Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Mr and Mrs Micawber (story 5)

This is the fifth installment of the 'appendix' to my post Shadows of Science: finding a new voice ...

By the time their meal was over, a typically warm evening had turned into tepid darkness. Nothing of what ought to have been said across the small gingham-covered table-for-two near the back of the little café had actually been broached. Although both had hinted, neither of them wanted to be the first to cross the threshold; neither had the courage to follow through. It had to happen though, sooner or later, and both knew that it ought to be sooner. Without identifiable conscious choice, let alone explicit agreement, they walked – slowly, side by side, drifting inevitably towards the gardens in the leisure octant. It was as though they were characters in a silent movie or unwary sailors of old, lured onto the rocks by the irresistible call of the Sirens.

In most towns and cities of old municipal gates would have been padlocked shut before sunset, but not here. Senior City had no need of fences or gates within its skin. Giant fuzzy-edged lily pads of moonlight were created on the winding path by the ubiquitous motion-sensitive lamps. As though on auto-pilot, which in a sense they were, Emma and Wilkins reached the one seat they had habitually used since it had all begun so many months ago. The bench, in a polymer finished so that it resembled the sun-bleached elm they might have recalled from former days, faced the model boating lake and was shielded to the rear by dwarf fruit trees and a dense undergrowth of grasses and ferns. If they sat perfectly still, the moon would go out in a couple minutes; they sat perfectly still.

Senior City comprised, in essence, eight pods each of which was tethered to the service hub by an umbilical cord and to their neighbours either side via causeways within a sort of bellows arrangement reminiscent of the walkways between carriages in old-style trains. From a distance it looked like an overly engineered bicycle wheel, not that many residents had ever seen it other than in digital images of course as their shuttle had only a few tiny portholes. The pods had three levels, one upon the other – not that ‘up’ had quite the same intuitive meaning in the context of this giant rotating space station they now had to call home. Emma and Wilkins lived in the central level, which was regarded as being by far the best by virtue of its relative spaciousness and safety – and not a little marketing in Wilkins’ opinion. Constructed with a diameter of half a kilometre, and rotating around the hub once every minute or so, its effective gravity was only about two thirds of that felt on Earth. The load placed on the heart and the rest of the body was correspondingly reduced. However, these benefits came at a price and thereby gave rise to their problem. It had all seemed worth it of course, given Emma’s degenerative medical condition, which is why they had sold everything and leased their suite there.

It was Emma who broke the silence. She did so with only the slightest tilt of the head towards her partner of almost 16 years: a man who had offered such a safe and secure existence after the trauma that ended her first marriage. The ‘moon’ stayed off; only the background light from a myriad LED stars separated them from complete darkness and reconfirmed to each the presence of the other.
“I really don’t want to move Wilky. I love our rooms, especially being so close to the park. We have nice neighbours and I’ve made friends. I’m content there. I just don’t want to move again; I’m not sure I can stand more upheaval.”

“I know my sweet, and maybe it won’t come to it, but we have to think ahead and be realistic. We only have our pensions coming in and it’s not enough is it?”

“But we had all that money from selling the business and the house, and our other savings – we always knew we’d have to use it to top up the pension so I don’t understand …”
Her voice tailed off, but Wilkins, being the man he was, couldn’t tell whether she was sad, angry, disappointed, confused or something else altogether. He stayed silent for a few seconds, hoping that inspiration would come. It didn’t. He wanted to get across to her his discomfort at watching their funds trickle away – all those memories of a childhood spent in resentment at the lavish impulse-spending of his parents in the face of the shame of longer-term crippling debt – but he wanted to be able to do it without sounding irrational. Then there was the thread he dare not pull but which kept snagging on his thoughts, threatening to come adrift without warning or restraint even as he tried so hard to ignore it. He’d done the sums. He knew precisely how long it would be until their reserves were exhausted, and that this was an optimistic projection given the likelihood of more price rises for food and services. Emma had done well in Senior City; she seemed so much stronger. That was good, no, it was wonderful – but it meant they’d need to stay solvent for longer and that was the real issue.

What did his ex-journalist buddy tell him they used to say in the old days? ‘If in doubt, leave it out.’ Doubt filled him, and it drove goodness knows what else around his head. The words that came out would do nothing to assuage his money-troubled thoughts or redeem his broken sleep, but there was a sort of demon guilt which would, if not propitiated, assault him with a fear of hurting her – and that was far, far more serious.
“I’ll tell you what, why don’t we get a pass and do some exploring. We’ll think of it as a walking holiday to the inner and outer levels, just to see what they look like and get the measure of them. It’ll be a change. We might find we like it, or we might decide that it makes our level seem even better. Who knows; it’ll be a little adventure; no harm in that is there?”

Emma thought for a while, toying with her own long-resident demon of rejection and of the associated fear of change and the unknown; she’d still not fully got past the huge transition of coming here, surely she deserved a little peace now. Wilky had been so good to her though, and she knew only too well that he had sacrificed a lot for her.
“Just a change of route for our stroll then; exploring; nothing more. Do you mean it?”

He really did mean it as they sat side by side on their bench under the faux starlight. Only later, during the waking hours before dawn was initiated, would the old thoughts re-surface and jab at his soul. Maybe she’ll take a liking to the other levels, maybe the money will last until …

© R.J. Newport, 14/2/17

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