‘This is Britain! My fuckin’ Britain!’ shouted Gleeman as he slammed his ham-sized fist into his wife’s stomach. ‘Things are different now! There’ll be no more of your lip and no more of your equality. We don’t do that shit in my country no more!’ He stuck out his oily hand. ‘Gi’s it!’
Ilsa attempted to stand straight, biting her lip to avoid groaning. She reached into her forget-me-not patterned pinafore and pulled out a small brown envelope. Raw tears streamed from her bloodshot eyes, where soon a purple and green sheen would spread all about them like a child’s attempt at applying eye shadow. She thrust the envelope at Gleeman. He snatched it and winked, then stalked away with a smirk on his greasy, unshaven face.
‘Fuck you and your shithole of a Britain!’ she shouted after him.
Later, Ilsa lay on the creaking corduroy settee with a bag of frozen peas over her eyes. A skinny tabby cat mewed and pawed at her leg, butting its face into her knee with affectionate urgency. Her hand dropped down and she patted its head and ruffled its fur.
‘OK, Musa. OK.’ She removed the peas and pulled herself up. The room was small and dimly lit; the brownish wallpaper was peeling; gaps where ceiling tiles had once resided now revealed amber-brown stains where the damp was seeping through from the upstairs hovel.
In the kitchen Ilsa found a can of pilchards and tipped them into a cracked china dish. Musa stood on two legs imploring, pirouetting like a stripy ballerina. On receipt of the dish Musa gobbled the little fishes down while attempting to purr simultaneously. Ilsa took the meat cleaver from a draw and tested the edge. It was dull. She began carefully sharpening it with the steel.
Cole Wirt stood, dripping wet, by his smeary living room window and looked down thirty floors at the large green below; a dirty oval, with a rusty children’s play area, surrounded by six mouldering skyscrapers. There was a small platform on the green which wasn’t there yesterday. The platform was surrounded by wood. Cole sniffed and tightened the pink polka dot beach towel round his generous midriff. The greying hairs on his chest stood straight out and steam rose from his balding pate. The smell of cheap coffee wafted in from the kitchen. He could hear Alicia banging the front of the boiler and heavily sighing.
‘Daaad!’ Alicia’s voice carried well. ‘This is sooo not delish!’
‘Go have a bath then; immersion still works!’
‘Daaad!’ She stomped through and banged a mug down on the windowsill. Little granules of coffee floated on the surface of the grey liquid like dead flies. Alicia made little high pitch constipated noises as she jammed her woolly beanie down over her rosy ears.
‘D’you see that?’ said Cole.
‘Wha?’ Alicia peered through the grimy glass, squinting. ‘Looking like a bonfire is being made up, a right megalo one an all. Peoples finally got some sense an done somethink about this fff… flicking cold. When they light it up tonight I’ma be down there!’
‘Is that what it is? said Cole. ‘What’s the pole in the middle for?’
‘Daaad! I donno. Who cares? Stupid pole! Maybe they’s gonna cook on it? Big old pig or somethink?’
Cole looked at the raised platform and the pole. Little figures, heavily wrapped against the cold, moved back and forth making their contributions to the cause; the legs from a chair; an old wardrobe draw; armloads of cardboard and other random inflammable items. He slurped at the lukewarm coffee and carried it with him as he walked to his bedroom.
‘I’ma have that bath,’ said Alicia. ‘Pleeease put fan heater on in my room!’
‘Only thirty minutes! I’ll put it on when you get out – not before,’ said Cole.
Alicia sucked at her teeth and rolled her grey eyes. ‘I’ma go round Donna’s afters. She got that Vid-View, an Internet, an heating!’ said Alicia.
Splashing sounds and steam soon billowed from under the bathroom door. Cole pulled his fawn deerstalker tight over his head before putting his socks on. Then he put another pair on and reached for his thermal trousers.
There was a loud knock at the door. Cole was jerked from a trance and burped, regurgitating a small piece of ham sandwich.
‘It’s the police, Sir! Open up!’
Cole unlocked the door, keeping the chain hooked. He peered out and saw two of them – a male and a female. The male was wearing a police uniform with a shoulder cam.
‘What is it?’ croaked Cole.
‘We need to come inside, Sir!’ shouted the female, as if talking to a very deaf person.
‘Oh, alright…’ He let them in and they walked straight past him and began examining his living room as if looking for clues, bloodstains or stolen goods. After several minutes they noticed Cole again.
‘I’m D.S. Kelly and this is P.C. Gromball,’ bellowed the female. Squat and heavy-hipped, her tight blond hair was plastered down with sticky gel. Gromball was the standard issue: six foot something, broad, black crew cut, twitchy blue eyes.
