Changing Times part 1

Here was only soft, muffled silence. Elsewhere, a million miles away, she knew a shining sun hung suspended in a vast, clear sky of shifting blues. She hoped faithfully to see the stars again, the Plough, Andromeda and Great Cygnus. Meanwhile, Earth waited, wrapped in deep grey, protective cloud beyond which playful starlight hung back out of sight with the myths. Naturally, it would clear, but we had no idea when.

Months ago all the strangeness started: large moths in July that clung on everywhere silently filling and occupying all the spaces from the ground up, so that playful schemes for summer were overlooked: the mock fishing parties, the state-sponsored harvests, the tree planting jamborees. Since all-in-one pellets had been lab-perfected, people had not worried so much at the soil, had not forced food from it. Communal gardens wilted in the grey heat, un-watered and thoughtlessly trodden over.

Many of the old, slow, ways were bypassed in an age when constant technical advancements seemed to promise so much. The earth couldn’t help being old-fashioned, though our few impatient efforts yielded little. There was small patience and no faith whatsoever, in the halls of our technocrats. The white coats clung ferociously to their ascendancy, but for how much longer?

As she slowly and patiently got out of bed that morning, Edith puffed a little, straightened her back and grimaced as she felt the itchy blanket of small aches and pains begin their accustomed jig over her joints. Must ease up on the late nights, be a good girl, she thought carelessly, as she cranked up her day. Creeping downstairs in shabby gown and slippers, clutching a deliberate fondness for those plodding, careful things of her youth which she understood marked her as eccentric, Edith used a fifth of her daily allowance of drinking water to make a pot of tea, partnering the nondescript china with a stained tea cosy. Though plain and small, the small brown piece was her favourite, one of the few pleasing and useful items she had inherited from her mother. The gentle roundness cradled exactly in her hand, like a warm, live thing.

This morning, as every morning, there was a calm slowness in the small rituals of breakfasting. The early air breathed balm through her kitchen windows. Many times she had been urged to leave the shabby, peeling old house, which was very gently falling apart, sliding peaceful into decay. But Edith would have missed the sweeps of wind under the grey sky, the blowing clouds that welcomed her each morning at the kitchen window. She had remained in this house for over sixty years, had moved back in permanently after her mother had gone over to the other side in 2071, and in the midst of the everyday tasks of cooking, cleaning, washing and baking, she would glance up and grin at the changes outside, the colours that clung on within the seeping seasons which, despite the grey, slipped innocently forward with a faith that Edith always found moving.

When her husband and only son had still been alive, the small family had kept together here. Before Harold had passed on (they had said it was “cumulative toxicity” a diagnosis she thought was surprisingly honest) he had worked all across Europe. He was lucky, since his work carried with it options to travel on business all over, from Paris to Moscow, and Edith had sometimes travelled with him. She cherished vivid, child-like memories of the grand, old government charter planes, which were equipped to take those able to pay (or who called in favours) away from The Protectorates. Harold, with his responsibility for seeing through the effective administration of fuel coupons, was able to secure occasional holiday flights to Madagascar or Tunis, where the sky had then still shown through as glimmers of patchy blue and shards of yellow.

That had been when Edith was in the first flush of her married life, a fresh and beautiful wife of twenty-six. Now she had walked so far into her dotage, there was great comfort in knowing that her happy days were safely in her past, for her to recall as she wished. With quiet gleaming pride, she was aware that she was almost entirely beyond the reach of the authorities, simply because she was “pushing” ninety. An image of herself dressed in a combat outfit, brandishing her broom (the nearest thing she possessed to an “offensive weapon” and therefore liable to be confiscated by the Civilian Authority) came to mind and she chortled, a deep, happy chuckle. Although this broom of hers was so ancient that the bristles were ragged, falling out, and the shaft was pulling away at its moorings, Edith would not be persuaded to part with it even for one of the “nice new ones” being offered down at the Exchange. No doubt some covetous busybody was anxious to get their hands on the wonderful wooden handle and top, but they weren’t having it, not yet. In her faded slippers Edith stepped silently about, dancing a small dance of freedom.

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