Changing Times Part 2

Edith’s daughter, with husband and single child, came to visit each weekend, regular as clockwork. Dorothy was always begging Edith, with her particularly earnest expression, all wrinkles and furrowed brow, that guaranteed Edith would retort “No!” Poor child, reflected Edith. If she knew how much I hate that face she makes. If she would only smile, I would do anything for her. But Dorothy rarely smiled, and so mother and daughter seldom agreed on anything.

Dorothy and Aidan had been assigned an apartment (if you could call it that…Edith screwed up her face in distaste) in the new Fourth Quarter Dome. Edith suspected that there had been undertakings given to move the old woman out, which had secured a favourable deal for what was, after all, a very ordinary family. They were always arriving on little missions to try and persuade Edith how wonderful, easy, cheap and safe it was to live in a dome. Any dome, they said, as long as she was safe, away from the rain that stung the skin, the clouds that wept ice, the debris collapsing out of the sky – people had died, didn’t she know.

Edith didn’t really care for safety. She was well aware that she had few friends remaining in the world – the sensible ones had all died years ago and she had no dependents, not at her age. On the contrary, everyone else seemed so quietly determined to point out her growing dependency.  She ate only a little food and knew her carbon footprint was very faint. A dozen commendations sat in the drawer of the kitchen table. No, what Edith cherished most, what lay in her deepest thoughts, was freedom to do as she pleased: the choice to lie late in bed, wearing what she liked and eating when she wanted, the luxury to suit herself, pottering harmlessly about the house, humming and singing tunelessly.

Domed life was increasingly sophisticated. As was intended, you could almost believe it was the real thing. Weather machines were old hat. There was piped music for walking to and sleeping to, there were birds in the roofs, countless indoor gardens, terraces and spaces for contemplation and rest. There was even an inbuilt roughness to the weather, so that occupiers could feel a shimmer of the old gratitude for creature comforts. However, making a dome was very difficult and exceedingly costly, both in terms of finding suitable materials and re-populating domed spaces with flowers, trees and shrubs, some undoubtedly filched from nature, against all the Protocols. Of course, computers controlled the Dome’s air conditioning, sky and bad weather.

Given the costs, Edith wondered when it was that technocrats had gained the upper hand, creating snow by machine, sending meteor busters into space, populating food and land banks with synthetic plants. They were building domes everywhere now, and beginning to use compulsion to make people settle inside them. The authorities exercising their civil duties could be very persuasive. Ordinary citizens were expected to be thankful, falling over each other to oblige. Edith remained obdurately old-fashioned, hanging back and praying daily to be quietly ignored. She clung to the old ways of thinking.

Edith was grateful for all the love implicit in her daughter’s repeated attempts to “rescue” her from a solitary life. There would have been something terribly frightening in a daughter who never came to visit or who only wanted to get her hands on mum’s carbon account. Edith had heard of many children of other ageing parents, offspring who suddenly flapped around in February like vultures – just before the annual allocation was re-calibrated – hoping to mop up surpluses on their parents’ accounts. Some districts were so poor that being alive on 30th February was a dangerous business.

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