Off Air [Short Story]

The airwaves went silent and nobody seemed to notice. Not at first. After all, not everyone had a radio anymore, let alone had the machines switched on at the precise moment that everything went silent.

The silence lasted. There was just nothing – no static or fizz, just pure silence.

Later, Carrie thought that maybe she was the last person to notice. She had been rushing about all day – a million and one things to do, and while usually she had the radio blaring out, that day, with all the toing and froing, and the endless phone calls, she didn’t.

It was only when she got in her car to go home and realised that there was no sound from the radio that she began to realise something was up.

She sat in the carpark in the dark, jabbing at the buttons in an attempt to get it to work.

At least, she thought, after sitting there for ten minutes with nothing, the engine had roared into life. The radio must be faulty. It wasn’t until she was home, her husband slumped in front of the TV, the kids already asleep – thank god – that she found something was up.

‘What a day, huh?’ her husband said.

‘Yes, it has been,’ she said, although she didn’t know why he knew her day had been so difficult.

‘I thought it was just me,’ he continued.

‘Yes,’ she paused. ‘Wait – what?’ she asked, kicking her shoes off and sinking into an arm chair.

‘The radio.’

‘What about it?’

‘They’ve all gone dead.’ He nodded at the TV. ‘Off air.’ he waved his hands around to make a point. She just nodded. Fatigue was threatening to overtake, but she couldn’t deny that she was intrigued.

There was a pause as both of them listened to the news broadcaster on the TV.

‘This isn’t even today,’ he said. ‘They’ve been playing repeats all day.’

She frowned as she took this in. ‘Why play anything at all?’

‘They don’t want people to panic,’ he said. ‘What are we without our communication? It’s like the dark ages.’

‘They used to cope.’

‘But we’re not used to coping are we?’

‘No,’ she admitted. ‘No, we’re not used to it.’

He got to his feet, stretching and yawning. ‘I’m sure they’ll have fixed it by the morning. Must be a technical issue. Do you want to eat? I left you a plate in the kitchen.’

‘Thanks,’ she said, distractedly. ‘I’ll be up in a minute.’

He kissed her on the head and then headed upstairs, his footsteps slow and careful. She leaned back in the chair, not making a move to the kitchen. She wasn’t hungry. She just wanted time.

How was it possible for all the radio networks to be off air – for there not even to be live TV? It was bizarre – and unexpected. She didn’t like it. It was unsettling. Of course there were worse things, but it made her feel out of sorts and disconnected. How long would it be until they were back on air?

There was silence across the nation that night – silence like none before. Of course, recorded material still existed and many took comfort in CDs and audio books. It was an uneasy night for many.

 

A week later there was still silence. The curiosity was growing unsettled. Newspapers were declaring the end of the world – a chance in state. Riots and discontent were breaking out.

The newspapers were relied on for everything. And soon it became a nation who whispered behind closed doors, who scurried round to neighbours to discuss the day’s events. Everything became localised.

And nothing changed.

No word came from on high. The airwaves had fallen silent.

Carrie was still rushing about. Nothing had changed there. Her life was still as manic as ever. Except, she noticed it more now – the silence sure, she had CDs, all of that. But it wasn’t the same. Sometimes she just wanted the general patter of someone’s voice talking about current affairs or global issues, or what they had for breakfast.

She missed it.

She wasn’t the only one.

People grew restless, adjusting to a different life, a life without the radio, without the TV – waiting for the newspapers, but even they were vague and didn’t tell them much about, well, anything. People wrote in – the letters pages were full of complaints and concerns.

On the streets, nobody met one another’s eye, just in case – you didn’t know, know who anyone was or what they wanted. But slowly, after the first wave of uneasiness, everyone starts to settle and things become normal again. In fact, Carrie has got used to this state of affairs so much that when it does come back, she doesn’t know what to do.

It just comes back on no warning, and nobody talking about it. The radio DJs sound the same and everyone goes back to normal. Nobody thinks to wonder, what happened – and why. And so, like everything else, it just returns to the way that things were before. Before what? Before the radios went off air and the world changed – for just a moment.

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