Has the mobile phone brought us closer together or driven us apart? A light-hearted look at romance versus the mobile phone.
Heather stirred uneasily in her chair.
‘Are you sure it was Jeff?’ Cate leaned eagerly across the table, her eyes wide with delight.
‘Absolutely,’ Meredith replied with relish, lowering her coffee cup.
‘It may have just been a business lunch,’ Heather ventured, stirring her tepid hot chocolate.
Meredith raised her eyebrows knowingly. ‘You wouldn’t think so if you saw the way they said goodbye.’
‘Should we tell Deirdre?’ Heather could hear the glee in Cate’s voice, despite her straight face.
Heather tried again. ‘Wouldn’t you be taking a big risk? I mean, it…it might be a big shock to her, finding out like this.’
Cate turned on her with exasperation. ‘Come on, Heather. Wouldn’t you want to be told if your husband was having an affair?’
Heather rose to her husband’s defence. ‘Gerald would never have an affair.’
Meredith looked at her pityingly. ‘Every man is capable of having an affair.’
Heather recalled Gerald as she had last seen him when she dropped him off at the station only a couple of hours earlier. His narrow hips and tight, bustling walk. Poor Gerald could barely manage to initiate sex with his own wife. ‘Not Gerald.’
A trill sounded out of nowhere. Instinctively all three women dived for their handbags. Cate and Meredith discreetly put theirs down while Heather rummaged through a capacious hold-all pulling out one phone then another.
‘It’s Gerald’s,’ Heather apologised. ‘He left it in the car this morning.’
It was a text message. She checked the screen and felt the blood drain from her face.
‘Anything urgent?’ Cate enquired with barely disguised prurience.
Heather smiled bravely. ‘No. Nothing. I’ll give him a call later.’
The screen she had hastily shoved back into her bag read: I’m ready when you are. Your place or mine? Susan P.
Heather brought her four-wheel drive to a stop at the red light. Her face streaked with tears, she fumbled blindly in her bag for Gerald’s phone. She snapped it open and tried to make sense of the controls. It was just like Gerald to get the most complicated one he could find. Panicked as a car-horn sounded impatiently behind her, Heather inadvertently deleted the message, dropped the phone and kangaroo hopped through the intersection.
Fate was speaking to her. That woman deserved more than a mute text message. At the next set of lights she picked up the phone again and scrolled through the phone book. What had her name been? Susan. That’s right. There it was Susan B.
The lights changed and she drove on, around one corner and then another and into her own driveway. She turned the ignition off and placed the call. She held the phone to her ear in a hand cramped with the effort to keep it still. It purred again and again and again and with every purr she felt the blood pulsating past her ear.
Suddenly the purring stopped. A fecund female voice crooned, ‘Heeeellooooooo.’
All restraint lost, Heather screeched, ‘How dare you sleep with my husband, you…you bitch!’ The phone fell from her numb hand as sobs convulsed her.
Sue Bancroft arched luxuriously in her bed, stretching her left-hand across to where the sheets were still warm from Gerry’s gorgeous body. She lifted the hand and admired the tastefully expensive diamond and platinum ring and twiddled her fingers to let the large stone catch the late-morning sun. Now this was happiness. Turning over, she was snuggling down for just one more sleep before getting up, when she heard the muffled notes of My Heart Will Go On. She groaned. Voicemail could take it. Then suddenly she sat up. It might be Gerry.
Sue found her handbag under a pile of clothes. Not there. She paused to listen. It wasn’t in the bedroom with her. She had to answer it. She had told Gerry she would be at home, waiting for him to rush back to her at lunch time. She couldn’t not answer. Not today. She went into the lounge-room and began to systematically ransack it, her more and more frantic search accompanied by the electronic drone of My Heart Will Go On. There it was, under the couch where she had kicked it when it had inconveniently gone off while Gerry was nuzzling her neck.
The diamante encrusted screen showing the name Gerry just as she’d expected, Sue immediately put the phone to her ear and purred in her sexiest voice, ‘Heeeellooooooo.’
A female voice shrieked, ‘How dare you sleep with my husband, you…you bitch!’
The phone dropped from Sue’s paralysed hand.
Gerry was married. The bastard was married. It had taken her two years to get him to this point, and today of all days she had to find out what should have been sickeningly obvious all along. She paced up and down the room to the rhythm of the refrain: The bastard is married. The bastard is married.
Sue wrenched the ring from her finger, aimed to throw it over the balcony then paused. This is what engagement rings were for, as insurance against just such an eventuality. She put it down carefully, then sank heavily onto the couch. The bastard was married. It was over. Blinded by tears of rage, Sue groped the couch until her hand found the phone. She would show him. She scrolled through the phone book down to a blurry G. There it was. He didn’t deserve a call. She would break it off in the cruellest way of all. With practised thumbs she wrote: You fucking bastard. Don’t ever try to see me again, and pressed send before she could change her mind.
