest to anyone, even wrong numbers.

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