No Future Ch. 67bybradley_stoke©
Give Unto Others
The remuneration for a day's work was meagre. It amounted to nothing more than the use of a second-hand blanket and a meal that was double the size of what Odile normally had to eat. That was all. But it was something.
Edith was helping to boil a pot of stew on a stove, while Odile doled it out into wooden bowls that were greedily snatched from her by desperate supplicants in the long queue that stretched ahead of her. This queue had started to form well before dawn and many of the hungry and needy had been waiting for hours.
"How's it going?" asked Roland cheerfully. He was the old man who'd organised the soup kitchen in Lancaster after thugs had burnt down a similar enterprise in London. This was an inferno in which dozens of helpless patients were incinerated. As Roland frequently reminded Odile and the others who occasionally worked for him, things might be bad in Lancaster but they were much worse in London. Odile wondered whether Roland was just saying that to comfort people who usually saw a capital city on television that still had expensive shops, art galleries and public monuments. Was it really so bad in England's distant far south? Odile wasn't sure. She'd never even been as far south as Manchester.
There was a television pinned to the soup kitchen wall tuned to a news channel despite the many complaints from those queuing. They'd rather watch a quiz show or a situation comedy that showed a life of indescribable luxury led by middle-class families affluent enough to live in a gated community. What made matters worse was that Roland insisted on screening news from the EBC which was a television company that currently attracted only a small percentage of the national audience. And this was for good reason. The EBC News had few of the exciting graphics and pulsating music that enlivened the news on Sky England. There were too many depressing news items about famine and drought, often happening in countries no one had ever heard of, and not enough about celebrities and television talent shows. Indeed, at the same time as Odile was ladling out soup, the newscaster was droning on about the recent conflict in Virginia between England's ally, the Republic of North America, and their mutual enemy, the rump USA known officially as the Northern Unites States.
"Do you think it'll be the big one?" asked a man with as good as no teeth at all and an overcoat that consisted of more threadbare patches than any of its original mohair.
"The big one?" wondered Odile.
"You know: when the bombs go up and we all die," he said.
"That'll never happen," said Roland cheerfully as he hovered behind Odile. "No one could be so stupid as to bring the whole of human civilisation to an end. It's taken us tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years to get here. Who'd want to wipe it all out in a single day of utter madness?"
"That's what they said about Israel," said an elderly woman who'd already got her soup and was dipping a large chunk of freshly baked bread into it. "Look what happened to Jerusalem. Not to mention Damascus and Bethlehem. It's still glowing from radiation after nearly forty years. And I bet that's what they said in India, Kyrgyzstan and the Ukraine before that."
"It's different this time," said another man who was standing several people behind in the queue. "The Americans have got more missiles than the rest of the world put together. It's the one thing the yanks were good at building. Now they're pointing them at each other instead of at the Russkies or the Chinese or the Iranians."
"Let's hope some of them are pointed at the fucking Scots," said another man in the queue. "I don't trust the Scots not to start another bloody war. They're always sneaking people into England, but they don't let any immigrant scum out."
"Let's not get into an argument," said Roland hastily, who knew only too well how much more impassioned the discussion could get. "We all know that the Scots wouldn't want to bomb England however much our government antagonises them. Radiation clouds can blow north as much as they can south."
"Well, I'm glad we kept our fucking nukes," the last man said. "Perhaps if we'd used them already, the Scots and the Irish and the rest wouldn't keep humiliating us."
"We've got a wider choice on the menu," said Roland raising his voice over the conversation. "We've got two soups now. There's Leek and Potato Soup. And there's Vegetable."
"No meat though," said someone in the queue. "I ain't had no meat for ages."
"There's no real meat anywhere anyway anymore," said another. "It's all GM crap. When's the last time anyone here could ever afford real meat?"
Odile wasn't sure. But each discontented voice quietened down after she'd ladled out the soup and the supplicant shuffled to one side to gulp it down under the canvas shelter outside the battered old cafe that housed Roland's soup kitchen. All the while above Odile's head the newsreaders gave a litany of yet more depressing news about the world's woes. Was it any wonder that the people queuing up for food would rather watch a cartoon of the ever-popular Rodney Rat or the top-rated show Who Wants to be a Billionaire? where contestants competed with each other to win enough to afford, for instance, a trip of a lifetime to the Scilly Isles.
