Where’d You Get That Ringtone?

03/16/23

Afterward the phone in her pocket rang, or rather played a song. It startled him, because he thought everything was over, and then this, making him think of crickets. At first he thought she was accusing him, but of course that was just his guilty conscience. Then, within a second, he had switched to thinking of multitudes of crickets wriggling around under her body. The kind with black backs but white underbellies, and if you looked close enough you could see the white was really more like vanilla cookies, but soft. It made him gag.

Of course even as he pictured the crickets it was obviously the sound of a phone. He wanted it to stop, but he was too smart to answer it.

Someone would come looking for her, that much was obvious. No one goes to meet a guy in his house without telling people. A husband, maybe, or a secretary. Possibly a neighbor with romantic ambitions but little reason to hope because she only thinks of him as a friend. He tried to picture her telling a man she would be back after her meeting, but the man swayed in the shadows and said foolish things such as “Be careful, you never know what kind of nut-jobs are out there” or “Come home safe, I couldn’t live without you.” He refused to come into focus, this imagined man. He was more like one of those figures people make out of panty hose stuffed with something, such as old socks or potatoes. You put them on your porch and it scares the kids who come to trick or treat. You dress them in your own clothes of course. But it is only a figure and sometimes a silent figure makes you more lonely.

Loneliness was his problem, really. He felt empty and after her phone stopped ringing it occurred to him he could use it to call somebody, some random contact from her list, someone with an appealing name. He could say he had found it.

It wasn’t wise but the allure of talking to someone, of having an excuse for talking, was too strong. He picked up the phone and its screen displayed a blue and orange abstraction like streetlights seen through crystals of ice and waited for him to unlock it. He didn’t know how to do that. The screen winked off. He could push the button, play with it, see what happened. Maybe that would send a signal that could be traced. And then there were fingerprints, of course. You can’t forget about fingerprints. He’d always been careful about that. He caressed the phone anyway and placed his finger on the button, too gently to press it.

He would have liked to hear a voice. Then he would say, I found this phone; do you know who it belongs to? It’s black and—how to distinguish it from other phones? And then as he pondered, the thing rang again, or rather played its song, and he dropped it in surprise. What a stupid, chirpy song. Far too happy. He could picture the crickets again, multitudes, like the ones that had come in a wave under the screen door when he was ten and had just been reading about menstruation and felt a warm guilt in his belly and wanted not to know. What made them come wriggling under the door at just that moment?

~ fin ~

Grice author photo Dungeon

Gordon Grice’s stories have recently appeared in Aurealis, The Cryptid Chronicles, and Metaphorosis. His nonfiction projects include National Geographic’s Shark Attacks, a piece about post-mortem dissections for The New Yorker, assorted magazine pieces on leprosy, sperm, and locusts, and a widely reprinted essay on black widow spiders. He lives in Wisconsin and online at GordonGrice.com.