As it receives an incoming text message, the cell phone resting on the pillow next to Mark Kowalski’s head, makes first a buzzing
and then a beeping sound.
Mark turns his head on the pillow. He opens his mouth. Mark tastes the malty dryness of last night’s twelve-pack at the
back of his throat. He attempts to conjure up some saliva by the flicking of his tongue against the roof of his mouth, but none is forthcoming and nothing’s there. Only the malty dryness
of the beer remains left behind.
The cell phone beeps. Mark moves his eyes over to look at it. The screen says: 1 NEW TEXT MESSAGE, and glows with a dull
blue light. He picks the cell phone up and holds it in his hand, but he doesn’t read the new message. Instead, Mark rolls over onto his back and stares up at the ceiling.
As he looks up at the white ceiling of his bedroom, he becomes entranced by the small crack in the paint that zigzags its way from
corner to corner above his head. Mark watches the crack in the paint for a few minutes, and then, it really sets in. The headache sets in and jolts of pain shoot zigzag across Mark’s
The headache takes hold and it refuses to let go. Then the coughing, an insistent dry hack, sets in too as Mark pays the
price for last night. A healthy dose of coughing and nausea is the going rate for drinking a twelve-pack of Budweiser and smoking a pack of Marlboros in three hours. And to think, all of
this had come from a night when Mark had chosen to stay in! If he had decided to go out last night, Mark suspects, he might’ve ended up in a coma at this rate.
Mark continues to lie in bed and cough. As he coughs, he watches his chest heave up and down, and he waits in silence for the
cloudiness that hangs like gauze over his vision to slowly dissipate. After about fifteen minutes of watching his chest go up and down and waiting, the gauze is lifted.
His head still hurts; he still feels tightness and a tugging in his chest where he believes that his heart is supposed to be, but
he does feel well enough to sit up in his bed now.
Mark rolls onto his side and then he sits up. He swings his legs over the edge of the bed and sits there on the very
edge. He turns his head and looks at himself in the mirror. Mark is wearing a pair of navy blue boxer shorts and nothing else. He sees in the mirror that a small paunch, not yet a
gut, but the beginnings of one, is starting to form around his mid-section. Mark’s not becoming fat. His weight is only rising in proportion to the unhealthiness of his lifestyle in much
the same way that the inner-tube of a bicycle tire will slowly inflate as air is pumped into it.
Mark yawns as he sits on the edge of his bed with the bottoms of his bare feet resting atop the chilled surface of the hardwood
bedroom floor. He thinks about laying back down and going back to sleep, but he decides against it because he figures it would be unwise. He’s pushing the amount of time he has left to
make into work as it is.
His mouth is so dry; so parched, that it’s dehydration that overpowers Mark’s innate laziness and forces him to rise to his feet
and stand up. He sprints the eight feet out of his bedroom and into the small adjoining half-bathroom. Mark slams and locks the bathroom door behind him as he enters even though he’s the
only person there.
All in one motion, Mark turns on the tap and plunges his head face-up into the sink and beneath the running faucet. He lets
the running water fill his mouth and cascade down his throat in an attempt to slake his ravenous alcohol driven thirst. Mark lifts his dripping wet head from beneath the faucet and gives one
last coughing heave that knocks the accumulated remnants of tar and mucus loose inside his chest. It’s only then, after all of these ministrations, that he remembers he’s still holding his
cell phone in his hand.
Mark wonders who could possibly be texting him at this time of the morning. Did he do something stupid last night that he
doesn't now remember? Did he call an ex-girlfriend? Did he call his grandmother at two-thirty in the morning? Did he call his boss and tell him what a fat, lazy piece of shit he
really thinks he is? What? What? What?
With a sense of trepidation, Mark flips his phone open again, presses the green button that opens the text message and looks down
at the screen.
Instead of seeing a name, or a complete phone number in the box at the top of the screen that's marked: FROM, Mark sees only six
numbers and a hyphen: 46-4630.
Mark lets out a little cough, scratches his chest hair and sighs. Great, he thinks, now he gets junk mail on his cell phone
too! Junk mail via regular mail; junk e-mails; junk phone calls; junk memos at work; junk conversations with other people about the weather and the rising price of gas, and now, junk text
Before he reads the message, Mark decides that he knows one thing for sure. He knows that he doesn't know where this text
message came from, and therefore, he's not going to respond to it.
