Lost by Chris Green

I’ve no idea where we are or how we come to be here. Given the extraordinary aggregation of sophisticated satellite technology at our disposal these days, it ought to be impossible to get lost on the roads. GPS is supposedly millimetre accurate over the entire country. When Sophie and I have hit a black spot before, in Mid Wales for example or the Cairngorms, it has been a temporary state of affairs and never a reason to panic. The TomTom satnav has had us driving around a network of narrow roads and tracks for the last hour and getting nowhere. We have come across no signposts or even footpath markers. There have been no other vehicles and no hints of habitation. No matter which way we go, we arrive back at the same spot. It feels as though Maurits Escher may have had a hand in designing the terrain.

We’ve got no phone signal and no internet to find out what might be going on. To add to our woes, the Qashqai fuel gauge is in the red. We should have filled up earlier. We blame each other for this oversight. It has become routine for us to wrangle about things. You name it and we will be at odds about it. I hold my hand up. I am stubborn and can be impulsive and prone to flights of fancy, but when she gets the bit between her teeth, Sophie is insufferable. There are constant disputes about her shopping obsession. We don’t have room for anything else but the daily deliveries of goods keep arriving, and every time she goes out she brings home more bags of clothes, accessories and fashion items that we simply don’t need.

The aim of this trip down to the coast is to smooth the waters of our relationship, but there’s a long way to go. Male and female viewpoints often clash, it’s true. Our neighbours Fintan and Siobhan have fierce shouting matches, but they are part-time squabblers. And Dick and Tracy, who yell at one another across the street are mere novices. Sophie and I go at it hammer and tongs, twenty-four-seven. We are beyond compare. We argue about everything. Feminism, developmental psychology, volleyball. Poetry, robotics, shovels. You name it and we can wrangle about it.

But hang on, shouldn’t I be concentrating on navigation? I speculate whether we might be able to use the position of the sun to get our bearings. But not for long. Even if there were not blanket cloud cover, orientation has never been my strong suit, and with Sophie, East is west and north is south, or north is east and south is west. Spacial awareness has passed her by. We pull over to take stock. Now the car is stationary, I suggest a spliff might help.

What makes you think that, Nick?’ Sophie says. ‘When has it ever helped with anything before? Remember that time you drove around looking for the car because you couldn’t remember where you had left it and it didn’t occur to you that you were already in the car.’

Things are not always what they seem,’ I say.

We need clear heads for this one, Nick.’

I was thinking a spliff might help, that’s all.’

Like it helped when you were looking for the car, you mean.’

Sophie has point. I recall that the weed I was smoking on the lost car day was Godfather OG. Powerful stuff. Not for the faint-hearted. Anticipating she might now blame being lost on the doobie I smoked while she was shopping for summer tops in the retail outlets in the motorway services, I make it a small one.

So, what is it in your esteemed view that is happening here, Nick?’ Sophie says. ‘Why are we unable to make any headway? You have to admit we are hopelessly lost and it’s because you ………’

It is a probably localised blackout for a clandestine military exercise,’ I say. ‘They will be trying out some new jamming equipment that shuts down all communications. It’s the kind of thing they do in modern warfare. No shooting with guns anymore. It’s all about stealth these days. Satellites and cyber attacks. There are several army bases around these parts and a secret research establishment. We passed it on the way down.’

There was that emergency alarm on the phones, as we were setting out this afternoon, of course,’ Sophie says. ‘You said it was another test of the system because the previous one had been a flop, so I didn’t bother reading the message. But….’

I know, I know. And I jokingly asked the question, what would happen if in the future one of the tests were to coincide with a real emergency? But, come on, Sophie, if this were a real emergency, we would have heard of it somehow. The message signs on the motorway would have been flashing themselves into oblivion with something like that. …… It’s an exercise. They have to give soldiers something to do now and again. …….. Anyway, we weren’t on the motorway that long. We decided to take the scenic route.’

You decided to take that scenic route after that spliff earlier.’

Look! If there was a cataclysmic event, If we were under attack or we were heading into a restricted area, the services would have been bombarding us with information about it. There would have been notices everywhere, alerting us to whatever the impending peril was. We would have seen signs of panic. Confused masses. People would have been visibly agitated. As it was, the services were pretty quiet. I expect that was what you found.’

This is serious, Nick. It’s going to be dark in about an hour. I don’t want to be out here in the dark. We have to come up with something by then.’

Perhaps you’d like to look for the magic lamp,’ I say. ‘I think you packed it in with the kitchen sink.’

Very funny. ….. Look, Nick! There’s something in the distance coming over that hill. It looks like a tank.’

If you put your glasses on, I think you’ll find that’s a horse. And look, there’s another one over to the right. Spectacles. You have a range of designer ones, probably in the pockets of your many coats on the back seat. Quite useful for identifying horses coming over hills when you are hopelessly stranded in unfamiliar locations.’

Sophie throws me an evil look. She lacks a sense of humour on car journeys, and she is mega-sensitive about wearing glasses, too. She used to wear contacts until her optician told her they were fogging up her eyes. He managed to sell her a selection of the most expensive ones, Tom Ford, Chanel, Gucci, Prada. And who knew Porsche manufactured spectacle frames? But despite the style overkill, Sophie cannot accept that she needs to wear them.

To smooth things over, I apologise for my comment, but it seems to have thrown her into a sulk. She mutters something that I don’t quite catch, gets out of the car, and storms off in a huff. What she hopes to achieve by this fit of pique, out here in the back of beyond, I can’t imagine. Her overreaction is not something that will help our situation. This is no time to be precious. We need to pull together. I call after her, but she takes no notice and disappears out of site.

Sophie will come to her senses. She hates being alone. She likes people around to attend to her needs. I’ll give it fifteen minutes. Just time to make a joint and gather my thoughts. The positive thoughts I am accustomed to getting when I light up are not coming through. The ones I am getting are doom-laden. It’s hard to see a way out of this one. The landscape around me seems to be breaking up by the minute. The scenery is becoming pixelated. It now resembles a jigsaw where some of the key pieces are missing. The ones that hold it all together are gone. And there’s no getting away from the fact that it will soon be nighttime and what has happened to Sophie? Even if she returns with provisions for us to eat, we will still be stranded out here in the middle of nowhere and we will have to sleep in the car.

I am brought out of my reverie a sudden noise from behind. I open my eyes and turn around to find Sophie opening the tailgate of the Qashqai. She is carrying cardboard clothes bags, Cargo, Clarks, Next, SuperDry. Or some other combination of big brand names. We are in the car park at the motorway service station I recall from our earlier visit. As if no time has passed. As if nothing has happened since. As if we were never stranded in the back of beyond with the landscape evaporating. As if we never wrangled about how we were lost and whose fault it was. How long have we been here? Are we really here or is this just a glimpse of where we were earlier? An echo? An afterimage? Or was the other imaginary? A projection? Razor told me this Lost in Space OG weed was dynamite. 35% THC, he said, stronger even than the Gorilla Glue 4. Once you’ve taken a toke or two, you won’t know where you are or how you came to be there. But even so.

Sophie registers my look of bewilderment.

What, Nick!’ she says, with an air of indignation. ‘Why are you looking at me like that? I’ve only been twenty minutes. Anyway, can we get on, now? We want to get to the cottage before it gets dark, and there’s quite a way to go. You know the way, don’t you?’

Copyright © Chris Green, 2023: All rights reserved



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