‘Yes?’ said Cole.
‘Mr Wirt,’ said Kelly. ‘There has been a serious incident in your neighbourhood. Your local Patriot club was vandalised by a traitor who scrawled extremist propaganda of an un-British nature on the glass frontage. Your property overlooks the entire estate, including the Patriot club, from a rather elevated vantage point. Did you observe any unusual activity last Tuesday evening?’
‘That would be …’ Gromball flicked at his e-notebook, ‘Tuesday, July fifth.’ He adjusted his groin, grunted, and began to examine Cole’s ancient Blu-ray collection.
‘I’m not sure,’ said Cole. ‘Look, lots of crazy stuff goes on round here. I have trouble keeping up with it all. There was a burning car, a naked man eating grass on the green, a dog was kicked to death – might have been Tuesday – and, yes, three lads were having a punch up outside Block B, King William Tower.’
‘Naked man?’ said Kelly
‘Yeah,’ said Cole. ‘Obviously mentally ill, you see a lot of it these days, so I didn’t report it. I mean, I’m sure you have more important things to deal with, like this traitor and all.’
‘We have a man in custody. He was discovered yesterday, stark naked, chasing pigeons in the piazza of Harrington Heights. A terrible scene in a good neighbourhood! We need a witness. Can you describe him?’ said Kelly.
‘I’m not a witness to anything traitorous,’ said Cole. ‘He was just eating grass and shouting at people. He was skinny, mid twenties, had long blond dreads.’
‘Good!’ said Gromball. ‘You’ll make a statement. You can write it here. No need to come down the station.’
‘Fine, but I really don’t see the connection,’ said Cole. ‘By the way, I couldn’t help noticing that bonfire, or pile of wood, on the green. D’you know why it’s there? Bit of a mess!’
Kelly walked to the window and looked down at the people still milling about with their kindling and then turned back to Cole. ‘That’s a … experiment,’ she said. Her face suddenly scrunched up into itself, like a pinkish prune, and then a single hoot tinged with hysteria was forced from her throat. ‘You’ll see for yourself, perhaps even tonight!’
Gleeman was ensconced in a deep leather corner chair by the fireplace of the ‘Pride in the Flag’, drunk in his cosy ingle. He’d finished his rounds; going from table to table greeting people like Fred ‘the Fingers’ and George ‘ave-a-go’ Wilson. Good mates! The fire flickered and flared, licking round the timber. He stared at the flames. After some time he started writing little notes, things to bring up at the next Patriot’s meeting, while sinking another pint of Bull’s Best. Gripping the pencil in his huge mitt he wrote:
Make naggin elligal an put corpral punisment back in scools.
He grinned broadly across his even broader face. He nodded and then banged his fist on the table.
‘Oi, oi, oi!’ he boomed. A willing chorus responded likewise, with other shouts including, ‘ole Gleeman’s ‘ad a new idea!’ and ‘Gleeman’s pissed again!’ Much mirth! He downed his pint in one. ‘Another!’ he cried. Then his brow creased deeply and he plunged his hands into his pockets, placing the contents on the table. Just fifty pounds of his wife’s wages left, only enough to cover the last pint. ‘Fuck it!’ He left the money on the table and stalked out of the pub, fists clenching and unclenching.
Ilsa rose from her musty blankets, awoken by a loud bang: the front door being kicked open. The arsehole had forgotten, or lost, his keys again. She glanced at the little luminous alarm clock. It was one in the morning! Other sounds now: grunting, china smashing, Musa hissing, swearing, heavy footsteps getting closer, the sound of the bedroom door squealing open on green hinges, then silence. Ilsa glared into the darkness, her eyes slowly adjusting, now making out the ungainly silhouette of a crouching Gleeman pulling off his clothes.
Something hit the headboard next to Ilsa’s head. She felt about for it. A boot!
‘You arsehole! You’re a filthy, pathetic excuse for a man! Don’t think you’re sleeping in my bed tonight! Go on! Fuck right off!’ said Ilsa.
