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Glen Pourciau

My wife and I were at a movie, a French thriller with subtitles. The couple in the movie was having a miserable time together and they argued nonstop as they drove at night in heavy traffic to pick up their kids, who for some time had been away at school. The husband kept stopping at bars to drink whiskey while the wife sat outside in the car waiting for him. When he went in for his drinks he put the car keys in his pocket so she couldn’t drive off and leave him. Finally she got fed up, left a note on the front seat, and started off on foot for the train station. The husband, thoroughly drunk and suffering from a string of flat tires, spent half the movie searching for her, worried out of his mind. It turned out that while on the train she was beaten and raped by an escaped convict, and we were watching the scene at her hospital bed, an intimate conversation in which she and her husband struggled to talk to each other, to express their feelings and become reconciled, when a cell phone rang just to my left. The phone was buried in a woman’s purse and it kept ringing while she rooted around for it. When she found it she punched a button to stop the ring and then read whatever message was displayed on the illuminated screen. My attention returned to the movie. About a minute and a half later the woman’s phone rang again. Again she picked up her purse, grabbed her phone, punched the same button and read the same screen.

I stared at her and her phone. She did not look at me. I could see myself snatching the phone out of her hand and tossing it through the air. I could easily throw it over the six or eight rows in front of us where people were seated. The man sitting to the woman’s left, whom I took to be her husband, showed no reaction to the ringing. I looked back at the movie and fought against the noise in my head to pick up the thread of the subtitles. I saw the wife crying and saying something in a choked voice to her husband. What was I going to do if the phone rang again? Would I grab it and let it fly as I’d imagined? Should I warn the woman that if it rang again there would be a price to pay? She would probably tell her husband what I’d said. He’d have an answer to my comment and he might grab me by the neck and call me a cream puff or something like that. I asked myself what a reasonable person would do. Should I lean over and politely ask her to turn off her cell phone? Would a conversation ensue? An argument? It was up to her, wasn’t it, whether to turn her cell phone off and she had chosen to leave it on. Did I have a right to strongly disagree with her choice? If it had happened once that could be a mistake, but twice? She was oblivious to everyone around her. She didn’t care what I thought of her and her ringing phone. I again looked back to the movie, and it was then that another cell phone went off a few rows down and to our right. I muttered the name of the man many worship as their savior. This was meant for the woman next to me, but she did not turn her head in my direction for a glance. We heard indistinct chatter from the man with the phone, but he must have been interested in the movie because his conversation was brief.

Less than a minute later the movie ended. My wife and I tried to put together the ending, based on the pieces of dialogue we were able to read between phone calls. We stayed in our seats to watch the credits and we pulled our legs up when people on our row walked past us. By the time the credits were finished we were the only ones still sitting in the theater and a minute later we were the last ones in the room, except for the staff who’d come in to pick up the food and drink containers left on the floor.

“You want to sit through it again?” I asked.

“The same thing could happen. Maybe we should just watch movies at home.”

“The second time that phone went off I thought about grabbing it and throwing it, but something told me that would be going too far.”

“That would have been going too far. You’d have been arrested.”

“I think most people would understand. If I were on a jury, I wouldn’t vote to convict.”

“You could hit someone in the head with that thing. You’d be destroying a person’s property.”

I listen to my wife. She tries to help me.

“Part of me sees that it’s wrong, but not all of me.”

“Your name would be all over the newspaper.”

“You mean not as if I’d made an important statement but as an example of bad behavior.”

“Headline: Moviegoer Loses It. Most people who read the paper have cell phones. It’s normal for them. No one in this theater moved a muscle when those cell phones went off. They just kept watching the movie. We don’t see it that way because we don’t have a cell phone.”

“I don’t think throwing the phone would be losing it.”

“Let’s stop talking about it. You sound like a nut.”

We made our way out. One of the staff cleaning up asked if we enjoyed the movie. I told him it answered the call for us.

As we drove home, the ringing was still on my mind.

“You’re still thinking about it,” my wife said.

“I stopped myself. I didn’t throw her phone.”

“What worries me is that you stopped because of her husband. You imagined that if he got involved he’d pick you up by the neck and rattle your head against the wall. If she’d been alone, what would you have done? How would she have felt if you’d grabbed her phone? How angry would she have been?”

I resisted the urge to stop at a bar for a shot of whiskey. I wouldn’t leave my wife alone in the car, though. People did that sort of thing in movies. I knew she wouldn’t have come in the bar with me so there was no point in stopping. There was a lot of traffic and she kept telling me to put on the brakes. I didn’t mind slowing down if it made her more comfortable.

We got home and within twenty minutes we were in bed. As soon as we hit the mattress we went through our ritual of stretching and groaning. Groaning was an essential part of getting relaxed enough to sleep and my groaning went on longer than hers.

“I’m glad we’re not in the hospital,” my wife said.

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