tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 39

No Future Ch. 39


Unto the Next Generation

It was barely a week now since Isobel and Alex had become the proud parents of a daughter. Isobel gave birth not long after arriving at the hospital and an anxious Alex endured only a few hours of anxiety in the waiting room.

The whole process had been very efficient and well-organised from beginning to end, as was everything associated with Isobel. Even the decision regarding the baby's name had been made months earlier.

"Iris," announced Isobel. "After her grandmother."

"I thought your mother's name was Amanda," said Alex.

"Amanda Iris," Isobel corrected him.

"Well, it's better than Tracey," said Alex, recalling his own mother's name.

The relationship between husband and wife became ever more intimate as the progress of Isobel's pregnancy steadily approached the point at which Alex had to fully accept that he would soon become a father. He didn't only have to look at Isobel's swollen belly to be reminded of his future paternity. His work colleagues took every opportunity to remind him of the paternity leave he was entitled to. Alex suspected the underlying motives for his colleagues' outwardly friendly concern, but he also knew that as his role at Ibex International wasn't at all demanding the company was unlikely to suffer much from his absence. One advantage in having a good excuse to take time off was that he would be at less risk of saying something that would betray his ignorance about the products that Ibex International manufactured and marketed.

"She's a beautiful girl," said Isobel as she cradled their wizened pallid daughter in her arms. "She has her father's nose."

"Really?" wondered Alex who could see no family resemblance at all.

Iris had a very limited repertoire. She cried, she gurgled, she burped and she repeatedly clutched her fingers around anything that could be clutched. When Iris wasn't eating or drinking or demanding that she should be, she gazed around her with huge eyes that suggested volumes of understanding but which Alex was sure were nothing more than empty receptacles as yet unable to recognise anyone other than her mother. What she liked doing most and which Alex, despite himself, found disturbingly erotic was fasten her mouth on Isobel's nipples and unselfconsciously gurgle away.

"How long will you be staying off work?" Isobel asked.

"As long as you want me to, sweetest," said Alex.

"How long will they let you? I've heard that a lot of businesses are cutting back on benefits like paternity leave."

"The government doesn't mandate companies to provide it anymore," said Alex. "It's discretionary now. It's just not available to most people. My contract allows me up to nine months paternity leave. I don't have to use it all in one go, of course. I can spread it out over the next five years."

"How is your new job? You don't seem to have to work so many long hours these days. In fact, you haven't worked late more than two nights a week for ages."

"It's more an executive rather than an administrative role," said Alex. "I don't need to monitor progress as closely as I used to."

However, that was rarely the reason Alex ever stayed away from home in the late evening. It was mostly for social reasons. When he was still at Reuters-Fox this entailed a drink or two in the pubs around his old office. In his new job, he not only had to get familiar with new drinking companions but also with new drinking holes.

His drinking companions no longer included Zara who Alex hadn't seen at all after his conversation with Theo, but otherwise they were quite akin to those at Reuters-Fox. They were mostly men. They were chiefly between the ages of thirty and fifty. And most of them had a long commute home after work where the stress of travel was rather less if the journey was delayed until well after the end of the rush hour. Nevertheless, in one critical way, his new companions were very different from those he used to know. Once it had been Alex who had to ingratiate himself with better positioned staff members. Now it was they who were trying to curry favour with him. This was a role reversal that Alex positively relished.

"Do you think I should return to work when I'm able?" Isobel asked.

Alex hadn't really considered this. In fact, he'd forgotten that Isobel even had a job. What was it again? Something to do with marketing. And where did Isobel work? Alex screwed up his face in the hope that it would make him look thoughtful and considerate while it primarily served to conceal his forgetfulness.

"It depends what you want to do, dear," said Alex. "I earn enough these days that you don't have to work if you don't want to."

"Of course I want to," said Isobel through gritted teeth. "You know how much I've studied and worked hard to make a career for myself."

"Of course," said Alex who was now wondering how best he could salvage the situation. "How long a break do you think you'll be allowed to take?"

"It's unpaid maternity leave," said Isobel. "A charity like Amnesty International can't afford to pay me for that any more. I can stay out of work for as long as I like, but they won't hold onto my job forever."

"No, I guess not," said Alex. Now that he wasn't working for a media company he'd lost touch with current events. The Tories hadn't yet been in power for even two years but they'd already made many radical changes. Alex was one of those who voted Conservative, of course. It would have been hypocritical to work for Reuters-Fox and not do so. Isobel had also voted for them. She'd been a natural Tory ever since her childhood in a rural England of upwardly mobile middle class neighbours and a culture of public schools, riding lessons and village fêtes. Amongst the many changes implemented by the Conservative-led coalition were more spending cuts as well as tax reductions and increased defence expenditure, along with an increasingly shrill anti-European rhetoric. One aspect of state interference whose rolling back was much applauded at Reuters-Fox was the reduction in workers' benefits such as maternity leave, social security and housing benefit. Alex guessed that Isobel must be a casualty of such necessary changes, but he didn't normally care very much about state benefits. Alex had done well out of the change of government. The salary he'd awarded himself was more than enough to cover his wife's loss of earnings. His income tax rate was only 15% and the threshold at which the 20% tax rate applied was set so high that almost no one actually paid it.

