Stan and the Cellphone

‘I’m frightened,’ I say. ‘Please can you tell me a story.’
‘Dude,’ says my bro, ‘OK. Which one d’you want?
‘Stan and the Cellphone,’ I say, because I am always texting.
‘OK,’ says my bro. I hear him settling himself in the dark.
‘This guy called Stan goes into a bar.’
‘Do you know Stan?’ I ask. ‘Sure,’ says my bro.
‘So it’s a true story?’ I ask. ‘I guess,’ says my bro.
The darkness surrounds us. ‘Anyway,’ he says,
‘Stan is sitting at the bar and in walks this gorgeous chick.’ 
‘Like Lady Gaga?’ I say. ‘Naa, like drop dead gorgeous.’ 
‘Like Angelina Jolie?’ I say. ‘Naa, more Lara Croft 
with the Nude Raider patch if you insert the jewel on level 15.’ 
There’s a pause in which we both think about Lara Croft 
with the Nude Raider patch if you insert the jewel on level 15. 
At least that’s what I think about. I don’t really know 
what my bro thinks about. 
‘Anyway, Stan and the gorgeous chick, they get chatting.’
‘But,’ I interrupt, ‘what Stan doesn’t know is his cellphone 
in his jeans’ pocket has turned on and dialled the first number
in his contacts—which is his girlfriend.’
‘Who’s telling this story?’ says my bro. 
‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘He must be wearing tight jeans.’
‘The tightest. Stan is one cool dude.’
I try to imagine Stan’s jeans.
‘But his girlfriend ain’t home,’ says my bro.
‘Lucky for him,’ I say. ‘Not,’ says my bro,
‘cos her answerphone is—and it starts recording. 
When she gets home, she listens to the messages 
and, whammo, does she go ballistic!’
‘So she hears the whole conversation?’ ‘Most of it.’
‘And the sound quality was good enough?’ ‘Most of it.’
‘Even in a bar?’ ‘It’s noisy, but she can hear Stan’s voice
chatting up the chick clear enough. Then Stan comes home.’
‘What happens?’ I say. ‘You know the rest,’ says my bro.
‘Please,’ I say. ‘I’m frightened.’ My bro sighs. 
‘OK. Stan comes home and they fight and she forgives him.’ 
‘Are they still together?’ I say. ‘Yeah,’ says my bro. 
‘Do you think ...?’ I say. ‘Go to sleep,’ says my bro.
I do an experiment I sometimes do.
I close my eyes in the darkness and then open them 
to see if I can hear a difference. And tonight I can.

James Brown’s latest collection is Warm Auditorium (Victoria University Press, 2012), from which this poem comes. He is the author behind the useful, non-fiction booklet Instructions for Poetry Readings and, in 2005, edited The Nature of Things: Poems from the New Zealand Landscape. He teaches the poetry writing workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, and is part of the writing team at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

James’ first two collections were shortlisted in the 2002 Prize in Modern Letters and he has been a finalist in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards three times. He has held the 1994 Louis Johnson New Writers Bursary, a 2000 Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship, and was Writer in Residence at Canterbury University in 2001 and Victoria University in 2004. He lives in Wellington with his partner and two children.

Brown comments: ‘The important uncertainties in “Stan and the Cellphone” are what the speaker might be frightened of and what, if anything, he might be listening for at the end. There are no absolute answers, though I did have specific things in mind. It has just occurred to me that the poem could almost be a prequel to “The End of the Runway” (from The Year of the Bicycle), which is narrated by the older brother, whereas the speaker here is intended to be the younger brother.’

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