You. Are old. Admit it. Evidence abounds. Your cell phone, for example. Fat. Red. Trills a jaunty greeting. Young people snicker. You, more often than not, fail to recognize the sound.

Today you are chained to the phone. Your cell, the young would say. You’re like them today, gripping your phone, staring at it. A flight attendant leans across the row. “Turn off your device, please,” she says. It’s early, five in the morning. The plane is taxiing.

Your sister’s voice choked yesterday as she told your voice mail your mother’s systems were failing. You held the phone against your ear in the hotel bathroom where you’d locked yourself to check messages. You were at a conference. You don’t know how to lower the volume. Come, she said, now.

The plane touches down in Cleveland. You turn on the phone. Voice mail, it says. As you run to catch the next flight, your sister’s message says the night was hard. She’s conscious, she says, very weak. Your brother just arrived. She doesn’t have to say hurry.

Hurry, you think as the airplane eases down the runway. Hurry, you want to say to the attendant who tells you to turn off your device.

This plane is small, eight rows, four seats across. Full. You cradle your cell during the twenty-five-minute flight, warming it. The air smells like plastic. Your morning coffee is bitter on your tongue. There’s no one here but strangers.

Wheels touch pavement. You press the red ON button, which is also the OFF button, a system that confuses you. It’s finished chirping its hello when the attendant announces you are free to use cell phones and other electronic devices.

Voice mail, you read. You press connect. Your hands, you notice, are shaking.

Your brother sounds as if he’s talking through water. Don’t go to the hospital, he says. Come straight to the house.

The plane stops. Passengers push past your seat, fighting their way to the door. The compartment overhead opens. A backpack clips your leg. Sorry, you hear.

Returning a call is ridiculously easy. One little tap. Wait, you think, just another minute—but your thumb is already pressing the button. The one on the left. The one that’s lit with a green image of an old-fashioned telephone receiver.

Mary Wasmuth

MARY WASMUTH is a writer, librarian, and job-search coach. She has studied fiction writing at Boston’s GrubStreet and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Mary live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she’s at work on her first novel.

Latest posts by Mary Wasmuth (see all)