Dammit, dammit, dammit.
This was the problem with large purses – you could fit everything into them, but because you could fit everything into them, you could never find anything in them. She shoved aside the wallet, pulled out three different tubes of lip gloss and shoved the tube of lotion into a pocket of her jeans in an attempt to clear some space.
Still no dice. She couldn’t find the stupid cell phone. Had she forgotten it somewhere? Lost it? Had it been stolen? She pushed the thoughts aside. She didn’t have time to deal with it right now – she’d worked through lunch and her stomach rumbled as she walk-jogged to her next meeting. She would find it later.
Honestly, she thought, she was better off without it – without the constant ringing driving her crazy. Even if it was stolen, she’d bought the extra insurance on it when she’d gotten the thing – and it was worth it, just for a little break. After all, Mother could be more than a little dramatic.
It had been astoundingly easy. Most of the time, he had to work for it at least a little bit. This chick’s purse had been wide open – she’d set it down and started talking to a coworker. And the brand new iphone was sitting there – right on top.
So he’d swiped it as he walked by and he hadn’t looked back. No one had so much as blinked an eye at him. And he could use the cash. He could, he figured, pawn it and at least get a hundred bucks. He could really use a hundred bucks right now.
Calmly, or at least as calmly as he could manage, he shoved the phone into his pocket and walked on.
And there he was, walking down the street, feeling pretty damn proud of himself, when the thing buzzed in his pocket.
He shouldn’t answer it. Of course he shouldn’t answer it. He wasn’t that dumb. But he pulled the thing out to look at it anyway. It wasn’t a missed phone call. It was a text message. He decided to take a chance and read it.
“EMERGENCY!!!” it read.
It was from “Mom.”
He shoved it back in his pocket, more than a little unnerved. What if this woman’s Mother really was having some sort of emergency? He picked an old lady, sobbing on the floor with a broken leg. He’d just wanted to make a little cash off of the phone – he hadn’t wanted to hurt anybody. He was just touching the thing in his pocket when it buzzed again.
“SOS!!!!” it read. “Call me back immediately!!!”
He started to sweat. If this woman was really in trouble… if she was hurt and she didn’t get help… Well, it would be his fault, wouldn’t it?
The phone rang several times. He thought it would never stop ringing. It rang and rang and rang. One of those old-timey phone rings where it sounds like an actual office phone ringing.
Finally, the caller hung up. He was just about to put it away – put it in a pocket and forget about the thing until he sold it – when it rang again. This time he only held out three rings before swiping a thumb across the screen and putting it to his ear.
“Hello?” he asked.
“Karen?” she asked. “You’re not Karen.”
“No, Ma’am,” he said. “I’m …. A friend of Karen’s, just borrowing her phone for a little while. Can I help you?”
He could almost hear the eye-roll over the phone.
“She’s so irresponsible. Flitting around all over the place,” she said. “She’d lose her head if it wasn’t attached. And now? Lending her phone to strangers? So irresponsible.”
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” he said, awkwardly. “But we’re not strangers. Karen and I, we’ve been friends for years.”
He didn’t know why he was defending the absent (and probably absent-minded) Karen.
“Are you two dating?” her mother asked. “Because if you are, it’s very rude of her not to tell me. After all, I am her mother. And I know she always says she’s too busy to date, but that sounds like such an excuse. Who’s too busy to date? And a cute girl like her should be dating. I bet you’re handsome. Are you handsome?”
“Ummm…. I don’t know.”
“Well, you sound handsome,” she said. “I hope you are dating my daughter. You sound like a nice boy.”
He cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” he said. “But your text message said something about an emergency? Can you tell me what’s wrong? Do I need to call the police?”
“Oh. Of course not,” she said. “It’s nothing like that.”
He waited for her to continue.
“I’m just trying to put one of these frozen meal thingies into the microwave and I just want to know which buttons to push to make it go,” she said.
“That’s what you needed?” he asked. “That’s the emergency?”
“Well, yes,” she said. “I’m really very hungry. And the last time, I couldn’t remember what buttons to push, so I just put the thing in the oven. And wouldn’t you know? That plastic isn’t oven-proof and it started melting all over the place. And it tasted disgusting. Like wet, stinky cardboard. Although maybe that’s how it was supposed to taste. These things are always so bland anyway. I guess that’s just part of modern life, but, I mean, don’t you miss it? Whatever happened to real food with real flavor?”
She took a breath before continuing.
“In my day, a woman had dinner hot and ready on the table for her man when he came home from work,” she said. “Karen can’t even cook. Says she doesn’t have time. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t have a boyfriend. Unless you’re her boyfriend. In which case, forget that I said that she can’t cook – she’s a bright girl and I’m sure she can learn, but then again, I’m sure you’re not dating her for her cooking skills… Oh, never mind. Don’t want to get into that. And I suppose these frozen meals things are faster. And they’re supposed to be easier. Only I can never figure out how to work the microwave. And they always end up tasting like cardboard no matter what I do. Would it kill these people to put a few spices in these things? I tell you, people are always trying to cut corners these days. Cheaper is better, blah, blah. You don’t get anywhere worth going by cutting corners, you know?”
“Umm…. Yes,” he said. “I know.”
He decided to cut her off before she could start up again.
