“Y. That perfect letter. The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wineglass”, wrote the award-winning novelist, Marjorie Celona. Had I opened my own novel with this, I might have added Debbie from Accounts to the list, if only because accountants seldom get the recognition they deserve.
This thought runs along my mind as I’m driving myself and Nat through the Chiltern countryside, roof down, the cold January drizzle slipstreaming over the windshield and way above our heads (as long as we don’t dawdle at road junctions).
‘What are you rabbiting on about?’ asks Nat. ‘And isn’t that a little bit offensive?’
‘To Debbies or to accountants?’ I ask.
Nat rolls her eyes and hands me chocolate. I take this as an act of forgiveness. I quite like the taste of forgiveness, and this one has a chocolate mintiness about it.
The drive is an impromptu one with no fixed destination, designed purely to blow away the residue of another intensely dull day of working from home. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather work from home than have to actually go into work. On the other hand, I’d much rather do neither. Its Pandemic Lockdown Part 3: Week 3. From a purely professional point of view, I welcome it.
Technically, we’ve been told that we may only travel within our own immediate area, and then only for necessities or for exercise. I haven’t quite managed to convince Nat that, like diplomatic cars, the inside of our vehicle is counted as our own territory and that, therefore, equally technically, we have not trespassed into anyone else’s. While she’s not convinced by my argument, and questions whether the police would be, either, I can’t help noticing that she’s still sat here beside me.
Fifteen minutes from our house is the small village of Great Missenden, famous for Road Dahl, two prime ministers, jazz musician Jamie Cullum, 17th century witch trials, and way above average house prices. It’s cute as long as you can afford to live well. Nat and I aren’t sure we can, so we usually just admire the views as we pass through.
Soon, we find ourselves driving into the next town along, Amersham. This is the historic town in which Nat generally enquires about my book sales to date. This has nothing to do with any sort of support for me as a struggling artist but because there is a house for sale here that has been on the market for a while and has recently dropped its price to a mere £1.25million, a figure that our combined day job salaries still won’t quite reach to. It’s a terraced house but it is on our favourite street.
‘I think I really need to consider turning my books into a TV franchise,’ I say.
‘Well, get on with it,’ she says, lacking, I feel, the nurturing quality that might have been present in her tone had I instead told her that we can now afford that house.
We drive on.
* * * * * * * *
Eventually, we reach a ‘Y’ of our own: our own fork in the road; our own decision to be made. Should we take the left fork and go home the way we came, or should we take the right fork, which will take us through pretty country lanes but may also get us caught up in road closures and detours caused by work currently going on around the new HS2 railway line?
‘There’s no telling how long the detour might take,’ says Nat. This cements our decision and we continue along the left fork; the fork more travelled.
The drizzle has eased off, for now. For the first time in days, we can see a hint of sunshine breaking through the low cloud in the distance. The sky is a rich red.
‘I wonder how flat-earthers feel about detours,’ I say, breaking the silence in our sky-watching.
‘I’m fairly certain no flat-earther has yet seen the edge for themselves – outside of a U2 concert, of course. While they travel along familiar ground, I’m sure they feel safe. But what if they suddenly found themselves forced to travel a detoured route, in a direction they were less familiar with?
‘It is a worry,’ says Nat.
‘It must be chilling for them. Mr Flat-earther at the wheel, feeling responsible for the whole of his tin-foil-hatted family in the car with him. What should he do? Stop the car and turn around, or continue onwards? And we think our lives are challenging . . .’
‘I suppose they’d need to have a certain level of trust in their local council workers to position the detour signs with safety in mind,’ says Nat.
‘Do you trust your average council worker?’
‘Not fully,’ she says.
I almost feel the need to turn our car around and follow back along the right fork, if only to highlight how enlightened I am amongst my 21st century peers. But I don’t, partly because I might need a wee soon.
* * * * * * * *
“Y. The empty wineglass.”
‘Can we stop off at Sainsbury’s on the way back?’ asks Nat.
I don’t need to ask what for.
‘Do you think they sell world maps specifically for flat-earthers?’ I ask. ‘With torn edges? When we get home, I’m going to check on Amazon and …’
Nat stops my sentence short – along with my entire train of thought – by quickly stuffing another piece of chocolate into my mouth.
‘You’re only rewarding bad behaviour,’ I mumble through the creamy taste.
‘… Good point,’ she says, just as quickly stuffing her fingers into my mouth and retrieving the chocolatey pieces. She leans out of the car and throws my chocolate mintiness into the hedgerow. ‘… Very good point indeed.’
I look at her, shocked. ‘Why? … WHY?’ I splutter.’
‘Y,’ she replies. ‘”That perfect letter”. And that imperfectly empty wine glass. Hurry up …!’
She smiles. I put my foot down.
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