This is a story that I wrote for a flash fiction challenge at
I never saw her as happy as she was the moment I gave her that key. Two years of anticipation, sweat, compromise, heartache, sleepless nights were wrapped up in that little piece of ground brass. It looks so limp now, dangling below that picture. It was the first picture we took of the house on the lake.
It was a long, freezing hike up the mountain behind the house. She had packed a basket which we carried with us but she didn’t tell me what was in it until we got to table rock. That’s what we called it at least. It was really just a small boulder with a slightly angled flat top on a little outcropping. It gave us this spectacular view, the house, the lake, the mountains. That day was magical. Everything was coated in a layer of frost. She set up the basket she had packed and took out a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and two glasses. I was hoping for something hot like coffee or a hot toddy, but she brought the Harvey’s because it was “our” drink from our embarrassingly awkward and un-classy first date, and she wanted to make a special toast to our house, to us, to the new off-grid life we were about to embark on. We made the toast, we took some pictures with her cell phone, and we talked. Up on that frozen hilltop, we talked, until our lips could barely form a word, and my beard had icicles hanging from it.
When we got back to the house, she immediately tried to upload the pictures she had taken to her facebook account, before she remembered there was no signal out there. We had a laugh about it. “I know, I know. Off grid is off grid.” she said. So instead she uploaded them to our computer, which we only had for record keeping, and then printed them out. Our plan was to be completely self sustaining, so we decided to try even doing without TV and internet. It was a scary proposition, but we wanted a simpler life. I thought we did at least. I did.
We spent the rest of the day, talking, reading, making dinner, eating dinner.. After we finished clearing the dishes, we sat in the solarium, drinking coffee and looking out over the lake. “Ooh, look at that bird!” she said, pointing out over the lake. “I wonder what kind it is.” She pulled her phone out of her pocket and opened a browser. When nothing came up, she looked confused for a second, and then rolled her eyes. She flicked off the phone and put it back in her pocket. As I watched the bird glide across the lake, in my peripheral vision, I could see her eyes looking around the room. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone again, pressing the home button. I shot her a questioning glance.
“Just checking the time.” she said, and put her phone away, but she kept her hand in her pocket. As night fell and the room darkened, the moonlight danced on the rippled surface of the lake. The automatic dimmers, an expensive feature that I tried only half-heartedly to talk her out of, were set to keep the lights low to conserve energy and they gave the room a wonderful ambiance. I was overcome by a feeling of contentment. I was exactly where I wanted to be; with my beautiful wife in our home that we designed and built together exactly the way she wanted it, enjoying the quiet closeness that can only come from a simple lifestyle, unfettered by technology. As I watched the moonlight dance across the lake, I reached out my hand toward her, palm up, expecting her to lay hers in mine and interlock fingers with me, which she always did. For a few seconds, it didn’t register that she hadn’t immediately placed her hand in mine, but the emptiness there quickly became noticeable, strange, unpleasant. There was a faint but distinct wrongness to the feeling. I looked over to her expecting her to notice and look back at me, but her eyes were unfocused, staring straight ahead, as if she were looking out the window, but seeing nothing. There was a pale glow around her which at first seemed slightly magical, but it went out and the room was suddenly dark except for the tiny fragments of moonlight which still came in from the lake. The the glow came back and I could see where it was coming from. I looked down to the pocket of her skirt and through the sheer fabric I could see the clear outline of her phone within, the screen casting a light that filtered through the fabric, as if it was an aura. The effect was lovely. Then it went out again. Her focus never changed. I smiled because I thought she was just playing around. After a moment, I placed my hand on her arm and she jumped as if I startled her. She took in a big breath and looked at me, the blankness of her expression slowly being replaced by confusion and then an embarrassed smile.
“Welcome back.” I said, trying to keep the concern out of my voice.
“Hi. I guess I zoned out there, didn’t I?” she asked, her voice a touch manic and giggly. She looked out toward the lake, now just a carpet of brief flashes. “It’s so beautiful here, isn’t it? I’m so glad…we decided to do this.” And the faint glow illuminated her once more and again went out. The beauty of the effect of the light instantly wore off and, in my eyes, gave her a sickly blueish cast.. I grabbed the remote control and brought the lights up so I wouldn’t have to see it anymore.
“Hi there.” she said as if she had only just noticed that I was there.
I smiled and tried to be as sweet as I could. “Let’s go to bed?” I took her wrist and tried to pull it out of her pocket gently but she resisted for a split second. It was kind of disconcerting.
We made love that night and it was nice.
The next morning I found her looking through cabinets and drawers. “We’re out of printer paper.” she said, and without another word she grabbed her coat and keys. “I’m going to town.” she said as she practically ran out the door.
“Yeah, to town where they have a cell signal,” I muttered. Town was forty two miles away, by the way. One way.
While she was out I straightened up around the house. When I was throwing the ash from the wood burning stove away, I found a half a ream of printer paper in the bottom of the trash can. I brought the paper inside and set it on the hall table where she was sure to see it when she walked in.
She returned about six hours later, happy as a lark. I made sure that I was leaning on the table right next to the paper.
“Hi. Have a nice day?” she asked,
I fake-smiled and raised my eyebrows to her, then drummed my fingers on the table. She looked down with a look of sudden realization that she had been caught. But she didn’t say anything. She just walked past me with her phone in hand. I noticed that she didn’t have any printer paper.
We didn’t make love that night and it was sad.
One day the next week she had to go to town “for groceries” of which we had plenty. “I want to make you a special meal.” was her excuse. She had to go back to town a couple of hours later, “To get some things I forgot.”
We didn’t eat dinner together or make love that night.
I was asleep when she came home. Her arrival woke me up and I saw her come into the bedroom, face illuminated by that damned phone. No signal and she still couldn’t put it down.
She must have been exhausted because she only took her coat off and practically fell into bed.
The next morning I woke up with her phone stuck to my cheek. I peeled it off and hit the power button. I wanted to see just what was so important that she couldn’t put it down for a second. She really should have set a password on her phone. Rookie mistake. It opened right up to her chat history with her ex-boyfriend who I had just found out about that second. Apparently he couldn’t wait to see her that coming weekend.
When she came down to get some breakfast at around 10:30, she seemed lost. “Have you seen my phone?” she asked.
“Hmm, no. Where did you see it last?” I asked, watching the radiating ripples out on the lake just beginning to reflect off the shore.