tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 87

No Future Ch. 87


The Food of Love

The demo wasn't originally going to be anything more than a protest. It was meant to be just one of the many other demonstrations that had grown steadily in number and frequency and extent over the last few weeks. The banners were unfurled. The paraphernalia of protest such as masks, tents and protective padding were all in place. But today the event Iris was taking part in wasn't a protest at all.

It was, at long last, a celebration.

The Government of National Unity had fallen. The most unpopular and universally despised government in English history, or at least since the rules of King James the Second or King John, was now no more. Ivan Eisenegger had offered his resignation to His Majesty the King of England, Scotland and a host of other places that were no longer either in the long defunct British Empire or the more recently dissolved United Kingdom. Nobody was at all surprised that King Edward the Ninth accepted the resignation. There would almost certainly have been a complete collapse of the very institution of monarchy if he'd shown any hesitation. There was already a widespread suspicion that the monarch had been complicit in keeping the Government of National Unity in power far beyond its statutory five year term and had even been sympathetic to its reactionary agenda. But, irrespective of whatever opinions the King privately held, he had to appear even-handed given that he was also the titular Head of State of the independent and almost openly hostile governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Iris had partied hard many times in her life. When she was younger partying hard was something she did pretty much on a weekly basis. These were what now seemed the happy days of innocence before what had at first looked like just another Tory-led coalition evolved into something rather more sinister. Nevertheless, as an undergraduate biotechnology student she had to temper an enthusiasm for drugs, drink, sex and excess with the need to get up in the morning and work in the lab. During the long years of Ivan Eisenegger's premiership and his government's virtual dictatorship, the opportunities for even an occasional debauch happened on occasions that were fewer and further between. So much had become illegal or actively discouraged, except for those with money and connections, that it was difficult to be sure which new law she was about to break. Night clubs were closed down. Nightly curfews became increasingly common. Any gathering of a dozen or so people instantly attracted the unwelcome attention of the police.

And now after all the dismal years of austerity, oppression and dreary mean-spiritedness Iris had the opportunity to party hard in a way that had been impossible for almost a decade: the best years of a young girl's life. Iris wasn't so young now. She was well into her thirties and she wondered just how well she could keep the promise she'd made to herself to dance, drink and blow out to the very limits of medical advisability. She was already flagging and it was still less than a day since the first tentative signs of change had been heralded by instant messages, bulletin boards and word-of-mouth.

It had been a huge effort to protest for so long, despite the generally mild spring sunshine and the cushioning mass of thousands upon thousands of fellow protestors. It was Trafalgar Square that had been London's main focus for protest. Over the last few weeks it had more or less become Iris' home. It wasn't that she had much else to do, of course. She had no job to go to. But then who did these days? All the expenditure on her education had been wasted and the government's employment initiatives were fizzling out as the funds to provide something that approximated to worthwhile work was diverted to other more pressing concerns. And nowadays these were to prop up the mostly foreign-owned banks, cut corporation taxes yet further in the forlorn hope that this policy might yet stimulate a recovery, and bolster up the fractious and discontented armed forces.

However, as the extent of the protests grew there also came a mounting sense of inevitability about it all. At first, it seemed very unlikely that peaceful protest could ever bring down a government that was by no means reluctant to employ an extraordinary array of weapons to suppress revolt. Every day Iris expected the tanks to roll down Whitehall and the Strand and to crush her nylon tent along with all the hundreds of others camped outside the Church of St Martin's in the Fields. She felt almost embarrassed by it all. She wasn't a natural protestor. In truth, she didn't really believe passionately in anything very much. She had a general view that something should be done about the despoliation of the environment, the extreme weather conditions, the galloping inequality, and the crackdown on civil liberties, but she wasn't especially sure what that action should be and just how far it should go.

Then the massed voices of discontent became emboldened and either voiced sympathy for the protests or actually joined in. What was strange was the universal extent to which English people all of a sudden agreed that they wanted to see the demise of Ivan Eisenegger's government. The opposition came not only from self-professed radicals, revolutionaries and malcontents. The number of protestors was swollen by vicars, priests and preachers. By judges, solicitors and barristers. By journalists, actors and musicians. By mechanics, engineers and middle managers. By professionals, executives and manual workers. From every class, every region and every socio-economic group. What was most peculiar was that many people who Iris had assumed were the natural friends and allies of the government became increasingly vocal in their complaints. It was these people that both attracted the most hope amongst the protestors and generated the most despair amongst the government's apologists.

