Alice Langford lived on a remote parcel of land in the most northern county of Montana, just this side of the border between the United States and Canada, where trees, such as white pine, spruce, and firs, out-numbered all others. Had Alice lived a little farther north, the conifers would have been the forest’s only tall inhabitants.
From her features, one would not have thought of her as a writer. No, her weathered face and calloused hands suggested manual labor, which is exactly what she did each day of her isolated life style. Chopping wood and feeding the few chickens that pecked around what she referred to as, “My cabin with conveniences.” Her computer, a cellphone, which forever read, “Weak Signal,” and her eBook tablet, kept her in limited touch with the outside world, which is what she preferred.
It was only after McCormick’s Fishing and Hunting Lodge, recently constructed a mile upstream, that electricity came her way. Before all that, her father’s Waterman fountain pen had served her well, though ink had become difficult to acquire at the general store.
“Alice, this is a business. I can’t just order one or two bottles at a time. There are minimum orders. I can put in for a dozen, if you buy them all and pay in advance.”
Oddly enough, it was Rita, her elderly neighbor, who lived in an equally secluded part of the county, who eventually convinced Alice about the electric service, which would be coming because of the lodge. Then little by little, Alice acquiesced to its benefits. She kept her father’s fountain pen beside her keyboard, just because of what he had meant to her. A man of independence had made her a woman of the same cloth.
She had no man now and liked it that way. Alice thought she’d been through enough of that in a failed relationship years ago.
The seasons had little effect on her. Whether another might feel too warm, wet, or cold, for her each time of the year had its own splendor, which she wove into each of her novels. Unfortunately, none had any success. Yet her persistence in writing ran through her blood as readily as oxygen.
After one jostling drive for supplies on the only serpentine road that led to the tiny town of Yanap, she spotted a magazine that a summer tourist may have left behind in the restroom at the general store. It was full of advertisements for expensive jewelry, real estate photos of real estates, and clever opinionated articles on politics and life. There were also witty cartoons. One made her laugh aloud. She was sure the few people on the other side of the restroom door must have wondered, what is going on in there?
Having loaded her Jeep with supplies, she meandered to the barbershop, which had been unisex long before unisex was a word.
“How’s your writing coming along?” the barber said, cutting her hair in a mannish style. Alice expected no other, since it was all he knew.
“Oh, it’s coming along,” she said, staring at herself in the barber’s mirror. Just then, her cellphone vibrated in the pocket of her jeans. She held up one finger. The barber stepped away from her as she managed to slip out the phone.
Alice listened for a few moments and said, “Could you please repeat that. I’ve a weak signal,” and then listened again. A broad smile grew slowly across her face. Finally, she snapped her cellphone shut, turned her head from side to side looking again in the barber’s mirror. “That’s fine.”
“I’m not quite done yet,” the barber said, coming closer.
“No, it’s fine,” she said rising from the chair and slapped $10 in the barber’s hand. “Thanks.”
“I hope it was good news,” the barber said, depositing the money in his register.
Alice thought for a moment, “Yes, grand news. My agent said he has an appointment with a publisher in New York at this very moment.” She looked at the clock on the wall. It had an advertisement on its face for Wildroot Cream Oil. “It’s the first time anything other than my short stories has gotten this far. He’s going to call back with news, one way or another.” Then she thought she had said too much.
“I hope all goes well for you,” the barber said.
On the mountain road leading to her cabin, Alice placed her opened cellphone on the seat beside her. The battery charge seemed fine, but “Weak Signal” remained displayed on the small screen.
The sun split the river below as if a blade of light sliced the shimmering liquid into two halves. Alice’s heart pounded with rare excitement. Her novel was actually in a publisher’s hands.
She looked around at her good fortune. Distant mountains, unceasingly snowcapped, seemed so close, and yet she knew them to be well over 40 miles away.
Colors seem to have become more apparent as the sky shed clouds. Maple trees were out in full, their leaves almost white as they fluttered in the mild late morning breeze.
Alice thought about her future. Would she have to give up all of this? There was the marketing of the book to consider. The signings, she hoped. Maybe even a television appearance or two. She looked at the phone beside her, transfixed for just a few moments. It remained silent as she came upon a tight switchback in the narrow road.
She died instantly, as her Jeep slammed into a rock outcropping and then tumbled into an almost vertical ravine. The cellphone snapped shut in the plummet, came to rest on a bank beside a small eddy, and then rang.
Kaplan is retired from CBS Television, where he was an associate director at the Broadcast Operations Center. “At CBS, I worked in the News Department’s Special Events Unit, covering national political conventions, inaugurations, and space flights from the Apollo program through the Gemini program.
“Presently, I am writing fiction in the crime novel genre, short stories and poetry.”