Garry steered his customer between the new model 4WDs to where his Mercedes was parked outside, shook his hand and waved him goodbye. The Mercedes out of sight, Garry danced across the showroom to where Narelle sat behind the reception desk.
‘Narelle, baby,’ he crooned in a rumba rhythm, ‘we’re hitting the town tonight. I’ve broken Dave’s record. That guy just spent 73,000 smakaroos.’
Narelle had come out from behind her desk, on the way to putting a message on Dave’s desk. She matched Garry’s rumba. ‘Only if I get French champagne.’
‘Only the best for you, my love.’
They were still dancing when a beeping from Garry’s mobile clashed with their rhythm. Bumping shoulders with Narelle, Garry barely paused to fish his phone from his pocket. Then suddenly he stood stock still. Narelle’s eyes wandered of their own accord to the screen. ‘Is that from Susan?’ she asked before the import of the message hit her. You fucking bastard. Don’t ever try to see me again. Susan B.
Garry abruptly slammed the phone shut.
‘I’m sorry, Garry. I didn’t mean to…’
Garry shook his head. His face was pale and his eyes distant.
Garry sighed. ‘I don’t know. We were having dinner, everything seemed all right and then it just went pear-shape. I swear, I don’t know what I did wrong.’
Narelle patted his arm. ‘You’d better call her.’
Garry nodded and retreated to his glassed-in office. Narelle watched him go, wishing she was ten years younger.
Garry sat down, placed the phone on his desk and opened the top drawer. Aware of Narelle’s sympathetic eyes, he didn’t lift the plush red jeweller’s box out, but opened it inside the drawer and gazed on the ring he had so painstakingly chosen. He was sure Susan would love it, but would he ever get a chance to give it to her now? It had been in his pocket last night. He had been waiting for the right moment when suddenly…
Whatever had happened, his own feelings hadn’t changed. He still wanted to spend the rest of his life with Susan. She had to give him one more chance. He was a brilliant salesman. His monthly figures would vouch for it. He had to make one last pitch. He picked up his phone, found the number and pressed call. As soon as the ringing stopped he started talking. ‘Look, about last night….’
A mechanical voice replied, ‘The number you are calling is switched off or out of range. Please call again later.’
Garry felt his stomach drop in despair. No, it was too late. He had really screwed up this time. He had never heard Susan swear and for her to use the f-word meant she was serious. Well, he had always prided himself on giving ladies what they wanted. He typed up a message and paused for a moment before sending: Have it your way. Won’t be seeing me again. Goodbye and good luck.
Dropping his phone into one pocket and the jeweller’s box into the other, Garry left his office. Perhaps it wasn’t too late to get a refund for the ring. Striding past Narelle’s desk, he announced, ‘I’m meeting a client for lunch. I’ll be putting all my calls through to voicemail.’
He tried to ignore the sympathy in Narelle’s ‘Sure, Garry.’
Susan Barnes surveyed the sea of faces before her. All those men, all hanging on her every word. This was the moment she had been working towards all these years. This was her moment of triumph.
She turned towards the screen behind her and pointed at a jagged line on the graph. ‘As you can see, sales have peaked and are beginning to come down a little from the highs of last season, but at the same time, costs have fallen, thus maintaining a steady profit margin, which, I believe, will grow steadily over the next few months. This means that…’ The expectant hush was suddenly pierced by the William Tell Overture. Susan felt her face go red. She dived into her handbag and without looking at it quickly switched her phone off as a wave of sympathetic laughter rippled through the room.
Grateful for the semi-darkness, Susan turned back to her chart. ‘Ah…yes…profit margins…This means that….’
The finger food was almost gone, Susan had caught up with everyone who mattered, now she could find a quiet corner of the boardroom and see whose call she had cut off. There was a missed call and an SMS from Garry. What was he saying? Have it your way. Won’t be seeing me again. Goodbye and good luck.
‘That was a great presentation, Susan,’ she heard at her shoulder. ‘The old man was really impressed.’
Susan turned off the message as Max’s pale face came into view, much too close to hers as usual. Susan took a step back. ‘Great, thanks…um.’ She gestured with the phone, hoping he would get the hint.
‘Oh, sorry…’ Max took a step back and stood diffidently.
Susan found Garry’s message and read it again. What had she done? She had been so nervous last night, anticipating this morning’s meeting. Surely Garry understood that. He had headed enough sales meetings himself to know what it was like. To break it off over one little argument about nothing. What had she said to make him come back with this?
‘Problem? Anything I can help you with?’ Max had come closer and was watching her anxiously.
Why wouldn’t the little man leave her alone? Since he was the boss’s nephew she tried to smile as she said, ‘Nothing I can’t deal with. Do you mind?’
Max backed away again. ‘Oh, yeah, sure…’
What could she say to Garry? How could she make this right? She couldn’t lose him. It was hard enough to find a decent man who wouldn’t be jealous if she made more than him, or complained when she went on business trips. Garry was sweet and sexy and he understood her, understood her lifestyle. Susan tried to think, but Max was still hovering around her.
