Ida stands at the window, hands tucked into the back pockets of her Levi’s. “Look at those icicles.” She turns. Her husband hunches in his easy chair, neck curved. “Seventy-three of them, slippery sharp like a row of dragon’s teeth.”
Frank sighs and shoots what appears to be an obligatory glance through the glass before returning his attention to the phone in his hand, jabbing at the screen with a thickened index finger. A window of light reflects off each lens of his glasses.
“Not that I believe in dragons. Although I could deal with a bit of heat from a dragon’s mouth just about now, what with the deep freeze we’ve been living in for…how many months?” She extracts her right hand from her pocket and begins accounting for the time, laying out her thumb and settling November firmly upon it like an accusation. The remaining fingers are assigned their own month: “December…January…February…Four months. We been frozen up for four months.”
“Wish you’d freeze your mouth up a bit,” Frank mutters.
A row of growth rings belts each icicle, a drop of water hovers from every tip. “Nature is always in action,” she says, expecting no reply.
“What’s funny?” She’s grown accustomed to her husband’s snarky remarks. But she doesn’t cotton to being laughed at.
He shakes his head, still staring at his phone. “Nothing.” His eyes are dull and lifeless as they sweep across the screen.
She regrets the day she and Frank allowed the grandkids to convince them to get smartphones. Alan told them they’d be cool, and presented Frank a balled-up hand for a fist bump. Frank laughed, eyes sparking. “We’re too old to be cool, Alan. And I don’t do fist bumps. No sir, I’m a handshake man.” He tugged on the front of each pant leg before settling himself in his easy chair. “How is your handshake, anyway?”
Alan transfigured his fist bump into half a handshake, fitted it to his grandfather’s hand. The swift action reminded Ida of the sign language interpreter she’d seen when she watched the State of the Union address, not so much to learn the state of the country, hell, she could walk down Main Street and tell that. No, she liked making fun of the people who pretended to lead while the rest of the nation mainly ignored them, going about their business, working hard and trying to make a thin paycheck stretch.
“That ain’t no way to shake a man’s hand,” Frank said, clearing this throat. “A man defines himself by the strength of his handshake. You, my friend, are a dead fish.”
Alan stormed off then, feelings temporarily injured. Kerry took up where her brother had left off. “You can get the weather any time of day or night, Granddad.”
Well, that had convinced Frank alright. The man divined his day from the weather report. Sometimes it seemed he couldn’t even go to the toilet without first checking the forecast.
They headed to the mall, Alan bouncing in the center of the backseat, his grandfather forgiven. They found the little kiosk in the center of the second floor, beside the place that sold oversized bags of colorful popcorn.
She chose a pink phone. Frank navy. They signed a contract and shook hands, even Alan, with the salesman, and bought a large popcorn to celebrate.
As they ate, the grandkids taught them how to text.
During the day, while they were at work, she at the school, filling out attendance forms and tracking down missing students, he running electric for the new construction downtown, they would text each other the news of their day, little bits of their lives, doled out one drop at a time, flashing briefly for a moment upon an impartial screen before being forgotten.
Thanks for lunch.
The principal is absent today.
The boss is screwing the secretary.
These small pieces of their of their day weren’t enough to sustain her. She needed conversation, that gentle back and forth, at the end of the day, not rapid-fire reportage throughout.
Now, she clears her throat. “I’m gonna’ say something I been meaning to say for seven months, Frank.” She doesn’t need to rely upon her fingers to know how long it has been.
His eyebrows lift. His eyes remain on the screen.
“We never talk anymore.”
“We talk.” He runs his finger across the display.
“We text each other our news all throughout the day so that by the time it gets to be dinner, we ain’t got anything to talk about.”
“That’s not true.”
“Seems to me like you’re in a semi-permanent state of self-medication shaking hands with that damn phone all day long.”
“You should talk about self-medication, what with the amount of coffee you toss down your throat in a day.”
She waits for his eyes. Receiving none, she goes to the kitchen and digs her phone from beneath the kitchen towels. A strange place for a phone, true: But she can’t stand its constant ringing and has no idea how to silence its ever-present voice, yammering without cease, demanding her attention when she’s reading or crocheting or cleaning the bathroom.
She types in her passcode, sends her husband a text. “I want a divorce.”
She counts the seconds before Frank hollers: Two.
She laughs and tosses her phone in the trash, where it belongs, grabs a towel and began drying dishes. She can’t leave Frank with a messy kitchen.