He remembers the one time that he made the mistake of responding to a phone call whose origin he didn't know. That time,
Mark had received a call from a number he'd never seen before. One day at work, when Mark had been stacking large cube shaped cardboard boxes on top of other large cube shaped cardboard boxes
on metal shelves, he'd heard his phone beep inside his pocket.
It had kept on beeping. He looked at it, didn't recognize the number, but answered the call anyway.
He flipped open his phone.
"Who is this?"
"I DON'T SPEAK SPANISH!" Mark had shouted into his phone.
"ME NO SPEAK INGLEIAS!" The voice of the mystery number had shouted into the phone. Then they had both hung up at the
Four hours later, while Mark was still putting cube shaped cardboard boxes on top of other cube shaped cardboard boxes, the
mystery number called again.
This process—Hello? Che Pasa? Hello? Che Pasa?—repeated itself every four hours, on the hour, for the next four days. After
four days, the voice of the mystery number had apparently stopped caring about what was up with Mark in either English, or in Spanish. It was O.K. though, four days was about the limit for
being on speaking terms with most of the women that Mark knew anyway, so that he was used to people disappearing into silence like that. It had been a relief to be able to stop hanging up on
someone without being able to say good-bye. Mark hates to stop talking to anyone without saying goodbye, even if they're not speaking in a language that he can understand.
As he stands there this morning, over the toilet bowl clad only in his navy blue boxer shorts, Mark has already made up his mind
that he's not going to respond to this text message from an unknown number. Especially considering that the person, whoever it is, had the audacity to put a hyphen—A HYPHEN OF ALL
THINGS!—into their number as if all the regular numbers, digits 0 through 9, aren't good enough for them, or something. The balls on some people!
Mark continues to hold his phone open in the palm of his hand. He looks down into the still water of the toilet bowl
intently, as if the water is a pile of tea leaves, or a crystal ball and Mark is a modern day Nostradamus attempting to predict the future by reading the messages hidden in the water of the toilet
He gazes into the water of the toilet for a long time. A thought flits across his mind: My cat drinks from
And yes, it's true. Mark's cat does drink this water that Mark is gazing down into right now as if it were a reflecting
pool. For a second, all of Mark's thoughts go blank in the face of the placid sublimity of the toilet bowl water.
Then it finally occurs to Mark that, yes, his cat DOES drink from this water. In fact, not only does Mark's cat drink the
water in the toilet bowl, but Mark's cat goes to great lengths, climbing over the sink; getting wet in the pools of water that Mark leaves behind on the floor after his showers, and even lifting
up the toilet seat itself with its little head and bearing the entire weight of the aforementioned toilet seat on top its tiny cat skull—just to get a drink of specifically THIS water.
In another second, some profound thoughts cross Mark's mind. He knows that the cat does drink this water. He knows that
the cat goes out of his way, like a lost and parched man wandering through the Sahara simply to arrive at the oasis that is this toilet bowl water and to drink from it. Mark knows that his cat
is fine. He knows that his cat isn't going bald. His cat's fur isn't turning prematurely gray. His cat isn't starting to put on extra weight. His cat doesn't drink alcohol
or get mean and nasty hangovers. Hell, Mark's cat doesn't even have to go to work! The lucky Son of a Bitch, or whatever the female feline equivalent of a bitch is, Mark thinks.
Maybe, just maybe Mark supposes, HE should drink from the toilet bowl water too. He bends over and lowers his head. He
lets his tongue fall slightly out of his mouth, exactly like he's seen his cat do countless times before, and he prepares to slurp up the obviously life giving elixir of the toilet bowl
water. But luckily, the thought of drinking from the toilet vanishes from Mark's mind as quickly as it came.
He shakes his head rapidly from side to side like a dog drying off after a bath. Mark stands up straight. He decides
that if he can't drink the water from the toilet and if he can't respond to the mysterious text message because he doesn't know where it came from, than at the very least he can read what it
says. After all, there's no harm in looking. Right?
Mark looks down at the space on the screen of his cell phone right underneath the little box that says FROM: 46-(A fucking
HYPHEN! Can you believe that?) 4630.
He reads. The message says: MARK KOWALSKI: SAVE THE EARTH! SOLVE THE ENERGY CRISIS! MAKE MILLIONS! DISCOVER
THE SECRET! TEXT "YES" TO 46-4630!
After he reads the message, Mark feels nauseous. The hangover is rearing its ugly head once again. Or, maybe, it's the
message itself and all those capital letters, saving the world and the urgency of the damned thing that's stressing Mark out more than having to be at work in a half an hour all dehydrated and
with his mouth tasting like malted barley that's causing him to feel nauseous.
