the i-phone

For a while now I’ve been thinking about how to write a work of popular fiction. In a lackadaisical fashion, sure, but still . . . thinking. Then last week I read The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black, who is of course John Banville when he’s doing detective fiction . . . his hero, Quirke, is a pathologist but the real star of the book is the city of Dublin and especially her weather. I enjoyed it well enough but the denouement disappoints; or is that always the case, even with old masters like Hammett or Chandler? Or Edgar Allen Poe for that matter. Anyway it got me thinking in a more focused way about what I might do and I came up with what I thought might be a plausible opening scene: I, or my avatar, is sitting on a rank in the city, most probably Park Street, when he sees in the side mirror a fare approaching and says to himself: Uh oh, here comes trouble. This scenario had somehow drifted from my mind when, last Tuesday evening at about 7 pm, sitting on the rank outside the Deutsche Bank building in Hunter Street waiting for my next fare, I saw a woman coming and thought to myself: Uh oh, she looks like trouble. Mid-thirties, expensively dressed, thin as whippet, high heels, something in her walk set off warning bells. She climbed in the back. Going to Manly. Once we were on our way I turned to have a look at her. Would you like to go Military Road? I asked. Or the other way? She gave what is usually called a brilliant smile. I don’t mind, she said. I went the other way. She started tapping away on her palm pilot. I was listening to Calexico’s Carried to Dust; it was a fine night, traffic on the bridge had thinned, the fare would complete the amount I needed from dockets to pay my boss, apart from a slight worry about the state of the brakes on T112, all was well. Not a word was spoken for the duration of the trip to Manly. She tapped, I hummed, we drove. Coming down Sydney Road to the junction with Pittwater Road I asked: What do you want to do here? Right, she said. Right we went. Next intersection is at the Esplanade, opposite where the ferry comes in. Here? I asked. Left. We went left. I assumed we must be going up the hill towards the Christian Brothers school. I drove up the hill. She was still tapping away. We passed through one intersection, then another. Oh! she cried. We should have turned left there! A wave of aggravation went through me, I don’t know why. I’d been feeling fine until then. I went back, made the turn and at the next intersection, elaborately polite, asked what I should do. It was a fairly complex navigation down to where she lived in (truly) Fairy Grove and she did not call a single turn: I had to ask every time. She cried out again when we passed her house: Here! It’s here! Stop! I stopped. Paused the meter. Turned on the interior light. Waited. She was still tapping away on her device, hadn’t even begun the procedure that would lead to the card, the swipe, the entering of the amount, the receipt, the signing of the receipt . . . I cleared my throat. Oh, she said, sorry . . . diving at last for her purse. I nearly said, you’re not sorry; but what would have been the point of that? Much later, back in town, dropping off in William Street my fare, a lovely young French-Australian woman, said: Oh look . . . somebody’s left their i-phone. I knew at once whose phone. I also knew that the complications of returning it to her, and the consequences of those complications, would lead me into the strange heart of the exact kind of story I was thinking of writing.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “the i-phone

  1. Adam

    Nice story Martin

    It reminds me of the time my neighbour turned up at our door with a Iphone that she needed to charge up. Problem was “a friend” had lent it to her, for safe keeping. I opened it up. It belonged to someone with a double barrelled name that people like my neighbour Tina wouldn’t know: Martin Desmond-Covington, or something like that. I tried to explain to Tina that it was impossible to charge up without the charger. Did she have it? No. There’s a life inside those phones and maybe a “spirit” of the original owner. Like a shrunken head. Who knows: Iphone mana. Better hand it back bro.

    • me

      Too true, Adam. I gave it back next morning . . . she sent a car around here for it, the driver a man called Mohamed with sharpened teeth stained from betel nut.

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