Anna-Leena Harkonen


Andre Hunter


Behind the Smiley Face

The risk of misunderstanding runs high in texting. A message intended as neutral information can often seem blunt.

And you should add a smiley face after each humorous message. You can never know the limits of someone else’s sense of humor.

I THINK WE ALL have sent texts to the wrong person.

One time my friend and I had discussed at length a necklace that I couldn’t find anywhere. She provided emotional support while I turned my home upside down to locate the necklace, but to no avail.

“This is definite proof that there is no God,” I texted her.

OR SO I THOUGHT. I had accidentally sent the text to a friend from drama school decades ago. He called me immediately.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes, how so? Just living my daily life.”

“Your message sounded like you needed help.”

I realized what had just happened.

“Oh, no! I sent the text to you accidentally. A necklace is missing. Nothing more serious than that.”

He didn’t believe me at first. I had to chat with him for a long time before he was convinced that I wasn’t deeply depressed.

I COULD PRETEND that the following happened to a friend—but it happened to me and my then husband.

“Hello, love, how are you?” I type on my phone, unsuspecting.

“Good. Still working. You?” he texts back.

I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach: the tone of his message is too matter-of-fact, even cold.

“Good. Finished work for today. Took a shower,” I reply, imitating his style.

“Okay. Sweet dreams!”

WHAT IS THIS? No terms of endearment—nothing that would make me feel nice and safe. This can no longer be resolved by typing. I give him a call.

“Sorry to disturb you, but we need to talk,” I tell him.

“About what? What are you talking about?”

He sounds genuinely confused and astounded, but I can’t stop. I need to get this out of my system.

“Are you mad at me about something? Your messages sound so cold.”

“What do you mean?”

“I see no terms of endearment. No dear, darling, baby, babe, or love. Your texts sound like something you could say to anyone on the street.”

“What the hell . . . Okay, then. I’m sure I can find an app that adds sweet nothings at the beginning of each message, followed by the stupidest heart emojis. Would that make you happy?”

THE FOLLOWING DAY I received a morning message from him.

It included a list of terms of endearment, some of which cannot be repeated here, but expressions such as “fire of my loins,” “wild mirror of my soul,” and “bringer of dizzying delights” convinced me that I was not completely unimportant to him.

Anna-Leena Harkonen

Adapted from a collection published by the Booksellers Association of Finland

Published with permission from the author

New Terrain Press 2024. All rights reserved.

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