Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious. Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 10

Rowena Gets A New Phone

Fiction by S. D. Youngren

Rowena arrived at work to find a memo on her desk. “We are replacing our old telephones with new ones,” the memo read. “DO NOT attempt to install your new phone yourself! This MUST be done by a telephone technician.”

Rowena looked at this a moment, then looked at her telephone. It seemed to be the same phone she'd always had, and there was no replacement in sight—nothing as yet for a telephone technician to do. “There will be a one-hour training seminar on the use of the new telephones at 10 AM today in the upstairs Conference Room,” the memo continued. Rowena pondered this. What kind of phone training did she need? She tossed the memo aside and sat down. There was nothing wrong with her phone, or with any of the other phones, as far as she knew.

“A new phone?” squealed Marjorie, from the next desk. “I'm gonna hafta figure out how to use a new phone?”

“Well,” Rowena began, but Sara, coming up from behind, cut her off.

“Rowena! I need advice.”

Rowena glanced at her clock. Five minutes before work started. “What is it, Sara?”

“It's Boris. He won't behave.

Rowena had another look at her clock. “And this surprises you?”


“Sara, you got interested in Boris in the first place because he defied Eloise. So now you expect him to do what you want?”

“I—I” Sara orbited around Rowena's desk and, once directly in front of Rowena, planted both hands on the desktop and leaned over. “But this is me!

“Sara,” Rowena said, “I wish you wouldn't act like my sister. I am at work. I should be able to have—”

“And anyway, all I want is for him to start living like a human—”

“If you wanted a human,” said Marjorie, “why'd you pick a nerd?”

“Butt out,” said Sara. “Was I talking to you? Was I?”

“It sounds like you're talking to everybody,” yelled a rather more distant voice.

“Oh!” And Sara flounced off. Rowena looked at her clock. Time to start work.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

It wasn't long before Rowena's new phone arrived. It was lifted from a cart filled with phones and plonked right in the middle of her desk. Rowena reached to move it but the phone-cart man said, “Wait for the technician.”

“I wasn't going to install it,” Rowena said. “I just wanted to move it over a bit so I could work.”

“Insurance rules. I'm afraid you'll have to wait for the technician.”

“Well,” said Rowena, “you're apparently allowed to touch the phones. Would you please move it a bit for me?”

“Sorry,” the man said, “That phone is no longer under my control. It has to wait for the technician. Insurance rules.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? Look at this desk. How am I supposed to get any work done?”

“Sorry. I'm just doing my own job.” He picked another phone from his cart, deposited it directly in front of Marjorie, and wheeled the remaining pile to the next desk.

Rowena regarded her new phone. It was sitting directly on top of the papers she'd been looking over.

“I can't do any work,” said Sara suddenly. “There's a telephone taking up my entire desktop.”

“Like that?” Rowena asked, gesturing.

“Even worse. So—what should I do about Boris?”

“Sara, I—”

Look at all these buttons!” wailed Marjorie. “I'll never learn to use this phone!”

“Forget the stupid phones, I have a problem.” Sara turned back to Rowena. “We had such a nice date. We went to a Chinese restaurant and then saw a science-fiction movie; you wouldn't believe how much he knows about outer space. Real interesting stuff. And then we went back to his apartment so he could check on his computers and the place was a disaster. He never cleans anything; he never throws anything out—”

“Dump him,” said Marjorie.

“Do you mind?

“Jared was like that and Sophie the caterer tried to help—”

“Marjorie, I have had enough of your soap-opera nonsense—”

“—and she poked around in his stuff and he was a mad scientist who—”


“And he had this new life-form thing and it was purple and it ate her.”

“Are you listening to this?” Sara asked Rowena.

“Not willingly,” Rowena said. “Marjorie, would you mind—”

“Boris is kind of a scientist, isn't he?”

No,” said Sara. “He is just a nerd and he is driving me nuts.”

“But if he's a computer scientist—”

“Trust me,” said Sara, “he avoids dealing with life forms of any kind. Including vegetables, non-precooked food of any description, and, I sometimes think, me.

“Sara. You knew Boris was—”

“I told him,” Sara interrupted, “‘Pizza boxes are not furniture,’ I said, and he just flew into a rage.

“A rage?” asked Rowena. She wasn't sure she wanted to think about Boris in a rage.

“Well, not a rage, really. More like a grumble. But he should have thanked me.”

“I thought you said he wasn't growing any life forms,” Marjorie said.

“I said he wasn't dealing with them. He doesn't feed them, water them, talk to them, walk them, groom them, or acknowledge their existence if he can help it. You know?”

“You are too weird,” said Marjorie.

“The thing is,” Sara told Rowena, “I am just completely creeped out.”

