When I was ten, the first thing I did after school every day was go to the red telephone box a mile from my house and listen to the serial killer on the loose called the Yorkshire Ripper. His was a northern voice, flat, and other. Getting desperate, Mum said when the police released a recording of his calls to them, and she told us to quiet while she scribbled the number on the back of a cereal packet. The head of the police was called George, and the Ripper always started out by saying, Hello, I’m Jack and then speaking straight to George, asking him if he was stupid or something. I thought George probably looked like Columbo and was doing the stupid thing on purpose.
At home the phone rang all the time. Mum wouldn’t let us pick up. When she was in the bath or late back from work, I’d lie on the orange, foam sofa, Hart to Hart turned low, waiting for the calls to start. They always did. I’d grab the receiver before it rang twice. There was never anyone there. Just a crackling like a broken telly. And breathing. Soft and northern. Jack? I asked. If he was clever enough to get George’s number, he could get mine. If he was clever enough to kill ten women, then he could just as easily kill a goofy kid who was bottom at running.
Jack spoke for about two minutes. It was called ‘Dial-the-Ripper’ hotline. All anyone was talking about was the Yorkshire Ripper. They said on the news that girls weren’t going out in Yorkshire anymore. Girls meant women too. The newspapers ran full-page ads and both billboards on the High Street had police posters with: FLUSH HIM OUT. HE DOESN’T DESERVE YOUR PITY.
I was good at listening in on phone calls. It was just a case of picking up the exact same time as Mum and then staying dead quiet. Bloody Coral, Mum always said to her friends, I know he’s with her. And I thought of Dad swimming though an exotic coral reef with a garland round his neck like Hawaii Five-O. Next thing Mum’s behind me screaming do I know what happens to little girls who don’t know when to mind their own business.
George did get clever but not in the way he hoped. They did a DNA test on the saliva of one of Jack’s envelopes. Turned out the man calling was just some alcoholic hoaxer from Sunderland. Another one who doesn’t know when to stop, said Mum. They put him in prison and the hotlines stopped. I asked mum if I could have Dad’s number, now he was living with Coral. She wrote it on the back of the cereal box, ripped it off and told me to keep it.
Kathryn Aldridge-Morris has work in Flash Frog, Bending Genres, Emerge Literary, Bracken Magazine, Janus, and others. Her flash fiction appears in several print anthologies, most recently ‘And if that Mockingbird Don’t Sing’ (Alternating Current Press, 2022) and two shortlisted stories in the Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, ‘Snow Crow’. She lives in Bristol, UK and tweets @kazbarwrites.