No Future Ch. 11bybradley_stoke©
The Good Seed
Mark & Molly
Times were good.
OK. Good in the sense that they weren't bad, but the upward climb in the value of the Stock Exchange and the related rise of living standards must count for something.
For sure, things would probably never again be as good in London as they were before the National Unity government took power and the subsequent dissolution of the United Kingdom. The City of London had forever surrendered its role as a hub of international business. It was Frankfurt that had now taken over that role in the European time zone. It would never regain its earlier status now that economic power was so evenly distributed across the world.
But for Mark and Molly, in their brand new home in the Greenfields Estate in Harrocks Wood New Town, could life ever be any better? They had at last moved into the second floor studio apartment that had taken so many years to save for, a second baby on the way, and they were earning enough now to contemplate even the prohibitively expensive option of marriage.
And it was much easier nowadays to commute to the City compared with the three hours it used to take the couple from Bishop's Stortford. It was a mere two-hour commute from door to door, involving a half-hour trip by bus and invariably wedged in and standing for the whole one hour tube journey from nearby Rickmansworth. They now had more time to spend with one another and, of course, with little Monica who saw rather more of the nursery and crèche than she ever did of her devoted but unavoidably busy parents.
There were occasions when Mark or Molly, but never the two together, could enjoy an evening out with friends in the capital until the last tube beckoned them home. When they were younger this was all they ever did in the evenings, but those were the days of the National Unity government when any staff employed by the bars and restaurants that were at all competent were also likely to be deported as a result of the National Immigration Policy. In those days, service was truly dreadful and the quality of food and drink had dropped even further. Now, with so many deportees returning to England and being provided housing and jobs by a chastised coalition government still struggling to qualify for renewed membership in the Northern European Union, the bars and restaurants were once again properly resourced. Not that Mark and Molly were now able to enjoy the benefits.
Mark was a marketing officer for Tata Benz where he had the unenviable mission to encourage people to purchase cars that was not only expensive to drive off the forecourt but even more so in terms of insurance, taxation, fuel and parking. Inevitably, the marketing was focussed on the drive to keep down retail prices, but Mark was actually one of the employees who'd chosen not to accept the offer of a company car. Even before he filled the tank with biodiesel he'd be worse off financially with a car than without.
All the same, the message had got through to an admirably high percentage of the target consumer market. London was still periodically gridlocked and every road was subject to parking restrictions. Nevertheless, Mark guessed that there were rather fewer cars on the road than there used to be that were truly above board and legal. This could be blamed on a feeble and incompetent justice system that was another product of the years of supposedly strong government that had so crippled the country.
Molly worked as a legal secretary for an international law firm that ensured that she was always kept incredibly busy. Despite her advanced pregnancy, she often had to work weekends. The repatriation of deportees involved so many unsuspected complications. An impoverished English government was pushed yet further into debt by the actions of those who'd been treated badly by the previous administration and were now exercising their right to claim compensation for lost trade, for illegally seized businesses and, in some cases, for the rough treatment suffered at the hands of over-enthusiastic immigration police. Most cases were extremely difficult to prove one way or the other as the database records had been deleted. If the data hadn't been leaked to clandestine websites, usually illegally, there would have been far fewer cases for the government to resolve.
Mark and Molly worked hard, even though their salaries were often paid late, the debts continued to pile up, and the demand for unpaid overtime continued to rise. But at least they had jobs. They were now in that minority of people under forty years old who'd managed to buy a home and who could just about afford to pay their monthly mortgage payments despite the crippling interest rates.
There were few opportunities for the couple to play as hard as they worked. Despite her early reputation as a free and easy woman, Molly couldn't find the time to be unfaithful to Mark even if she wanted to. Had anyone approached her at the office photocopying machine with the proposition of a quickie in the broom cupboard, she would have had to politely refuse. Long hours and hard work had severely sapped her sexual energy. But not so much, of course, that she and Mark hadn't been able to conceive a second time.
Mark had always been the faithful sort. He'd never cheated on anyone. Even when he was single and could afford to get high (before the government of National Unity became so ridiculously heavy-handed in enforcing the laws on drug possession), he'd never been keen on casual sex. He would never make love with a mate's girlfriend or wife. That just wouldn't be right. How would he like it if the same thing happened to him?
When their long working day was over, Mark and Molly made their separate ways to the tube stations through the rain-soaked streets of London. (Who said that Climate Change wouldn't bring even more rain to already soggy England?) As a devoted couple, they set their mobile phones to broadcast their whereabouts so that the other would know whether their partner was in the office or on the tube. This was a facility that had mostly gone out of fashion after it had been so spectacularly abused by the immigration police to locate people they wanted for what was euphemistically known as questioning. This had sometimes led to injury and even death as the police struggled to meet their monthly deportation totals.
Mark was reassured to see on his mobile phone that Molly was now walking along Chancery Lane to the tube station, while he was standing in the carriage of the Metropolitan Line train to Amersham. It was rather less comforting to know that due to yet another incident on the line, he would continue to be delayed in a stationary carriage between Baker Street and Finchley Road.
All around him were similarly frustrated passengers: many dripping wet from the heavy rain outside and all squeezed as tightly together as was possible. Most were also regarding their mobile phones, where they could send messages, watch television or just be entertained by music or films. Some passengers carried e-books, while a lucky few perched on the ridge of foam that passed for a carriage seat and were able to use their tablets.