“You have to be careful with this sort of thing,” Rowena told her, “trying to change somebody, I mean. You have to be very tactful, and you have to—”

“Tactful! He doesn't understand tact. He—”

“All the same, you can't insult him. You have to consider his needs and whether what you want is in his interests, and you—”

“I'm here to install your phone,” said a man by Rowena's elbow. He had a large bag with him, and looked technical enough.

“Thanks,” Rowena said. “Um, do I have to move . . . ?”

He didn't answer. He pulled Rowena's phone jack from the old phone and stuck it into the new one. “There you go,” he said, and started towards Marjorie's desk. Rowena looked at the phones, then at the technician.

“What about the old phone?” she asked.

“Somebody else'll be by to collect it,” he said, already hard at work unplugging Marjorie's. “Not my job.”

“How'm I gonna use this thing?” Marjorie wailed. “What do I do?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. He reached into his bag, pulled out a manual, and handed it to her. “Got one for you, too,” he told Rowena, busy again with his jack. “Lemme finish this first.” He finished, then brought Rowena her manual.

“Thanks,” she said again. He turned to leave but Rowena said, “Could you put it where my old phone was? Just kind of switch them? I was told I wasn't allowed to touch it.” He muttered under his breath but did as she requested; Rowena felt foolish, thanking him again, but at least she had her new telephone in place. And she managed, this time, to snatch her papers away before the other phone could be dumped on top of them. The technician was clearly more than ready to leave, and Rowena was more than ready to see him go, but Sara detained him.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“It's all there in the manual,” he said.

“No, no; it's not about the phone. See, my boyfriend—well, he's kind of my boyfriend—well, he's a technical kind of guy too, and I just thought maybe you could tell me—”

“Lady,” he said, backing off in alarm, “I don't even talk about my own relationships.” And he was gone.

“Well. How do you like that?” Sara demanded of the world at large.

The new phone on Marjorie's desk began to ring. “Oh, God!” she wailed. “Oh, God! What do I do? I knew this would happen; I knew it!”

Rowena put her head in her hands. She would have put it on her desk, but of course there wasn't room. She could just see Sara walk over to Marjorie's phone and pick it up. “Rorschach & Schmed,” Sara said crisply. “Yes; just a minute.” She held the receiver out to Marjorie. “It's for you,” she said. Marjorie eyed it fearfully a moment before accepting it. Sara returned to Rowena's desk.

“What a case,” she said. “Hopeless.” She shook her head. “Now,” she went on, “about Boris.”

Rowena looked for the phone-removal person, fruitlessly. She looked at her buried desk. She was reduced to wishing her own phone would ring. It seemed, though, that nobody wanted to talk to her but Sara.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Sara was only persuaded to leave by the appearance of Eloise, who came by on a phone-distribution inspection tour. Rowena was finally ready to work, except that her desk was still occupied by her old phone. She tried putting her papers on top of it, but finally just leaned them against it and looked through the manual the technician had left. The new phone had an awful lot of functions, the great majority of which she was sure she would never need. Never—unless the company changed a lot more than its telephones. She checked the functions she did expect to use. Voice mail. When she had voice mail, the fact would be displayed prominently; to access the message she was to pick up the receiver and punch the clearly-labeled Voice Mail button. Just like her old phone. Forwarding calls. To forward a call, she was to push the Forward button (clearly marked), enter the phone number of the party to whom the call was to be forwarded, and push the Forward button again. Just like her old phone. She looked up Hold, Conference Call, and the two or three other functions she occasionally used. Except for the functions she felt no one at Rorschach & Schmed would ever need, she could find no difference at all between her old phone and the new one.

No difference at all.

Except of course that she was supposed to spend an hour being trained to use it.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“What a crock,” Berna said. “What a total waste of time.”

Rowena was inclined to agree, but something about Berna made her disinclined to say so. “There are a lot of new functions on these phones,” she said. “Maybe that's what they'll teach us.” She looked around the conference room, chose a nearby chair, and sat down. Berna snorted.

“It's just manager games,” she said, lowering herself onto a chair next to Rowena's. “They think that if we have these big complicated machines on our desks, we'll look important, or efficient, or something. And that if we look important, they look important.”

“And the training . . . ?”

“Refusal to admit that it's all—”

“Rowena! There you are!” Sara plopped herself down on Rowena's other side. “I was looking all over for—oh.” She had finally noticed Berna.

“Geez,” Berna said. “And they said if I wore this perfume I'd be popular.”

“Perfume?” asked Sara. “I didn't know you wore perfume.” And she sniffed in Berna's direction.

“I don't. It was a joke. What's the matter with you?”

“I'm distraught,” said Sara, “and I don't need you making fun of me or my problems.”

“This oughta be good.”

