Ax To Grind

Old Paul Donovan was sitting on his front porch one morning, reading the daily newspaper and sipping a cuppa of freshly made morning tea. Just like always, he was moving from headline to headline in search of something amazing article about latest political development in peace, and just like always he couldn’t find any.

He would now and then catch a glimpse of the morning street brimming with morning walkers, joggers, sweepers and stray dogs. The clock had hit 7 and it was almost time for his pal, George, to pass through his house, walking his dog.

“Hey there, George”, he shouted. “How’s everything at the office?”

“Not the same when you left it”, replied George.

“Well, someone gotta teach them young boys how to run the accounts, ain’t I right?”

“Yeah. You can drop by anytime you like to give them a lesson or two. Or perhaps to catch up with old folks of yours. I tell ya, you are still pretty much in talks!”

“Is that so?”, laughed Paul.

“Yeah. Them folks miss ya a lot”, winked George.

“Sometimes maybe. Happy walking that dog of yours. What is it, a rottweiler?”

“Damn right, it is. See ya later.”, and George went off with his dog dragging him through the street.

Old Paul was always respected, be it in the family, friendship, work or neighborhood. He had that image of a local respectable fellow that no one would even think bad of him. His sons respected him. His wife loved him. His friends liked him. And Old Paul loved them all.

He finished his morning cuppa tea and picked up his new smartphone that his sons had gifted him on his retirement.

“Let’s see what this handy son of a gun had in store for me.”
 
 He scrolled through the latest updates of his folks on social media, checked on some latest weather news, and finally some stocks he had been monitoring.

“Bad rain, bad stocks, bad news. This holly-molly never have anything good to me.”

He closed all the open apps, and just as soon as he was going to lock his phone he saw a new app. He paused for a second and didn’t’ remember installing it.

“Honey, have you installed any new app on my phone?”, he shouted.

“I don’t even know how to use it.”, he shouted back, from the kitchen.

“Ask the boys. They might know.”

“You don’t even let them touch the phone.”

“Yeah, that right.”

He tried remembering it but couldn’t. Then he tried to open the app, but every time he did, the app would suddenly close and take him back to the home-screen. 
 He didn’t know what that app was for. He tried to uninstall the app, and still every time he did it, it took him back to the home-screen. He couldn’t open the app or uninstall it.

“Hell, what is this?”, he got up and went inside to ask his boys.

“Those any one of you installed an app my phone?”, he asked.

“Well, we haven’t even touched your phone in like a week.”

“Well then. Look at this app, it not opening or uninstalling. See what you folks can do.”

“Dad, it might just be a virus. You have to get your phone clean. Uncle John knows how to do that.”

“Right. I will drop on him first thing after breakfast.”

The family then sat down for breakfast to enjoy some steak with half boiled eggs and saucer kraut.
 All the while he couldn’t get the app out of his mind.

After having the breakfast, he quickly went to John Smithers, or Uncle John, who lived just 3 houses down. He used to be a computer guy in some firm and now is simply doing ranching.

“Hey John”, Old Paul said, “you mind my dropping in at this time?”

John was in his garage, fixing the wipers of his ’59 Chevy.

“Nah Paul, it’s all fine. Come’on in.”

“Can you take a look at this new app in my phone. I don’t know it just appeared out of nowhere. In the morning I opened the phone and it was just sitting right there. Now I can’t open it, or delete it. Boys said that it might be a virus and the phone needs cleaning, so Uncle John is the guy!”

“Well, it’s not a big issue. Lemme hook this up to my computer and your phone will be ready as new. Come on in, have a beer or two while I just do my thing. It’ll be just five minutes tops.”

“I don’t see a reason to decline a good pint of beer.”

They went in.
 John handed Old Paul a beer and went to his room to fix up the phone.

Old Paul liked the beer. It was something new, some new flavor he hadn’t tasted in his life. It had a kind of smoky flavor to it, yet being subtle and fruity in taste.

He picked up the newspaper lying on the table to read some pleasing news.

