For Anna and Siri
The Truthful Phone
You might think that there was nothing particularly evil about a Truthful Phone. It simply told the truth, which is, of course, ‘A Good Thing To Do’. But the way this particular telephone told the truth was not at all good. In reality the thing was evil from the tip of its mouthpiece to the end of its cord.
It was put up for sale in a shop window with a label that read: ‘The Truthful Phone – £10’.
‘I’ve never heard of such a thing,’ said Mrs Morris, who was frail and elderly but of an enquiring mind.
‘I wouldn’t take it, if I were you, Mrs Morris,’ said the shopkeeper, who was a kind man despite his appearance. ‘The truth can get you into all sorts of trouble.’
‘Oh dear,’ replied Mrs Morris. ‘I always understood the truth never hurt anyone.’
‘Don’t you believe it,’ said the shopkeeper. ‘The truth can be dangerous and undesirable and should be shunned as long as is possible. Nobody really wants the truth. They want to live in a world that is comfortable and happy. The truth would just make most people miserable.’
‘But I need a new telephone,’ said Mrs Morris, ‘and this one is the cheapest by far!’ And with that she bought the phone and took it home. That very day she got Albert, the odd job man, to come and install it.
The first time it rang, Mrs Morris picked the phone up and was surprised to hear her old friend Mabel say, ‘Ha! May Morris, you old fraud! I hope you rot in hell!’
‘I beg your pardon? Is that you Mabel?’
‘How dare you call me a parasite!’ cried Mabel indignantly.
‘I didn’t, my dear . . . Are you feeling quite well?’
‘If you’ve always thought I was a freeloader who cultivated your friendship simply for the free teas, why have you pretended to be my friend for so many years?’ shouted Mabel.
‘Upon my soul!’ cried Mrs Morris. ‘I think you had better ring back when you’re feeling more yourself again, dear.’ And she hung up.
She then stood for some time gazing at the phone.
A little later she rang the greengrocer.
‘Hello, Mr Murphy?’ she said into the phone. ‘I hope you’re well today?’
There was a long silence on the other end of the phone.
‘Hello? Are you still there?’ asked Mrs Morris. ‘I’d like to order a big bag of your best potatoes and some leeks.’
‘Er . . .’ said Mr Murphy.
‘And a cucumber, a lettuce and a pound of tomatoes. Is that all right?’ asked Mrs Morris.
‘I think my wife’s coming!’ said Mr Murphy hurriedly and he rang off.
Mrs Morris was more than a little astonished, though she had the feeling that the phone may have had something to do with the odd way in which Mr Murphy had received her order for potatoes, leeks and salad.
As for Mr Murphy, he was equally surprised. He had picked up the phone and had heard Mrs Morris, that sweet little old lady from down the road, say, ‘Hello, you gorgeous hunk! I’ve been thinking about your bottom all week!’
He was so surprised, in fact, that he didn’t know what to say.
Then he heard Mrs Morris continue, ‘I love the ginger hair on your arms and the manly way you tip potatoes into my shopping bag and then stick in the leeks.’
All he could say was, ‘Er . . .’
Then Mrs Morris went on, ‘Since the unfortunate late Mr Morris disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the Campsie Fells, I have dreamt of running a market garden with you in Worthing!’
At this point, Mr Murphy began to get really worried, and made up some story about his wife walking in to the shop. He put the phone down and blinked at his assistant, Tom, and then at the customers. Had they heard what Mrs Morris had said? What on earth had got into the woman?
He spent the rest of the day keeping to the back of the shop in case Mrs Morris should turn up in person. But she didn’t.
In fact Mrs Morris was far too busy to go down to the shop to pick up her leeks and potatoes. She was round at the police station telling Constable Robinson how she’d received a strange phone call.
‘It was Albert, the odd-job man. He said he was going to come round and fix the boiler for me . . .’
‘Does he often ring up and say things like that?’
‘Oh yes, officer, he’s very helpful.’
‘So what’s the problem?’
‘Well, he also said that he’d probably steal a few things while he was at it. He said he’d noticed some valuable-looking jewellery in a drawer in my bedroom. I said I didn’t realize he’d been poking around in my bedroom drawers, and he told me he’d been stealing things from me for years, but I’d never noticed because he only took small things and only a few at a time.’
‘Why do you think he was telling you all this?’
‘Oh! I don’t think he was!’ said Mrs Morris. ‘I think it was the Truthful Phone.’
‘Hmm!’ said Constable Robinson. ‘The Truthful Phone?’
‘Yes,’ replied Mrs Morris. ‘I want you to arrest it!’
‘We don’t normally arrest telephones,’ said Constable Robinson. ‘Perhaps I’d better come and have a look.’
So Constable Robinson went with Mrs Morris to her house to take a look at the Truthful Phone. It didn’t look very different from an ordinary phone, except that it had a switch on the side.
‘May I try it?’ asked Constable Robinson.
‘Of course,’ said Mrs Morris.
So Constable Robinson rang the superintendent back at the police station.
‘Oh! Hi, Super!’ said Constable Robinson. ‘Robinson here. I’m just trying out Mrs Morris’s Truthful Phone.’
‘You’re what?’ exclaimed the superintendent, who was startled to hear Constable Robinson say he knew all about the bribes the superintendent took from criminals and local businessmen, and that he was going to report the matter to his superiors.
‘I’m trying out Mrs Morris’s Truthful Phone,’ repeated Constable Robinson.
‘You do and I’ll break every bone in your body!’ roared the superintendent. ‘And I mean that!’
