Spirit Of The Sat­nav by Keith Havers

Lillian was gone, so how could Harry be hear­ing her voice?

The People's Friend - - Contents -

IT had taken Harry a long time to get back be­hind the wheel af­ter that ter­ri­ble day, and it still seemed strange to be driv­ing with­out hear­ing Lillian’s voice from the back seat.

He had hated it at the time, but now he wished he could hear it again.

The re­place­ment car he got from the in­sur­ance was a big im­prove­ment on the old model. The seats were more com­fort­able; it had air con­di­tion­ing, a sun­roof, even a built-in sat­nav.

“Shan’t need it to­day,” he mut­tered.

He glanced over his shoul­der to where the cre­ma­tion urn stood firmly strapped on the back seat. “Not far now, dear.” He wasn’t sure if this was the right thing to do. A year ago their hol­i­day had hardly be­gun be­fore tragedy struck.

If he could visit that spot again, per­haps he could put the events of that aw­ful time be­hind him.

“Looks like it’s shap­ing up to be a nice day,” he said.

Large road signs warn­ing of a traf­fic is­land up ahead brought back me­mories of last year.

“Straight on at the round­about,” Harry heard in his ear.

“What?”

He glanced around once more but all he could see was the urn on the back seat.

Turn­ing his eyes back to the road, he had to brake hard to avoid rear-end­ing the car in front.

The voice came again. “Take the sec­ond exit.” His heart was rac­ing. What was hap­pen­ing?

“Men­tal strain,” he said to him­self. “Must be.”

He opened the sun­roof and took a few deep breaths.

“I’ve been stress­ing about to­day,” he rea­soned. “The whole year has been a night­mare. No won­der I’m hear­ing voices.”

He ne­go­ti­ated the round­about and con­tin­ued along the dual car­riage­way. The road­works of 12 months ago had fin­ished so his progress was un­in­ter­rupted.

He be­gan to relax. His thoughts turned to the events of a year ago . . .

“Straight on at the next round­about, Harry.” “Yes, dear.”

The road signs were per­fectly clear but Lillian still in­sisted on call­ing out di­rec­tions from the back seat.

“Shall I turn the ra­dio on? Cheer us up?”

“We don’t need cheer­ing up, Harry. We need to con­cen­trate. We might miss our turn if we have mu­sic blar­ing in our ears.”

“I could put the clas­si­cal sta­tion on,” he sug­gested. “Some­thing sooth­ing.” “No. Leave it off.” Harry sighed, softly enough so that Lillian couldn’t hear him. Why did long car jour­neys al­ways have to be like this?

“Round­about com­ing up now, Harry. Keep left as you get near it.”

“Yes, dear.”

It was a straight road. Harry could see the is­land up ahead and the large di­rec­tion signs on the left-hand verge. Road mark­ings clearly in­di­cated which lane he should be in.

“Ap­proach in about a hun­dred yards, then take the sec­ond exit.”

“Sec­ond exit,” Harry re­peated through grit­ted teeth as he changed down the gears and pre­pared to brake.

He ma­noeu­vred the ve­hi­cle round the is­land and ac­cel­er­ated out of the exit.

“Be care­ful on the dual car­riage­way, there are road­works up ahead.”

“Yes, dear. I saw the signs.”

“Watch out for the red cones.”

Harry drove on in

si­lence. Af­ter a cou­ple of miles the traf­fic slowed as the two lanes were chan­nelled into one.

“How about stop­ping off at the next café?” he sug­gested. “We’ve been on the road for an hour and a half.”

“Best carry on. There might be more hold-ups fur­ther on.”

“So? We’re not in any rush. We could freshen up – have a cof­fee and stretch our legs. Then you could join me in the front seat for a change. That way I won’t have to talk to you over my shoul­der all the time.”

“I don’t like be­ing in the front. I feel safer in the back. Just keep your eyes on the road.”

Harry took that as a com­ment on his driv­ing but said noth­ing.

It was true that Lillian had good cause to be ner­vous in a car. A few years ago she had sus­tained some nasty seat belt bruises when a lorry pulled out of a side road and Harry couldn’t avoid a col­li­sion.

It wasn’t his fault, but af­ter that Lillian had be­come ob­sessed with get­ting jour­neys over with as safely and as quickly as pos­si­ble.

This meant sit­ting in the back, not get­ting lost and hav­ing no breaks.

But couldn’t she lighten up just a lit­tle bit?

The road­works were soon left be­hind and the scenery turned to open fields and wooded val­leys. Harry had been look­ing for­ward to this break for months.

A few days at the sea­side would en­able them to recharge their bat­ter­ies and re­turn to work re­freshed.

“You need to slow down now in case the traf­fic lights turn red.”

The ru­ral land­scape was giv­ing way to a more built-up area. Harry had mem­o­rised the di­rec­tions to their guest-house.

“You need to turn left some­where along here,” Lillian said af­ter they had crossed the junc­tion. “Keep your eyes peeled for signs to the seafront.”

