Short Story – Changing Times – Part Three
Edith didn’t really care for safety. She was well aware that she had few friends remaining – 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, wear what she liked and eat when she wanted, the luxury to suit herself, pottering harmlessly about the house, humming 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. Computers controlled the Domes’ air conditioning, sky and bad weather.
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 could be very persuasive. 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 other ageing parents with 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.
One day in August, a letter from the Relocation Ministry landed in her box stating that she “was requested to move into the modern, safer environment of the Ninth Quarter Dome.” The letter was typical, written by some young zealot straight out of the government training school, peppered with spelling mistakes. She was required to report by 1st October, so that provisions could be allocated for her needs over the Closed Season (November to February). Any failure to comply would result in a scheme of forfeits implemented over a six-month period to secure compliance. After this, Town Hall reserved the right to use other methods.