And, from the tone of the superintendent’s voice, Constable Robinson knew it was the truth, even though he hadn’t the slightest idea what he had said to make the superintendent so angry.
‘It’s not what
said,’ whispered Mrs Morris. ‘It’s what the phone said that is the problem. I think I’ll take it back to the shop.’
Just then the phone rang.
‘Hello?’ said Mrs Morris. ‘This is May Morris speaking.’
‘I don’t want to go back to the shop,’ said the phone.
‘Who is this?’ asked Mrs Morris.
‘It’s me, your new telephone,’ said the phone. ‘I like it here. If you try to have me disconnected, I’ll make your life a misery.’
‘You’re already doing that!’ exclaimed Mrs Morris. ‘I’m going to call Albert now.’
‘What and let him steal from you?’ said the phone.
‘At least he doesn’t mess around with what I say!’
‘Don’t disconnect me or I’ll . . .’
But Mrs Morris had already slammed the phone down.
‘Who was it?’ asked Constable Robinson.
‘It was the phone,’ said Mrs Morris.
‘I know it was the phone, but who was
the phone?’ asked Constable Robinson.
But before Mrs Morris could explain, the phone rang again. Mrs Morris picked it up and then turned to the police officer.
‘It’s for you, Constable,’ she said.
Constable Robinson took the phone. ‘Hello?’ he said.
‘Ask Mrs Morris what happened to her husband,’ said the phone and then rang off.
‘What was that?’ asked Mrs Morris.
‘Someone just said, “Ask Mrs Morris what happened to her husband,” and then rang off,’ explained the constable.
‘What!’ exclaimed Mrs Morris in some agitation. ‘Who was it?’
‘They didn’t say!’
‘It’s the phone!’ cried Mrs Morris. ‘It’s evil!’
And she grabbed the phone and shouted into the mouthpiece, ‘I’m having you disconnected and you’re going straight back to the shop!’ But all she got back was the dialling tone.
‘Constable,’ said Mrs Morris. ‘Would you help me disconnect this phone? I don’t trust it to say what I want it to say.’
‘Certainly,’ said Constable Robinson, and he started to pull at the wires, whereupon the phone rang again. Constable Robinson stopped and looked at Mrs Morris. She shook her head.
‘Don’t pick it up!’ exclaimed Mrs Morris. ‘Don’t listen to it!’
‘But it might be the superintendent,’ said Constable Robinson, and he picked up the phone as if it were a live crab.
‘Look in the garden shed,’ said the phone.
‘Who’s that?’ shouted Constable Robinson, but the phone had rung off.
Constable Robinson frowned. He looked across at Mrs Morris. She was white-haired and frail.
‘No, no . . .’ he said to himself. But then he remembered that it was his duty as a policeman to investigate anything that needed to be investigated.
‘Would you mind if I looked in your garden shed, Mrs Morris?’ he said.
‘Of course not,’ said Mrs Morris. ‘Is there something you need from there?’
Mrs Morris took Constable Robinson into the garden and showed him the shed. She unlocked it, and he went inside. Immediately the phone started ringing back in the house, and Mrs Morris hurried back, while Constable Robinson inspected the garden shed.
But Mrs Morris didn’t answer the phone; she simply took it off the hook and left it there. She didn’t want to hear another word it said.
When Constable Robinson returned from inspecting the garden shed, he said to Mrs Morris, ‘You have a very fine garden shed, Mrs Morris. It is remarkably well equipped: you have welding apparatus, wood and metal lathes, and even a blast furnace for smelting.’
‘Yes,’ replied Mrs Morris. ‘It was my unfortunate late husband’s favourite place. He spent hours in there making all sorts of things.’
‘Is there someone on the phone?’ asked Constable Robinson, indicating the receiver lying off its hook.
‘Ignore it,’ said Mrs Morris.
But Constable Robinson had already picked up the receiver.
‘Did you see it?’ hissed the phone.
‘It’s full of equipment,’ said Constable Robinson.
‘Don’t listen!’ said Mrs Morris.
‘The weedkiller!’ hissed the phone. ‘In the bottle on the shelf by the flower pots! That’s what she used!’
‘For what?’ asked Constable Robinson.
‘Take no notice of it!’ said Mrs Morris, and she grabbed the telephone receiver out of the Constable’s hands, and yanked the wire hard.
‘NOOO!’ screamed the Truthful Phone. ‘Don’t!’
But it was too late! The wire came out of the socket in the wall, and the Truthful Phone was disconnected. Mrs Morris sank down in a chair.
‘It is an evil thing!’ she said, glaring at the phone. ‘I shall take it back to the shop straight away.’
‘But what was it talking about?’ asked Constable Robinson.
‘It was raking up old and unfounded rumours about my late and unfortunate husband’s disappearance, under mysterious circumstances in the Campsie Fells,’ replied Mrs Morris. ‘You see, he liked making things in the garden shed, which, as you so rightly observed, is remarkably well equipped. One day he told me he was going out on the Campsie Fells, which, as you know, is a range of hills to the north of Glasgow, to test out a new kind of dog walker. The Campsie Fells was his favourite place for testing things. But that day he never came back.’
‘I’m very sorry,’ said Constable Robinson.
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Morris. ‘I was sorry too. Would you like a cup of tea?’
‘That sounds like an excellent idea,’ said the constable.
And so that’s what they had.
When Constable Robinson returned to the police station, he found the superintendent waiting for him. ‘Listen, Constable Robinson, I’m thinking of promoting you.’
‘Really!’ exclaimed Constable Robinson. He’d been in the force without promotion for so long he’d almost given up hope.