Even the government's natural constituency—conservatives, nationalists and business leaders—had decided that enough was enough. Although many of Iris' old friends and by far the majority of her new friends living in the tents erected around Nelson's Column and outside the National Gallery were convinced that these turncoats were merely bending with the wind and had chosen to follow the prevailing trend, Iris wasn't so sure it was quite as simple as that. A better strategy for a hypocrite would surely be to stay quiet until after a change of government rather than voice their discontent before where there was still a possibility that they would be caught out of step with events. But even the conservative establishment had reason to complain. What had happened to traditional English values? What right did an English government have to irrevocably change the nation's principles of governance without submitting itself to the popular vote? Were the legislators of the realm somehow above the law? Shouldn't there have been at least one General Election by now?

Was there any way that a conservative or a nationalist could plausibly plead that the Government of National Unity had been a success? The United Kingdom was no longer united. England had fewer international friends and allies than it had ever had in its long history. The economy was now in a much worse state than it had been a decade ago. The reach of the law no longer extended as far as the ordinary people. Not one of the government's targets had been achieved, with the sole exception of the draconian immigration policy that Fox News UK contended had still not gone far enough and which had contributed more than anything else to the extinction of the United Kingdom and the decline in the nation's economy.

The protests had worked.

Iris still had to pinch herself to believe it. The slogans which only yesterday were calls for the government to resign and for so many wrongs to be righted was now centred around the single sigh of relief and solid determination: 'Never Again!'

And never again was what Iris truly hoped for. Never again should a government tear up the consensual agreement that characterised the English alternative to a written constitution and replace it with a series of drastic reactionary measures whose appeal was primarily to the basest chauvinistic and nationalist sentiments, cheered on all the way by the majority of the media and supported by the bottomless pockets of billionaires whose patriotism never extended to actually paying English taxes or spending much time on English soil. Never again should so many people surrender with so little struggle to the loss of the basic human freedoms of speech, movement and expression.

Never again.

Of course it could never happen again. The nation that Iris once knew no longer existed and she was now a citizen of the Kingdom of England whose image had been forged by the despised and now deposed government. Could life now return to how it was before?

The nightmare was now over. Iris stood in the crowd under the constant drizzle of brightly coloured paper streamers: a spliff in one hand, a bottle of red wine in the other and still higher than the paper kites that flew up above her with crude caricatures of Eisenegger, Esterhazy, Eaglecliffe and Eastwick. Every now and then she'd erupt in a cry of ecstasy as a wave of celebration rolled over the thousands upon thousands of protestors, well-wishers and celebrators who jammed up Central London from Piccadilly Circus to Aldwych and from Leicester Square to the Embankment.

Ensuring that the event was happening and keeping it live was the constant thump and rhythm of dance music that echoed from speakers positioned all around central London that was there to represent the multitudinous sound systems of the Kingdom. Occasionally the beat was interrupted by the cacophony of a rock group, the clatter of an alt-folk group or one of the many kinds of English music that had struggled to survive in a philistine culture where the most talented music-makers were the ones most likely to have been deported or imprisoned. This was the long-awaited liberation of the underground, alternative, independent music scenes, many of which had only become so because the prevailing culture was so utterly unsympathetic to anything whose beats, rhythms or messages were neither familiar nor reassuring. And fuck it! it was good to dance again knowing that no security guard or policeman would dampen down the excitement. No one would be smashing up the amps and trashing the sound systems. No one would be laying into the dancers with truncheons or tear gas. The DJ was giving it large and no fucker was going to stop him until he'd dropped every last beat and smashed it to the max.

When the news broke that the Prime Minister had at last done the decent thing Iris was in her tent huddled up with Stuart, a guy she'd met on the protests and who'd now moved his sleeping bag into the comfy claustrophobic space of Iris' mountain tent.

"Resignation!" said Stuart with an arched eyebrow. "The bastard should have fallen on his sword."

"Metaphorically he has," said Iris.

She listened as the news spread across the squatted spaces of Trafalgar Square from tent to tent and from person to person. Iris heard the news on the EBC News which had become the only trusted voice in the Kingdom of England after all other independent voices had been suppressed and subsumed. The breaking news being broadcast across the bottom of the screen was what she now realised she'd been hoping and praying for almost every day of her adult life.

And now it had happened she wasn't sure what she should do.

"I guess we've got to celebrate," said Stu.

"We've got plenty of time to do that later," said Iris with a cheeky smile. "What I most want to do now is to fuck."

Stu was alarmed. The two had never fully consummated their friendship and he'd almost certainly come to believe that they never would.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

After the years in which Iris had only ever agreed to have sex reluctantly and with no real enthusiasm, the years in which all amorousness was compromised and tarnished by her memories of having worked as a prostitute, the years in which she'd never been able to let herself truly go, she was now as sure as she'd ever be.

"Fuck it!" she said. "What better way is there to celebrate the good news?"

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