PURSE THINGS • by J.C. Towler

Lights dimmed as the red curtain parted before the silver screen. Debby entwined her arm in Kevin’s, snuggling close. He touched her cheek with a buttery finger before grabbing another handful of popcorn.

“It’s so nice to get out,” she whispered.

“Yeah. Hope they got good previews.”

“You think the kids are okay?”

“Oh for the love of Pete, don’t start please,” Kevin said. “Just enjoy the movie.”

“Okay, sorry,” she said, withdrawing her arm and slumping in the corner of her seat. The previews of coming attractions played across the screen. They always promised more than they delivered, sort of like her marriage, or at least the after-hours part of her marriage. The theater was packed, not unusual for a Friday night in San Mateo, even for this ancient venue which must have been older than her and Kevin put together.

The opening credits rolled over a thrilling shootout between two men on snowmobiles. The music and gunfire were so loud that Debby didn’t hear the faint buzzing coming from her purse.

“That your phone?” Kevin asked. His hearing tended to be selectively excellent. The carbonated hiss of their neighbor cracking open a cold one would have him out the door before the foam settled on the lip of the can. But she could stand next to him asking for help with the laundry and it was like somebody had thumbed her “mute” switch on.

“Oh crap, I hope nothing’s wrong,” she whispered, fumbling through the purse. Keys… compact… lipstick… there were more pockets and zippers than she could count. She ruefully noted that her purse had expanded in proportion to her butt ever since the twins were born.

The buzzing was much louder with her purse open.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I think your phone is ringing.” She looked at the boy sitting next to her and smirked. Smart ass, she thought. What are you, twelve? How’d you get into this flick? Eat your popcorn and shut up.

“Yeah, I’m looking for it,” she said. More keys, phone charger, a note pad, pens, a calculator. She had a bizarre thought about the frozen Stone Age hunter found up in the Alps a couple years back and wondered what a future archeologist might learn from her if she was buried under a ton of ice right at this moment.

The old lady sitting in front of her pulled out her hearing aid, tapped it a few times then put it back. Her husband glanced back at Debby, his bullfrog face registering stuffy disapproval, then whispered something in the old woman’s ear.

“Find the damn phone, hon. People are staring,” Kevin said.

“Christ, Kev, I’m trying. It’s just so dark in here. Oh, to hell with it.” Debby spread her dress flat across her legs and dumped the contents of the purse in her lap.

“Whoa, wait,” Kevin said reaching into his jacket pocket. “I’ve got it right here.” He held it up the phone for her to see. The display was completely dark even though the buzzing continued.

Debby froze, her face pale in the reflected light of the movie screen. The noise persisted as she pawed through the pile of items in her lap.

Something hard and plastic dropped to the ground, buzzing angrily like a wounded horsefly on the floor.

“Hey lady, you dropped your phone,” the boy next to her said, reaching down.

“No!” she said, bending quickly, but the kid already had his hand on the item.

“Huh, never saw one like this. Is it one of the new BlackBerrys?”

As he sat up Debby tried to grab the small vibrator from his hand. It slipped from his fingers, flew up in the air and fell behind the seat back of the old lady. The woman sat up with a start and looked around. Debby froze. Kevin stopped chewing. The boy shrugged and sat back to watch the movie.

The old woman settled back in her seat, then sat bolt upright again.

“Oh dear, they’ve brought the Tingler back,” she said.

“What? What are you going on about, woman?” her husband croaked. The old lady settled back in her seat and shifted her shoulders back and forth.

“Not so nasty as that first time,” she said. “Actually quite nice.”

“Oh dear God,” Debby said, covering her mouth.

“You want me to get that back for you?” Kevin asked, reaching forward to tap the old woman’s shoulder. Debby frantically began scooping the contents in her lap back into her purse.

“Don’t you even — we’re leaving right now.” With the last lipstick tube hastily stowed, Debby rose, grabbing Kevin by his sleeve. At the aisle he caught her up in a bear hug, laughing.

“Whoa, whoa, honey, aren’t you forgetting something?” Debby looked back down the row, squinting.

“What?” she asked, trying to peer past his shoulder.

“Well, if you’re gonna just give that lady your ‘cell phone’, you should at least have the common decency to leave her the charger.”

Debby left teeth marks in his shoulder before squirming away and bolting for the exit.


