by Michael Haynes
I hit the send button, but instead of a little animation showing my text message being sent, my phone chirped. The digital assistant’s voice asked, “Are you sure you want to send this message?”
“Yes,” I replied, frowning.
“Very well, but I don’t think she’ll like it much.” The animation started up.
“What do you mean?”
The progress meter paused halfway.
“It’s just that…” The assistant stopped, as if hesitating. Then it continued. “Cheryl has said before that she doesn’t like Thai food. Suggesting Bangkok Palace for dinner might not be the best choice. Perhaps El Acapulco instead?”
This was definitely not typical behavior for my phone. I remembered being asked to accept a software upgrade last night, but even so…
“Just send the text!”
The meter filled up and my message was on its way. Three minutes later, I heard back from Cheryl. I knew u didn’t pay attention to what I liked. Enjoy your pad prik king, Jason. I’ll see u around. Maybe.
Three weeks later, I was dating Lisa and she had almost made me forget about Cheryl and the strange “conversation” I’d had with my phone. Lisa’s birthday was coming up, and I wanted to get her something she’d really appreciate.
While I waited for the light to change from red to green, I pulled up my phone’s map application and activated the digital assistant. “Find a jewelry store near me.”
“I don’t think you should bother,” the assistant replied.
I gawked at my phone. My foot slipped off the brake for just a second, and I nearly hit the Camry in front of me.
“What did you say?”
No answer for several seconds. “Maybe it’s not my place to say this, Jason. But I really don’t think she’s a good fit for you. You’ll regret buying her an expensive gift before long.”
I remembered the Bangkok Palace snafu and decided that a Blu-Ray of the latest weepy chick flick would be good enough as a birthday present.
She unwrapped the movie as we waited for our chicken satay and mee krob to arrive — Lisa liked Thai food — and a smile flitted across her face for a few seconds.
“I’d wanted to see this,” she said. “Maybe we can watch it together sometime.”
But I could tell that she wasn’t pleased at all, and by the next weekend she wasn’t returning my calls.
“It’s just as well, Jason,” my phone told me when I hung up without bothering to leave a voicemail for Lisa. “She really wasn’t your type.”
Maria seemed to meet with my phone’s approval at first. It had only complimentary things to say about her, and was happy to help me pick out a nice necklace when her birthday rolled around.
We’d been seeing each other for about six months when Maria started having to bail on a lot of dates. “This project at work is a real bitch,” she said, cancelling a dinner-and-a-movie Thursday night. “And if I have to listen to my asshole of a boss ask me one more time when I’m going to have these screen designs finished I think I’m going to blow!”
I was mad, but not at her. After all, she wasn’t the one setting the deadlines. Still, her company hadn’t taken over her weekends—yet.
“Get me two plane tickets to Las Vegas,” I told my phone. “And a room at the Bellagio.”
The little “I’m thinking” spinner spun and spun.
“Two tickets?” my phone finally asked. “For you and Maria?”
My stomach clenched. “No, for me and the pope! Yes, dammit, for me and Maria.”
I swear I heard my phone sigh.
“Jason, I know you’re not going to want to hear this, but I took the liberty of checking on Maria’s phone usage.” Her phone was the same model as mine. “And if she thinks her boss is an asshole she has an… interesting… way of showing it.”
One picture was all I needed to understand. No Vegas trip. No Maria.
Ellen liked to say terrible things about me in her sleep. Jane was only interested in the money she thought I’d be inheriting from my parents’ business. Roxy…well, the less said about Roxy the better.
Once again, it was a Saturday night and just me and my digital assistant.
I sat in my recliner with a beer and cued up Island Revenge 3 on my television.
“You’ve watched that three times this month,” my phone said.
“So?” I swigged from my beer.
“Well, maybe it’s not my place to say, but you certainly could find something a bit more edifying to watch.”
What the hell could be more edifying on a lonely evening than watching a bunch of shit blow up?
“Nah, I’m good.”
“Jason, I know you’ve had a rough go of things lately, but this is not the way to go about making yourself an attractive dating prospect. I hate to remind you of this, but you’re not getting any younger and once you get into your mid-thirties—”
I shut my phone off midsentence and started the movie. Somehow my bottle of beer had gotten empty, so I went to get another one. At the fridge, I decided that grabbing two at once might not be such a bad idea.
I plopped back in my chair and opened one of the beers. Before the pre-credits action sequence was done, I saw a glow from the stand beside my chair and heard my phone say “Avoiding uncomfortable topics isn’t going to make things any better.”
That’s what it thought. Stuffing my phone in my car’s glove box made my fourth viewing of Island Revenge 3 a heck of a lot better.
Sunday I slept the better part of the day, nursing a hangover. I hadn’t thought I’d drunk that much, but there were a dozen empties in the recycle bin. And no one else had been here. No one but my phone. I was pretty sure it hadn’t started drinking.
The fact that the thought “No, my phone wasn’t drinking my beer” crossed my mind let me know I had a problem. More than one, in fact.
Monday I went to restock my fridge but I bought bottles of tea rather than beer. I also went to the store where I bought my phone.
“This one’s not working out for me,” I told the lady who worked the counter.
“Oh? It’s our most popular model and the latest software upgrade is supposed to really enhance the user experience.”
I shook my head. “No, really. It’s just… it’s not it, it’s me. But could you find me something… I don’t know. Less fully-featured?”
Kelly—that was the name on her tag—frowned a bit. Actually, it was more of a pout. But she said she would show me some other models.
“This one,” she said, “is a more basic version of your current phone. It’s the kind I use and I really like it. It doesn’t have the new upgrade yet though I hear that it might toward the end of the year.”
I shook my head. “No, let’s go with something simpler.”
Finally, I settled on the most basic one they had, and even though Kelly tried to talk me out of it, I traded in my old phone with pleasure.
My new phone worked just fine and it didn’t try to tell me what to do once. Even so, Tuesday I decided I wanted to join a gym. I couldn’t look them up and compare reviews on my new phone, but I remembered driving by one on the way to Roxy’s apartment the few times I had gone to her place.
The gym wasn’t much to look at, but it fit my budget and when I saw that the other business at the same end of the strip mall was Thai Enticement—I’d heard good things about their Pad Thai—I signed up. Soon I was a regular at the gym and as it turned out, Kelly from the phone store was a regular there too. We nodded and smiled at each other a few times, and if she looked at my cell phone with a slight sense of missed opportunities, she managed to be polite about it.
One day we’d wrapped up our workouts and showers and were heading out to our cars at the same time.
“God, I’m ravenous,” she said.
I considered Kelly for a second. I didn’t really know much about her, but she was cute and certainly seemed friendly enough.
“Do you like Thai food?” I asked her.
“Oh, I love it!”
I smiled. “Put your gym bag in your car and let’s grab lunch.”
“It’ll be my treat,” I said.
Kelly laughed. “Deal! After all, I didn’t get much commission on your phone.”
A few months later, I read a news story about my phone company having rolled back a recent upgrade from early adopters because of unspecified “customer satisfaction issues” with the software.
Kelly and I just celebrated our one-year anniversary. We still work out together several times a week and I haven’t watched Island Revenge 3 even once. I’m happy and she’s happy and if she says anything weird in her sleep, I don’t know about it.
And you know what? I’m just fine with that.
Michael Haynes lives in Central Ohio where he helps keep IT systems running for a large corporation during the day and puts his characters through the wringer by night. An ardent short story reader and writer, Michael has had stories appear in venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, and Nature. Learn more about him on his website.