No Future Ch. 83bybradley_stoke©
Home is Where the Heart is
It would never have been Iris' ideal choice of career, but there weren't many choices still available to her. Though there'd been an evident expansion in employment opportunities as the White Death receded, this brief boom vanished at almost the same rate as the last bodies were being incinerating. The jobs that appeared to address the need to clean up after the pandemic vanished all too soon. The Government's policy of dissuading foreign influence had also destroyed any residual foreign appetite for inward investment and the Republic of England was now a place of even fewer opportunities and rather less hope.
As there were no openings for a career in Biotechnology even in London, Iris decided that having already stooped somewhat lower than she'd ever intended when she chose to work for Empire Cleaning Services, her pride was no longer an obstacle with regards to any decision she made to make money. As she'd already made a living by masquerading as a cleaning maid, perhaps now she should actually work as one. So Iris began to look more favourably at the many vacancies for domestic servants that were being posted on the internet. It was one of the few sectors in the Kingdom's economy where job opportunities were continuing to grow, but the job opportunities were all cloistered well away from what Iris viewed as the ordinary world. And that was the world where she believed she belonged. This other world where most domestic servants in London worked was secluded behind the electric fences and high gates of the affluent private estates. The relatively prosperous wanted to maintain a good distance away from the ungrateful taxpayer, but they still needed people to mow their lawn, make their beds and do the ironing.
A few years earlier when Iris' source of income was also to provide services for the comfortably well-to-do, she'd very much been the centre of her employers' attentions (though perhaps not in a good way). Nowadays when she'd gained access into the homes of the fortunate few—having been vetted by security guards at the electric gates—she was entirely peripheral. As far as her employers were concerned, she was nothing more than an invisible presence. All they wanted from her was to ensure that the detritus of daily life was removed without fuss and with no trace. Toilet bowls cleaned. Shirts ironed. Beds made. Parquet floors polished and cleaned.
Iris was sure that even in just three years there'd been an appreciable hardening in the attitude expressed by the affluent towards those less fortunate. Her employers previously betrayed the occasional sign of embarrassment at being in possession of so much more wealth than those no less deserving than themselves. Now, after seven years of the Government of National Unity and a year of the White Death, there was nothing that could tarnish their innate sense of superiority.
Iris soon came to rather prefer the secluded, secure and tidy world of immaculate lawns behind the electric fences to the perils of her life outside. This was ironic because it was only outside that she was able to enjoy her free time. The world where she worked was a place where the roads were lit in the dark; where the electricity was always on and reliable; and where she was safe from harassment and arbitrary violence. The hedges that enclose the houses were as trim and tidy as the lawns. When she was inside the houses—shaking sheets, ironing denim jeans, dusting behind the furniture—she became almost house-proud for the well-appointed homes whose corners and alcoves she'd got to know in more intimate detail than did the actual home-owners.
When she walked home at the end of the day, having cleaned, tidied and scrubbed in five or six homes for ten or more hours at a rate of pay that was barely more than she'd once used to receive at the Work Experience Centre, she had to pass through a cordon of security guards. Even though they all recognised her, because they were themselves monitored by security cameras, they had to behave as officiously now as on the first day that Iris first worked in the private housing estate. Any evidence of sloppiness would be noticed by the attendant software and their employment would be abruptly terminated.
And then through the barrier gates, into the dark streets where the only functioning street-lights were those few not yet vandalised and which were, in any case, only as bright as their solar batteries allowed. Iris would walk home in a group of other domestic servants in the hope that sheer numbers would provide the desperately needed security for the next several kilometres walk and subsequent bus-ride. When she at last settled down on the decrepit ancient bus with its smashed-up security camera and punched-open windows that let in the wind and rain, she watched the North West London streets on the journey to her house-share just by the periphery of Heathrow Airport.
Once upon a time, this had been a part of London with many jobs but also the constant disruption that came from being right under the flight-path of aeroplanes flying across the Atlantic or to parts of Europe. Although there were still many such flights, they were rather fewer in number than Iris remembered from her childhood when she and her mother took holidays together in Spain and Florida. Even though her recollection of these holidays were marred by the accompanying memory of her mother's constant moaning about her feckless ex-husband and Iris' father, she still recalled the childhood pleasure of sitting by the aeroplane window and looking out at the clouds below. Rather fewer people could afford to fly these days and as fuel prices continued their inexorable rise, this was a number that could only continue to fall.
The people who owned the houses that Iris kept so spotlessly clean would have little trouble in affording the occasional plane flight. For them, the experience of flying would be quite different from what Iris remembered. There would be emptier airport lounges, smaller crowds and shorter queues at Passport Control. Not that Iris could be sure about this. Although news stories in the mostly sympathetic media emphasised how strict and rigorous immigration checks now were under the present government, Iris imagined that those few who could afford to fly were unlikely to be the ones whose freedom of movement the Prime Minister wanted to restrict. In fact: quite the opposite.
