Ted taps the send button. Message Sent blinks back.
Mysterious text messages began arriving on his Blackberry last night, and he started a dialogue with an unknown sender. Beep, beep, back and forth all night like text sex.
When the train stops, a tide of commuters carries him out the doors and toward the exit. The beep of the Blackberry makes him jump. A new message cues. He swallows hard, opens it with a trembling finger.
this has 2 stop, he fires back, I don't no u.
but I no u.
where r u?
Alarmed, Ted glances around the crowded station. Apprehension sweeps over him and he wipes sweat from his brow. Everywhere, people are on cell phones; all of humanity engaged in digital relationships. Even the panhandler, brushing knots of grey hair with dirty fingers, calls Jesus on a broken cell. The world swims in digital voice prints.
"Where are you?" Ted shouts at the Blackberry, as if it were the cause of his anxiety. A woman in a grey business suit and pressed slacks carefully skirts around him, continuing her conversation on her cell. The Blackberry sits silent.
Embarrassed by his outburst, Ted texts back: what do u want from me?
Ted sips scalding coffee, a bitter sweet contrast to the cold condensation building up at the bottom of the window. The coffee shop empties of patrons at nine, and by ten only a handful remain glued to their seats. Each time the door opens to the patter of rain, he looks up, but no one comes over. He fires off another, where r u?, the fifth in twenty minutes, without reply. The Blackberry sits quiet.
While he waits Ted calculates mortality rates on his calculator, jotting down numbers on a note pad. Long hours slaving over pension accounts form dark circles around his eyes, but feeding on caffeine and a fat 401K keep him going. He tastes success against his teeth when he runs his tongue over the cracked mercury fillings in his molars.
A woman arrives at ten fifteen, brushes off her grey jacket, and makes her way toward him. Young and thin, with shoulder length chestnut hair and a gentle face, she floats across the hardwood floor. With eyes the blue of his Blackberry screen, when she blinks soft light shines from her irises.
"Are you Ted?" her falsetto voice rings.
"Yeah. I'm Ted."
"I have a message for you." She tosses a folded note on the table.
"Thanks. What's it say?"
"Ok. Maybe you can answer me this: what's your name?"
"Does it matter?"
"Helen. My name's Helen."
"Thanks, Helen," Ted says, lifting the note from the table.
"You're welcome, I guess. It's my job. I'm just a messenger."
Ted unfolds the note with mathematical precision. Meet me on the corner in fifteen minutes. Nothing else.
"So, you're not the one then?" Ted's thoughts turn as slow as a rotary dial phone. Where did Helen fit in this game? "That's too bad."
"Sorry," she says, acting sympathetic, but hiding something behind a pleasant veneer. "I'm afraid not. You have a meeting. Just not with me."
She brushes droplets from her face and shrugs her shoulders, before turning to leave. At the door she stops, looks back at Ted, and waves goodbye.
Ted waves back.
After emptying the last of his coffee, he shoves his notes and calculator into the open mouth of his briefcase.
Outside, the rain falls in heavy droplets that splatter the toes of his shoes. He draws his jacket tight around his neck and looks up and down the sidewalk. Across the street, a dark shadow of a man stands next to the bus stop. Ted darts across the street toward him, just as lightning illuminates the sky.
The man holds up an arm and yells at the same moment thunder rolls down the street. Ted cannot hear a word. In his pocket the Blackberry beeps and vibrates, and Ted stops mid-stride to pull it out. As he flips through the menu, a second flash of light makes him turn. Headlights arc across his chest. Eyes wide, Blackberry held out like a shield, a truck strikes him dead on.
In the middle of the street, Ted lies dead, his body crumpled with his fingers still clutching the Blackberry. The screen glistens. Among the shouts and confusion, the Blackberry springs to life with one final message: goodbye.
The truck door pops open with a hiss. "Jesus Christ!" the truck driver yells as he clambers out and runs over to Ted. "I didn't see him. I didn't see him."
The priest in a black coat, who'd been waiting for a bus across the street, stoops down and presses his fingers to Ted's neck. "He's dead."
The priest stands up and puts a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Pushing the brim of his ball cap back, the truck driver pleads. "I didn't see him. He just ran into the street, right? Nothing I could do, right?"
"Yeah, nothing you could do."
"I didn't see him. I couldn't see him."
"It's ok, son. You didn't see him," the priest says in a calm voice. "I tried to stop him. I waved at him and yelled. I guess he didn't see me either."
"I didn't see him." The truck driver wipes rain from his grizzled face. "I couldn't see him."
A small crowd gathers around Ted, forming an ever growing circle like the rings of a tree. "Is there a doctor?" says one. "Someone call 911," cries another. A dozen cell phones reach out into the night, two to 911.
In the confusing minutes before the police and ambulance arrive, Helen slips away in the darkness, and stopping to look over her shoulder, she sends a text message to the next number on her list: hi.
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