Such A Quiet Place
Written & Illustrated by Andy Paciorek
With Special Thanks to Andreea V. Balcan.
So bitter is the touch of the cold fingers of fate, that should a car engine suddenly cease on a long winter night’s journey; it never does so outside a cosy inn, brimming with fine wine, real ale, hearty food, good cheer and a roaring log fire. No, it is typical, cliché perhaps, that when on such an evening, should a vehicle suddenly give up the ghost, it will decide to do so in the cold, dark middle of nowhere, situated to the back of beyond.
And so it happened to me.
The journey had run smoothly from Nottingham to Scotch Corner, where I took a short break at the service station and the opportunity to fill the tank with petrol and my own yawning belly with hot coffee and convenience food. It was upon resuming my journey north that my troubles began. Firstly the GPS stopping working and then the radio that had kept me company and kept me alert, with its mixture of music and talk descended into a crackle of static and no attempts to retune to any station were successful. By coincidence or otherwise, this coincided with a fall of snow. First a few flakes upon the windscreen, but then rapidly progressing to a flurry and then a heavy and rapid bluster. In both sound and vision now I was beset by quiet white noise.
Had my wife, Caroline, been in the car with me, I would have indulged her in jovial banter about the north – south divide (her being a native of Cumbria and myself hailing from Hertfordshire; the Midlands home we shared being our happy median) and how once past Scotch Corner I would have jibed her about how we were now approaching the ‘end of the world’. But she was not travelling with me; in fact it was to join her that I was making this journey. Earlier in the week she had received a telephone call informing her that her Aunt Isobel had taken ill. Being her nearest living relative, since the death of her own parents, my wife felt an obligation to the old woman, cantankerous and strange as she was. And she was a peculiar woman, short of temper and both very religious and highly superstitious in her ways. And old, very old, in her late nineties at the least but still for the most part strong and independent of character, despite her wizened frame, though she had been very lean and stubborn in the thirty odd years I had known her.
We would make a point of visiting her maybe once or twice a year and take walks along the coast with the old lady or play chess with her in her ancient yet solid and attractive cottage. Chess was a passion of the old lady, and so sharp in mind and strategy was she that neither my wife nor myself ever came close to beating her in a game though we were rather adept players ourselves. “The sport of Kings … and Queens”, Aunt Isobel would cackle when claiming an inevitable checkmate. Yet in life she was never made a queen by any man. Unmarried, childless, Isobel was a true maiden aunt …apparently; however I recalled vaguely a conversation with my wife’s mother many years ago, when she spoke of a man whom Isobel had loved. He was apparently a seafarer – a fisherman or a trader, perhaps a smuggler or pirate for all I knew, but whatever his trade, for one summer he had seduced the Isobel and melted her heart. Apparently the man appeared, by my mother-in-law’s recollection, to be a couple of decades at least older than the teenage Isobel. It was not meant to be, as though he told Isobel he would return for her after his next sea voyage, he was never seen in those parts again. Isobel grieved fearing him lost at sea, but the truth may have been that there was an ‘Isobel’ in every port, the last one forgotten as soon as the next succumbed to his charms. It was said that after the second summer had passed without his return, Isobel never mentioned her erstwhile lover again and never fell into the arms or bed or another man. Though sometimes on our strolls along the shoreline I would see her gaze wistfully across the waves as if she still hoped against hope, after long lonesome decades, that her seadog paramour would still return.