“Okay, everybody; welcome to the telephone training seminar. I'm Ed from Phoney Stuff, the company that made your new telephones as well as your old ones; I'm your telephone trainer, and I'd like to thank you all for coming.” Ed beamed at them all, professionally. “Has everyone here used the old-style telephones?”

“Oh, brother,” muttered Berna. “Only those of us who've been here more than half an hour.”

“Rowena,” hissed Sara in her other ear, “I had to get rid of those pizza boxes. They smelled.

“Pizza boxes?” asked Berna. There was evidently nothing wrong with Berna's hearing.

Rowena tried to look properly attentive as Ed explained how to answer the new phone. “Boris had these huge piles of pizza boxes and junk in his apartment, and I got rid of them and he's mad at me.”

“Well, no wonder,” said Berna.

“I'm serious! I can't live with this!”

“You're not living with it. Boris is.”

“Now, as with the old phones,” Ed was saying, “you answer by picking up the receiver and putting it to your ear.”

“But one day I might live with Boris!”

“Good morning,” Ed said into his receiver. “Rorschach & Schmed.”

“And pigs might fly. Actually, come to think of it, he probably would fly, if he bothered to notice you trying to move in.”

“Rowena! Make her stop it!”

“So with the new phones, you answer in just the same way.”

“Rowena!” Sara insisted. “Make her stop!

“Good morning; Rorschach & Schmed.”

Rowena closed her eyes and took a deep breath. And then she took another. She told Berna and Sara both to be quiet, expecting no results and getting none. She listened as best she could to Ed's routine, and learned, step by painfully-simple step, that for all the functions anybody but the receptionist actually used, her new phone—like all of the new phones—was exactly the same as the old phone.

“Now,” Ed said at last, as Sara launched an impassioned plea to the effect that she did too care desperately for Boris just as he was, she just, you know, couldn't stand to have him living in a pigsty, “as to all these other features you see on the telephones and in the manual . . . I'm afraid they haven't actually been implemented on the switch here at Rorschach & Schmed yet. But they will be soon. You don't need them now, but if you ever do Phoney Stuff will be happy to switch them on for you, and I or somebody else will come on out and train you.”

He asked for questions, but nobody had any questions, except for Berna, who asked Sara whether she realized she was completely deluded. And then the seminar was over.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“What a crock,” said Berna, as they left. “Told you so.”

Sara's mouth dropped open. “You don't have to be so—Boris and—”

“The so-called seminar, Sara; the seminar.” Berna spoke with an exaggerated patience which was really not very patient at all.

“I'm just glad it's over,” Rowena said. She wished Sara and Berna's argument were over also, as well as all of Sara's fretting over Boris. She managed to get back to her desk without them, and seated herself with a sigh. Her old phone was gone, and there was a new message on her new phone; her first. Her papers were all still where she'd left them, but lying flat now. She straightened them up and set them nicely down in the middle of her desk, right where they belonged, then picked up the telephone receiver and called up her message.

“Hello!” said a recorded voice—a voice that had been recorded before it had ever got to her phone. “Welcome to your new Phoney Stuff telephone! You have been provided with a manual which should answer all your Phoney Stuff questions. If you have any other questions, or would like to talk to a representative for any other reason, please call the number on the back of your manual. In case you do not have a manual, that number is . . .” Rowena erased the message and hung up the phone. She picked up a pen instead, and turned to her project.

“Wasn't that great?” Marjorie gushed, approaching. “I learned so much!” Marjorie had, for once, been sitting on the opposite side of the conference room; she might well have heard every word Ed had said.

“Good,” said Rowena, without looking up. If Marjorie were so enlightened by that seminar, how had she been doing her job all these years?

“So interesting!” Marjorie went on. “I feel like a real pro now.” She dropped into her chair, entirely satisfied with the world.

“Good.” Rowena frowned at her document.

“A message!” Marjorie cried. She pounced on it, and listened raptly. Rowena hadn't meant to watch, but somehow saw Marjorie scrabble at her manual, flip it over , and copy something down. Rowena was pretty sure she had just copied the Phoney Stuff phone number down next to, or very near, where it was already printed.

“They really are taking care of us,” Marjorie said happily, hanging up.

“Good,” Rowena said again, eyes resolutely on her project. Her phone rang, and she picked it up. “Rorschach & Schmed,” she said, without looking up.

“Rowena!” Sara wailed. “I have to forward a call! What do I do?

“Same thing you always did,” said Rowena.

“But—this phone! All those buttons!

“Hang on,” said Rowena, and transferred the call to Marjorie, who let out a squeal of delight as her phone rang.

“Rorschach & Schmed! Oh, Sara! Hi! Aren't these phones great?

Rowena jotted a note in the margin of her paper. Let Marjorie have a little fun, she thought. Why not?

Why not indeed?


Next Story:
Rowena Talks To Girls

Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 11

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