THE GREY VOICE • by Robert Kibble

The chair didn’t fit in the room. It didn’t match anything else. Its faded yellow upholstery was just the wrong shade to match the lighter walls. Its pink flowers, liberally scattered across the fabric, matched nothing at all. Its wooden arms were the wrong shade for the brown carpet.

When Sally’s mum had been alive, they’d argued about the chair, given pride of place by the window, but Edith had loved it. It was her place to settle of an afternoon to sip her tea from an also-rose-sprinkled teacup (although with a different saucer, the rose one having been dropped years before). She would watch the boats coming and going in the harbour down the hill. Sometimes Edith would go misty-eyed and talk about when the harbour had been so full, before the cod had collapsed. She’d talk about how she’d fancied the young fishermen when she was a girl, in a way that both amused and slightly discomforted Sally.

You couldn’t see the harbour now, though, not even the lights. The fog had come in, leaving nothing but a dull grey hanging in the air outside the window.

The moment Edith had died Sally knew the chair would be a permanent fixture. It seemed a betrayal to move it now, or even have it reupholstered to remove the various tea- and sherry-stains from its patterns. It sat there, a last reminder of the woman who’d previously been the heart of the house, as much a permanent feature as the house itself. Edith had married a fisherman, but Sally didn’t remember him. After losing his job, along with so many others, he’d gone walking one night, out into the fog. No one ever found the body, but it was assumed he drowned. Edith took to her chair the next day, when it became clear he wasn’t coming back, and stared more intently out into the fog than ever before. She was never joyous after that day, like the life had been sucked out of her. After a glass of sherry she sometimes cursed her “idiot of a husband, without the sense to realise I’d have stuck by him no matter what”. Even his name — Harry — didn’t come easy to Sally. She’d learned not to ask about him. Any questions were met with silence and sullenness for the remainder of the day.

Sally walked to the front door and opened it, staring out into the fog. She shivered, partly from the cold, and partly from the feeling her father, however he’d died, was out there. It felt more welcoming than the house, with at least mystery being preferable to the certain isolation within.

She walked out, five steps taking her far enough that only the light of the open door was visible. She took one more step, seeing it fade, imagining being further out, only navigating by memory, following her father’s footsteps towards the cliff, perhaps, or down to the harbour. Where would he have gone? Sally shivered again.

The foghorn sounded, ripping through the grey.

Each foghorn was unique. Ten miles down the coast the pitch was lower. Ships out in the sea could navigate, at least to some extent, just by hearing them. Their own horn had a familiar voice, a lonely voice, only heard when nothing could be seen.

It cut through every house, every family, every lonely person sitting in their grey isolation. With its vibration Sally felt a sudden connection, a sense of all the other people hearing that same noise. That same voice telling whoever could hear to be careful. To watch out. To stay safe until the fog cleared. Its sole purpose to care for people in danger.

Sally burst into tears, glad suddenly for the absence of anyone to see. She turned and walked back into the house, closing the door behind her and realising how comforting, how warm her home was.

She walked to the window and sat in the yellow-and-rose chair. She looked out at the fog.

It wasn’t cold isolation. It was a grey blanket, covering them until the morning came. Until Sally would venture out and find the foghorn. She had never seen it. She would find that voice, heard but always unseen, and say thank you.

Robert Kibble lives west of London with a wife, a teenage son, and a cornucopia of half-finished writing projects. A few have been published over the years, which — it has to be admitted — is very pleasing. If only a less creative day job wouldn’t keep getting in the way, he’s sure it would be more.

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Every Day Fiction