“Beth! Come here. You need to see this.”
Beth leaned closer to the dressing table mirror and checked her forehead for wrinkles.
On Monday she’d start work at Relative Industries, and by Friday she’d be five years older.
Five years older in five days.
She faked a smile and examined her laugh lines. Then she grabbed the tube of anti-wrinkle cream, squeezed out an inch and dabbed white blobs around her blue-grey eyes. It was Saturday. She massaged the cream in. It was too late to fret now.
Jason called from the sitting room again. “Come here! Watch the news.”
Beth groaned. What was so important? She pushed herself up from the dressing table, yanked the belt of her red-velour robe tighter and strode out of the bedroom.
The sight of the garish yellow paint in the living room made her shudder. A compromise gone way too far, she now admitted. Jason wore his England rugby jersey. His tall stocky frame teetered on the edge of the sofa. She noticed the coffee cup in his hand and wondered if he’d made her one.
“Isn’t that the company that sponsors your Ph.D?” he asked, nodding at the sixty inch TV mounted on the wall.
Beth sat by his side. An acrid chemical taste settled in the back of her throat. He’d overdone it with the cologne again, preparing for the after-rugby party no doubt.
“When are you going out?” She shook a hand through her damp hair; it was already drying curly.
“Ten minutes. Watch this.” Jason played the broadcast, and a news reporter continued his commentary.
What started out as a peaceful demonstration outside the gates of Relative Industries this morning ended in several arrests after protestors threw fire bombs.
Beth turned the volume up. The demonstration had turned into a riot. Was it ever peaceful?
Police with riot helmets and shields rushed from black vans. They formed a defensive line and edged towards the mob of protestors. Rubber bullets and smoke bombs were shot into the crowd while air missiles stuffed with flaming rags skated across the sky back towards the police line. Demonstrators covered their faces and trampled over abandoned signs of protest to escape the smoke. But away from the smoky haze others continued to provoke the police with angry taunts and more missiles.
The image cut to military guards patrolling behind a razor wire topped fence, machine guns strapped across their bodies.
Beth’s eyes were transfixed on the screen.
Jason paused the TV. “Well, is it?”
She forced a neutral expression. “Yes, it is. What do they say? You can’t please all the people all the time.”
“Bloody hell! It’s a military facility. The guards have machine guns. What are they demonstrating about?”
“It’s partly government owned, but certain companies rent space inside. I’m not sure those riot scenes were filmed outside Relative Industries. They could’ve been filmed anywhere.”
“How do you know? You’ve never been to RI, have you?”
“Well, no, not yet. It’s only been operational for three months on that site.”
“So, what are you saying? It’s fake news. I bet you’ve got the company logo tattooed on you somewhere or running through you like a stick of rock.”
“If they are demonstrating outside RI, it’s because of something they don’t understand.”
She lowered her voice. “It might be about the children born inside.”
Jason raised his eyebrows.
“If a woman gets pregnant while she’s working inside RI, she can choose to give birth to her child in there. So a child born inside can reach eighteen in what seems like just under three weeks. It is odd. Tell your mum on the outside you’ve given birth and then a few weeks later the kid is eighteen. The protestors might think it’s an abuse of a child’s human rights.
“They don’t realise the child lived eighteen years inside. There’s nurseries, schools, hospitals, basically everything that’s available outside is available inside. It’s probably better than outside: small class sizes, no hospital appointment waiting lists.”
She rewound the news and played it again. “The protestors look young. The ones who haven’t bothered to cover their faces, that is. They might actually be the kids born inside who’ve just got out and realised there’s a big bad world out there. They might be trying to break back in!”
“This keeps getting better. Are you still going in after seeing that?”
“I don’t want you to go.”
“I have to go. Climate change is getting worse. But we could make real progress in RI in months.”
“You haven’t got months in there. How old would you be if you stayed inside for a month?”
“I’ll be away five days, not a month. It’s only a three-hour drive away. If you miss me, you can come and see me, but you won’t even notice I’ve gone.”
“I thought you’d change your mind about going in. What if there’s no way to control the climate? What if there’s no Disney ending?”
“I want to try. How will I tell the grandkids that bed-time story? Once upon a time Earth wasn’t a greenhouse. For a very long time all the people in the land had hoped-their-very-hardest it would go away while they continued to pump out shit loads of C02.”
“You might never have a child!”
“Why shouldn’t I? I tested negative for the virus. Why would you say that?”
He took her hand and looked at her for a moment. He must have known his thoughtless comment had stung. She was unaffected by the GAV virus. She was one of the lucky women still able to have children, and she had to care about climate change for their sake. But she didn’t want to argue when she was leaving for a five-year stint in RI on Monday. She took a breath and smiled at him.
“Aren’t you worried I won’t want you when you’re old and haggard?”
Unbelievable. She stared at him. What an asshole. In some distinct place in time had she loved him and now she couldn’t remember? Or had the ticking of her biological clock rose-tinted her eyeballs?
“I’ll be five years older—thirty. The ageing process will be slower in there. It’s shielded from the sun. I won’t look five years older. Anyway, it’ll be more like I won’t want you anymore when I come out.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means a lot can happen in five years.”
His face reddened. He stared hard at the wall in front of him. “What, you might meet a man in there and have a kid? That is what you mean, isn’t it?”
She stood up. “I need to dry my hair.”
“You go and save us from climate change, but don’t expect me to want you when you look like an old prune.”
He jerked up and tugged his rugby shirt straight. He strode towards the door, slinging his sports bag over his shoulder.
“I’m leaving on Monday. Back on Friday. You won’t notice I’ve gone,” she said.
He flung the door open and looked over his shoulder at her. “I made you a croissant and coffee. It’s on the table.”
Walk away then. It didn’t matter to him. He wouldn’t have to dwell on their argument for five years.
“Wear your headband! I might not want you when you’ve got mashed up ears.” And good luck finding another woman who tested negative.
“You’d better start packing.” He slammed the door, sending a vibration through her and the flat.