Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: TEXTING (05/18/17)
- TITLE: Eight and a Half Words
By Jan Ackerson
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It draws her at the oddest times. In the middle of doing dishes, her arms covered with suds to the elbows. In the darkest hours of night, when she awakens with a gasp, remembering the sound of sirens. On the way to the post office, causing her to pull over so that she can safely read it. Even though she knows what it says.
At store getting ice cream. Do you need anyth
Eight and a half words. Typing them was the last thing he ever did. Massive heart attack, the paramedics had said. Dead before he hit the ground.
So Hannah reads Dirk’s last words, and sometimes she has the strangest thoughts.
~What kind of ice cream? He often bought black cherry, even though she didn’t care for it. But she’d kill for a dish of black cherry now.
~Do I need anything? Yes, Dirk. I need mustard and paper towels—could you get them for me? No, because you’re gone. Not gone, dead.
~You left that sentence unfinished, didn’t you? You know what else was unfinished? Us. We only had thirteen years. Not nearly enough. Oh, and you never finished painting the garage, either.
~He was awfully sweet to text me. Never stopped thinking about me. Just the sweetest man.
~I miss you, love.
That text was sent three years ago. Hannah’s friend Trish used to try to get her to delete it, saying it’s time to move on. You’re still a young woman. Dirk wouldn’t want you living in the past. And truth be told, Hannah had no problem clearing out the closets, Dirk’s workspace in the garage, his desk. But the ridiculous text is the last thing she has of him. Trish knows better than to press the issue; she just shakes her head when she sees Hannah surreptitiously glancing at her phone.
And then the phone dies. Hannah thinks at first that it’s just lost its charge, but it won’t charge at all, and she takes it to the phone store, a stone resting in her throat. The man behind the desk has a nametag that says Don, and as he takes the phone, he notices Hannah’s hand is trembling. “You okay?” he says.
She nods, then shrugs. After Hannah explains what the phone is doing—or rather, what it’s not doing—he takes it into another room and fiddles with some cords and meters. In a few minutes, he comes back, shaking his head. “It’s fried,” he says. “I have no idea what happened, but everything’s gone.”
Hannah starts to cry.
“Whoa, whoa,” says Don, and he scoots out from behind the counter, snatching a bottle of water from the coffee tray for customers. “Um…” he says. “Want some water? I mean, you okay?”
She takes a moment to compose herself, and gratefully accepts the water bottle. Then she tells Don that her husband’s last text was on that phone.
“Whoa,” he says. “Um…you want to sit down for a minute?” He waves a hand toward an open door. “My office is just over there. I’ve got…I think…granola bars?” Then he smacks his forehead, aware that he’s just offered this grieving woman a snack, when she’s just lost her dead husband’s voice. “Shoot. Sorry.”
She doesn’t take him up on the granola, but Hannah eventually manages a smile. “I’ll come back later,” she says. “I just…” Her voice trails off, and she gestures toward the street. “I’ll come back.”
And when Hannah does come back, Don’s got a new phone for her, in a pretty case the same color as her blouse. “No charge,” he says. “We were discontinuing that one, anyway.”
Hannah takes the phone home and places it face down on her table. She doesn’t look at it, doesn’t even think about Dirk’s message. Not once. It’s gone.
Until the next day, when she hears a ping-ping. Someone’s texting her. She picks up the phone, her head filled with a strange buzzing.
It’s Don from the phone store. Do you need anything?
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