“I know, Sarah, I’d love to come and visit… it’s just that it’s such a long drive… well it’s not that so much, I’m getting a bit forgetful, not sure I can remember the way! Sorry…? line’s a bit crackly. Well yes, it would be good to get away… I know, but driving on my own…. When Sheila… when we could travel together, well, your Mother would remind me where I was going… yes… map spread out across her knees. She knew the way pretty well of course, but she’d often take a different route, just for a change. Well I can hardly read a map and drive….. Yes I’m alright I suppose, coming to terms as they say. It was… yes…. sudden; feeling unwell, diagnosis, how can something like that be growing in a human body for so long – then it’s too late. Those three months…. complete blur – doctor’s visits; hospital appointments; friends coming round; thinking back over our years together… long, happy years. And these past three months, pretty quiet, empty… I know you can’t come… no, I appreciate that, it’s fine… David away with work, Robbie and Debs at school…..”
Three days later the package arrived. Sarah said she would fix it for me, the travelling, getting my directions right. She had sent a SatNav… Underneath the plastic wrapping, the box displayed a view from a car’s windscreen; the open road, mirrored exactly on a little screen which seemed to be suspended just above the dashboard to the right of the steering wheel.
I opened the box and retrieved the instructions before daring to inspect the contents. Reading glasses donned, I studied the tiny print thoroughly; then, when I felt I was adequately prepared, examined the device itself. It was about the size of a smart phone, just a screen with buttons along the two short edges; exactly as depicted on the box, but completely blank.
I surprised myself with the ease I fitted it into my car. Suckered securely to the windscreen, the lead inserted into the cigarette lighter socket, my SatNav came to life.
Sarah phoned that evening to offer guidance. She was impressed – surprised! I had already entered my location as ‘Home’ and her postcode as ‘Destination’. I felt I was ready to set off, so it was agreed that I should start the very next morning.
“In a quarter of a mile, at the next junction, turn right onto High Street, A435.” I really didn’t need directions for getting out of town and onto the dual carriageway heading north! She – it – had a pleasant voice, quite natural sounding really, slight American twang perhaps, very clear diction, although I wasn’t sure about the pronunciation of Bill An Ham Road (Bilenham Road).
About ten miles into my journey, something quite unexpected happened. I thought the SatNav would direct me onto the A48, but about half a mile before that junction, “In 500 yards turn left onto Leavesdon Lane, B4416,” followed shortly by, “Just here, look, turn left.” That seemed rather out of character – for a SatNav! And the voice – altogether more familiar-sounding. “It’s only a narrow lane, but it looks rather interesting and might be slightly quicker – don’t you think George?”
Leavesdon Lane gently meandered between tall leafy hedges. I glanced up at the narrow strip of grey sky above. The voice was commenting again, “Looks like rain to me, but at least on this road we won’t get spray from all those beastly lorries. There are so many of them nowadays, and they go so fast.”
I could not bring myself to glance to my left, I needed to concentrate on the narrow road ahead, that’s what I told myself, well anything could be driving towards us and there weren’t too many places wide enough for vehicles to pass. “In a little while we need to turn right, towards Emstead. Probably just round this corner.”
The road forked, I followed the Emstead sign, “Sheila, have we been this way before?” I turned my head. The passenger seat, of course, was vacant, what did I expect?
We journeyed on, crossing main roads, pottering through picturesque villages, climbing steep hills and admiring dramatic views as we descended. The directions were clear, given in good time, as they always were, accompanied by observations about the warmth of the weather for the time of year, the suitability of Sarah’s new husband and wasn’t it a shame she had moved so far away, the jobs that needed attending to in the garden, shouldn’t we think about changing the car now we were having to do longer journeys?
Soothing, comforting words flowed gently over me. The recent months of torment melted away, I slipped back into bygone years. Our conversation was familiar, predictable – simply wonderful. I fancied I saw a postman cycling on his afternoon delivery; a red, open-top tractor raking hay in a field; empty milk bottles on a cottage doorstep; a bowler-hatted gentleman in a pin-stripe suit walking briskly from the railway station. We drove on, contentedly.
“In half a mile, at the junction, turn right onto Bramdean Road, A63. You are on the fastest route and should reach your destination in forty minutes.”
And so I did, ringing the doorbell at the exact moment it was flung open by two excited, chattering youngsters. I stumbled through to the kitchen to receive a loving hug and a welcome cup of tea. Car still going alright then? Good journey? Much traffic? How was the SatNav?
Comfortably installed on the sofa, Robbie and Debs cuddled up on either side, I gave a brief, though perhaps not entirely accurate, account of my journey, concluding, “Now, don’t take this the wrong way, it’s so lovely to be here and I’m not in any hurry to leave… but I am looking forward to the drive home. That Sat Nav you bought for me is very useful. Well, it’s more than that, it’s reassuring, keeps me company so to speak…. It is amazing what technology can do these days!”
Winner of MADhurst short story competition a couple of years ago
© Steve Redshaw ~ February 2020