“Take the tray out of the box and peel back the plastic a bit,” he said. “Then put the plastic tray into the microwave, check the amount of minutes you’re supposed to put it in for… It’s written on the box. Punch the numbers in on the microwave, close the door and press start.”
Then he hung up, regretting that he’d ever picked up the phone in the first place.
He stuck it back in his pocket and looked around surreptitiously, as if the old lady would be creeping around a corner looking for him.
And he wasn’t the least surprised when, thirty seconds later, the phone rang again. He didn’t know what possessed him to answer it, but his thumb swiped across the screen, seemingly with a mind of its’ own.
He could hear the tremble in his own voice.
“Hello, young man,” she said. “I would like you to know that the way you treated me was very rude. And Karen will be hearing about this. I will not tolerate her dating rude young men. You didn’t even say goodbye before hanging up.”
“I’m … uh…. Sorry?”
“Well, you’d better be sorry,” she said. “Being rude to an old lady like that. And what did I do to deserve it? Nothing. I hope you’re nicer to my daughter than you are to me.”
“I …. Uh… well, I … sure.”
“I have half a mind to tell her to break up with you,” she said. “Speaking of which, I would like to speak to her.”
“She’s not here right now.”
“Well, where is she? Probably in one of those silly meetings she says she has all the time,” she said. “The thing is, you told me to read the numbers on the box, only they’re in such small print and I can’t read them without my glasses. And I can’t quite remember where I put my glasses. And I don’t think I’ve worn them since she was over here the other day. And I was wondering if she remembered where I put them.”
He let out a heavy sigh.
“You don’t need your glasses. Just tear a slit in the plastic and put the microwave on for four minutes,” he said. “When that’s done, peel back the plastic completely and check the food. If it’s still cold, put it in for another thirty seconds.”
“All right, young man,” she said. “I will, but that seems like a terribly imprecise method.”
“Ok, then,” he said. “Have a good day. Bye.”
He had fifteen minutes of peace as he kept walking, the phone blissfully silent. Then it rang again. He could not properly explain the forces of nature that drove him to answer it, but answer he did.
“Hello?” he asked.
“The microwave thing worked,” she said. “The food’s hot, even if it does still taste like cardboard. Why do they make everything taste like cardboard? Since when did that become appealing? I mean, given the option between fast cardboard and something that takes a bit longer but tastes like real food… well, I’ll take the real food. I think any reasonable person would. I suppose people just aren’t reasonable anymore.”
“I suppose not.”
“I was just calling because I had a question,” she said. “And since Karen doesn’t seem to be around – flighty thing, that one – you should be careful… Anyway, I thought I’d ask you.”
“Oh. I wish you wouldn’t call me Ma’am,” she said. “I mean, I know it’s respectful and all, but it makes me feel old. I suppose I am old, but still. You never really want to think of yourself as old, do you? I just wanted to know if ice cream has an expiration date. I suppose it must – all food does, right? But does ice cream ever really go bad? I didn’t think it did. But I opened this old pint that I had in the freezer and it’s quite freezer-burned, with all of these ice crystals on top of the carton and I wanted to know, you know, if that makes it bad. I mean, it probably won’t taste as good as it did when it was fresh, but it would still probably taste ok, but I wanted to know, you know, if there’s any hazard in eating old ice cream. Not that I think I’ll get salmonella. I don’t think you can get salmonella from ice cream, can you? I thought that was just a meat thing. But ice cream is dairy and dairy comes from cows, so maybe? I don’t know. I had hoped that you would know. The thing is that I really wanted some ice cream for dessert and that’s the only pint I have left. And I don’t feel like running out to the store to get more. What do you think?”
Somewhere towards the tail-end of her speech, he’d let the phone fall away from his ear. He couldn’t take it anymore. He hit the end button any hung up.
Only moments later, the thing was ringing again and his traitor thumb swiped to accept the call. He didn’t even have to say anything this time.
“You’re an incredibly rude young man!” she yelled, tinny voice squeaking so loudly through the phone that he didn’t even have to hold it up to his ear. “I don’t know why my daughter wastes her time with you! And I will make sure that she no longer does! She deserves better than a horrible, selfish time-waster like you and I will tell her so! I have never spoken to someone so disrespectful in my life!”
He was almost certain the rant was going to continue, but he didn’t hear any more of it, his traitorous thumb doing the one kind thing it could do and hanging up. The phone rang again, but his thumb – and his whole hand, as a matter of fact, obeyed him in not picking up.
Thankfully, the meeting had been a short one, with a discrepancy in the numbers that resolved itself relatively quickly. She had a whole twenty minutes before her upcoming conference call and she celebrated this small moment of freedom by purchasing a vending machine sandwich (turkey) and chips. She was sitting in her cubicle, inhaling said sandwich, when a tall shadow loomed in front of her, occupying what little natural light her cubicle received from the window.
She was surprised as the guy she’d never met before plonked her cell phone down on her desk.
“Here,” he said. “You take her. I can’t handle her anymore.”
The cell phone was followed onto the desk by a small box of chocolates.
“You deserve a freakin’ medal, lady,” he said. “Good fuckin’ luck.”
Writing Prompt: Mobile Phone, secrecy, steal.
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