The prompt was:
Take the strangest classified advert you’ve seen and broaden on it.
Wanted: 30 text messages. One a day for one month. Must be a girl. Will give you messages to send. Will pay $10. Please contact L.C. by text. 546-4562.
“Hey, Darlene, come look at this ad.” Will waits for her to come closer, then hands her the paper and taps his finger against the segment that reads ‘Odd Jobs’. “You could do that, right honey? Finally bring in some money. No doubt it’s a creepy old man with a fetish.” He laughs, but as he leaves the kitchen she catches him muttering under breath. “Ten dollars. Ha.”
Scowling at his back, she reminds herself he’s just playing around, poking fun at her for spending most of her days as an intern without pay. I’ll get there, she tells herself, it’ll just take a few more weeks.
Her curiosity forces her eyes to graze over the ad again. Ten dollars might not be much, but…every penny counts. She slips her phone out of her pocket and hastily types in the number, then heads to the bathroom. Safely behind a locked door, she sends out a text.
Hi, L.C.? I saw the ad about text messages? Do you still need someone? Am a girl.
It took a few minutes, but she got a response.
It wasn’t the most revealing answer. Confused, and slightly annoyed at herself for bothering with it, she gives up and walks back into the kitchen, forgetting all about the ad.
Two hours later, while working at her computer, her phone beeps. She looks down and sees another message, this time with an attachment.
Here are the messages. Please send one a day. Start tomorrow. Send to 546-4565. Not this number.
She opens the attachment and sees a numbered list from one to thirty. Each number has a short message typed beside it. As she scans over them, her eyebrows pull increasingly closer together until Will takes notice of her deeply puzzled expression.
“Dar? You alright? What’s up?”
She shakes her head gently, straightening her back and stretching. “Just work; I was overanalyzing a sentence.”
“You work entirely too hard for free.”
She rolls her eyes and waves him off, and he turns his attention back to the television. She skims the messages one more time, then sets her phone aside and goes back to work. The texts keep popping up in her mind, despite her efforts to focus. She thinks about them all day, and eventually gives up on getting any work done, constantly wondering what would happen if she sent those messages.
The next morning, she tentatively sends the first message.
Good morning. Please smile today.
She doesn’t get a response. She waits ten minutes, then shrugs and gets started on the day’s work.
On the second day, she sends the second message.
Good morning. Please be happy today.
Two minutes later, she gets a response, telling her that she has the wrong number. The agreement never said to reply, so she ignores it.
The messages continue throughout the first week, and each day she gets a response telling her that she still has the wrong number. Until day eight.
Good morning. Please tell yourself that it’ll all be okay.
The response comes as usual, but this time it doesn’t tell Darlene that she’s got the wrong number. It’s an actual reply to the message she sent.
You have no idea what I’m going through, how can you think it’ll all be okay?
She has to reply. Something like that is too much for her to just leave alone. She sends a message about how everyone has something difficult that tests them, but that it won’t always be like that. The sun will shine again. Good times will return. There is no reply.
Good morning. Please tell people that you love them today.
Good morning. Please hug someone today.
Good morning. Please remember you are beautiful today.
One small message comes back.
Darlene smiles. Later, she washes her hands in the bathroom sink and looks up at her reflection. She examines the wrinkles around her mouth and the bags below her eyes. Furrowing her brow, she takes a step back, looking at herself from a distance. Despite the wear of time and stress, she flashes a grin and tells herself she’s beautiful. The words sound awkward; she’s never spoken them before. Feeling a bit silly, she goes back to her computer.
Good morning. Please try to relax today.
What is ‘relax’? lol. Got any tips?
Darlene thinks for a minute. She doesn’t know this person, but assumes it’s a woman. She considers what she would do to help herself relax, and replies with those suggestions.
Stay in pajamas all day, read a book, drink lots of hot tea.
Great idea. Haven’t read a book in…years.
She goes back to work, but the short exchange makes her think. It’s been far too long since she’s sat down to read for fun. And she does have an entire series collecting dust on her bookshelf. She hasn’t had hot tea apart from having a sore throat.
