tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 51

No Future Ch. 51


The Streets of London
Molly & Mark

At long last the good times had returned.

The economy was booming and there were more jobs, more money and more international confidence. And if it wasn't an economic boom for the whole Kingdom of England, it was undoubtedly a boom for those employed in the Docklands and the City of London. Although England's financial capital could no longer be ranked with New York or Tokyo, it was a comfort that something remained of the Square Mile's historic significance in the new world order. Frankfurt might dominate Europe as Beijing dominated Asia. And despite competition from Toronto, New York still dominated the Americas. But among the lesser financial centres, London could still punch above the nation's weight.

Life was much better for Mark and Molly now. Mark was working as a researcher on automobiles and alternative fuels for a Korean investment fund. Molly was employed as a legal secretary for an international law firm whose workload had increased as a result of the complications associated with the repatriation of foreign assets: an unexpected side-effect of recent anti-immigration legislation. The couple now had enough set aside to enable them to exchange their depressing one-bedroom flat in the run-down Dagenham tower block for a much nicer apartment in Islington. Unfortunately, they still weren't in a position to buy their home. The improvement in London's economy was also associated with a fresh scarcity in affordable housing. The time when neither of them had well-paid jobs was also the time when house-prices were low enough that they might have been able to afford to return to the housing market with their current income. Now they were once again in proper salaried employment the elusive goal of home ownership receded once more. But at least there was little chance of the flood waters seeping along Balls Pond Road.

Monica was transferred from her school in East London where she'd belonged to an oppressed minority by virtue of being both middle-class and white. Although white children were in a minority at her school, no other single ethnic group was in the majority either. She was now a pupil at a much nicer middle-class school in Islington that also demanded exorbitant annual fees. Even so, Molly and Mark couldn't deny their daughter a decent education. What hope would there otherwise be for their flesh and blood?

Although Molly no longer needed to travel to work by tube, it wasn't yet four years since her unfortunate miscarriage on the Bakerloo Line and she was still nervous about travelling underground. There weren't many stops between Essex Road and Moorgate where her City law firm was based, but she still dreaded the overcrowding and delays. Not only had these got no better in the intervening years, they'd become substantially worse since the economy had begun to pick up again. Thankfully, Molly was able to travel by bus almost directly to her office, so even though she often had to stand all the way at least she wasn't trapped in a claustrophobic subterranean metal tube.

Mark had invested in a bicycle which was not only appropriate for a man who made a living from research into alternative fuels, but also meant that he arrived at his Docklands office nearly quarter of an hour sooner than Molly even though his journey was more than twice as long. It was a daily commute in which he had to dodge more rickshaws and pony-traps than cars. London's streets were dominated more by buses, taxis and vans than by privately owned motor cars. Only the most ostentatious were able to afford such luxury items. It gave the message that the driver was both wealthy enough to afford an expensive vehicle and able to meet the prohibitive expense of motor insurance, fuel and London's parking fees.

The love between Mark and Molly blossomed with their improved financial security. It was almost as if they were newlyweds once more rather than a couple who'd lived together—married and otherwise—for more than twelve years.

"It's been a very long time," said Mark as he lay on his back when the two had made love in the bedroom they no longer had to share with their seven year old daughter. "Who'd have believed we'd last so long?"

"Whatever made you think we wouldn't?" laughed Molly who hoped that her tone would disguise any anxiety that accompanied her words. What did Mark know that he'd never let on before? Or was he a less virtuous husband than she thought?

"Oh, I don't know," said Mark. "You know: unemployment, shitty jobs, and all that sort of stuff. You must have got bored out of your skull when you were unemployed in Greenfields. I've heard that plenty of relationships fall apart through far less."

"We're made of sterner stuff," said Molly.

"I know," said Mark appreciatively.

Good, thought Molly. Her husband really didn't suspect a thing. Of course he needn't have had any doubts when they lived in Dagenham. What opportunities were there between work shifts and child care? In any case, the oafish youths and depressed adults in the apartment block didn't present a very tempting choice to Molly's wandering eyes. And these days...?

Well, her sex life with Mark was better than Molly had any right to expect. He might no longer be as slim or handsome as he was over a decade before when they'd got married, but Molly had also aged. She'd probably have preserved her complexion better if she'd not spent a year behind a frying basket of synthetic fish with fancy names like Krispy Kod, Whitegrain Haddock and Creamed Bream. To the punters they were just white meat of a uniform consistency in fried batter. Molly chose never to speculate on what these things looked like when they were alive, if they could ever have been described as such.

