Speaking Together

Though he was surrounded by fellow workers, Bobby often felt alone at the farm. On his days off he went to visit Alan and Patricia, who he thought of like great-grandparents.

They claimed to have moved to the Lucerne Valley a hundred years ago, and made him feel welcome. The first thing was always a “nice cup of tea”. There were no cold mugs or tea bags for Patricia. She used heated teapots with quilted tea cosies, and bone china cups that were  rich blue with gold patterns, like ones that you saw on antique shows.

Patricia had a special shelf of tea caddies from all over the world. She ran her fingers along the shelf and stopped at the caddy that “spoke” to her. She selected a tea spoon in a similar way and dropped three spoonfuls of loose tea into a teapot, the tea leaves dropping, tinkling and crackling.

“Why do you always ask me how I take my tea?” asked Bobby. “You know I take it with milk and sugar.”

“Well, what if you’ve changed your mind? I don’t want to make assumptions. That’s poor form. It is not the way of taking tea together.”

She says some strange things, thought Bobby. He said, “On the farm, we drink tea with…”

“Never drink the tea on the farm,” she said seriously. “Don’t touch it.”

“But they tell us to. They say it is better than water. It is a healthy…”

She told him again not to drink it, saying it wasn’t what he thought it was.

Alan came in from the garden and said, “Good afternoon, young man! How are you this fine day? Well, I hope. Good, good.”

They took tea together, each adding some milk and one sugar. Alan said, “We’ve monitored the communications in this valley for a hundred years now.”

Bobby had found Alan’s antenna, a wire running through the forest, strung between Arcadian Firs. “At first I manually recorded the few messages sent daily, later by phonograph, then tape deck, digital recorder, and now computer. Everything is stored on hard drives and processed by speech-to-text software, and analysed semiotically.”

So that’s how they spend their time, thought Bobby. They don’t sit around drinking tea all day. They analyse communications. Maybe Alan is a shadowy consultant, working secretly for The Authority.

“But the voice always comes first.” He stopped and looked at Bobby directly. “Am I boring you, or would you like to hear more? You would? Good, good. Now listen to this.” He played a clip of a woman speaking about potato prices. “And listen to this.” It was a man talking about property prices. “Do you note their different frequencies? No? It takes a while to master, and later you can even hear things in what most people call silence.”

He led Bobby to his workshop, filled with electronic equipment. There was a monitor showing green waves reflecting, refracting and diffracting. “See what’s happening? They’re all out of synch. That’s why people never really understand each other. That’s the meaning of the Tower of Babel story.” He pointed to the house. “Patricia and I have spent one hundred years together. We are tuned to the same frequency. We fully understand each other. It is like Eden before the Fall.”

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