“Murder, murder, rape, murder, kidnapping, bad weather, another rape,… damn this world. I don’t know the last time I read something good in these papers.”, and he threw the paper back on the table.
 He switched on the television and trapezed from news channel to another.

Murder, bad stocks, more bad stocks, actors adopting a black baby, actors cloth malfunctioned, celebrity gettin…

“Here you go, neighbour. It’s all done.”

“Have you checked it?”

“Nah. The battery was out and I gotta go run some errands. It will be all fine, trust me.”

“Thanks, John.”

“Ah. Don’t say it. Liked the beer?”

“Oh yeah. What beer is this?”

“Wife’s folks have a brewery. They keep sending boxes of this. Now if you want one I can drop them over to your house later this evening.”

“Sure.”

“Ok then. I gotta run. Happy whatever-you-do-on-your-phone.”

Old Paul laughed and went back to his home quickly to charge his phone and check the latest news update. He waited for some minutes, opened his phone back, checked the news quickly and they were still bad. No peace, no nothing.

He went back to the home-screen and the app was still there.

“What in the name of Holy-smoke is this?”

Suddenly his youngest son came to the door of his room.

“Dad you gotta drop me off at the station, remember?”

“Yeah”, Old Paul said in a somewhat sad tone, “this app is still there. That cleaning the whole phone stuff didn’t work.”

“Not a big thing, dad. You gotta check with the company guys. They will do it for ya. Now better get ready. My train is in an hour.”

Old Paul got up, went to the garage and started the car. He suddenly remembered that the weather was going to be bad in the evening and they might be running short on groceries. He went running to the kitchen.

“Hey Marge, the weather is going to be bad. You need something?”

“Oh! You startled me!”, exclaimed Marge. “Bring some beans and beef. And also some mustard and honey. Oh, and don’t forget the milk. Yeah and some eggs too.”

“Done.”
 He went to back to his car. His son was waiting with his luggage.

“Let’s go”, he said and went off.

He dropped him at the station and decided to visit the company shop before picking up the groceries and stuff.

“Good morning sir. How may I help you?”, said the receptionist at the shop.

“Well, I need to get my phone fixed. There’s something fishy going on in it.”

“Sorry to tell you, sir, we don’t take new repairs on the weekends. I can fix you up a time on Monday. You can get it done in just 5 minutes.”

“Ok then. The name’s Donovan. Paul Donovan.”

“Mr. Paul Donovan it is then, at 11 o’clock Monday morning. Anything else I might help you with? New phone?”

“No, it’s all fine. Thank you.”

“Have a great day sir!”, the girl smiled. 
 That smile seemed to creep old Paul. Though the girl was beautiful, he thought, but there was something wrong with that girl’s smile.

He went back to his car and drove to the Adam’s.

“Hey Paul”, said Adam. “Dropping in in the morning today, eh?”

“Yeah. Wife needed stuff and the weather is going to be bad in the evening, you know, the news says so”, replied Paul.

“Yeah. News does say everything is bad. No wonder they can’t spare weather. I don’t see how this shining sun will get worse in the evening.”

“Science and stuff. They make some data and study it… mind-blowing crap, not for us old timers”

“Damn right! All we need is a good beer, a Cuban cigar, and a television to watch and we are all good.”

“And don’t forget the news.”

“Yeah, the news”.

They both laughed.

“Anyway, I need some stuff. I better pick it up. By the way, you use a smartphone too, right?”

“Oh yeah. My daughter gifted it to me a month ago. Don’t know much about them but can certainly find my way around things.”, replied Adam.

“Well see if you can look into this. This app came out of the blue and is now not doing anything — not opening, not uninstalling, no nothing.”

“I’ll see. You go shop.”

“Yeah.”

Old Paul picked up a shopping cart and went to gather the stuff he has been asked for.
 He looked up at the news in the television that Adam had fixed at the top of the last aisle for the customers.

“The heart-throb movie stars finally get divorced…”

“We are burning in hell and they are showing the divorces of horny youngsters”, Old Paul said to himself.

He picked up the groceries and went back to the counter.

“These days you can’t help but look at crappy news all the time”, Old Paul said with a laugh.

“Damn right. Welcome to the free media.”

