Ted changed the smoke detector batteries the night Daylight Saving Time took effect. He was chucking the used batteries in the drawer they used to collect e-waste for recycling when he noticed the old flip phone. He decided to charge it so his son could play with it.
As with all things electronic, it drew Daniel’s notice as soon as he came in the kitchen.
“Daddy, did you get a new phone?” Daniel asked, alerting his sister.
“A phone? What kind??” she asked.
“Just an old model we had lying around. I thought Daniel might like to play ga—”
“Cool!” Daniel’s voice piped as he shot past holding the phone like a torch.
“Why does Daniel get a new phone?” Audrey whined.
“It’s not a new phone, it doesn’t even work. There’s no signal,” Ted said.
Daniel was back, holding the phone out. “Daddy, what does this say?”
Ted felt his eyelids sag. “Hey, I need to get dinner on, Buddy. Why don’t you see if you can figure it out? Audrey can help you.”
“What?” she protested.
“Oh, ok.” Audrey grabbed the phone out of Daniel’s hands.
“Let me show you!” she yelled.
“Dad gave it to me!”
“Stop it! …Dad, he kicked me!”
“Give it back,” Daniel cried, mustering tears.
“That really hurt!” Audrey rubbed her shin and checked for a wound.
“Kids, get out of the kitchen. Work it out.” Ted tried to sound authoritative, but they didn’t move.
“I mean it. Next one to whine gets to do the compost.”
“Ahhh!” They both ran screaming into the living room.
Ted opened the cupboard, looking for the rice. The red wine was in there. Before Sarah died, he would have had a glass, and brought her one. As it was, he firmly averted his eyes from the temptation. He was going to have to get through another night, sober.
“Dad?” Audrey was back in the doorway.
Damn it. Couldn’t he just have five minutes’ peace?
“It’s got your name on it.” She held up the phone.
“Yeah? I think that was mine,” he said absently, pulling down the bag of rice.
“No, I mean a text came in for you.”
She pushed the phone in front of his nose. She always held things right in front of his eyes, like he had a 13-year-old’s eyesight. He pushed it farther away to read, and said, “That’s not possible, it’s not hooked up.”
Yet, there it was. In all caps, in the digital font of a 1990 calculator.
“Funny.” He handed it back to her. “You figured out how to use the keypad quickly.”
“What are you talking about?” Her confusion was genuine.
“You didn’t type this?” he asked.
“No. It just appeared. Look. Now it says “ARE U THERE?”
“Let me see.”
She handed him the phone. He saw she was right. How did it go? You had to press and hold the 1 key to get the letter A, twice to get B, three times for C.
Laboriously he typed out “WHO IS THIS,” but couldn’t find the question mark.
The response, “ITS ME” came quickly. No apostrophes either, he noted. The next word sent a full body flush through him.
Audrey was watching him. “Who is it, Dad?”
“Just some jerk trying to play me,” he said without looking up. He typed, “F OFF SICKO,” and sat down heavily on the kitchen chair.
Daniel came looking for his new toy. “Can I have it back, Daddy?”
Ted turned the phone over and pulled out the battery. “Sorry, Son,” he answered. “It’s broken.”
Inside the little decorative mirror above the sink, Sarah’s misty face lingered.
That man could sure keep a grudge.