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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