Thursday, 7 July 2011
THUMBS by Ron Dionne
It was exactly the same when he got back. No change. He paused, his hand on the doorknob. Had she found more?
"What's so funny?"
The question, not his entrance, interrupted her open-mouthed giggle, but she flashed him only the merest of glances before her thumbs resumed the dance of the touch screen.
"Who ya texting?"
She sighed. Her rump in the white running shorts with the red trim shifted on the sofa cushion. She did not look away from the screen.
"You on Facebook?"
When she didn't answer, he opened the apartment door and poked his head into the hallway. He saw with satisfaction that it was empty, and closed the door again. He locked all three locks. The trip home had been shockingly easy: a seat on an earlier connecting flight available, the cabdriver expert, the traffic light. It was as if the moment were being urged upon them by a Fate anxious not to miss some other, more important appointment.
He put down his carry-on bag and un-knotted his tie. He leaned over the back of the sofa to peek at the screen, but she pressed it to her breast so he couldn't see.
He took his bag into the other room and changed. She was still at it when he emerged with the gift and the phone bill. He put the phone bill on the pile of mail atop the kitchen island. Her cheeks were flushed now and her tank top showed nipple. The glass of their wedding portrait on the wall behind the sofa reflected an image of bodies on the phone's screen. She folded her legs under and he basked in another brief glance, a moment of near eye contact, which coincided with the image in the reflection changing to text. The thumbs danced.
"Got ya something," he said. He put the box on the glass coffee table.
She bit her lower lip, giggling again, shaking her head.
"Open it," he said.
She fixed him with a full-on look. The pretty face, the nice figure in tank top and those legs in their shorts tucked under. All still working. He nudged the smallish rectangle of bronze cardboard toward her. "For you," he said.
Her expression was that of a child being encouraged to eat an exotic food. The box received a glance, and again she tap-tap-tapped her screen.
In the kitchen he filled a Pilsner glass with water and according to plan gathered the accumulated mail with the phone bill on top. He returned to the living room, put the glass on a Niagara Falls coaster, and was about to sit in the arm chair facing her when he heard the sound of a door opening and closing in the hallway. He found in the closet the draft stopper they used winters, and placed it at the foot of the door, flush. He took his seat in the arm chair. She tapped.
He put the phone bill aside and ripped open mail. For drama, he announced each piece and rendered verdicts. Pay now, pay later, junk mail, trash. A postcard from her sister in Tarzana. A few pieces in, a flurry of furtive glances like a Geiger counter sniffing ore hurtled his way, the telltale peaks in the tank top sharpening. There were some catalogs and other pieces yet to go, but he put them aside and took up the phone bill.
She stretched her legs. Her painted toenails gripped the edge of the table, near the unopened box. She tapped.
He watched her for a moment thinking it was too bad, but not really. He took a swallow of water. He smoothed the phone bill in his lap. It had come in a nine by twelve envelope, too many pages to fold in the usual number ten. He turned to the first page listing text messages.
"Phone bill," he said. "A whopper."
He recited the numbers of her outgoing and incoming texts. He let rip the Chicago in his accent, which once upon a time she had found charming. Listen sammiches, that time he clinched it with her. Only when she was done enjoying it did he reveal the meat was pig's ear. It's often better to experience something without anticipation, and know truth later.
The numbers that repeated he announced loudest. He recited calmly and steadily and the alternation of loud and soft was like a speaker with a faulty wire that cut out. There were three numbers in particular that an online reverse directory, for a reasonable fee, had helped him isolate. These he gave special prominence. He did not need the bill for those, not really. He knew them by heart.
The sixth time he said the second number, she put the phone down. Her face was red, but not as red as he had expected. She sucked on the inside of one cheek. He stopped reciting.
"Am I boring you?"
She reached under her top and scratched.
"May I?" he said. He held out his hand. She looked at the precious window to her world, and at his face, and at the window again, and tap-tapped it off. She handed it over.
"Thanks," he said. He plopped it in the Pilsner glass.
She closed her eyes briefly and shook her head as little as it was possible to shake it.
"Open your gift," he said.
She stared for a moment at the dead phone magnified in the water and reached for the box.
He moved to the sofa and sat next to her. He put his arm around the back of the sofa behind her, not quite touching her pretty shoulders. Her hair smelled good. She smelled good. He could, right now, if she wanted to. But he knew that that wasn't going to happen. What he liked most about travel was that even though it was expensive and often fraught with inconvenience a trip, once taken, could never be taken away from you. It lived on in your heart and your memory, forever and always.
She lifted the lid of the box, unfolded the tissue and lifted the cotton cushion.
There were three opposable pairs, bound together with rubber bands. He'd written phone numbers on the left of each, those numbers he knew by heart.
She made a noise and fled into the bedroom. He followed, stopping first to get the kitchen shears.
Bio: Ron Dionne has a novel, SAD JINGO, forthcoming as an ebook original from Delabarre Publishing later this year. He has published genre fiction of various sorts in Blue Murder Magazine, Hardboiled, After Hours, and Palace Corbie, but admits it's been a while. For more info: http://writingdark.com/