The rear-view mirror held a nighttime fireworks display. A blast of red followed by two white-hot flashes ensured a traffic ticket and photo in six weeks. William, in haste and late to his first date with Cindy, was sending a text and rushed through a red light. Time wouldn’t be kind tonight; however, the evening had embraced a kismet, and still afforded new opportunities.

Computer dating was never successful for William; cyberspace gave the allure of beautiful young women readily available with innocence and discovery. The method was always the same: emails concerning their passions, a brief phone call and then a nervous first meeting. Usually there would be no second date as looks, conversation or compatibility would inject the meeting with self-denial and failure.

Cindy would be different; she was college-educated, pretty, had a great personality and offered hope. The metropolis and a crescent moon would provide the backdrop, a sidewalk café the set and two lost souls the actors in a subtle dance of discovery.

Already five minutes late, William fumbled again with a text message announcing his arrival soon. Cindy was ardently seated at the most secluded outdoor table alone. She was delighted by the ring-tone alert and she ignored the awkward greeting of a stranger on the prowl.

The night draped darkness between broken street lights and Cindy cast a soft smile on his arrival. This time might be unique, as he lost himself in her accepting sapphire eyes and beautiful face. His nervousness returned in a steady questioning of mundane topics. Cindy caught herself answering in half-heated sentences and eventually painted the city streetscape with an awkward silence.

Her smartphone captured his scrutiny; a still life adorned the table painted with wine glasses and the hands of youth. William embraced this new subject and felt energized in their conversation. As he moved closer, her perfume subdued him and he gingerly took the phone into his shaking hands. “Wow, I really love your phone; I can see it’s the latest 4G model; I purchased a similar one for myself six weeks ago.”

“Ah, thank you. I just bought it this morning,” Cindy also was very pleased the conversation had picked up. “I know this is our first date and we should really talk more about each other; however, I’d really appreciate it if you could help me with my phone.”

Cindy’s stare turned from the artificial light of her phone to an apartment window across the street silhouetted by two women, their shadowed profiles frozen behind a lone-orphaned curtain. Below them was an ominous tree with leaves that hung like dead hands ready to capture the life of a lonely passerby.

Jenny, a loving daughter, was talking to her mother, Regan; they had spent the evening over tea and board games. “Sweetheart, thank you for a fun time. Wow, I can’t believe it’s 11:30 p.m. already. I need to get going,” announced Regan, who lived across the street in a studio apartment above the café.

“Mom, I’m so happy you came tonight. I must insist that I walk you home at this late hour.”

Jenny always worried about her mother and moved to the same street to be closer to her mom. “Mother, I want to buy you a cell phone; it would be great for you in case of any emergencies.”

Regan never told her daughter she bought a phone recently and had returned it when she couldn’t program the device or understand the features. The nice young man in the store told her a six year old could use this phone and, of course, the manual was online. Regan didn’t have a computer and the technical revolution had passed her by. She was in the brotherhood of an older generation who yearned for the good old days and didn’t fathom these new advancements.

“Oh, my baby, thank you, but no cell phone for me. My old-fashioned black phone works just fine.” She looked out the window at the couple lost in technology and frozen in silence. “Besides, look at those two down by the café, their phones glued to their hands; they aren’t even talking.” Regan continued, “I think these stupid phones are taking away the social skills of an entire generation.”

“Yes, Mom, have a good night and be careful crossing the street.”

Regan was happy to have the cool evening air dust her face and to have the time to reflect on the conversation with her daughter. Maybe she would try another cell phone to please her daughter. In her advancing age Regan had realized Jenny wasn’t her little girl anymore. She was a smart, caring and beautiful woman who only wanted the best for her mother.

Just as she was about to cross the street, the couple was captured in her condescending gaze and her attention was lost to the bright screens of their cell phones. The lights seemed to shine like stars lost in humanity—stars that have given up hope and found their resting place in a small plastic, hand-held coffin.

Regan was happy the street wasn’t busy at this time of night, and the silence calmed her. In two minutes she would be home, and the warmth of her apartment awaited her. Lost in thought, she left the safety of the curb and made timid footprints on the blacktop. The car was never accepted into her sight and violently caressed her body with impact and pain. Coldness filled her soul as she became one with a city street—its darkness filled her being. Before losing consciousness she saw herself in a tragic play; her cries for help lost in the nothingness of the landscape, the car continued to its destiny and the evening couple was oblivious in their self-absorption.

The Orlando Sentinel, Lake Healthy Living, Think Healthy and Mature Lifestyles magazines have all described Carl Scharwath as the “running poet.” His interests include being a father/grandfather, competitive running, sprint triathlons and tae kwon do (he’s a second-degree black belt). He has over 40 publication credits in literary journals. He was also awarded “Best in Issue” in Haiku Reality Magazine. His favourite authors are Hermann Hesse and Charlotte Perkins Gillman.
image: couple on smartphones via Shutterstock