On Christmas Day I usually have a crowd here–friends, neighbors, and occasionally a cousin or two, my idea of family. Everyone contributes to the feast, and there’s usually a heap of good food, which last year included smoked salmon, ham, a frittata, a raisin braid, orange rolls, and an impressive trifle. Folks start arriving around 11:00, and we keep the revelry going throughout the day. Often there are stragglers still lingering after dark.
This past year, after everyone else had gone on their way, four of us settled into the overstuffed armchairs in the living room to talk quietly and bring the engines down to an idle before parting. I tucked a few more logs into the parlor stove, which had been churning out welcome heat all day. The dogs had curled up beside it, in deep, postprandial sleep, the older one snoring gently. The lights on the Christmas tree and the twinkle lights around the door gave my collection of amber glass bottles a warm glow and illuminated the library of books on the north wall, encouraging the illusion of antiquity.
In the midst of the telling of one of these stories, Edie (yes, another Edie) reached deep into the cushions of her chair and brought forth a cell phone, one of the more up-to-date models, in the shape of a flat rectangle. She held it up like a Cracker Jack surprise: “Someone’s phone must have slipped out of their pocket!” We all acknowledged, with slight sarcasm, that it wasn’t ours, and she placed it on the table in the middle of our circle. The table was bare, so the device looked odd, like some kind of futuristic monitor in our midst.
We continued our conversation. Soon beeping noises could be heard. We looked at one another dumbly–and continued talking. The sound came again, and one of us said, “I think it’s that phone.” We all gazed at the bleating black rectangle as if it were an alien, or some object too hot to touch. It was now clear that it was the phone, ringing. Boldly, Peter picked it up and stared deeply into its flat face. Most of my friends remain innocent of how these things work. We don’t know about 4Gs or Androids or i-anythings. Two of us in the room owned cell phones, but of the old flip-phone type.
Peter, who has never had a cell phone of any kind, studied it with a puzzled, slightly frightened expression on his face as it continued its noise. We all had an idea of what he ought to do and made suggestions as he stabbed at the ringing phone–but his poking wasn’t achieving any result. We heard a faint, tinny voice. “Try just talking into it,” I said. He did. After some confused efforts at opening the conversation, the person identified herself as Polly. I realized it was someone I knew but hadn’t spoken with in a long time. Peter handed the phone over to me. I held it awkwardly to my ear, and Polly and I had a long conversation, one that never would have taken place if the phone hadn’t been left in our midst, and, especially, if we hadn’t figured out how to activate it.
While I was still talking, the owner of the phone let herself in. I held the phone up to her and she laughed. I handed Polly over to her. We had another round of levity. In fact, we had all experienced a sort of invasion, a kindly one that brought more voices to our late-Christmas-evening circle. Perhaps the future is closer than we think.