Gleeman launched himself at the bed and belly-flopped onto Ilsa. He pinned her down and, in his sluggish drunken state, started slapping her about the face with the back of his hand. Ilsa caught the stench of his breath, like beer mixed with vomit, as he exhaled between each strike. He started hitting harder, getting into it properly now. Ilsa’s legs and body were immobilised by his bulk, but her arms were free. She clawed at his face and dug her nails deep into his bristly jowl. Her hand fluttered higher, finding an eye. She dug in. Sticky liquid covered her palm as her other hand began to search frantically beneath her pillow. Gleeman howled with pain, but the adrenaline gave him renewed purpose. He rose to his knees and prepared to deal his mightiest blow. He raised his huge fist higher, gathering all his strength, and then … a flash of white burst across his vision, a freezing slender slice of ice seared through his brain. It was almost orgasmic! In utter confusion and gripped by this peculiar ecstasy, Gleeman paused for a moment. Where was he? What was he? Why…
Ilsa pushed at him with all her strength and he fell sideways onto the bare floorboards with a dull thud. He didn’t move. Ilsa lay on the bed panting and retching.
The Vid-View presenter’s silver plastic suit gleamed almost as much as his teeth!
‘Mark this date on your e-calendar, July 9th 2050, because on this night we bring you the event which will make British legal HISTORY! The time has come for THE PEOPLE to take back control and choose exactly what type of JUSTICE will make Britain a safer and GREATER country! Tonight, YOU DECIDE!’
The Vid-View screen filled the entire back wall of Donna’s enormous pearl hued bedroom. The three adolescents fixated on the screen. Donna was wearing an emerald crinoline puff-dress to offset her puce hair. Duke was wearing Alicia’s beanie hat and his black T-shirt bearing the words ‘Bite the Hand’ in white lettering. Alicia was wearing Duke’s shiny red leather patriot jacket.
‘This ain’t for reals! They’s not gonna to do it, even if peoples vote for it. Ima not believing this sooo fake shit.’ said Alicia.
‘Alicia, you are sooo behind the times,’ said Donna. ‘Course they will do it. It’s the new way – and the right way.’ She snuggled down into her big fluffy yellow pod chair and opened a packet of bangers and mash flavour crisps.
‘This is just a trial run,’ said Duke. ‘They’ve picked out only the worst possible dregs of society from the worst possible estates. It’s democracy.’ He shrugged. ‘My dad always says hanging is too good for em.’
‘How’s it democracy when not all peoples have Vid-View and can’t vote?’ said Alicia.
‘Because,’ explained Donna slowly, ‘apart from a few exceptions, like you – maybe, most people who don’t have Vid-View just aren’t fit to make important decisions. Alicia, it’s critical you get with the new way!’
‘I’m going to vote for the stake!’ said Duke, grabbing for the controller.
‘Of course… duh!’ said Donna. She stuffed some crisps into her mouth.
‘Ima go home now,’ said Alicia. ‘This is sooo not delish, an if you not seeing that then you two are both spasmics!’
Ilsa prodded at the form in front of her with the biro. Her tears made it difficult to read the text. She bit down on her lip but a childlike whimper escaped. The senior officer rolled her eyes at the uniformed one standing behind her.
‘Look Ilsa,’ said Kelly softly, ‘you’ve admitted the murder and told us where you hid the body parts, and that’s appreciated. You’ve spared the country the expense of a pointless trial. Just sign the confession.’
‘I was defending myself, not -’
‘Sign it!’ said Gromball, slapping his palm on the table. Ilsa signed the form and swallowed hard. She tugged at her hair, pulling some out.
‘Now that’s out of the way,’ said Kelly, ‘we can discuss options for your sentence. It’s a whole life tariff, what with your husband being a war patriot, but the government are running an exciting new scheme in conjunction with Vid-View. Exciting, because it means you get to put your case directly to The People and they have the power to pardon you. You’ll be the second lucky offender to be given this opportunity. The first one is probably being pardoned as we speak. Frankly, it’s your only realistic option.’
‘Put my case before The People, you say?’ Ilsa pulled harder at her fraying hair, her brown eyes flitted about the cell as if searching for something which might save her. ‘No way on God’s green shitting Earth I would throw myself on the mercy of The People. Fuck The People!’
The screaming was the worst part. Like the wail of a banshee, it started with a bitter, abject howl of some cursed anguish. This was soon followed by long high-pitched desperate screams, over and over – like nothing a human mouth should ever utter. Finally, after five or six minutes, choking and distressing bubbling noises put an end to the ordeal. Cole looked at the flames as they consumed the man with blond dreadlocks. He needed to stand witness.
Cole had made Alicia cover her ears with her hands, holding out his arm to stop her coming near the window even though she was sitting in the opposite corner of the room cross-legged and softly rocking, going nowhere.
When it was over they slowly and silently packed suitcases. Cole checked the back of the passports to be sure of valid destinations.
‘Come on Ali, we’re going,’ said Cole.
‘Where? Let’s never come back here again Dad,’ said Alicia, her eyes wide.
‘We aren’t coming back. We’re never coming back.’
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