Heather had made up her mind not to watch television that night. She closed the blinds, cranked up some music, and sat down with a new book. Soon it would be over and she would move on with her life. That’s what she told herself, and when she wrapped herself in walls of noise and distractions, she almost believed it.
Fifteen minutes later, while she was reading the author’s dedication for the thousandth time, Heather realized that she was very thirsty. All she needed was a glass of water, then she would be able to make those words coalesce into actual sentences. She tossed the book aside and started for the kitchen.
Her phone met her on the way, scuttling across the dull wooden floor like an odd, flightless beetle. Heather had left it on vibrate, and in a different room, but it seemed that wasn’t enough. She scooped it up. There were 753 new text messages, 827 new emails, and 322 missed calls, which translated into about four metres of horizontal movement. She checked the latest caller ID: Mom. She checked the latest text message: “Hope U R Happy BITCH,” from an unknown number. She debated calling someone, but that still seemed like a losing prospect. All she had to do was hold out. Keep her head down and weather the storm for a few more hours.
With a heavy sigh, she filled a glass with tap water. “I should be drunk.” Isolation. She was now a person who talked to herself. Why wasn’t there any booze in her apartment? Because she was prone to drunk texts and calls, and being drunk was probably what started this in the first place. On the other hand, if she were hammered enough she wouldn’t care. But could she afford enough alcohol to make that last? What a train of thought. She took a sip of water and then carried the glass out of the kitchen.
The phone was still buzzing away in her hand as she set the water down on the coffee table and collapsed onto her couch. She picked up the book, flipped it open, read the first line of the dedication again, and then threw it across the room in frustration.
Before she could think about what she was doing, she grabbed her remote and turned on the television. It showed a 24-hour deep-sea fishing channel, but she didn’t need to change over to find what she was looking for. Every broadcaster, station, and affiliate carried the same announcement. A phone number she knew by heart flashed across the screen. In the background, a distinguished-looking group of talking heads gathered around a table, fingers pointing, hands cutting the air as they engaged in animated discussion. Even with the volume muted Heather knew what they were saying. She had heard it all before.
It still felt different now, seeing them on the night of the announcement. He’s actually going to do it, she realized, even as the greater part of her mind kept the denial going like sandbags before a flood.
Her phone grumbled in her hand, and dazed as she was, she answered it.
“Finally!” said her mother. “Thank God.”
“Hello, Mom,” said Heather.
“I want you to hang up right now and call that number, Heather.”
The phone number fixed itself to the bottom of the screen, while the top now showed a timer with less than five minutes left before it reached zero. Heather forced herself to blink and look away. “He cheated on me, Mom,” she said, trying to keep some conviction in her voice.
“But he proposed, honey,” said her mother, voice soothing, the same tone she used when Heather would come to her with a scraped elbow as a child. “That counts for something.”
“He proposed,” said Heather in a flat tone, “with a ring that he stole from the woman he’d been cheating on me with.”
“Not even that. He stole it from her dead mother. It was an heirloom passed down through a dozen generations.”
“He groped the waitress that brought the champagne for the proposal!”
“He hired a band–.”
“To butcher Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”. With an accordion.”
Her mother was quiet for a pair of seconds. Then Heather heard her father chime in from somewhere, shouting so the mic would pick him up: “At least they didn’t sing.”
“He left me with the bill!” Heather ended the call. She dropped the phone on the coffee table, where it began bumping and grinding against the glass of water in an effort to push them both over the edge.
The text on the screen shrank down to expose more of the studio. The talking heads had dispersed. It wasn’t as if anything they said made a difference. An obnoxiously dressed man–long plaid jacket cut like a duster, black pre-ripped jeans, boxy orange glasses–entered the frame with a beat-up old sledgehammer over his shoulder and a bowler hat on his head. Heather flinched. She remembered that he had actually used the word “jaunty” out loud when describing that affectation. In the man’s free hand was a phone with a bejewelled orange case. Heather felt the bile rising in her throat. Every time she thought maybe it was time to bite her tongue and give in, Nathan reminded her of the purity that hate brought to decision making. He made an elaborate show of checking the time and his missed calls.
Then, that shit-eating grin.
“Only one minute left,” said the TV host as he swept onto the stage. “Are you really going through with this?”
“Believe me, Bill,” said Nathan.
“I’ll call you Dick,” Nathan said, showing teeth. “Believe me, Dick, this is going to hurt me more than anyone else.” He looked directly at the camera. “All I want is an apology.” He winked. “For now.”
“There you have it,” said the announcer. The camera panned away. “In 30 seconds, Nathan Dooley will destroy his invention, the first and only independently verified perpetual energy machine, along with all documentation concerning it, unless he receives an apology from his ex-girlfriend for cutting off their engagement.”
“Tree-hugging bitch,” Nathan muttered from off-camera.
The camera showed a table holding a laptop, a degausser, and the squat, grey battery that had been running and producing electricity for nearly a decade without pause. It had a pink heart decal affixed to its top side. Nathan walked to the table and rested the head of his sledgehammer on the heart, a look of mock pain on his face, and held his phone up.
The timer on the screen was at 20 seconds.
Nathan stared at the camera, phone in hand.
Heather stared at her television, phone buzzing around her foot in an expanding puddle of cool water.
The timer was at 10 seconds.
“This is on you,” mouthed Nathan.
Heather shuddered, then reached for her phone.