He sits down on the floor, on the bathmat next to the shower. His head is spinning.
Save the world? Make millions? Discover the secret? The secret? All he has to do to discover 'The Secret' is
to reply to this number, the mysterious number with the hyphen, and then all the world-saving and all of the millions can be his?—Mark Kowalski's?
Sitting on the bathmat with the cold chill of the tiles beginning to rise up through the cotton of his navy blue boxer shorts and
freeze his ass a color blue to match his underwear, Mark decides that this is all practically too good to be true.
The secret can be his? And it's not just any secret, but THE secret could be all Mark Kowalski's, and the only thing that
he has to do is reply to this message. This is amazing. No one has ever entrusted Mark with a secret of any kind ever before that he can remember.
Mark sits on the floor of his bathroom and tries to remember when, if ever in the past, he had been privy to any kind of secret.
He tries to remember, but in trying to remember he keeps on thinking of Mrs. Anderson's 1st Grade class. His
1st Grade class. He remembers that he sat in the third seat in the third row behind Heather McCantry and in front of Constantine Constanakos, the Greek kid.
Mrs. Anderson had rust colored hair, and if Mark's memory is correct, she must have been around forty years old. Mark was
too young at the time to tell whether or not Mrs. Anderson was a cougar, but he does remember that she had an unattractive perm that was not unlike those red wigs that clowns in the circus
wear. It was the 80's after all.
Mrs. Anderson's favorite game was Telephone. At least once every week she would make the class play a game of
Telephone. The class would play Telephone at the most random times, in the middle of Math class, during rehearsals for the Christmas musical and even right in the middle of Bring Your
Grandparents to School Day. Back then, in the 1st Grade, Mark couldn't discern any viable educational reason as to why the class played Telephone once a week, and as he sits on the
cold floor of his bathroom in his underwear twenty odd years later with his cell phone in his hand, he still can't figure out why the class had to play Telephone once a week.
Mrs. Anderson would whisper something like, "I love chocolate covered strawberries," into the ear of Katie Finch who sat in the
1st seat of the 1st row of the classroom, and the message would wind its way from waxy six year old ear to waxy six year old ear as it went from row to row.
Soon, the message would get to the 3rd row where Mark sat. When the message did get to the 3rd row,
Heather McCantry who sat in the 1st seat of the 3rd row directly in front of Mark would stand up and walk past the 2nd seat of the 3rd row where Mark sat
and walk to the 3rd seat of the 3rd row where Constantine Constanakos sat and whisper. "I shove velvet covered canaries," into HIS ear and not Mark's. Even she would
skip Mark, not let him in on the secret and tell Constantine Constanakos, THE GREEK KID OF ALL PEOPLE, the secret instead!
But now, as Mark sits on the floor of his bathroom in his underwear, not just any secret, but THE SECRET is his, and all he has to
do is reply to the mysterious text message from 46-4630. The tables have turned! And who gives a damn now, twenty odd years later, about who shoves velvet covered canaries?
Mark cradles his cell phone in his hand. He presses the 'Y' button, then he presses the 'E' button and then he presses
the 'S' button. He hits the reply key on his cell phone and his heart skips a beat as he prepares for his 'YES' to be sent to the mysterious 46-4630 number and for the secret, not just any
secret but the secret of secrets, to be all his.
But then Mark's heart drops as suddenly a black telephone icon with a red line through it pops up on the screen followed by the
words: MESSAGE UNABLE TO BE DELIVERED. Damn it! He's lost all reception. His cell phone is getting no signal. Mark begins to sweat and the nausea of his hangover, or of
the pressure of the secret, returns as he tries frantically to get a signal in his bathroom.
He climbs up onto his toilet, but nothing comes, just the icon of the telephone with the red line remains. Damn it! Damn
it! Damn it! And usually bathrooms are the ONLY places where Mark gets cell phone reception, but the Gods of the secret are obviously conspiring against him.
Mark lifts his legs and jumps up on his sink. He half stands and half sits, hunched over on top of the sink on the heels of
his feet with his cell in his hand and raised in the air up toward the ceiling.
He stares at the phone, and then in a split second, the black phone icon with the red line through it disappears and Mark has
reception once again! The secret can be his! The message "YES" to 46-4630 starts to be sent once again. Mark waits in tense anticipation, in his underwear crouching on top of his
bathroom sink for the secret to be his.