Adam started to bill Old Paul’s things, picking them one by one and placing them right in front of his bar-code reader.

“Found anything about the phone?”, asked Paul.

“Nope. I say ignore it. It’s all working fine otherwise.”, answered Adam.

“Yeah it is, but still this thing is bothering me. Anyway, forget it.”

“That’s 13.99.”

Old Paul paid the bill and went back to his car. He again opened his phone to check on that fishy app, and still nothing — not opening, not uninstalling, no nothing. He sat in the car and started to drive back to his place.
 He turned on the car-radio to catch up with some new updates. He tuned to the first news radio station.

“Bad weather in the evening today, folks. It is going to ….”
 He tuned to the second.

“The Oscar winning actor is finally going to marry his….”

He tuned to the third.
 Advertisement.

“Where’s all the good news? Or even news for that matter?”, he said to himself.

He reached back home.

“What took you so much time?”, his wife asked.

“Went to the phone company guys to see about that app. They said to come back on Monday.”

“Oh Paul, why are you so obsessed with it? It is just an app. Forget it.”

“Yeah it is just an app but it is not meant to be there. And if it is there, I should be able to uninstall it or open it. But I can’t”

“Maybe you don’t know how to.”

“I don’t know how to? I know that I know how to uninstall or open apps but this app is immune to all that. It is just lying there on my goddamn screen doing nothing, nothing at all”, he shouted.
 His face started to turn red from frustration and temper.

“Honey, why get so tensed over it?”, said Marge in her lovely voice to soothe him a little.

“Why should I NOT!?”, he shouted back at her, only this time louder.

Marge was taken aback. She wasn’t used to seeing this kind of Paul. She had never seen him so angry, or in so much bad mood — not even when his father or mother died, or even when his younger brother. He didn’t know what to do. She just stood there, bringing her arms closer to her body as if trying to protect herself from his rage.

“GODDAMN IT!”, old Paul threw the bag of groceries on the floor and went back thumping to his room.
 Marge just stood there fill with new kind of fear — a kind she was unaware of until now. She picked up the bag and went back at her chores.

On entering the room, Old Paul sat on his favorite chair by the window and opened up his phone. Like usual, he went through the social media, the stock market, and then some news, which was, as usual, absurd.
 He went back to that fishy app, tried to uninstall and open it again but all in vain. He kept trying it once in an hour, but all in vain.

The sun went down, the evening kicked in. There was no rain or no bad weather.

He again tried but failed.

He went downstairs for dinner but didn’t say a word to his wife or to his son. Marge was getting upset inside seeing such a quiet atmosphere at the table. She was burning in guilt as if she had said something bad about Paul. The son didn’t seem to mind it all. He finished his plate and went back to his room, leaving the two of them alone.

Paul, still eating dinner, took out his phone and tried again with the app, hoping this time it may be over, but failed again. He fisted the table loudly.

“Paul, what is it, hun?”, said Marge.

But Paul seemed to pay no attention to her. He went on trying again and again and failing each time. He didn’t say a word.
 He finished the dinner, picked up his plate, which he usually doesn’t, and went to his room, leaving Marge alone at the table for four with her unfinished dinner.

Meanwhile, a tear rolled down her cheeks to eventually fall into her plate.


7 years later

Marge had passed away due a to heart-attack. Their one son was in Colorado, the other in California…old Paul didn’t know the particular cities because in these 7 years he was too busy with that app to ask them.

Every day, every hour, every minute, every second he was busy trying to open and uninstall the app.

Adam’s store was closed. Uncle John’s ranch had generated a lot of cash and he left the country to live in the capital.

The phone shop was down now as the company went out of business.

The whole neighborhood had changed.

There was no one who knew who old Paul was or how everyone used to look at him with respect once. He was just a lonely creepy old man, to kids and elders alike, who would sit on his porch every morning, drinking tea, and busy with some stuff on his phone.

Each morning old Paul would make himself a cuppa tea, sit on the porch, get busy in fighting the app till noon, while George would pass through the front of his house, unnoticed, with his old rottweiler.

Like what you read? Give Prabhu Pant a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.