Hank Skeels stands at the entrance to Club Throb, the hottest, keeping watch over the VIP guests as they ooze in with perfect timing. The regular guests come wide-eyed as they please and Hank can’t blame them. He bars the inelegant riff-raff, the dirty phoneless.
A step inside the club, Ben leans away from Betty’s gooey lipstick advances as they stride in. She’s already at my neck, Ben says into his phone, which is shaped like a stubby black billy club, or is it a small baseball bat. Betty’s phone is in her clutch purse, a pair of lips wrapped in pink satin, buzzing.
Enter Judy and Jim, strolling, his arm at her back. She swats it away with a glance. I’m on the phone, sweetie, she says, and he removes it. Jim can’t take his eyes off of his wife’s shape in her gown, the way her slender fingers grip the roundness of her armadillo phone, commanding an underling to get it out by tomorrow latest. He left his fork phone at home, charging.
The young actress-waitress, daughter of the club owner’s brother, Shayna holds a tray of champagne glasses and circles the room, smiling with perfect teeth in the roaming laser lights, wishing she could get back into her locker in the employee lounge to peek at her phone, a disco ball.
In the alley behind Club Throb, two men and two women are deep in an angst-ridden discussion about phones in society, a conversation that started when one of the guys Tim mocked Bill’s older model. The two friends had almost come to blows, when the woman Aisha quietly suggests that they smash their phones, right here and now, as an act of self-liberation.
Tim, Bill and Aisha do it; they crack the outer cases under their feet, spreading the remains of a red handkerchief, a blue handkerchief, and a dried flower onto the pavement. They separate the inner motherboard from its wires with their heels. Silicone and bits of glass ground into the grime of the pavement make them feel wild, accomplished, for a moment. A thread of loneliness tightens. They watch mutely as Bill struggles to light the blue curlicue cord on fire, a wet fuse of a bomb. The remaining friend, the one who couldn’t smash her phone, Aparna, jogs to catch the bus. Her hands grip tightly inside her pocket around her phone, which is a tin of mints.
The Anderson family – Mom, Dad, Penny, Michael, and baby Alex – stand in a group within the main crowd of guests by the podium, waiting patiently, each holding green pear phones. Penny and Michael are embarrassed to be seen with their parents, who are underdressed. This place is packed, Penny whispers. Michael holds his phone like a platter to his chin, in loudspeaker mode, and says, I think they’re about to get started. Mom texts Dad about Penny’s weight problem. Dad tells her not to worry, in so many words. Baby Alex is in Mom’s arms, her phone covered in slobber.
The beautiful and normal-looking people have all gathered by 10pm, when Hank Skeels hears his boss speak into the phone in his ear, Close the doors, it’s starting.
A cascade of synth bells falls over the eager audience. The dais is positively cinematic, mouths Judy into her armadillo. A large platform, its floor painted in thick black and white stripes and covered to extravagance by a mound of dark red roses. A black velvet cloth has been draped over a glass case that sits atop the flower mound.
That is it, the thing we’ve all been invited to see.
The percolating silence is deafening, maddening, here’s everyone’s attention. They set their phones in camera mode, fingers hovering over the button.
Hank Skeels takes the stage, hands clasped together in front of him, and looks over the crowd. They think he might speak but he does not.
Taking her cue from the silence, the model, Po, emerges from the employee lounge. She is naked, her body painted entirely silver, up to her hairlines. Her nails and lips are a lush red. Shayna, standing in the hallway, gasps when she sees her.
Po enters the main area. Her gait is slow. Slow-motion bullet of a woman. I am a juggernaut, she thinks to herself. Slow, but lacking any inertia.
Po ascends the dais on black and white steps. She turns to face the audience, orienting herself to the street outside, the city beyond, as the boss has instructed her to do in his superstition. She bows to them.
Everyone bows back, even Mom and Dad, though it is not their custom.
Po takes three steps backwards to stand beside the covered case. She lifts her silver arm and places her hand on the black velvet. In a slash, she whips the cloth away. The lights swirl and land on the case upon the dais.
It is a new phone.
Its body is chrome silver and gleaming with a dark radiance, like mercury, molten in the lights. It is wider at the base, then narrows into a soft point. A bullet.
Loud clicks of photographs being taken.
The light of individual phones pulled from above the heads of the crowd, down to the chest, dispersed in messages, reaching out to the other side of earth.
Hank Skeels stares at the bullet, motionless. I believe you’re in love, Hank.