Imagine the plight of a cellphone. It hears stories, sometimes for hours each day: adventures, betrayals, gossip, heartbreak, arrangements for dates it'll never go on and lunches it'll never taste. It learns about books it'll never read – though it has a facility for words – and rolls about with lipstick, loose change, taciturn credit cards, and, in my case, dirt, crumbs, and sand. Breathing down its back would be one thing; people actually breathe into its mouth. Now, with the iPhone, they want it to be a singer and a postman as well as an aural ditto machine.
No wonder it wants to get away.
In my case, Celly did.
I was flying standby from Detroit to Boston, five hours late, dragging two bags through the ticket line and pushing two more with my feet. While I arranged my trip, the phone took its time on the ticket counter in hopes – I can only assume – of booking a flight of its own, to some island paradise where blackberries are plentiful, but only on bushes and in pies.
As the plane taxied, I realized I had no cellphone to dutifully turn off; upon landing, I wandered to the windowless Boston lost-and-found. After 25 minutes, I emerged with two phone numbers – and no way to dial either one. When I checked my e-mail there was a message from my mother: You left your cellphone in Detroit.
She'd called me to chat, and a ticket agent had answered the phone. Pleased to be the missing link in the familiar saga of daughter loses keys/purse/phone/car-in-the-parking-lot, she'd passed along my name, and the agent promised to page me. I'd already boarded, which is a shame: I've always wanted to be called in that urgent airport format – "Miss McCarroll, Miss Christina McCarroll."
Would they have sent a runner? I had a fleeting picture of a wheelchair zooming through the terminal, my Nokia buckled in, a Northwest agent racing toward gate A27, and my little cellphone calling out, leaping happily into my palm. I wished I'd set the ringer to "You Light Up My Life."
For days now, I have been calling myself. Occasionally, a Northwest ticket agent picks up.
They tell me they can't mail the phone. Instead, I'm assured it will board the very next nonstop flight. "We'll try to get it on the 4:59." Or, "It looks like the phone can make the 10:27." With the pilot? I want to ask. First class or economy? Can I order it a vegetarian meal?
This morning I called the baggage office in Boston. No phone. Called Detroit. No phone. They said it was on the next nonstop. It wasn't.
The cellphone has finally been turned off – which gave me momentary hope it was in flight. And yet it never seems to land, never arrives in the baggage office, will not even allow me to check its messages anymore. Has my little phone commandeered a jet? Is it learning to fly whole planeloads of missing phones, buckled into tiny seats, back to their owners?
For an object that has heard so many words, it's awfully poor at communicating.
• Christina McCarroll is a Zell Fellow in creative writing at the University of Michigan.