Saturday, April 30, 2011
Short Short Story
by Sean Kenealy
“Excuse me? Were you just staring at me?”
I look up from my book and see a middle aged woman.
“Right now. While drinking coffee. You stared at me. You rolled your eyes.”
“I didn’t roll my eyes.”
“Yes, you did. It looked like this.”
She rolls her eyes, using her whole head and neck to emphasize the gesture.
“I didn’t do that.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Why did you roll your eyes? Was it my phone?”
“My phone.” And she pulls out her phone: wide screen and bright light. “I was checking my mail. Not talking. Not doing anything to bother you, so why would you roll your eyes at me?”
“Because I was being rude? Is that why? Because I need technology?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you thought it.” People are staring at us now. The entire café. “Oh, I get it. I know what’s going on. It’s all clear to me now.”
“You. You’re clear. You look around, you see smart phones, and you think the most ridiculous thoughts.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The end of human connection; virtual versions of people, how smart phones are the downfall of civilization.”
“But it means nothing. Your thoughts. You can’t describe them. You have no idea what you’re actually thinking. You just like to blame. Like to roll your eyes.” She rolls her eyes again. “You’re not clever enough to do anything else.”
“Excuse you. That’s right. And you like to pretend you’re more connected to
“society” because you don’t have a fucking smart phone.” She shakes her phone. I don’t say a word.
“You know what I do for a living? I work for a children’s protection agency. And know what that means? It means I find foster homes for children who’ve been abused. That’s why I was checking my mail right now. I was contacting a family to meet a child tomorrow. A child that has no one in the world, and soon she will. Because of this.” She shakes her phone, this time much closer to my face. “I couldn’t have done it without it. Not as quickly, at least. A lot of people do amazing things with smart phones. We’re not all updating our statuses and social networking.”
Again, I say nothing.
“And what the hell do you do? Work at a bookstore? An artist? In your head all day? I suppose you don’t have time for smart phones. No time to check your e-mail, even if it is for finding someone a family.”
The woman coughs, wipes her face, and I notice how skinny she is, too skinny. I wonder if her clothes will shake off.
“And you see that book you’re reading?”
I look at my book.
“Guess what I have?”
“What do you have?”
“I have a Kindle. And I bet that really makes your eyes roll. I bet you think I’m destroying publishing; destroying an art. But you have no idea! Do you even know what would happen if we stopped printing books? That the book industry produces the equivalent of 12 million metric tons of carbon every year? Jesus, I mean, that’s what you’re fighting for. That’s why you want to look cool with your vintage novella, sit in café’s like this, and look down on people with smart phones and Kindles who are really just trying to do some good for the environment and find children homes.”
She shakes some more, out of breath, and I see veins surface on her neck.
“But it’s easier just to think we’re robots, isn’t it? Easier to roll your eyes without asking.”
She reaches for my book, rubbing against my sweaty hands, and tosses it to the table. We’re silent. The whole café is silent.
“Do you have a record player?” she asks.
I don’t say a thing. Too frightened. Wondering if she’ll hit me, throw coffee in my face, laugh like wild. But she’s still. She’s alone. And then she cries. Until she bawls, shaking her skinny body.
“I have a record player,” she says. She gasps for air. “It was my moms.” More tears, more stares. She then wipes her boney cheek and I see bruises on her arms. Some look bumpy, others scabbed. There are dozens of them, and I know right away she’s in pain.
“My mom,” she cries. “My mom. My mom.”
She then grabs both my hands, as if making sure to have every ounce of my attention. She does. I’m not rolling my eyes anymore, just staring straight ahead.
“Listen to me,” she says. Her eyes are red, but there are no more tears. “Technology could do a lot of good if you fucking people would let it.” And she’s gone, walking out of the café like she was never there. A ghost. In her purse I hear rattling.
Everyone exhales. I’m silent. I stare down at my book, breathing heavier and heavier, the last few minutes catching up to me in the last few seconds.
“Fucking cunt,” a voice says. I look up and see a young man. He’s about my age. Dressed similar, too. We both have clear skin. We both have old books.
I don’t respond. I just rub both my hands, cold from the woman’s touch, and I wipe them on my ripped jeans.
I abandon my book.
Posted by Sean Kenealy