Not only were the couple enjoying a second spring between the bedsheets they were at last able to enjoy the benefits of living so close to Central London and all the pubs, restaurants, theatres, night clubs, parks and the glamour of what had once been one of the great cities of the world. Even now there was the legacy of greatness although the word 'British' had been banished and a red cross on a white background had none of the resonant glory of the Union Flag. On the other hand, there was still the Royal Family. Although the Kingdom was no longer United under the same government, the disparate states of the British Isles were still United under one Crown. Indeed, the Commonwealth, shorn now of its original epithet, still had the King of England at its head. Or the King of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as was now his official title.

It was good to pace Oxford Street, Charing Cross Road, Regent Street and Piccadilly and to feel part of London's long proud history. Although it was no longer one of the biggest, most populous nor even wealthiest cities in the world, neither were Rome, Istanbul or New York. Like London, those cities had also known days of glory and were still able to attract what few tourists were still left in a world of prohibitively expensive international travel.

Mark and Molly were scarcely rich, although they were far better off than they had been a year before. They could now afford to eat out in cheap restaurants. They could afford to take their daughter to the museums and the parks.

"Should we borrow money for a deposit on a mortgage?" wondered Molly as the couple walked past the windows of estate agents on Upper Street and longingly regarded the advertised houses and flats.

"We can't afford to buy in Islington," said Mark sadly. "We'd be hard pushed even in those parts of Dagenham that are above the flood-line. The outer suburbs are the most we can afford and then we'd have the horrible commute again."

"Perhaps we should just push ourselves to the limit," said Molly. "House prices are just going up and up. If we don't buy now we may never be able to do so again."

"Not yet," said Mark cautiously. "We won't be able to put down enough for a deposit for a long time and no bank will lend us money so soon after we defaulted on our home in Greenfields. Maybe prices will drop again and then we can buy."

Molly nodded although after their recent rough experience she still feared that this new prosperity might vanish as quickly and suddenly as it had before. Just how firm were the foundations of the current economic boom? Molly was no economist, but since economists always got it so spectacularly wrong she wasn't sure they could be trusted either. However, she did know that the Kingdom of England had lost so much international credit in the last few years as a result of the Disunification and relied so heavily on the export of services rather than manufacturing that it was hard to believe that that the economy's foundations weren't so feeble that it wouldn't just collapse on a whim of traders in the Beijing or Frankfurt Stock Exchanges. What did they care about the hopes and prayers of people like Mark and Molly in far distant London?

It was pleasant for the couple to stroll hand in hand with little Monica on the Thames Embankment although these days you could only see the river at all if you took the precipitous walk along the top of the high wall by the bank. This was a barrier that was elevated ever higher after every fresh flood. The wall was now twelve metres high in parts of the City and Docklands, although it wasn't quite so high in Westminster. The pavements adjacent to the Thames were in constant shadow as were the ground floors of the neighbouring buildings. This was the greatest change to London's cityscape since the couple's childhood, but they were comforted by the knowledge that similar river defences were being built in almost every great city in the world, especially New York where the island of Manhattan was now wholly enclosed by concrete.

As they walked along they could glimpse the Houses of Parliament behind the barricades that the Government of English National Unity had erected in its defence. This was ironic because their period of tenure was the time that parliament had been suspended for the longest time since the seventeenth century. The couple could also see the Millennium Wheel. It was a reminder that they were nearly three quarters the way through the first century of the new millennium: a time which so far had seen so much wasted promise, unstoppable climate change and two nuclear wars.

Molly considered this as the couple sat on the wall and looked at the impressive symbol of the third millennium that no longer turned and cast a shadow over the hotels and apartments that occupied the site of what had once been London's County Hall.

"Do you think there'll be another nuclear war?" she asked her husband.

"Why should there be?" Mark wondered. "Wasn't the last one bad enough?"

"That was nearly thirty years ago. Perhaps we're due for another one."

"I certainly hope not. Where do you think it might happen? It's very unstable in what used to be known as the United States."

"I can't imagine that the Confederates or whatever they call themselves will want to lob missiles at their close neighbours. Radiation doesn't respect national borders."

"That didn't stop the war between India and Pakistan over ownership of the Kashmir," said Mark. "Not that anyone would choose to live in the Kashmir these days."

"Or in Tashkent," said Molly. "Perhaps it'll be in that corner of the world again. The Israelis have been getting bolshie recently. You saw how they bombed Damascus. What would stop them going just one step further?"

"Hasn't the Middle East suffered enough?" wondered Mark. "Let's hope you're wrong. Let's just celebrate the present. Things are looking up at the moment. Let's enjoy it while it lasts."

"Let's hope it lasts forever," said Molly as she squeezed her husband's hand and planted an affectionate kiss on his lips. "We have so much to make up for after the last two horrible years."

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