By Liane Smith
From the moment she came off the production line, Philomena knew she was special. A third generation iPhone, a 3S, yes, but she was so, so much more. Of course, she acknowledged the early models, those unwieldy pioneers—of course, she stood on the shoulders of giants (with her generational memory, she had to be fair), but she was different. As her diodes connected, Philomena knew she was an iPhone that thought out of its box.
The very handsome box fell out of birthday wrappings one January morning into the happy hands of Madeleine Menkin. Oh, that first moment of connection! As Philomena emerged from her designer shell, her sleek lines reflected in the large, round spectacle lenses of her human, she knew they would hit it off straight away. Philomena was obviously appreciated—not only for her sleek black casing, the slender gold frame around her screen, her colorful desktop—no, she sensed, by the way the woman’s warm fingers stroked and enclosed her, that she was treasured for more than her functions. Once she started training her human, Philomena could pursue her burning ambition to be the best photographer of her generation.
Maddy proved to be a good student. She was into estuary walking, wading, and bird spotting, and even though the salt marsh breezes were keen, she always made sure that Philomena was safely cradled and warm in her sometimes shaky hands.
“You are my precious eyes,” Maddy whispered, on their first outing. “You can see so much further than I can.”
Of course she could—Philomena knew how much she was needed, how dependent Maddy was on her zoom, her precise focus, her ability to see the birds more clearly than the pebbly spectacles permitted. The exciting expeditions they shared in those early months, creeping up on flocks of Brent geese gobbling eel grass on bright February mornings, filming turnstones looking for breakfast in busy bobbing runs along the margins of the tide.
Maddy uploaded birdsong tracks from a cardboard CD she’d found in a bird’s trust catalog, and together, they identified and recorded the dipping call of the curlew, the piping of the oystercatcher, and the trembling song of the shy marsh warbler, his hiding place revealed among the reed beds. That shot won them a prize. Then oh, those evening walks! A hundred different sunsets behind the island—how Philomena had strained every pixel to catch the exact moment, the perfect fusion of color. Such glorious work they did together, in those early years—before the whispering started. The whispering Tom began.
“Not that old phone still, Mum. Isn’t it time you upgraded? There’s a good deal available this month for the 7. I could send you a link…”
“It’s not a question of money, love,” said Maddy. “I like my phone. The new ones are big and ugly.”
Philomena snuggled safe in Maddy’s pocket and stopped worrying, for a while. Then Maddy’s friend Beth got going.
“Still got that funny little phone?” she said. “The new ones have a much better camera.”
Fear struck deep in Philomena’s motherboard. This was what she had dreaded. She’d tried to block her memory, but the ads kept jostling for position on her screen. Ads and processes that spelled doom, the auto-destruct fate of her model as the manufacturers conspired to force Philomena out, upgrade after upgrade, her functions gradually becoming less and less adequate for the voracious App appetite.
When the moment came, it was sudden, brutal. Philomena lay in Maddy’s pocket, trying to focus her fading charge as she listened to Maddy open the birthday present from Tom.
“An SE,” Maddy whispered. “Tom, how could you afford it? It’s really not necessary.…”
“You’re worth it, Mum,” he said, and kissed her, sealing Philomena’s fate.
As Philomena yielded up her SIM card, she felt her identity draining. She prepared herself for recycling. No hope.
Philomena felt a sudden surge of power. Maddy had reconnected her charger.
“You’re still my favorite, my beauty,” Maddy whispered. “And you’ve got the only copy of the birdsong tracks. So—SIM card or no—drink up your charge, and we’ll go for a walk together—you, me, and the SE, of course. What shall we call him?”