Alice emerges from a tangled subterranean dream, opens her eyes and read the communiques from distant friends reaching into their words for a sense of a person but nothing comes through the rushed missives today. Sliding from personal to political she clicks on the link that says breaking news and instantly curses her own gullibility. Of course there isn’t a revelation at all just the same skewed political mess.
Stranded by circumstance in her isolated rural home Alice is anchored to the Wider World by the gadgets that flash, beep enquire and inform twenty four hours a day. Sometimes she feels overwhelmed by the insubstantial electronic present. Marooned in her people less world she imagines the screeching seagulls outside her windows aren’t living creatures but digital images manipulated with invisible strings. She places her mobile phone on top of her pillow and prepares for her incommunicado trip.
The instant she steps into the blustery lane she feels lighter, knows the present is behind her locked up in her country home. Old men linger by the village noticeboard chatting and there is a poster wrapped round the telegraph pole advertising the film about fishing in former times.
Slightly shaky, and unmoored Alice strides towards the empty clifftop propelled forward by the gusts of south westerly wind. From her cliff edge vantage point Alice notices the fresh avalanche of rock-fall blocking access to the beach of her childhood, another physically inaccessible memory.
Alice usually comes to the next village to visit her childhood home – a huge granite television free, wireless free cavern proudly immune to recent technological developments – but she isn’t going there today it’s just a stop off on her nostalgic expedition.
There is a nativity scene in the churchyard. A live woman’s head appears among the cloaked figures and she smiles at Alice sitting forlornly on the bench. Alice shuts her eyes and awaits the sharp tug of the past, hopes that her teenage companions will appear in the deserted churchyard and the steel grey sky will turn into 1970’s heatwave blue. Nothing happens in the silver grey darkness in her head; the hectic youthful memories remain buried somewhere impenetrable way beyond her grasp. When she opens her eyes it’s raining and the figures in the nativity scene are swaying in the wind.
Just outside the dank bus shelter Alice waits for the delayed jalopy to the most Southerly Point. As the bus jerks erratically along the twisting country lanes Alice shivers with a mixture of fear and anticipation. Whenever she laments at the geographical isolation of her own village she is reminded that that there is somewhere even more remote perched above the churning Atlantic. She would prefer to be on her way back to the inner city. The next best thing is the opposite direction.
The Most Southerly Point isn’t just a vacant expanse of grass and rocks sitting under a huge expanse of sky, it’s the squat Black Wireless Hut as pulsatingly alive in Alice’s mind as the vibrant heart of the metropolis with its miles and miles of radio transmission connections and signals coming in and going out.
Alice runs up the desolate headland, stands at the top, tastes the salt laden air and sends her own desperate personal message across the ocean. She screams SOS into the sky and the threads of her worlds mingle with the plaintive shrieks of drifting seagulls.
A little early for her appointment she runs her hand along the rough black timber of the huts outer walls.
No one responds to her three loud knocks on the door of the hut. Through the illuminated square of window she sees the headphones, tangled wires, clocks with gold hands, black buttoned gadgets and scraps of paper laid in an orderly row across the brown teak table.
A blind of winter blackness falls while Alice lingers outside the hut wondering why there is a light on and the man called Tom isn’t there for their appointment.
Tentatively Alice creeps back down the steep grassy bank relieved to finally feel solid ground beneath her feet. She gropes her way along the flinty path. A dazzling moon appears briefly illuminating her way before disappearing behind the racing clouds.
She doesn’t see the granite obstacle blocking her way, walks heavily into, then trips sideways over the gravel banging her head hard on a rock. Blood trickles down her right cheek as she lies on her back immobilised by the crashing pain in her head.
A lolloping Labrador discovers Alice lying there. She is roused from semi consciousness by its tongue on her cheek.
Alice sits up in her hospital bed and strokes her bandaged head suspended in a pleasant narcotic fog. On her way out she thinks she should make some phone calls but decides to keep her adventure to herself now she is liberated from the push pull telecommunications drag and back in her own existence.
Instead she buys the local newspaper from the shop by the exit and walks to the front of the taxi rank.
Alice unlocks the door of her country home switches on the lights and goes into the kitchen without a glance at the gadgets lying in wait to reclaim her attention.
Nursing her strong black coffee she flicks through the newspaper her eyes slightly blurry from the head injury. Alice gasps in shock at the sombre coincidence. She’s come across the obituary for the man called Tom, her appointment in the hut. She knows its him even before she reads about his passion for radio.
It’s summer now, the aqua streaked sea is completely calm, the green grass scorched brown by the suns burning rays. Adventurous tourists traipse the cliff edge clutching walking sticks and ice creams. Alice sits on a circular stool in the cool darkness and awaits their arrival at the hut as they seek refuge from the midday heat. She scribbles notes on the scraps of paper the beginnings of her informative guide and scours the hut for traces of the man called Tom but there is no evidence of his twenty year sojourn.
Kate Whitehead has been writing Short Fiction for many years often inspired by place and the absurdities of contemporary life. Her work has been published in fanzines and more recently online literary journals.