J.C. Towler dwells on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which is perhaps odd considering he’s afraid of swimming in the ocean and doesn’t eat fish. His latest short story “Scales” appears in the horror anthology Monstrous: 20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror from Permuted Press.

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 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    My word!

  • Amy Corbin

    Okay, I was not expecting that. I have a question that did not seem clear to me: Is the husband joking around with her or is he really oblivious?

  • Pretty funny. I really enjoyed the old ladies reaction. Good job.

  • Different.

  • Chris

    Liked it a lot. I agree with Amy above – the last few lines with the husband aren’t really clear, and kind of leave a funny aftertaste on a great story.

  • Alan W. Davidson

    I took the last words from the husband with ‘cell phone’ in quotations to mean that he knew exactly what the forgotten object was. He was laughing and poking fun at her and I assume the event “invigorated” their lacking love-life. Thanks for the funny story.

  • The last few lines are perfectly clear. This story was a lot of fun, nice work.

  • Funny stuff, John. Like Joshua, I enjoyed the old lady’s respoonse.

  • Funny! Makes me want to go to the movies. The ‘mature’ woman’s reaction was hilarious. Knowing your work, though, I was expecting something like the Alien to pop out of the purse. Nice job. Peace, Linda

  • Humor always has a place. Thanks for the smile.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    When I first read the flash fiction at EDF, I admired the way some of the writers could construct a good piece of writing so quickly from a tiny current event, catching the moment on the fly in a moment. Now I realize that much of it is rushed, undigested misinterpretation, work which probably would have been improved with fermentation and thoughtful cuisine.
    Now, getting back to this poem, Happy Veterans’ Day.

  • Confusing, and when I finally did figure it out, I was not impressed. Sorry.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    I meant to say Happy Memorial Day – I was rushing things.

  • Lisa

    Funny, John. Now THAT would be an embarrassing moment. At first I wondered if it was going scifi but loved where you took it.

  • Hilarious, John. Thanks for the giggle.

  • Jen

    Poor Debby. And the older lady too. I didn’t care for it too much, but I’m glad Kevin got his comeuppance.

  • LOL! Quite embarrassing for the poor lady! Nice story, I bet you had fun writing it!!

  • Mary E. Ulrich

    You got me laughing! A Tingler? Where do I buy one?

  • Sharon

    Kevin is a Class-A jerk and the story left me cold.

  • This story was a miss for me. I found the story chaotic and not that funny. Who carries her vibrator around in her purse? The husband was a jerk and Debby was helpless.

  • DeborahB

    Still laughing.

  • Hah!

    With this incident being the focus of the entire story, I couldn’t help but laugh. Mission accomplished, I think.

  • Ardian

    O John u r very very good, as always, and I wish you win this thig, there wasn’t 10 stars othervise I would have given you without any hesitation. Tung gurduum

  • J.C. Towler

    Many thanks to everyone who read and an extra helping of gratitude to anyone who took time to comment. Pro or con, it all goes into the soup and hopefully makes me a better writer.

    –John

    PS: To clarify one thing more than one person has asked about: “The Tingler” was a 1959 movie and the producer set up electrical “buzzers” to the underside of seats in the theater.

    From Wiki:

    “During the climax of the film, the tingler escaped into a movie theater. On screen the projected film appeared to break as the silhouette of the tingler moved across the projection beam. The film went black, all lights in the auditorium were turned off and Vincent Price’s voice warned the audience “The Tingler is loose in THIS theater! Scream! Scream for your lives!” This cued the theatre projectionist to activate the buzzers and give several audience members an unexpected jolt.”

    So the old lady in my story felt Debby’s vibrator fall down the back of her seat and started having flashbacks to the Vincent Price movie.

    Obscure, I know, and when you have to explain any element of a joke it diminishes the humor.

  • John Pupo

    John… your humor is always on par 🙂 Great job!

  • Laura

    Funny, John! Made me laugh out loud. Nice visualization.

  • Margie

    HaHa! What a funny story John. Nice little humerous twist at the end. Way to go..Margie

  • You never know what lurks in the depths of a woman’s purse. Too funny. Enjoyed it.
    ~jon

  • Donald (Nocdar) Conrad

    Neat how humor and embarrassment go together. Thanks for the smile.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Purses are used to carry objects to be used outside of the house. Are we to infer that the “vibrator” was meant to be used Re: motion pictures?

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    The husband was strangely good humored about the vibrator’s presence. Does that mean that he threw his weight in favor of it’s use?

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