It grew in the hallway beside the pot plant,
the ashtray, and the Yellow Pages left ajar.
It started under floorboards, unspooled
between the carpets and their waferings of underlay.

It tracked the skirtings, spined down corners,
knew the smell of slippers, insoles crumbling
at the heel or toe; it knew the frayed shadows
that we threw: the address book’s fading numbers

and the crossed-out friends; the names trussed up
in angry biro or speared by one calm line of ink;
the half-there, the less-and-less … the care home
‘Hotline’ and the ads for stairlifts, window cleaners, takeaways.

It finished in an A5 sheet Blu-Tacked to the wall:
IMPORTANT NUBERS [sic] with the contacts
for their children, two nurses, and the remnants
of a family one continent away: +00 32 etc.

The dead lines outgrew the living, the A to Z
went back to A again, an alphabet in countdown,
until what remained when we had cleared the house
was the polished square where the phone had sat,

framed in dust, pieces of skin or dandruff at the edges,
milled to something that felt like talc.
Last to go was the word we called it by: landline,
exotic as a telegram. Our fingers tracked

it underground, getting mustier, earthier, fungal
at the seams where our houses let the outside in;
with the woodlice and the silverfish,
the bluebottles stripped for parts on windowsills:

the phone, the flex, the pigtail-coil
where we made our rings and knuckledusters
as we talked; the receiver that got hot against our ears,
the plughole-glug of someone hanging up

that was the echo of our listening; the last word,
the good news and the bad, there in the hallway,
where we fiddled with whatever we could find,
where there was never a pen that worked,

a pencil that had lead in, before our telephones
lived on air; before we called them landlines.

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