He Checked

Michael Schmelling
Craig Taylor


‘You missed a call,’ she said when he returned to the table. She motioned to the phone next to his glass.

Don’t put phones on the table during a meal. They’d agreed to this early in their relationship, and they’d mostly stuck to the rule, and sometimes they even played The Phone Game. The only rule in the game stipulated the first person to consult a phone during a restaurant dinner paid for the entire meal. It was difficult to break the rule at a dinner of three or more because there was usually a witness at the table. There was rarely a moment when everyone else left for the toilet en masse. 

It was easier when they ate together. On the nights they played, he would eventually descend a flight of stairs, or turn a corner, or walk down a hallway to the toilet, and then she could check her phone and replace it in her purse. 

He is a fast pisser, she once thought. He is a fast restaurant pisser, she corrected herself. He’s not this way at home.

She’d been able to check her email once before he returned. Tonight they weren’t playing the game.

‘I didn’t miss a call,’ he said to her after checking his phone.
‘Your phone lit up.’
‘I didn’t miss a call.’
‘Your phone was doing something.’
’There are no missed calls.’

He kept looking at his phone. He checked his email. The messages appeared slowly, first the sender, then the text, one after the next. The Kindle Daily Deal.

‘You should put it away,’ she said.

The Kindle Daily Deal was a romance about London nannies. 



‘You missed a call again,’ she said when he came back to the table after paying the bill.

It was an older restaurant with older waitstaff, so he was forced to go to the till to use the machine. It was an old machine. The numbers on the glowing key pads were worn, 

‘I’m going to have to guess my PIN,’ he'd said to the waiter and smiled. 

’No, but you should get a new machine at some point,’ he'd said when the receipt curled and the transaction finally went through. Back at the table there were After Eight mints arranged on a saucer. He held up his phone again.

‘I didn’t miss a call,’ he replied.
‘It lit up.’
‘Maybe it just briefly lost the network.’
‘It lit up with numbers on the screen.’
‘How many numbers?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I don’t look at what’s on your screen.’ 

He checked recent calls. He checked all calls and email. When he looked away from the phone he noticed she had her coat on. 

‘I sort of,’ she said, ‘nibble.’
‘Just a sec,’ he said.
‘Nibble After Eights. So I have minty fingers.’

He checked missed calls, all calls, recent calls again. ‘Just one sec,’ he said. ‘I’m listening.’



‘It was trying to be Syriana at the beginning,’ she said on the Tube home.
‘They should just let the guy blow stuff up,’ he replied. ‘It’s like: let the guy be the kind of movie star he’s supposed to be.’
‘We didn’t come here for nuance,’ she said.
‘We’re not there for a lesson,’ she said.
‘In geo-politics,’ he replied. 
‘They should have got Mark Wahlberg,’ she said. ‘Mark Wahlberg explains geo-politics.’
‘But the woman was good.’
‘She was ok.’
‘She had those arms,’ he said.
‘The woman in ZeroDarkThirty had those arms as well,’ she said. ‘CIA women must do a lot of pushups.’
‘But her performance…’ he said.

They rode in silence for a while. 

‘No, the performance was good,’ she finally replied.
‘You can’t hate a woman’s performance because of her arms.’

They reached their penultimate stop. 

‘I still,’ she said, ‘don’t get the whole bleeding out thing. The missile…’
‘The missile hit the car,’ he explained.
‘But why not the person?’
‘Because they were tracking the phone. The phone was in the car.’
‘Oh,’ she said.
‘So the guy got hit nearby.’
‘With,’ she said.
‘With a piece of the car. And bled out.’
‘And that’s a phrase now?’ she asked. ‘I feel like they should have explained that at the end.’
‘Mark Wahlberg Explains…’ he said.
‘Mark Wahl-berge,’ she said. 



‘Who is calling you,’ she asked. ‘At this hour, seriously.’

He propped himself up on the pillow. The screen had gone dark. The buzzing had stopped.

They’d agreed early on to not put their phones on the bedside table, and that worked most of the time. 

He picked his phone off the bedside table. 

‘No one,’ he said, ‘is calling.’
‘If that’s an ex.’
‘No one. Literally.’
‘It’s just inappropriate, so.’

He checked his recent calls, his missed calls, all calls.

‘Maybe it’s some sort of push alert,’ he said.

He checked Facebook. He checked his email. 

‘I dropped it the other day,’ he said. ‘It could be…’ He checked his list of push alerts. ‘That. No it’s. It’s…’ He checked Skype. ‘Not,’ he said.  

She pulled a pillow over her face. The screen seemed to project even more light in the dark of the bedroom. 

‘Check voicemail,’ she said, muffled.

He checked his email. He checked his voicemail.

‘You have no new messages,’ the voice told him. 


Craig Taylor is the author of three books, including Londoners: The Days and Night of London Now. He is the editor of Five Dials magazine. 

While government watches you, who watches the government?