As a long-time fan of Comma Press, heroes of the short story, I’m extremely excited that one of my short stories “Dune Elegies” is part of the incredibly shortlist for this year’s Dinesh Allirajah Prize for Short Fiction, awarded in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire. You don’t want to miss the online awards evening, where you’ll hear excerpts from all the stories… Free, book now.
Here’s a taste of my story “Dune Elegies,” which is a summer read full of sand, stones, sea, sky, sounds, and getting older after the end of the world. It’s set in one of my favourite places, Dungeness, and it’s a tribute to the voices that keep us company and how we send our voices out into the void.
Sand is stone, you know that. Sandy beaches were once shingle. You could see attrition as violence, or as patience. Sand is what happens when the answer to every question is ‘not yet’. It’s loss, micaceous. It’s gone, when gone is often where you need to be. No tears, just sand in your eye. Don’t call it crying. It’s the wind.
In spring, bitterns boom from the wildflower meadows, nesting near the lakes, away from the exposed shore. Turn your face hard up to the sky, a concrete listening mirror. Lade is the only place on the isles that all three mirror models were installed, and all obsolete before the aircraft, laden with bombs, passed overhead.
This is a listening place. That’s why you came here. The dilapidated planks of Marconi’s wireless shed, where it all began: the sending of messages over airwaves. He crossed the channel without moving. The stones still resonate with the words he sent. Stone does not give up easily. Now it radiates tritium leaked from the power plant, so few others come here. Once there was radar here, erected by Decca Navigation. Yes, that Decca, the OG British record company, although they sold off their war business after the war to Northrop Grumman. Thanks, chaps.
Where there is listening, there is surveillance. Where there is space, there is the military. You came here to get away, to find the peace between desire and technology at the end of the fossil fuel era, but there is no getting away. Where there are lighthouses, there are foghorns, or the echo of them. The Experimental Station holds a test structure, although it’s now privatised, designer postmodernist architecture. Bitterns boo from the meadows.
Or they used to. In the late spring, you would find eggshells that you made into headphones with a little twist of copper wire. Now there are no more swifts or sand martins, swallows, wheatears, or black redstarts. There may still be warblers migrating, but not through here.
The autumn of the world is permanent, all wither and no harvest. The sedge is withered from the lake, you think, and no birds sing.
You have had many names, so many that you are plural, like the shingle (have you ever seen a single shing?). La Belle Dame sans Merci, sure, that’s one of them, popular among your long-ago exes. Kisses four? As if that’s enough. Bye, bushes. The Margravine of the Marshes, that’s your favourite. When you were no longer allowed to play on, terfed off your own radio show after you transitioned, you came here, with your van full of vinyl that you were slowly digitising.