Alex was guiltily aware that he felt happier when he was able to leave his wife and daughter behind. He was sure that he should feel differently now he was a father, but a hospital wasn't a place where he felt relaxed. He was never sure of the right things to say to his wife. And, furthermore, he didn't yet have much of an emotional attachment for little Iris. Alex's paternal instincts weren't especially stirred by a baby that did nothing more than shit and piss out one end and cry and spew at the other. That much Alex remembered from the two parenting classes he'd managed to attend.

Alex felt restless when he returned to his five-bedroom detached house in Bromley. Thanks to his paternity leave he didn't need to get up early in the morning, so he unscrewed the top off a bottle of wine and sat in front of the television to watch a series of banal programs that he couldn't quite focus his mind on. He eventually despaired of trying to make much sense out of a situation comedy about a bunch of student radicals whose lives bore no relation to what he'd known when he'd attended university, so he switched the television over to Fox News UK.

It was another stream of paranoid ranting from Ken MacKenzie who was both praising the current Tory-led administration and attacking it for not being more true to what he considered to be core Conservative values. His panel of guests were all pretty much in agreement with everything the host had to say except for one that Alex identified as the token non-conservative. It was another ineffectual liberal who'd once strayed as far as nearly joining the Labour Party but still agreed with the general view regarding the need for further tax cuts and, of especial interest to Ken MacKenzie, for stemming the influx of illegal immigrants. Muslims were the worst kind, apparently, because their religion was all about terrorism and forcing women to wear the chador, although ever since the revolution in Saudi Arabia there weren't many nations other than Pakistan and Afghanistan that any longer actually imposed such customs.

Alex knew that professional pundits like Ken MacKenzie were paid to spew nonsense but nonetheless it was nonsense that made him feel a lot better. When he caught a plane to the United States, filled his car with petrol, and accepted tax cuts that made him so much better off than he would be otherwise, he was comforted by the knowledge that the right to such privileges was being defended by pundits who'd assert that he'd not done anything wrong and might even be acting virtuously. Alex was contributing in his small way to the struggle to roll back the socialist menace and the do-gooder green agenda that had stifled business and fatally damaged international competitiveness.

Alex was somewhat tiddly as he made his way through a second bottle of red wine that he didn't really enjoy quite as much as his first. Whatever he tried to focus on seemed to slip away from his grasp in the way he was familiar with after so many late pub nights. That went as much for Straight Talk with Ken MacKenzie as it did for the supposedly unbiased news on the BBC.

That was the usual depressing stuff, of course. There must have been a time when there wasn't yet another crisis going on somewhere or other. On the home front, there were the never-ending demonstrations against spending cuts. These were clearly a waste of time. Government spending was continuing to shrink every year and no amount of demonstrations made the slightest difference. Abroad, there was the ominous sabre-rattling between the Chinese, the Indians and the increasingly unhinged Americans. As America's hold on its position as the world's largest economy became ever more precarious and its debts became increasingly unmanageable, the nation compensated for its diminishing prestige by bluster and appalling stupidity.

It was noteworthy indeed when even Ken MacKenzie doubted whether President Ingraham was in full control of her mental faculties.

And when it wasn't war, it was famine and plague in countries Alex had never heard of and were probably only a few years old anyway; flooding or drought in random corners of the globe; riots in Eastern Asia; forest fires in South America; and nuclear fusion accidents in Canada. Even the light entertainment news was depressing. Alex cared very little about the boy bands and other teen sensations whose anodyne misadventures were related in excruciating detail. What had happened to the age when pop stars took drugs and got into trouble with the law?

The phone rang.

Shit! Who could it be? It was already past midnight.

Alex picked up the phone but he could already see from the call sign that it was Karen. She was the girl he'd picked up a few days ago after the drinks outing that marked his last day of work before his paternity leave began. His first moment of infidelity for several years. How could he have been so stupid? And he'd left his telephone number as well.

"Not a good idea phoning me at home," he slurred.

"Why not?" answered Karen. How old was she? At least ten years younger than him, that was for sure.

"You do know I'm married, don't you?"

There was a pause. Then there came the question: "Is your wife there?"

"No," said Alex. "She usually is. But not at the moment."

"Well, that's alright then," Karen said.

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