It's All In Your Head

Short Stories Sep 28, 2023

With due care, he approached the temporary roadworks advisory sign which appeared gradually through the heavy fog near the base of the Dorrigo mountain. It warned of roadworks ahead although at this early hour there were no roadworkers. Headlights were still required as the morning sun had failed to punch any holes in the ceiling of the damp fog. Detecting his vehicle, the sign lit up. “39kph. Thank you.” And it flashed a smiley face symbol. The driver smiled wryly to himself. It was a lonely drive to his creative writing class in Coffs Harbour and the roadsign was a welcome interaction.

Passing by the sign his peripheral vision saw the smiley face switching off. This morning however, something else flashed onto the screen. He wasn’t sure whether he’d imagined it, but ever so briefly as he passed, he discerned the words “The Phantom of the Opera is here.”

“What… Did I read that correctly? Was that all in my head?” he blustered over the background of low volume music inside the warm cocoon of his little red Kia. He’d reached the Thora Bridge before nagging curiosity overwhelmed him. Locating a suitable section of road, he navigated a u-turn in the fog, and returned two kilometres to the lonely sign. He turned again and drove slowly towards it. “26kph. Thank you.” And a quick smiley face re-appeared.

This time as he passed, it briefly flashed the words, “Bollinger Champagne.”

He jammed on his brakes, slid to a halt.

Reversing to a point in front of the sign, he sat and watched as the smiley face reappeared after flashing “0 kph. Thank you.” The benign smiling icon blinked off and was replaced with, “Here’s lookin’ at ya kid.”

His face tingled. Gripping the wheel tightly, his heart rate leapt, knuckles turned white. In staccato bursts through gritted teeth he uttered, “No way…it can’t be!”

Parked in front of the sign, in the middle of the fog shrouded Waterfall Way, he watched the sign flicker as it spelled out “I’m an existentialist.”

Way too surreal. The humble roadsign was communicating with him, or someone was. The clues trumped mere coincidence; he knew exactly who it was. At first he felt a melange of emotions. Definitely eerie, a little frightening. He smiled knowingly as the exchange segued into personal meaning. Voice trembling at first, he articulated a stream of consciousness which swirled around the confines of the little Kia.

“Hey mate,” he blurted through the glass. “Three years ago, nobody believed your life was destined to end so imminently. Despite your prognosis, you refused to put a handbrake on the inertia of your daily life. A festival of morning swims, wrestling with grandkids, fine foods, cerebral discussion, social rhetoric, laughter, tears, dancing, champagnes.

You were truly unique and we loved you for it. You enjoyed the finer things in life as much as the simple. In your head there was no separation. You attended the ballet and drank Bollinger, wearing jeans and a collarless shirt. You admired the artistic merit of great paintings hanging in international galleries, yet took greater enjoyment supporting indigenous artists in outback communities. You could afford to drive modern, sophisticated vehicles but preferred your forty year old, asthmatic 4WD Toyota. On occasions you stayed in 5 star establishments but seemed happiest in your driza-bone, chopping wood for a campfire outside your humble tent. You measured your life’s successes against your own goals and values, not the adulation of others.

You were the older brother I never had and I admired you enormously for your generosity of spirit, your goodwill, your moral and ethical conscience and sense of social justice. Unbelievably you’re gone now but, reflecting on the values you embraced, I recognise the enormous role model you unintentionally became for me. I love you for that.

Most lives are disco-balls covered with hundreds of tiny mirrors. As we age, small pieces of mirrored glass imperceptibly detach from the ball until eventually there is just a glue-stained opaque ball with no sparkle left. But your mirrors stayed attached throughout your life. You laughed raucously and flashed your mischievous grin until you slipped from consciousness barely three years ago. Your work here was complete. At once, thousands of small sparkling mirrors detached from your body and moved slowly outwards like a spawning of coral. They radiated in every direction. Your energy and essence was lifted by a Mornington Peninsula breeze and carried into the atmosphere where they were dispersed randomly, effectively seeding the world with your quirkiness and goodness. And, can you believe it mate, a fragment of your glitter has lodged within a roadsign on a lonely, foggy road beneath Dorrigo, NSW. Thanks for the chat, mate. I’m a better person for having been your friend.”

The smiley face winked, then the sign flashed a new message.

“It’s all in your head.”

And the writer snorted aloud, “Don’t tell me it’s all in my head, mate. We both know that’s not true.”

Through the fog, the headlights of another vehicle slowly approached from behind so the writer drove onwards towards Coffs Harbour for the regular meeting with his group of fellow writers. Perhaps he shouldn’t mention it. Would they understand?

And near the Gordonville cutting, the sunlight finally broke through the rising fog. Shafts of light reflected spectacularly from small disco-ball mirrors which had been deposited three years earlier amongst the river reeds and stones lining the bottom of the languid Bellinger River.


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