Mark scanned his fellow passengers as best he could from the view he had past the elbows and umbrellas that poked near his face. They were less racially diverse than they would have been just over ten years before and dressed somewhat more shabbily. The age of cheap clothing, along with that for cheap food, was now just a distant dream. Nowadays people resorted more and more to patching up their worn-out socks and sweaters. There was even a good trade in supposedly indestructible fabrics that would never need repair. The one thing that remained cheap, of course, was electronic goods.
Along the side of the carriage was an array of plasma screens where once there would have been windows from which were broadcast soundless adverts for consumer goods, debt relief and film downloads. These were periodically interspersed by public information screens that informed Mark and the other passengers just how far the train was from the next stop and how long it would take to get there. The fact that these screens were stubbornly awaiting further information, as they had for the last ten sweaty humid minutes, provided no comfort at all.
Mark held his mobile phone up to within half a metre of his face and reviewed the news stories he could hear through the discreet ear-piece in his right ear. These were the usual type of stories. Things were still tense in the Middle East, of course. Israeli drones were targeting supposed threats in Jordan and Palestine and were countered in kind by Iraq and Turkey. There was more on the recent murder of the Culture Secretary and her husband. The police were questioning someone with ties with the Confederate rebels in the increasingly militaristic southern states of the United States. Something about flooding in Woolwich and how the Greenwich Flood Barrier was holding back the rising waters of the River Thames from reaching London. But Mark spent rather more time reviewing the news about the upcoming marriage between Heir Apparent Princess Rachel and Bruce Banner, businessman and entrepreneur. It was nice to read good news occasionally and this made Mark speculate about his own wedding nuptials should he and Molly ever save up enough to actually go through with it.
He toggled his display back to see how Molly was doing. She'd taken a train on the Bakerloo line and was now approaching Warwick Avenue. At this rate, she'd be home before him and it'd be her who'd be making dinner for a change. Molly was a better cook than him anyway, although neither of them was especially skilled.
Mark read the short message she texted him: "V. crowded. Don't feel so gd. Love you lots."
The message immediately alarmed Mark. Molly was now about seven months pregnant. He hoped nothing bad would happen. The first pregnancy had gone remarkably well, despite the long daily commute to and from Bishop's Stortford. The worst of it had been the delay getting from their home to the maternity ward through busy traffic and the long wait for an available hospital bed.
Mark, of course, could do nothing to help. He was stuck in a stationary carriage while further up the line he imagined another line fatality was being cleared away. Not that he'd ever be told what had happened.
"Hope it's nothing," he texted back.
"I'm faint and sick. C U Soon," came the prompt reply.
Mark had no idea what was the right thing to say at this point. He did a quick search of some medical websites but what he read only alarmed him further.
"Try sitting down," he texted back.
"Yr preg. If u cant get a seat who can?"
There was no reply.
For the next half hour until the train moved again, as trains ahead of his up the line were also shunted forward, Mark continued to check Molly's whereabouts on his mobile. He followed her progress along the Bakerloo Line past Kensal Green and Wembley Central to Kenton where surely she would take the escalator link to the Metropolitan Line. He was rather surprised to see that she'd missed the stop and had arrived at Harrow & Wealdstone.
Perhaps the carriage she was in was so crowded at Kenton she'd not been able to get out. He expected she'd now get on a southbound train. And why had she still not texted him?
Then he noticed with even more dread while his train at last slowly juddered onwards to Finchley Road that, after staying for five to ten minutes at Harrow & Wealdstone, Molly's location was now moving remarkably rapidly along the roads south towards Northwick Park. Perhaps she'd caught a taxi. Wise move when you're pregnant. Whatever the cost.
And then the phone rang and it was Molly's number.
"Hiya Molly!" Mark cried cheerfully.
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, sir," replied a male voice. "Am I speaking to Mr Mark McEwan?"
"Thank you, sir. I'm a paramedic and my name is Martin Green. Your partner, Ms. Minchin, is being taken by ambulance to Northwick Park Hospital. We advise you to get there at your earliest convenience."
"Nothing life-threatening but it's not good news," said the paramedic. "It's related to Ms Minchin's pregnancy."
"Has there been an accident?"
"In a sense yes, sir," replied the paramedic. "But as I say it's not life-threatening."
The rest of Mark's journey was even more stressful than it had already been. The train eventually arrived at Northwick Park where the hospital was located just round the corner. Inevitably, the satellite navigation was better at finding the overall location of the hospital than that of the reception desk and by the time he arrived he was drenched by the torrential rain that even now wouldn't let up.
The cause of the emergency was, of course, a miscarriage.
Molly had fainted on the spot where she'd been standing on the tube, but as she was so tightly wedged in she didn't fall to the floor. She was only identified as having lost consciousness when the train reached its terminus at Harrow & Wealdstone. It was only when everyone had disembarked that she was finally free to drop to the ground. It was then that somebody decided to call an ambulance and she was taken to the nearest hospital.
"There wasn't anything we could do, sir," said one of the nurses as Mark squeezed the hand of his still sedated partner. "The miscarriage happened before she was found. In fact we judge that it may well have happened while she was still standing up in the carriage. It's not very amenable for a pregnant woman."
"Indeed not," said Mark who lost most of his normally unbreakable optimism for the future as he regarded poor Molly as she lay on the bed with a tube trailing out of her nostril. "When will she better?"
"Fairly soon," said the nurse. "But we don't advise her to return to work for at least a week."
How would G & M UK accept even a single day of staff shortage given Molly's massive workflow? How sympathetic would an American company be?
"I'm sure that's for the best," Mark replied.