After finishing her current task, she stands up and stretches, vowing to take a break. She spends a few hours curled up in her recliner, drinking tea and finally opening the first book in the series that she had been so excited about when she had bought it. Will comes home and finds her off the computer, and brings her a new cup of tea.
“Nice to see you offline for once,” he comments with a lopsided grin.
“It’s nice to relax,” she says. She finishes a chapter and sets the book aside, opting instead to cuddle up to her husband on the couch and watch a movie together. When she finally takes her seat at the computer again later that night, she finds her work to be much easier and less stressful. I wonder if relaxing actually helped, she thought.
On the twenty-sixth day, she gets a text before she has a chance to send one.
I need to talk to someone. I don’t know you, but please. May I vent?
She’s taken by surprise. She hadn’t considered that the woman on the other end of the texts might do more than just respond. Darlene admits to herself that her curious nature demands answers, and after all the positive, uplifting texts she’s sent to this woman so far, denying her this chance to open up would be counterproductive.
The woman proceeds to send a slur of messages, all detailing how she’s kicked her husband out of the house and doesn’t know what to do or where to go from here. Darlene sends her a heartfelt response, truly saddened by all the trouble this woman has had to go through. The woman worries that her ten year old son will be torn apart at the news that his father won’t be coming home, but she knows it’s for the best in the end. The two women message each other throughout the day, connecting on a variety of levels.
When Will comes home from work, Darlene rushes him at the door and throws her arms around him.
“Woah, what’s this for?” He’s genuinely shocked at the outburst of love from his wife.
“I’m sorry my work get in the way of ‘us’,” she begins.
“It’s okay. Thank you though.”
“No, it’s not okay. I love you. I want to spend more time with you, and be interested in the things you do, and not be so stressed out over a job that, you’re right, doesn’t pay anything yet. I don’t want to give it up, but I need to find a better way to go about it than living glued to a computer screen.” Her eyes swell with tears, and Will bends down to kiss her gently on her forehead.
“I love you, too, Dar. And I’m sorry, too. I know I’m not the most patient husband. I have no idea why you’re still married to me.” He chuckles, offering her a smile. She returns the gesture, glad she was able to get her feelings off her chest.
The thirtieth day comes and goes, and Darlene continues to text the woman. Their friendship has grown since their heart to heart, and by the thirty-second day, she finally learns the woman’s name is, in an ironic twist, Charlene. Eventually, the topic turns to the inevitable. Why did Darlene even start texting Charlene in the first place?
She explains about the ad in the paper and the mysterious person who made an offer for texts. She sends Charlene the number from the ad.
Oh my God.
What? You know it?
That’s my son’s number.
Darlene had forgotten all about the ad and the ten dollar reward. She sends a text to the number from the ad.
It’s been a month. I sent all the texts. Why did you want them sent, anyways?
Charlene promises to keep quiet and appear oblivious until after Darlene gets her answer. It takes a couple hours, but she finally gets a response. The answer only takes five messages to explain, but Darlene is in tears by the end of it.
My mom was sad all the time. My dad was always happy. I thought Mom needed to do whatever Dad was doing. He got lots of text messages, so I checked his phone.
I thought if I knew what was making him happy, I could make Mom happy. I saw he got a new message every morning from some lady.
She always said good morning and told him what she wanted him to do for her. And he always told her he’d do anything for her.
I thought about what I wanted mom to do, and wrote them down. But she doesn’t listen to me, so I thought she needed a lady to tell her, just like Dad.
It worked. She’s happy now. Dad is gone, though. But I think he’s happy. I think the other lady makes him happy.
Darlene takes a few minutes to compose herself, then picks her phone back up. She doesn’t open her messages. She goes straight into her contact list and brings up Charlene. Without hesitating, she dials.
She doesn’t know exactly what she’ll say. She isn’t sure exactly how she’ll say it. She just knows she has formed a bond that should extend beyond typed words. And that a ten year old has made that possible.
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