Fiction by Srdan Papic
(Translated by Marija Panic)
At 12:45 I’ll get a message. I don’t switch my mobile off at night, because I
don’t expect anyone important to write a message to me, and I’m not interesting
enough to be harassed. And I leave my mobile wherever. So I often don’t even
hear it ring.
At 01:01 she will switch off her phone and leave it on the night table, next to
the white gold chainlet and the pendant in the shape of a crescent with a dolphin’s
At 02:03 I’ll read the message.
In a message from the ages old 12:45 she reminds me of a story of mine, the
one about the decorative nettles as red as a lobster’s back and about her singing
in a low voice. She saw me on TV, read a favourable review, or heard a
compliment on my account in passing. She says that in the last couple of months
the nettles have grown up, however she doesn’t sing anymore.
At 02:30 I’ll leave my phone next to my head, then at the kitchen table, and
finally bring it to the bathroom and stick it between the half-spent deodorants and
a box of ear-sticks.
I’ll be tossing and turning in the bed. I’ll go to the kitchen table, I’ll go to the
bathroom, and I’ll rummage through the half-spent deodorants and curse the damn
ear-sticks when they scatter on the tiles.
I’ll read the message all over again.
But I’ll make up my mind, firmly, not to pay any attention to it.
And not to write any reply at all, NOT to write any reply AT ALL.
At 02:45 I’ll write to her that of course, I remember the night she sang, but
that I keep in mind the following day as well, when she told me that because of
everything that had happened between us, that night in particular, she felt
sickness. So I felt sickness because she did. . . .
At 02:48 I’ll send the message.
The same minute I’ll type another one, because everything I have to tell her
won’t fit in the 160 characters. I’ll point out to her in the sequel that we agreed
we didn’t need the Sartrean feeling anymore, and that it would be best to continue
to meet by pure chance, without any encouragement such as this message of hers.
I’ll send her this message as well.
Which will reach her no sooner than at 07:00. When she switches on the
mobile, after a crescent with a dolphin head merges with her breasts.
At 03:04 it will occur to me that maybe I should have written something else,
not that cold, perhaps. Cruel, even. Maybe something with a nuance of
therapeutic effect: you’re lonely now, maybe you see me as the best solution, but
no, it’s not the way it works.
Or maybe something that I felt: yes, I was really happy when all of a sudden
I heard from you. (And really, the sound I hear when a new message is received,
a sound similar to the one of a tiny spoon against the Easter bells, has lost any
charm for me ever since I know that I won’t get a message from her; bells don’t
toll for anyone anymore; no one writes to the colonel, and no, there isn’t anyone
in front of the door. The emptiness stands instead of sickness.)
At 03:17, 03:19, and all the time until 04:18 I’ll be thinking how one could
prevent a sent message from reaching her at 07:00. To plunge one’s hand into
the phone, perhaps, and to transform oneself into binary codes, and with a claw
made of ones and zeros suffocate the message, like an infected chicken, before
it’s read. Or to write a new message, perhaps, a very strong, a grandiose
message, that will simply overwhelm the first one.
At 03:18, 03:20, and all the time until 04:22 I’ll be thinking how stupid I am
to keep thinking about something of the kind.
At 04:25 I’ll switch on the computer and write a story, as something must
be written, one must avoid the sickness and beat the emptiness; instead of a
dozen messages that would devour one another in front of her mobile, I’ll write
down something that will remain for good; instead of replying to her, I’ll be
writing back to the whole world.
At 02:04, 02:38, 03:18 . . . and all until I fall asleep I’ll be thinking that back
at 12:46 I should have written only one word and then sodded off all the writing
At 12:46 I should have written COMING and immediately afterwards sent
a message to a taxi association.
At 07:02 the screen of my mobile will shine and the tiny spoons and Easter
bells will start tinkling. It’ll say MESSAGE RECEIVED.
Srdan Papic was born in 1977 in Zrenjanin, Serbia. He has published several
books of short stories in Serbian, and his short stories have been translated into
English, Spanish, French, Greek, Hungarian, Macedonian, and Slovenian. He
is a high school teacher of Serbian literature in Belgrade. Papic’s fiction has
appeared in taint magazine, Carve Magazine, Carillon Magazine,
SmokeLong Quarterly, GIVE, and in The Transfusion Journal of Harvard
On “The Point of an SMS”:
I think the story itself tells how and why it was created. It might
have been better for me if I hadn’t written it that evening but spent my
time elsewhere with someone other than my computer. More precisely,
I’d prefer if I hadn’t been in a situation that provided me with the story
in such a handy way. Or maybe I wouldn’t. I don’t know. Here in Serbia
for cases of this kind we say “There’s no love without pain.”
All in all, the story is based on a real event, and later I worked on it
a bit and included some minor changes—however, most of the text was
finished that very evening. For the stories of mine that were written like
this one (and started as an impulsive reaction to the real events), people
say that they are much better than those I carry in mind for quite a while
before I actually write them down.
But I prefer the latter.
In this case either there’s no love without pain.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Volume 2, Number 1
Copyright © 2007
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to material
published in the Apple
Valley Review are retained
by the individual authors