A plane thundered overhead as Iris turned the key in one of the three locks that secured the heavily reinforced front door. She looked upwards to the sky as cold autumn drizzle pasted her cheeks and could just about make out the livery of the Republic of North America. It was ironic that those of the original United States who'd previously been most enthusiastic about the benefits of unfettered capitalism were the same ones who were now nationalising almost every industry still based in the Southern states to prevent them re-locating to Mexico or the Western Union. And then, in through the door, with a final check that no one was following behind, and up the dimly lit staircase to her bedroom.
There was much about Iris' life that was more indigent than she'd been used to nearly a decade earlier when politics was nothing more than an abstract term and social injustice was something she associated with foreign countries that were far away and often difficult to spell or pronounce. She was scarcely a radical, but seven years of the Government of National Unity had made her more militant and much less apathetic. She still didn't know in which direction she believed the nation should head, but she was bloody sure where she wanted to head away from.
She shared her bedroom with Phyllis who also worked as a domestic servant and was as ludicrously over-qualified as Iris for the position. Phyllis was fluent in several European languages—none of which were now of much use in a Kingdom that had disassociated itself from the Northern European Union—and had gained an MBA at just the time when most international corporations with offices in England made the strategic business decision to manage their affairs from aboard.
Iris strode up the worn faded stair carpet by what would once have been a living room but was now just another bedroom. She hardly knew the other people in the house at all except for those she occasionally encountered in the kitchen or bathroom. The other residents were almost always either out working or in their bedrooms asleep. The little social interaction she had was usually around breakfast and lunch-time, but despite the wealth of university degrees few of her fellow residents were employed in a profession. The only legal and legitimate jobs in abundance were those in domestic servitude. However as Iris was reminded as she opened the door to her shared bedroom, illegal commerce such as drug-dealing was also enjoying rather a boom under the Government of National Unity. The government's hard-line policies that now prescribed deportation or prison as mandatory sentences for all but the most trivial drugs offences had led only to widespread disregard for the law when the supply of imported drugs was so considerable and alternative forms of employment so scarce.
"It's from the Kashmir," said Phyllis as she passed the spliff to Iris. "That guy from round the corner said it's the best shit to come from there since before the nukes went off. And since there's nothing but hemp growing on the mountains there's a lot of it and it's fucking cheap."
"How cheap?" Iris asked as she took a long draw on the proffered item.
"Fucking cheap. A gram is less than the price of a shot of whiskey. And you get higher on this hash than you'd ever get from a fucking bottle of spirits."
"It's good," said Iris as she felt the nerves on her face tingle. "That's just the tonic I need after a day of work."
"'S OK. Not great. Just OK."
"You still good for Saturday?"
Iris shook her head. "Not till the evening. I've got a couple more houses to clean. There's always work to do after the Friday night parties."
"Well, it's always a good time to pick up extra gear," said Phyllis conspiratorially. "Those rich shits always leave unsnorted lines and discarded tabs about the place."
"You take them home with you?" Iris asked naively.
"Well..." admitted Iris who hadn't realised that her surreptitious pocketing was such universal practice. "I wouldn't want to get sacked. And when you get sacked from one home you're effectively sacked from them all."
"The more wasted the bastards are, the less they'll ever notice," said Phyllis. "And, anyway, what else are you supposed to do with all those lines? Flush them down the toilet. The shit's too good for that."
Iris nodded. "This most certainly is good shit," she said as she passed the spliff back.
Phyllis cupped her palms around it and inhaled a deep lungful. "Well, Saturday's still on," she said. "We'll wait up for you at the pub in the evening till you arrive. But I've got a favour to ask you."
"Yeah. You know. Freddy..."
Iris nodded. "When?"
"He wants to come over tomorrow night. You don't mind?"
"Just don't make too much noise."
Although Iris tried to make out that she didn't mind that much, the truth was that Phyllis' nocturnal trysts with Freddy were a real source of annoyance for her. It wasn't just that her room-mate was so vocal when she orgasmed, it was also that the fact that Phyllis got so much obvious pleasure from her lovemaking. It was just another reminder to Iris how little sex she was getting these days and, furthermore, how little she actually wanted it any more.
When opportunities occurred nowadays, and there were no fewer than there'd ever been, Iris was never eager to follow them up. And when she did succumb to persuasion, if only to justify the continued expense on contraceptive pills and condoms, she felt so detached from the actual physical activity that it was something she was watching from a distance rather than experiencing herself. Her few months of employment as a prostitute had shattered her ability to properly enjoy sex any more. The psychological distance she'd adopted to cope with the emotional toll of having sex with strangers who were most often decidedly unattractive now made it difficult to enjoy sex with anyone.
"We'll do our best to be quiet," said Phyllis who planted a grateful kiss on Iris' cheek. "But you know Freddy..."
She certainly did know Freddy. She knew more about him than she'd have liked to. And earplugs never seemed to make that much difference given that Iris' bed was so close to the one where Phyllis and Freddy would be fucking. The only real solution to this inconvenience was to be so stoned that she couldn't care.
Iris pointed at the plastic bag just by Phyllis' elbow that held the Kashmir hash.
"You don't think you could spare a few grams?" she asked.