tagNovels and NovellasNo Future ch. 37

No Future ch. 37



Unto the Next Generation



Every funeral is a mournful event. Although Odile had already been to more of them in her young life than she could properly remember, her grandmother's funeral was unexpectedly distressing. Granny Iris had lived for such a long time. She'd been alive before England became a republic; from a time in fact when England's almost warring neighbours actually belonged to the same nation. Things were so different when Granny Iris was a child. Imagine a time when the Scottish and French Republics weren't pointing nuclear missiles over the borders and the Republic of England wasn't directing its missiles in return.

Only a few people had been able to attend the funeral. It had been a hurried affair. However necessary it was to mark someone's death, it didn't have to take much time and in any case there were so many funerals these days. There was the plague in nearby Manchester. There was the famine that was decimating Lancashire's rural villages ever since potato blight wiped out the woefully unprepared GM Murphy that had been the main crop. Then there were the casualties of the war in North America where English soldiers were allied with those of the economically defunct Republic of North America in its never-ending conflict with the Western Union and the Mexican Republic.

It would have been nice if Granny Iris' daughter had attended the funeral, but Odile had no idea where her mother was or whether she was even alive. The last time she'd heard from her, she was leaving England for a new life in the Republic of Scotland. It was anyone's guess whether she was still there or had left for somewhere else. If she was still in Scotland it would be unlikely that she'd be able to return to England through the barbed wire and minefields that graced the heavily armed Scottish border. Odile was sure that her mother was doing well and had almost certainly herself found a new husband. Although Granny Iris hadn't married even once, her daughter had managed to do so on three or four occasions.

Those who did attend the funeral consisted of just Odile, some elderly people from the nursing home and some middle-aged people who must have known her before she'd been taken into care. Although Odile missed her grandmother, she was sure that death was probably the best thing for her. The final years of her life were marked only by a steady deterioration in her health, where she'd been kept alive only thanks to health insurance policies she'd bought in a rather more affluent age. Her mental acuity had faded and it distressed Odile when the old lady even forgot who her granddaughter was and indeed almost everything that had happened more than five minutes earlier. The ever-present smell of urine was also rather offputting.

Who'd want to be alive these days anyway, whatever age you were? Every month the complex interaction between the military alliances of the countless bankrupt nuclear states resulted in yet another rollercoaster ride of fear and anxiety. Brazil or Russia or Australia or the Republic of North America might make a step towards nuclear escalation and then to everyone's relief step back from the brink. And when you weren't worried about nuclear devastation there were all the diseases that couldn't be treated any more, the famines and food shortages, and, of course, the haphazard climate that in the last few years had brought drought in summer and hurricane winds and torrential rainstorms in winter.

The council employee who officiated the funeral did his best to hasten the event along. The memorial service wasn't religious, so there were no hymns or prayers. Granny Iris had requested some mid-century jazz that sounded very peculiar to Odile's ears. The music she listened to was entirely electronic. Real instruments were too expensive and there was nowhere for musicians to learn how to play them. It was fortunate that the crematorium had its own electricity supply so when the lights flickered during the service, the generator was switched on and the memorial music could still be piped through the antique speakers.

Odile wandered out of the crematorium not long after the coffin had slid away out of sight. As was standard procedure, its contents would now be recycled. Odile had to walk along the potholed A589 to the city of Lancaster where she lived. She didn't very often visit Morecambe, so she decided to have a look round before leaving.

It wasn't that Odile was in much of a hurry to return home. She didn't have a job to return to and her residence in Willow Lane was nothing more than a slum anyway. It was possible that Edith was back from work and waiting for her on the battered sweat-soaked mattress on their bedroom's bare floorboards, but it was more likely that she wasn't. Her job at the clothes factory might be demanding and poorly paid but it was a precious commodity in an age where paid employment of any kind was hard to find and easy to lose. Odile hadn't worked for nearly a year now and that was in a pub where she made extra cash by giving blowjobs to some of the more affluent customers. Not that she really minded that much. She liked Edith, she might even love her, but she liked cock as well. It made a change from licking pussy.

Odile walked down the Broadway to Morecambe bay. Not much could be seen of the sea until she got to Marine Road. The massive flood barrier that encircled the entire shoreline of England ensured that she had to get very close and climb up the steps to the top of the wall to look over the bay where the waters were lapping the top of what had once been the esplanade before the wall was built. Morecambe's survival depended on the wall, as did Lancaster's in a more indirect sense. Indeed, the whole of England relied on the coastal walls that were now as much a feature of the English countryside as wind turbines, quarantine zones around diseased GM crops, crumbled and unserviceable country roads, and the open but still illegal sale of drugs on virtually every village green.

A few fishing boats were out at sea, but it was unlikely they'd come back with very many fish. Those few fish still in the sea were only there as a by-product of the constant naval patrol across the Atlantic that had made off-shore fishing potentially lethal, but that was a rebound from dramatically depleted stock. There'd once been fish like cod, haddock, skate and salmon, but the fishing boats were unlikely to be returning with much that was at all appetising.

