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Enliven Again

Conrad Norton stole his wife's phone on the morning he planned to kill himself. He downloaded the app he'd been working on for the past seventeen years and hoped for the best. He didn't have anything to lose—not really. A daughter's tuition at a state school. A mortgage. The results of a biopsy. Nothing. It was all nothing. The possibilities with the app would be his only route for success, and he'd have to be dead for it to work.

Conrad tucked Maria's phone back into the side pocket of her purse.

He strolled off to the garage and did his business. The only thing he worried about as he got the hose ready was if she'd ever open the app. Surely she would. Surely Maria, the woman who insisted on tracking her nineteen-year-old daughter's weekend excursions, would be curious enough to open a new app on her phone. Conrad's entire hope for an afterlife depended on Maria's curiosity.

She found him that evening. She didn't cover her mouth and cry. She didn't shriek and fall to her knees. She didn't run to his side. Instead, Maria unzipped her purse and, with her steady hand, grabbed her phone. By the time the operator picked up, Maria was mumbling about the roast she'd picked up on her way home. 

"911. What's your emergency?" the lady breathlessly said into the line.

"My husband's killed himself. I need the coroner," Maria said matter of factly.

The operator gasped. "I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I'll have him and an ambulance on the way. Can I stay with you on the line until they arrive?"

"No. Thanks for the offer, though," Maria said, rolling her eyes and disconnecting the call.

She glared at her husband, with his body hunched over the old car's steering wheel, and shook her head. "You were always such a selfish man," she whispered. 

The sirens were beginning to stir in the distance. Maria grabbed her roast and stepped inside.

It took three days, but Maria found the app. Enliven. "What in the world?" she whispered to herself, while she was relaxing in the bubble bath after Conrad's burial. The icon was weird—really weird. A red square with a black human silhouette floating around in its center. The script, itself, arched in a font with elongated curves. The whole thing was blurry, making the poor logo look like something a fifth grader made on some off brand's inadequate software. It looked horrendous.

Maria would never download such an ugly app. Still, there it was on her personalized rows of mobile entertainment. She must've. Someone at work probably told her about a stupid game that she'd since forgotten.

The water was still warm, so she had a few minutes to waste. She clicked the app and waited for her screen to load. 

"Maria, my darling, you've found me," the voice said.

Maria squinted her eyes at the fuzzy background. She put her wine down and leaned forward, searching for an angle to soften the eyesore.

"Maria, it's me. I've done it. After all of these years, I've finally done it."

Classic Conrad. The same shrill voice made the phone's speakers crack. She could see his shadowy eyes taking shape on the phone's screen. His balding head. His freckled, button nose. His overbite. 

For a full minute, she said nothing. She took another sip of her wine and reclined again in the tub. The water's temperature was fading quickly.

In the background, he rambled on and on about all the possibilities for Enliven. "We'll be rich. Think of all the fame we'll have. We can buy a new house. We can finally go on a vacation."

We. We. We. Conrad's tune had certainly changed.

Maria stood up and grabbed her towel. She wrapped it around her soaked body and carefully stepped out of the porcelain tub.

As she dried each leg, she put the phone to her face. "You know, Conrad," she said. "There is only an 'I' now, and that's me. You live—if you can really call it that—and die by a battery's life or by a Wi-Fi's signal."

Conrad's face froze. Maybe it was a glitch in the software; maybe it was him feeling broken.

It didn't matter. Maria tossed her phone in the bath water. Conrad would drown soon enough.

About the Author
Bradley Sides is a writer and English instructor. His work appears at Drunk Monkeys, Electric Literature, Fiction Southeast, The Lit Pub, Literary Orphans, The Rumpus, Toasted Cheese, and elsewhere. He lives in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is working on his first collection of short stories.
Background image by ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron.
http://www.eso.org/public/images/etamosaicnm2/, CC BY 4.0, Link