‘Ah, Susan? You know that meeting next Tuesday? Are you going?’
Susan was scrolling through her phone book. ‘Tuesday? Yeah.’
Max stepped closer. ‘Are you staying overnight?’
Susan had got to the Gs. ‘I think so. My PA would know.’
She could smell Max’s stale breath. ‘Yeah? So am I. I thought…’
She showed Max her phone again. ‘Max, please…’
‘Oh, yeah, sorry…’ Max took a few steps away, but he was still watching her from the corner of his eye.
Susan kept her own eyes on him as she put the phone to her ear and heard, ‘The number you have called is unattended. Your call will be diverted to voicemail. Please leave a message after the tone.’
Max had gained the courage to turn his head and watch her. Susan grimaced politely at him as she said, ‘Hello. This is Susan. Apropos your message. I think there may have been a misunderstanding at our last meeting. Please call me as soon as possible so we can rectify the situation.’
Gerald threw the file on his desk and dropped into his chair. He breathed deeply as his doctor had shown him, trying to unravel, even slightly, the tight knot that had become permanently lodged in the pit of his stomach since Simon, barely thirty and with a brand new MBA on his wall, had become manager of the department. But it was no use.
Gerald had barely come out of the meeting unscathed. He had been working day and night on this project but it was still finely balanced on the edge of disaster if everything didn’t fall into place in the next hour or so. He had only just managed to disguise it from Simon. Fortunately Simon was a master delegator who always made sure he had his own arse covered and could blame someone else if anything went wrong. He hadn’t asked too many questions, but Gerald knew he was in danger of falling into Simon’s trap. He wouldn’t need much of an excuse to let Gerald go and get in someone younger — much younger.
There were two messages on Gerald’s phone. He pushed the play button and held his breath. The first was from the customs agent. The shipment had finally been passed through the system and would be delivered that day. Gerald breathed a sigh of relief. The second one sounded like it had been made on a bad mobile line and he had to play it twice.
‘Hello. This is Susan.’ He made out at last. ‘Apropos your message. I think there may have been a misunderstanding at our last meeting. Please call me as soon as possible so we can rectify the situation.’
Gerald felt the tight knot travel up and grab his lungs. What the hell did Suzie mean — a misunderstanding? Last time they met everything had been sorted out. All that had happened since was that he had left a message reminding her to email him the price list she had put together and he had received it that morning. She had assured him that everything was going to plan. She had done all the costings and checked them again and again. Had she found a mistake at this late stage? If they lost money, or heaven forbid, the client, over this, his head was definitely for the chop.
Frantically Gerald dialled Suzie’s office number and heard: ‘This call is being diverted. Please hold the line.’
Gerald’s fingers hammered the desk as he waited for the series of clicks and tones to play out. Then — thank goodness — a cheery female voice said, ‘Hi…
‘Suzie…’ he began before he realised there had been no pause as the message continued: ‘…this is Suzie Prescott. Can’t come to the phone now. Just leave a message and I’ll get back to you before you know it. Cheers.’
Gerald tried to keep the panic out of his voice. ‘Suzie, this is Gerald. What do you mean, there’s been a misunderstanding? I thought we got it all sorted out. We’ve got to talk about this ASAP. When can we meet? Today? It’s got to be today.’
Suzie Prescott had just settled down in her favourite seat at MYO and was placing her plump hands around the tottering tower of food on her plate, when Cheryl dropped into the seat opposite her.
‘Have you got your boyfriend’s message? The poor man was desperate. Absolutely begged me to make sure you got it.’
Suzie had got rather sick of Cheryl’s little joke, but there was no use trying to shut her up about it. All Suzie had said one day was that she thought poor Gerald could do with a big hug, and Cheryl had run with it ever since. Suzie’s only choice was to go along with it. She raised an eyebrow. ‘Begging was he?’
Cheryl smiled widely and nodded slowly. ‘Desperate.’
Suzie wiped her hands on a napkin and fished her mobile phone out of her handbag. Cheryl leaned across and Suzie held the phone between their ears.
‘Suzie, this is Gerald. What do you mean, there’s been a misunderstanding? I thought we got it all sorted out. We’ve got to talk about this ASAP. When can we meet? Today? It’s got to be today.’
Cheryl giggled. ‘Desperate, all right. What’s he on about anyway?’
Suzie shrugged. ‘Haven’t the faintest. I’ll ask him.’ She was scrolling through the message bank to call him back when Cheryl took the phone from her.
‘Wait. I’ve got a better idea.’
Suzie watched over her shoulder as Cheryl typed out her message. ‘I can’t send that.’
‘No, but I can.’ Cheryl pressed send and the following message flashed through the ether: I’m ready when you are. Your place or mine?
© Pauline Montagna 2007