Odile sat on the sea wall and looked over the dark choppy waters across a bay that was completely circumscribed by wall. In the distance were decrepit leaking nuclear power stations. She could just about see a huge frigate that was patrolling the coast to deter any Scots or Irish that might want to invade England's green and pleasant land. As far as Odile was concerned, they were welcome to it. However, unlike her mother and her now deceased grandmother she couldn't decide for herself in which nation she could live. Free movement between nations had come to an end as a result of the collapse of tourism and the paranoid anxiety about immigration. Odile had only ever once been abroad and that was to Wales during the brief period in her childhood when it seemed almost possible that England would once again join the other republics of the British Isles in the Northern European Union. Apart from the Welsh language spoken by some, Wales didn't seem much like what Odile thought a foreign country was supposed to be like. The climate was the same. The roads were just as bad. There was the same despondent atmosphere of poverty and bleak despair.

How had things got to be so bad?

Before Granny Iris lost her lucidity, she blamed the nation's decline on the English National Unity government in the 2050s but Odile knew that couldn't be the only reason. It was more than fifty years since those bastards were in government. What difference did it make now what happened so long ago? Odile didn't know much about history. She left school at fifteen when her mother could no longer afford to pay the fees. Odile's final history lessons didn't get beyond the 1960s. She knew about the Beatles and Carnaby Street and the BBC, but she didn't know what followed. How had a nation that had lost an empire but retained its cool become such a mess now? There was a time when English people thought of themselves as British. No one did that now. You were English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh and the word was now just a geographical term.

It couldn't have been just the English National Unity lot, however bad they were. They couldn't be blamed for the dissolution of the United States; the wars that left the Middle East and most of Central Asia as a nuclear wasteland inhabited by mutant camels; the floods that swamped Eastern England and most of Holland; and why food prices were now so expensive that Odile often faced the choice between going without or not being able to afford the rent for the shitty one-bedroom apartment she shared with Edith.

Odile soon had enough of looking out over Morecambe Bay. She couldn't stay long anyway. If she were to stand too long in one place, someone or other would assume she was a prostitute looking for trade. Although Odile turned the odd trick, as you had to do when times were tough, she generally preferred not to. In any case, it was always a hassle to explain such things to Edith.

She wandered past the shops along the Broadway. There wasn't much she could afford despite the perpetual special offers. She'd be delighted to wear better clothes than the rags she wore. It had been a long time since she'd worn shoes in summer, for instance. Her one pair of boots was kept in the cupboard for the winter months. She'd love to own more than the one simple dress that she'd stitched up again and again whenever the seams fell apart or it became threadbare, but buying clothes was another luxury she couldn't afford. The only times she dressed well was when she borrowed Edith's best clothes for an interview and even then she had to return them in as best a condition as she could.

It was depressing to look at all the things she couldn't afford to buy. The shops mostly sold the basic household goods that Odile desperately needed, but there was evidence of a time when shops sold luxury items such as televisions, computers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners. How had people managed to find the money for all that? It must have been an age of unbelievable luxury. Okay, computers were common enough. A reasonable one was probably about the same price as a reasonable dress, but she and Edith had to survive on just one income and there wasn't much left after rent, food and protection money.

Odile sometimes wondered how long Edith would continue to shelter her unemployed lover. She was painfully aware that she didn't contribute much towards the household bills, despite all those visits to factories and workshops where she might queue for hours in the hope of a day's work at piece rates. She was occasionally successful, but more often she returned home empty-handed. Perhaps Odile could do more. Edith deserved it. She could beg for a living, but the competition was intense and Odile wasn't disabled or physically incapacitated. She could sell herself on a more regular basis, but Edith wouldn't like that.

In truth, Odile knew she could always rely on Edith's love, just as much as Edith could rely on hers.

She eventually made her way back to the River Lune which was crowded with barges that carried most of the Republic's goods now that the roads were either dilapidated or prohibitively expensive. As usual, she had to squeeze through men at the quayside who assumed that all girls in Lancaster were eager for a quick lucrative fuck, especially a girl like Odile with grubby ankles and blackened soles dressed in a soiled threadbare dress. She walked along Cable Street and King Street, past the pubs, pawnshops, greengrocers and the new brothel that had opened on the site of an old playhouse. The sign outside the brothel read Duke's but as there were no dukes, duchesses or royalty any more it was entirely meaningless. Perhaps the customers were expected to be old enough to know the significance of such titles.

Odile continued past Lancaster Castle which was now used as a military fort and then past the railway station where steam trains were waiting for the wealthy few who could afford to travel in such luxury. It was a long time since Odile had travelled by train. That was a journey to Manchester when she needed an abortion, but the expense of the journey was worth it. If she'd relied on a backstreet abortion in Lancaster, she'd probably now be dead.

"You're back," said Edith sweetly when Odile pushed open the door of their small bedroom. She was sitting on the mattress under the patchwork duvet that covered her thighs but not her bare breasts. She was reading a second-hand paperback novel that judging from its battered appearance had been through at least a dozen previous owners. "What was the funeral like?"

"Very sad," said Odile. "Now I'm all alone. There's no one left in my family anymore."

Edith kissed her lover on the lips when she'd removed her dress and lay down under the duvet beside her.

"Don't forget my dearest," she said, "you'll never be alone while I'm here."

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