And then the phone rings. It beeps, it buzzes, it rings and then the message stops sending. UNABLE TO SEND MESSAGE:
INCOMING CALL flashes across the screen. Damn it!
Mark picks up the phone. "Hello?"
"Hello?" A woman's voice says from the other end of the line as if she didn't realize she had been calling Mark and is
startled by the fact that another voice is talking to her.
"Yeah, hey Deena it's Mark. Listen, I'm kinda busy," Mark says crouching on top of the sink in his bathroom in his
"How come you're not at work?" Deena says. Mark had met Deena three days ago, at work. They'd gone out for
drinks once, Mark drove her home, and now apparently she thinks they're in some kind of relationship.
"Work?" Mark asks. He's on the threshold of discovering the secret. Really, he has no clue what she's talking
"Yeah work," she insists.
"Oh I'm not feeling well. Listen De—"
"Are you drunk again?" She asks with a high pitched tilt of anger to her voice.
"No, hung over but—"
Deena cuts Mark off and yells, "YOU"RE ALWAYS DRUNK KOWALSKI!"
Mark begins to sweat. He has to discover the secret. His back is beginning to hurt in this crouched over position on top
of the sink in his underwear. "I'm not always drunk," Mark says quickly, "listen Deena I have to go."
"EVERYTIME I TRY TO TALK TO YOU, YOU'RE DRUNK KOWALSKI!"
"That's not true Deena," Mark snaps, "but lis—"
"YOU"RE ALWAYS DRUNK!"
"I'm not always drunk. You've only known me for three days!"
"AND YOU"VE ALWAYS BEEN DRUNK FOR THREE DAYS!" Deena screams into the phone.
"FINE!" Mark yells.
"FINE!" Deena yells.
She hangs up.
He hangs up.
Mark is still hunched over crouching on top of the sink in his bathroom, in his underwear, trying to discover the
secret. After the phone call he's lost all reception again. The message to discover the secret cannot be sent.
Frantically, Mark begins to move his hand from side to side to side trying in vain to get some, to get any, amount of reception so
that he can send "YES" to 46-4630 and discover the secret.
One bar, for one split second Mark gets one tiny bar of reception and with his heart beating fast, he presses the button for SEND
and waits with tense anticipation for the mystery number with the hyphen, 46-4630, to respond back to him so that he, Mark Kowalski, can know not just any secret, but THE SECRET and solve the
energy crisis and make millions.
Mark is still crouching on top of the sink in his bathroom in his underwear. The phone beeps. The phone buzzes. The
phone rings. Mark looks down at the phone in the palm of his hand. It says: INCOMING CALL. The number of the incoming call is 46-4630.
In a rush, a flash of excitement, Mark flips open his phone and answers the call.
"Hello?" Mark asks, breathless with anticipation.
"Che pasa?" A voice responds on the other end.
Mark begins to shake; to shutter all over from head to toe as he crouches on top of the sink in his bathroom, in his underwear,
with the cell phone pressed to his ear.
"WHAT IS THE SECRET!?" Mark screams into the phone.
"CHE PASA?" The voice shouts back.
"WHAT IS THE SECRET?!"
Mark begins to shake and tremble all over. The phone slips from his hand, for a second and it rattles against the edge of the
sink and then if falls with an anti-climactic plop into the still water of the toilet bowl that's to the left of Mark.
He jumps down off the top of the sink in his underwear and stands looking down into his toilet bowl and watching the cell phone
there, an inanimate lump of gray plastic sitting like a dead fish at the bottom and still holding onto the secret.
Mark gazes down into the toilet for a moment. Then he bends over and fishes the phone out from the bottom of the toilet with
his hand. The thing is ruined. It won't work at all.
Mark takes the wet phone and walks the eight feet back into his bedroom. He disassembles the cell phone. He takes the
battery and the SIM card out and he lays all the component parts of the phone on the window sill of his bedroom where the morning sunlight is streaming in through the open window.
He leaves the pieces of his phone there on the window sill to dry. He's lost the secret. But at least, he supposes,
with his cell phone soaked like it is, Deena can't call again, his boss can't call to ask him why he's not at work yet and no one can ask him—Che pasa?
Mark lays back down in bed and rolls over on his side. He lets the warm sunlight that's coming through the window shine on
his naked back and warm him. Mark falls into a fitful sleep and sleeps the rest of the day away. The secret isn't his, but the warm sun on his back feels good.
© Copyright 2016 WriterMike730. All rights reserved.