A Saucer of Loneliness
"A Saucer of Loneliness" is a short story by American writer Theodore Sturgeon, which first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction n. 27 (February 1953). It was later adapted as a radio play for X Minus One in 1957; and as the second segment of the twenty-fifth episode (the first episode of the second season, 1986–87) of the television series The Twilight Zone, starring actress Shelley Duvall.
A man sees a woman on the beach one night who he suspects will attempt suicide. He spots her in the ocean and plunges in to save her. She struggles but he manages to get her ashore. She starts to tell him her story: years earlier in Central Park she saw a small flying saucer, small enough to put her arms around it. It floated down next to her and touched itself to her forehead for a second and they then both fell to the ground.
While recovering, a small crowd gathers around her. A policeman shows up, the crowd increases in size and an FBI agent arrives. The girl sits up and announces that the saucer spoke to her. The FBI man orders her to shut up and takes both the girl and the now-silent saucer into custody. The authorities obtain no information from the saucer and from the girl. They interrogate her about everything especially about what the saucer had said to her. She refuses to answer as the saucer was talking to her, and it's just nobody else's business. Finally, she was released.
Even though she is plain and awkward, men ask her out in dates, but only to find out what the saucer said. Every now and then reporters track her down to ask about the saucer. Finally, she resorted to taking a job as a night cleaner so that no one else will see her. In her loneliness and isolation, she takes to throwing messages in bottles out into the ocean. The authorities try to collect all the bottles, but give up when they find the same message in each bottle.
The man then explains that he found her bottles two years ago and has been looking for her ever since. He heard about the bottles hereabouts and that she had quit throwing the bottles, and had taken to wandering the dunes at night. He knew why and he ran all the way. He tells her that he thinks she is beautiful.
She said nothing, but it was as if a light came from her, more light and far less shadow than the practiced moon could cast. Among the many things it meant was that even to loneliness there is an end, for those who are lonely enough, long enough.
In 2004, "A Saucer Of Loneliness" was nominated for a 'Retro Hugo' for Short Story 1954 (Hugo Award for Best Short Story). It was also the title of the seventh book in the anthology series The Collected Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, published in 2000.
Twilight Zone episode
|"The Saucer of Loneliness"|
|The Twilight Zone (1985 TV series) episode|
|Episode no.||Season 2
|Directed by||John D. Hancock|
|Written by||David Gerrold
|Original air date||September 27, 1986|
The TV adaptation differs from the short story in several aspects mostly due to TV storytelling requirements. The woman's loneliness, revealed only gradually in the short story, is obvious from the beginning in the episode. The time frame is shorter. The resolution (the orb) is missing in the short story.
Margaret is a middle aged woman who is very lonely. She is a spinster who works as a waitress at a diner and enjoys walking on the beach. When she returns home after work one night, her alcoholic mother cruelly criticizes her for being unmarried at her age. Margaret wanders into her bedroom and cries herself to sleep. The next day on her way to work, Margaret becomes part of a crowd on the beach who are watching a small golden flying saucer in the sky. As it descends from the atmosphere it hovers around as if it were looking for someone. It follows Margaret and apparently communicates with her telepathically, but then she falls unconscious. When she revives, she insists that the spacecraft "spoke" to her. She states that the saucer specifically wanted to give only her a message, but she doesn't reveal the message because it is private. Government authorities capture and examine the saucer, but find it completely empty. They are unable to identify the composition of the metal hull.
Soon Margaret's mother throws her out of the house so she goes to stay at a hotel. Later when Margaret takes a stroll on the crowded boardwalk, she is approached by a woman who thinks that Jesus spoke to her through the saucer; she believes that Margaret has the power to heal, but Margaret flees in tears. At her hotel room, she writes notes, places them in bottles and throws them into the ocean. Each note begins with the phrase, "To the loneliest one".
The next day, a handsome patron at the restaurant where Margaret works asks her for a date. Excited, Margaret buys a new outfit for the evening. The date is initially enjoyable for her, until her date asks about the saucer's message. Margaret realises that her date is not interested in her as a person, but only wants to know about the saucer. She immediately ends the date and goes home to cry herself to sleep.
Desperate and without hope, Margaret walks along the beach late at night and decides to commit suicide. She walks into the ocean to be consumed by the waves, but a man comes from behind and pulls her out. He explains that he found one of her bottles and was touched by the message. She tells him that it was the only thing she could call her own, and the only thing she could do for another like herself was to pass the message along. The man says that when he read it, he knew it was connected to the saucer and the words were like a song. Margaret explains that the saucer was just an interstellar "message in a bottle", just like her bottles thrown into the ocean. Her messages were her own words, an imperfect translation of the saucer's message. She shows the man the actual message, which takes the form of a glowing orb in the palm of her hand. They caress the orb together in their hands and then it slowly disappears. Margaret and the man walk onward arm in arm, her pain and loneliness has seemingly come to an end.
French TV adaptation
In 1982, this short story of Theodore Sturgeon was adapted by the French television, with the title "La soucoupe de solitude" and actress Catherine Leprince playing the main character. The director is Philippe Monnier. The episode itself aired on FR3 (France 3) September 8, 1982.