Short Story – Changing Times – Part Two

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 surprisingly honest) he had worked all across Europe. He was lucky, since his work carried options to travel on business from Paris to Moscow, and Edith had sometimes gone with him. She cherished vivid, child-like memories of the grand, old government charter planes, 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 in the first flush of her married life, when Edith was 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 looking in the face of 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 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.

Her daughter, with husband and single child, came to visit each weekend, regular as clockwork. Dorothy begged, with her peculiarly 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 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.

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