By Russell Smith
It was carelessly, then, that he switched on the phone the next morning, in defiance of his own policy, before he was even dressed. It was Saturday; there was no reason to switch it on at all. He was yawning over his sink when he saw it sitting on the table, and he shuffled over with a glass pot of water in his hand and he just tapped the power button without thinking. He heard it tinkle to life as he was sluicing the water into the coffeemaker. He didn’t think anything of his action until he was back at the table and there it was flashing demonically at him and making impatient music-box tunes.
One from Claude, of course. We need to chat today. Instantly deleted.
Then the strange number again. It was a long one.
what happened to u? i waited for 60 mins and so did the others. It would nt have been difficult to tell me wher u were.
This one had been sent around midnight. There was another from an hour later:
I was embarrased, I told M and jen F u wuld b there.it shows a lack of respect that u told me u would show up and then left me waiting.
There was no message from his date, which was not surprising, of course, she wouldn’t text him. She would email him, or not.
He sent a reply to the last anonymous message that said STOP TEXTING ME I DON’T KNOW YOU.
Now there was nothing to do except studiously ignore Claude until the late afternoon, just to make him wait. He should have set up a squash game. He turned off the phone and tried to read the paper.
His phone chimed mischievously.
New text message.
baby! u kill me!
Leo actually laughed at this. He put the phone aside.
But he couldn’t read the paper. “All right,” he said aloud.
He picked up the little metal brick and hit “reply.” At length, he spelled out, I’m sorry. I’ll see you tonight.
Then he erased the last sentence and wrote it as i’ll see u tonite.
He sent it.
His phone was dumb for a while, to his slight annoyance.
He resisted calling or emailing Angelika all that day. He did not know how he filled the rest of it: he played squash with Stephane, he called his mother and she didn’t need anything. He went grocery shopping. He filled his wine order from the Opimian, and still he went to the wine shop to see if there were any new Alicantes. He really did not need any more wine.
He watched a movie about fighting cars until about one o’clock and then slept without masturbating, in a kind of defeat.
He was in FutureShop. He was asking about the next step down from a digital SLR—not for him, he had one, a real one, but Angelika didn’t really need one, she wasn’t the type to really care what all the buttons were for, to adjust for a bright sky, to underexpose for mood, she wanted to take pictures of beautiful dinners people had made. She would use the flash. There was no reason, of course, to be buying a gift for Angelika at all. It might be an idea though—just out of the blue, no reason at all, not your birthday, nothing, just dropping it off for you, thinking of you. This was a really stupid idea and he knew it, he knew he wasn’t even going to buy the stupid thing, but he was still going to stand here and wait for the eighteen-year-old clerk to come around to him because it was a way of thinking about Angelika.
And there was the foreign chime of the phone, that sound he still didn’t recognize, the new text message chime. It was like the music behind the logo of a production company at the start of a film.
Jst wanted to say that was really nice. It was great to see you. im thinking of u. how is ur next weekedn?
It was from the same unknown number, except now of course it was known. It was a number he recognized as he would have recognized Claude’s or Angelika’s.
He didn’t buy the camera. He went to a Starbucks and sat in the window and concentrated on typing with his thumbs. He would have to improve at this, understand the word recognition program that wanted to type “format” when you wanted to spell “ferret”, or better yet buy a real thing with a full qwerty keyboard. Claude would be thrilled. Leo would then be one of those guys walking around with a full keyboard attached to his belt, some glorified delivery boy that people could reach twenty-four seven to ask him if he had had a chance to review the promotional materials and if he was available for a meeting Wednesday at eight.
He just used the old-fashioned alpha spelling, press seven twice for r, three times for s, get it wrong, back up, try again, do it in the wrong case, back up, try again. Whoever he was communicating with was much better and faster at this than he was, and so likely much younger. He didn’t know if this person was male or female but it would be more interesting if she was female, so she was.
Eventually, he wrote a couple of long texts, as long as he was permitted, about how he was really sorry but he didn’t want to see her, this person, any more. He found himself using Angelika’s words, Angelika’s words to him. He wrote that he needed some time to work things out, to work out his own needs, to think about where he was going in life. Time and space. And it wasn’t fair, he wrote, it wasn’t fair to her—it’s not fair to you, he wrote, to go on like this, in this undecided state, because you are young, and I don’t want to rob these years from you. You could be with someone who is much more certain, someone you deserve. Because you deserve someone who is totally committed.
From the story “TXTS,” from Confidence, a new collection of short fiction by Russell Smith. Published by Biblioasis in 2015.