Our phone was at the bottom of the stairs on a little wooden cabinet; sitting squat, cream, a cord of ringlets connecting the receiver. Standard GPO Mayfair style? In my head, yes. In my head it’s still our old phone, town and four digit number printed in the middle of the dial. When you spoke you sat on the second or third bottom stair, and everything you said could be heard upstairs and down. Hard for a teenager flirting badly in hour long phone calls about poems and stories. But had the phone gone by then? Were we on the new number, the six digit number? Had we moved from the old hand dial to push buttons by the night the call came? I can’t remember. The details aren’t there. In my head it’s the old phone. The old number. The ones from being small.
I should have been there, but I wasn’t. I was revising. For exams after Christmas. I’d wanted an excuse. I didn’t want to go. So I wasn’t there. I’m in the house when the phone rings, in the living room when the call comes, probably watching the television. It’s after seven o’clock. My mum answers. We stay in the living room. There’s a laugh.
Then there isn’t a laugh.
When she comes back through she tells us it was my granny, that she’d asked if my mum had heard the bang. And my mum had laughed because she’d thought that it was one of my sisters, that they’d dropped something, that they’d broken an ornament. But my granny was serious and had told her that a plane had crashed into the house four doors away but that she and my sisters and my uncle were all right. They were all all right.
And we put on the news that’s on just after seven, Channel Four. And there’s nothing on. No mentions. Until the presenter (Jon Snow? In my head it’s Jon Snow) says that a Jumbo jet had gone missing in the Scottish borders.
A jumbo jet.
It’s confusing. That’s enormous. If that had crashed into the house four doors away then why was my granny’s house fine?
And then we hunt for news. Channel to channel. And it’s confirmed it’s a jumbo. And on Border TV within half an hour or so a call goes out for medical help. For anyone. For everyone with medical experience across the region to go. To help. And my mum is a nurse and she phones for a lift to go. And doctors and nurses and ambulancemen go. Because people want to help.
And I keep watching. Flick from channel to channel. Every snippet of news. And it’s impossible. The news is garbled, messy. There are two hundred and fifty people on the plane. More. The petrol station is on fire. The petrol station we pass on the bus.
Later, some of this turns out not to be true, but then. It sounds like hell. And I’m not there.
And when my mum comes back later she tells us about the police cordon, about the gawpers lining up for a view, about her threatening to walk past the petrol station through the underpass below the railway line, to get to her mum and her girls to see they’re all right. And about heading to the centre and finding that she was not needed. That none of them were needed. There aren’t injuries.
There are no injuries.