Harry tried to shut out Lillian’s voice but failed.

“You’ve missed your turn­ing,” she an­nounced. “The sign for the prom­e­nade was back there.”

Harry sighed. He had feared this would hap­pen.

“Turn round at the next junc­tion, and this time keep your wits about you.”

Harry slowed down, waited for a lull in the traf­fic and man­aged to per­form a U-turn with­out too much bother. Soon they were back on the right road and only a few min­utes from their fi­nal des­ti­na­tion.

“The e-mail said we couldn’t check in till two o’clock,” Harry said. “We’re far too early. That’s why I sug­gested hav­ing a break ear­lier.”

Lillian fell silent. She didn’t like be­ing proved wrong.

“Carry on to the seafront,” she said at last. “We can find a place to park up till two o’clock.”

Harry did as he was told. At least now he would be able to get out for a stretch and some fresh air.

He drove on un­til the road swung around to the right and he found him­self trav­el­ling par­al­lel to the beach.

With dou­ble yel­low lines ei­ther side there was no op­tion but to con­tinue along the coast road.

Even­tu­ally a cliff-top car park came into view. He pulled up facing the sea.

Harry got out, breathed deeply and ex­tended his arms out wide. It felt good to be out of that seat.

“Look at that view! Are you not get­ting out?”

“I’ll stay here and have a snooze. Just leave the door open.”

Harry shrugged and walked away. If Lillian was de­ter­mined not to en­joy this hol­i­day, what could he do? Maybe things would im­prove af­ter they had set­tled in at the ho­tel.

“Shall I see if I can get us some cof­fee and a sand­wich?” he called, but there was no re­ply.

If only she had got out of the car.

If only he had put the hand­brake on prop­erly.

The last sight he had of the car, it was rolling to­wards the cliff edge. The wooden bar­ri­ers splin­tered like match­sticks as the hatch­back dis­ap­peared on to the rocks be­low.

“Traf­fic lights ahead. Slow down.”

Harry was brought back to the present as the road be­came busier.

“Eh?”

The voice seemed clearer. Harry looked for the near­est place where he could pull over. He opened the win­dow and closed his eyes.

“Maybe I should see a doc­tor,” he said. “Or a coun­sel­lor? I’m ob­vi­ously suf­fer­ing from some sort of be­reave­ment stress.”

A thought oc­curred to him. He looked down at the dash­board con­trols and pressed a but­ton.

“Of course! I must have left the sat­nav on.”

Re­lieved that he wasn’t go­ing mad af­ter all, he pulled out into the traf­fic and con­tin­ued his jour­ney.

“What a fool I am,” he scolded. “I must have knocked the but­ton when I turned on the air con­di­tion­ing.”

Soon he was driv­ing through the car park en­trance and rolling to a halt in al­most the ex­act spot of a year ago.

This time he made sure the hand­brake was se­curely en­gaged be­fore switch­ing off the en­gine and get­ting out.

He’d thought he might find this hard, but ac­tu­ally he was feel­ing quite calm.

Just as be­fore, the car park was de­serted. He no­ticed the wooden fenc­ing had been re­placed by metal bar­ri­ers and wire net­ting.

Harry walked half­way to­wards the cliff edge and then stopped for a few mo­ments to take in the view.

Of course! He must have left the sat­nav on!

“Let’s get this over with,” he said aloud.

Re­turn­ing to the car, he took the urn from the back seat and marched down as far as the bar­ri­ers would al­low him.

He checked which way the wind was blow­ing be­fore re­mov­ing the lid and let­ting the air­flow carry the ashes on the breeze.

“Bye, bye, dear,” he whis­pered as he emp­tied the con­tainer. “I’m so sorry.”

Af­ter a few min­utes of silent con­tem­pla­tion he walked back, threw the empty ves­sel into the pas­sen­ger seat well and started the car. There was no point in hang­ing around.

He was feel­ing much bet­ter. He was also get­ting hun­gry, and a trans­port diner he had no­ticed on the way into town seemed the ideal place to head for.

Harry re­traced his route back through the town, look­ing for­ward to some lunch. He didn’t re­alise the freight truck was bearing down so fast as he be­gan to pull out on to the dual car­riage­way.

“Stop, Harry! Brake! Brake now!”

Harry’s hands were still shak­ing as he gen­tly placed his tray on the ta­ble and sat down in front of his burger and chips.

The screech of the lorry’s horn still rang in his ears. It had been the clos­est of close shaves.

Also re­sound­ing in his head was the warn­ing cry. If it hadn’t been for that, he would be, well . . .

“I daren’t imag­ine what might have hap­pened,” he said to him­self.

Through the diner win­dow he could see his car in the park­ing area. He would have to get that sat­nav checked out.

True, it had saved his life. But there re­mained some­thing odd about it. Wait a minute . . . It oc­curred to him that sat­navs wouldn’t be ca­pa­ble of fore­telling an ac­ci­dent. Nei­ther would they call you by your first name.

“Lillian?” he whis­pered. n

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