“You have arrived at… home.”
Geoff’s stomach twisted at the recording of his children’s voices on the sat-nav. He pulled up by their house, its windows dark as the winter’s evening, and grabbed the six-pack from the passenger seat.
Letting himself in, Geoff left the lights off, and slumped onto the sofa. He popped a can but before he could raise it to his mouth, his thoughts wandered off. They roamed, lost, about the hollow rooms. He drifted into a doze.
Children’s voices woke him, and the low burble of adults calming them, right outside his front door. He blinked in the dark, ears and eyes straining. Too late for canvassers. Was it Halloween already? His heart hammered and the bustle continued, while a key slipped into the lock. And then they were in.
Two children ran past, a boy and a girl, followed by the sound of shoes tumbling and coats flumping. A couple struggled after them with shopping bags.
A woman’s voice said, “Hang up your stuff, kids! How many times--” She switched on the lights with her nose and turned to find Geoff. She dropped her shopping, pressed her hand to her mouth and staggered back in the doorway. In an instant, a stocky man was between them, ashen, fists clenched. He spoke calmly but his lips twitched.
“Um, can I help you, fella?”
Geoff jumped up, spilling his beer.
The man stepped forward. He was smaller than Geoff, but heavier. He pointed to the door. “Why don’t you just leave, then we won’t call the police, eh?”
Geoff smiled and held up his hands. “There’s been a terrible misunderstanding. I think you’ve got the wrong house.”
The woman tugged at the man’s sleeve, her eyes round. The kids came bundling along the hall and she pushed them back.
“This is our house.” The man pulled out his phone. “We need you to leave.”
The room lurched, Geoff flopped back on the sofa.
“Please, go,” the woman said.
The girl whimpered.
Geoff swallowed. He nodded at the rug. “Ikea. I bought it eighteen months ago, to replace another that the kids got chocolate on.” He gestured to the wall. “I put up those shelves Christmas 2010. The sofa is-- was my wife’s grandmother’s. That lamp--”
“Also belonged to my grandmother. “ The woman’s lip curled.
“Daddy, it was me that got chocolate on the Narsk rug,” the little girl said.
“And I put up those shelves,” the man said, then blared a laugh. “This is a wind-up, right?”
But the laughter merged into Geoff’s sobbing. He swept a liquid gaze around the room, tracing the timeline of every object, the history of every knock and scuff.
“Killed,” he said. “Just-- crossing a road.”
“Mate, I’m really sorry, but...” The man turned to one side, emphasising the path to the door.
Geoff stood up. “Nothing really cares,” he said. “Everything is random.”
The family flinched. He saw himself in their eyes. An invader from another life. From a darker universe.
He wiped his arm across his face and marched out, avoiding their gaze.
Geoff sat in the car, shaking. Curtains twitched in windows and he didn’t know what to do.
“Destination,” said the sat-nav.
He stabbed the ‘home’ button. Then he stabbed again, and again. Then he ground his teeth and stabbed the world’s roads a thousand times. But nothing happened. Just a new route, navigating the fractal-dense city in a wobbly circle.
Having a route was reassuring, though, no matter how tortuous and looped. He set off.
He was tentative at first, following strange directions across the fused tangle of unexpected junctions and branching, unfamiliar streets. Streets so foreign that it seemed his sat-nav and headlights grew them under his wheels and sprouted them into his head and all the way back through his life. In fact, soon, the alien roads became second nature. He couldn’t remember ever not knowing them.
“You have arrived at… home.”
Geoff smiled at his children’s recording on the sat-nav and parked the car. His daughter popped up at a glowing window, then his son, their voices ear-splitting even from outside the house, from inside the car.
“Mummy! Daddy’s home!”
His chest swelled and a tear spilled down his cheek. He chuckled and wiped his face, wondering how, very occasionally, some small and ordinary thing could overwhelm with happiness.