"This isn't going to be enough," said Edith, when Odile joined her girlfriend many hours later after the last drop of soup had been ladled out and the volunteer workers could tuck into more than two thousand calories of much-needed nutrition. "The blankets help, but how're we gonna pay our rent?"
"You know the answer to that," said Odile who mimed a huge cock being shoved down her throat.
"Ruben can only have so many blowjobs a day," said Edith. "We're not the only girls he's got as tenants and a lot of the others are just as desperate as us."
"We look better and give better head," said Odile.
Nevertheless, she had to admit that her lover had a point. What had once been a special treat for the landlord when the girls were skint had become a rather regular offering. How much longer could Odile trade her cock-sucking skills for a crappy mattress in a draughty room without even a hearth to light a fire? And where would they go if they had to leave?
"You can stay here at the soup kitchen," said Roland with a cheeky smile. "And you won't have to fellate me either."
"What's that word mean?" wondered Odile, while Edith nudged her.
"What would we have to do?" Edith asked more diplomatically.
"Just sleep here and make sure that no one breaks into the kitchen at night," said Roland. "We've had several break-ins already. They've not amounted to much really. A stolen mattress. A medical kit. A basket of fruit. But we operate on a very low margin. All the money we get through donations goes to keeping the place open."
"What would we do if someone broke in?" Odile asked.
"I dunno," said Roland. "Scream. Shout. Throw things at them. It doesn't matter. No thief would break in here if they wanted something valuable. They'd break into the big houses on the hill where the old University used to be. Just having someone here is sufficient deterrent for most thieves."
"We're a bit behind in the rent," said Edith thoughtfully. "We could move in straightaway. Do we have to bring our own mattress?"
"Not unless you're particularly fond of it," said Roland. "We've got several mattresses here. As long as you don't mind the fact that the last people to sleep on them also died on them, they should be fine."
The girls agreed, although the space available to them on the soup kitchen floor was actually less than that in their old apartment and they'd have to be out of bed on those hours when the soup kitchen was open. There'd no longer be an opportunity to make love together in the afternoon and they'd have to be very wary about inviting over friends to share their company, but it compared well to being kicked out by Ruben and forced to sleep on the street.
"I don't like what's happening in Virginia," said Edith during the night after the couple had expended their bonus calories in carnal pleasure.
"Fuck! You're not still bothered about that shit," said Odile with exasperation. "America's thousands of kilometres away. It'd take days to get there by ship."
"Or seconds by nuclear warhead..."
"Always the cheerful one, aren't you?" said Odile. "The Republicans might be our allies, but they're just posturing arseholes. They're just trying to get extra aid from the Northern United States for the famine that devastated Arizona."
"That's on the border of the Western Union, sweetie," said Edith. "You'd expect them to invade California or Mexico if they wanted aid for Arizona. Anyway, they've got all the brothels and casinos out there so they don't want to lose foreign tourists even if they only speak Spanish."
"Well, I dunno," said Odile whose sense of geography was always rather vague. "But it'd take a lot for the Northern States to rise to the bait. And the Canadians would have a thing or two to say if their impoverished southern neighbours started lobbing missiles at each other. Imagine what it would do to the Canadian wheat-fields."
"I'm surprised you even know where Canada is," said Edith who was nonetheless impressed by her lover's show of erudition. "But I am worried. It's not just the Americans. There are the Chinese and our allies: the Russians and Indonesians. Then there's us, of course. The English. We're surrounded by our enemies, like the Scots, the French and the Irish. All our allies in Europe are in the Mediterranean Union, which is more North African and Muslim than European and Christian. It's a mess. The whole world's like a crazy quilt with nuclear warheads all along the seams and every time there's another plague or famine or drought or earthquake you wonder whether someone's just going to let rip."
"You worry too much, Edith," said Odile. She kissed her girlfriend tenderly on the lips. "Let's just enjoy our last night on this mattress together. We won't have to be bothered any more about that rusty spring that pokes into your arse."
"And you won't have to suck Ruben's cock anymore," Edith reminded her.
"That as well," said Odile. "So fuck, Honeypot. Spread your legs. I just can't get enough of you. Even after all these years."