The store clerk, adorned in a red vest and invested in commission, approached me while I talked myself into the reasons. Or reminded myself of the necessity. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
I shook my head. “Just browsing.” My eyes didn’t meet his eyes to see the disappointment akin to shunned sales associates, a kind of heartbreak, a removal of purpose.
“Okay. Well—feel free to ask me a question,” the clerk said. I nodded as I stared at my shoes and waited for him to leave. Waited as I wondered how I ended up in the audio/visual aisle. Spools of red and yellow wires, thick and thin, beckoned: make use of us; make us nooses at noontime when Emily is at work.
“I didn’t come here to die,” I said. Aloud.
“I’m sorry?” the clerk asked with a cracked voice. I hadn’t realized he was still there, waiting for me to give him direction.
I sighed. “I’m looking for prepaid phones.”
“Oh!” the clerk said as he clicked his heels together. “We have a wide selection, sir. Everything from simple flip-phones to smartphones—you get email and the Internet on those—and the rates are pretty reasonable.”
“I just need a phone,” I said.
“Ok! No bells and whistles. Let’s check them out!” I followed the clerk away from the spools of wires, all promising high-definition-quality hangings. We made a sharp left and approached a display in the middle of the sales floor.
The phones ranged in size and shape and color and function and I knew all of this when I first entered the store and walked past the display as a way to ease myself into the transaction. I wanted to take a minute. I needed to collect my thoughts. I knew what I wanted—and why—but I sussed out the reasons, the necessity, as if I didn’t already know my motives.
I looked over the phones while the clerk looked over me like some kind of sheepherder or prison guard. I picked up a white flip-phone, clamshell design: the ugliest phone available, it seemed. I flipped it open and scrolled through the menu: no email, no Internet, no bells and whistles. Phone calls and text messages: a Spartan’s gadget.
“I’ll take this one,” I said.
“Great!” the clerk said. “Excellent choice! That one comes with a prepaid card. One hundred minutes, I think. Plus a travel charger and a snazzy belt holster.”
“Absolutely, sir! Snazzy!”
We both fell silent for a minute: I thought about the crossing of wires and the beauty of one’s signal finally pairing with a similar frequency for crystal-clear communication; the clerk, I assumed, thought of the word snazzy and cursed himself.
“Is there anything else you need?”
I shook my head. “This is it.”
September, but the summer still lingered as if it didn’t want to go home, as if the bar wasn’t closing for the night—the season. I forgot to roll my windows down, so the humidity trapped in my car fogged my glasses and caused a parade of sweat to goose-step down my forehead.
I started the car and turned on the air conditioner and fumbled with the phone’s plastic packaging while the cabin cooled. I popped in the battery and plugged the charger into the cigarette lighter. The phone’s tiny display flickered with bright, vibrant colors—so said the packaging—and I dialed the toll-free number on the prepaid card.
Free minutes loaded, I dialed the number stored in my memory.
“Hey. Where are you?”
“In my car.”
“No, I mean—what phone? I don’t recognize the number.”
“Oh,” I said. “This is my new phone.”
“But you already have a phone.”
“I know. This phone is for you. For us.”
A moment of silence. “A secret phone,” she said.
“Yeah. Emily and I, well, we have a shared plan and—”
“No, no. I get it,” she said. “I understand.”
“I know you do,” I said.
Photo By: Johnathan Lyman