18th August 2058. My birthday, and a major one at that.
I feel an unexpected frisson of excitement as I boil a mug of water for
caffeine and I catch myself humming in the shower. I’ve been saving my energy allowance for months for this one trip into Norwich and it’s an early start as I need to be about before the Energy Police get abroad, even though my journey is perfectly legal. The Energy Police are recognised as being somewhat over-enthusiastic, but I refuse to buy into the whispered gossip about unexplained disappearances and torture cells. This is rural Norfolk.
Things like that don’t happen here.The sky is the usual cloudless blue, with the sun already blazing at this early hour. Although I daren’t use the air-con, the house and garage are well insulated and I slip into the car without having to face the heat. I keep my temperature down by wearing my air-con gear, tight black trousers with a fitted black cotton polo sweater, circulating coolness via my own electrical discharges. Black, of course, to counteract the sun. Most of us wear black these days, although I refuse to keep my blonde hair completely covered by a black scarf, defiantly ensuring a few escaping tendrils.
The car is fully charged, sufficient for the thirty-four mile round trip with some to spare. I love this journey into Norwich for it gives me time to gaze at the fields and hedgerows. Must stop myself wallowing in nostalgia, though. I see the kids’ eyes glaze over when folk begin to say, “Do you remember when we had cattle in the fields . . . ?”
Youngsters today have never known anything but underground barns for sheep and cows and pigs. I miss the animals myself, but these self-contained units running entirely on animal-produced methane are so technologically efficient, disease-free and cheap, that I don’t complain. Today it’s just good to be out in the fresh air for once. Or at least, to be out in the reconditioned air inside the car.
The roads are empty, since we ordinary folk mostly travel on public transport these days. I experience a heady feeling of freedom. Foolish I know, since the battery will die after fifty miles and I won’t have enough energy points left to repeat this journey for many months. But just for the moment I could skip across the meadows.
There I go again, the sort of sentimental slush which I promised myself I’d avoid. I remind myself forcibly that I wouldn’t be able to stagger fifty metres in this heat and fortunately, common sense prevails.
Within half an hour I’m weaving my way along Haymarket and Gentleman’s Walk towards Jarrolds, one of the few department stores which refused to succumb to flash flooding. I like to park on the ground floor so that I can do everything under one roof.
My skin is fairly tingling now with anticipation. It’s my special day and I just know I’m going to get Karl for my treatment. I bound up the stairs and sink into one of the large, leather armchairs in the waiting room. The music is soft and soothing, the water feature trickles gently over its pebbles, the fragrance elicits the forgotten scent of flowers and I find myself relaxing.
The door opens. It is Karl! Oh my God, he looks better than ever. Surely he’s grown an inch since my last visit? And that dusky skin with the square jaw and the penetrating brown eyes . . . My own eyes flick down to his muscular shoulders and well-honed torso. He is indeed a Greek god. They all are, of course, but I prefer Karl’s choice of physical characteristics. Not for the first time, I wonder how old he is. He looks about thirty, but so do most men these days.
As I lie on the couch with Karl’s strong hands caressing my body, I give up all speculation and surrender myself to pure sensuality. I have no idea how much time is passing or even how Karl is implanting the treatment. I just know how good it feels.
It’s over all too soon. As I dress, Karl assesses me with a professional eye. “Younger than ever!” he declares approvingly and I smile with pleasure at the flattery, kidding myself that this time I really do detect a gleam in his eye.
I bimble up to the revolving restaurant on the top floor for lunch. It is pleasantly full and I smile and nod as I’m led to my table. I may know some of these people. Difficult to tell who I know now that we all choose our looks. I feel a twinge of anxiety which is never present during my virtual interactions at home. It feels odd and somewhat threatening to be greeting real people, even though it has to be said that most of the women resemble that familiar antique the Barbie doll, and most of the men resemble Ken.
Lunch is wonderful. Real food, cooked in the old conventional way. Since restaurants like this are partially exempt from energy rationing, it’s out with the laser and back to the old-fashioned cooker. I savour every mouthful since I need the memory to remain with me for at least a year. As I eat, I gaze out at the slowly rotating Norwich skyline, seeing the cathedral and the river and the castle and all those dear, familiar landmarks.
Ages ago I booked Lisa for the afternoon’s makeover and she doesn’t disappoint. I place myself entirely in her hands and let her get on with it. I emerge with a completely new make-over and a mass of curls which I don’t much like but which Lisa assures me is in at the moment.
I float on cloud nine as I drive slowly home, my mind a continuing reverie of the day’s events. I’m nearly at the Pulham crossroads down the A140, when at the periphery of my vision I spot movement. This is so unusual that I brake for a closer look.
It’s a human being, but not a Ken look alike. Immediately I suspect a climate refugee from Yarmouth and I dither. The official advice is never to stop, but ancient memories are stirring at the base of my mind and some long-forgotten moral sense tells me that I cannot leave another human being out in this heat, whatever the risk. I stop. I approach the man cautiously, but it’s only as I reach him that I spot the ski mask.
Suddenly the world erupts. I’m surrounded by three other masked men who come from nowhere. They wrench my arms behind my back and I sense the click of handcuffs. My heart is slamming against my ribs. I gulp a lungful of air. My mouth is dry. I begin to shake uncontrollably.
I’m screaming and crying as they thrust a sack over my head. I kick out and screech at them, “Who are you? What do you want? I’m entitled to this journey. How dare you – “
But I’m bundled roughly into the boot of my car and all sound is cut off with the crash of the boot lid.
I’m beginning to wheeze, my breath coming in short, sharp heaves. I can feel my bowels loosening and I hang on grimly, fighting the terror which is threatening to engulf me. I’m sweating fear and whimpering like a kitten.
I have no idea where we travel nor how far. When we stop and they pull me from the boot, I’m completely disorientated. They drag me into a building and shove me into a room. I’m at the point of collapse when they tear the sack from my head.
Blinding flashes from all directions. Raucous laughter. I cringe, dreading what must come.
Suddenly the room is flooded with light. As I cower against the wall, shielding my eyes from the unexpected glare, I gradually become aware that they are all there. All the family.
“Happy Birthday!” they chorus.
My son-in-law and three of my grandsons peel off their masks and stand there expectantly with stupid grins on their stupid faces.
“Better than that freefall parachute jump or the hot air balloon, eh Ma?” beams my son-in-law. I long to slap him, but I smile, weakly.
I stumble to the table and manage to show appropriate amazement at the ten identical cakes each with twelve candles, one for every year of my life. I pose for the statutory photograph with my descendants, although you’d be hard pressed to distinguish any one of us from another. We all look identical; the same age, the same features, clones of sameness. I struggle to smile and joke, trying to appear as though I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.
I gaze at faces which have lost all sense of meaning in the desperate pursuit of eternal youth and it’s like looking into a mirror. I see my empty, pointless life endlessly stretching ahead of me, enlivened only by increasingly bizarre events to ensure an occasional adrenaline rush.
And I wish - I really, really wish at the age of one hundred and twenty - that it was possible to die.