By Ryan Fleming
On the Sea Lion Press Forums, we run a monthly Vignette Challenge. Contributors are invited to write vignettes on a specific theme (changed monthly).
The theme for the Eighteenth Challenge was "Class"
He pushed the door open tentatively, in the hope that he might be able to sneak in and past her.
“Where the fuck have you been?”
His attempt at stealth for naught, John withdrew his key and pushed open the door with what he thought was cheeky bravado but what Debra obviously thought was rowdy rudeness. Husband and wife locked eyes through the open doorway, him smiling and her scowling. Debra must have had a pretty good inclination where her husband had been for the better part of the evening.
“A few pints, John?” she asked, the effort to keep her voice steady apparent.
“Aye, old Gary’s leaving drinks.”
“Gary?” her scowl faltered for a second but soon returned. “Well, don’t hang about on the door. Her across the road will think you’re the Eugenics Services man come round.”
John wiped his feet on the doormat whilst keeping his eyes on Debra, making a point of letting Debra know he was making a point of it, and then stepped through the door into their bungalow.
“Good evening, wife," he said, shutting the door behind him.
“Good night, husband," she retorted.
“Still reckon old Mrs. MacReady has it in for you?” John asked.
“I could see her curtains starting to twitch, stuck up cow.”
“Oh, I don’t know that she’s all that bad…”
“She thinks we’re all scum, don’t know what you expect from someone living here that grew up in Administration.”
“Come on! She lives in a Labour postcode!”
“Only because she’s reached pension age. Knew she could stretch her money further living Labour than Admin – downsizing they call it, and we’re as far down as you can get.”
John knew his options were to continue this debate at the door or he could admit he was wrong and hopefully make his way to the kitchen.
“I suppose,” he said sheepishly. “I’m sorry.”
Debra remained stood in the hallway, blocking any attempt to move further into their home.
“Is there anything for tea?” he asked. As soon as the words left his mouth, he knew he had put his foot in it.
“I had my tea when I came in from work, if you were here you might have joined me. Make your own bloody tea!”
With that Debra stormed off into the lounge. John waited a few seconds, and once he was sure she would not immediately come back out firing off an “and another thing” as an opening salvo he stepped forward toward the kitchen.
“And another thing!” She shouted from the lounge. John closed his eyes and prepared for the worst. “I don’t mind you having a few drinks John even though I can’t, but you could at least let me know instead of dumping both weans on me. No way are you doing that after number three arrives!”
“I’m sorry.” John said, with all sincerity this time, and continued on to the kitchen.
Not having any desire to cook anything more difficult, he tore the foil lid off a pot of instant noodles and slid them under the hot water dispenser. Whilst he waited for the water to come to the boil before rehydrating his instant dinner, he picked up the evening paper and glanced at it. Of course, the national redistribution was front page news. He read the article briefly, then gave up and turned to the sports page. The biggest news there was the announcement that the Sports and Culture Council had admitted the British Darts Organisation, which was drawing the ire of the Health and Efficiency Council.
His tea now ready, he poured it onto a plate and walked through to the lounge. He would have liked nothing better than to get the food down him and straight to bed, but he knew he had to talk to Debra.
She was sat in the armchair watching the telly. He crossed over to the couch and sat down on the end closest to the armchair, so that he did not have to look Debra in the eye.
“I didn’t think Gary was anywhere near pension age.”
“He’s not,” he said with a forkful of noodles inches from his mouth. He put them down again as his thoughts came to the reason Gary was leaving work.
“He didn’t win the lottery?” Debra asked excitedly. She turned her head sharply, then whipped it round again quickly when she realised where John was sitting. This seemed to cause her some strain, especially in her condition.
“Are you alright?” John asked.
“I’m fine,” she did not turn her head again. “So did Gary get a lottery win?”
“No, he took the black redundancy.”
“Shite, that’s awful.”
“He didn’t think so, nine months on a Lord’s wage after all.”
“It’s what comes at the end of it…”
“The way he’s hacking up his lungs every day don’t think he’s going to live to reach pension anyway, might as well get paid for it and have fun with the time you’ve got left.”
“He doesn’t have much in the way of family, does he?”
“Wife and kids died years ago in a fire; he still has the burns.”
Debra sat silently, after a moment she cleared her throat as though to speak but seemingly reconsidered. John went back to his noodles.
The telly was silent, John finally noticed. There was something on screen, John craned his neck to see over the armchair. The white on black text told him Debra was on teletext; a closer examination revealed it to be the live updates on the redistribution. Somehow, he knew she would be following the news.
“Do you think Gary went for the death sentence because of this?” she finally asked.
“Unlikely, understand it takes weeks of checks to get it signed off and they only announced this today didn’t they?”
“I suppose,” she trailed off into silence again.
“Can we stick on something else? Either channel will do.”
“You don’t think this is important?”
“I do, bu…” John did not finish before Debra was on her feet facing him.
“Because we think it’s pretty damn important!” Debra said, her intonation back to how it was when he walked through the door earlier. She was pointing to the bump visible under her pyjamas, making it clear who she meant when she said “we”.
“They’ve not made anything compulsory, and they never could at six-and-a-half months.”
“They’ve said two-children per Labour family! I know it can be difficult for you to remember John, but we already have two children through in the back there. It’s why we bought the bunk beds you might remember.”
“I know perfectly fine about Adam and Jo. See, I remember their names and everything. The point is that they’ve said compulsory two-child policy going forward; they made a point about automation reducing the need for Labour in-”
“You believe that load of horse shit?” Debra interrupted.
“I believe they’ve made the decision, and our lot in Parliament must have agreed to it or it never would have passed. They’re not going to come and kill our new baby…”
“They’ve said they would sponsor adoption.”
“Well, maybe we-”
“Oh, you’re not even going to suggest that, I’m not having our child adopted by some posh bastards in Finance or SME.”
“We should maybe at least talk it over. We’ve both been worrying about paying for three kids even before this was announced. Cutting back the benefits on a third child will hurt us worst of all.”
Debra stood glaring at him, but the lack of a comeback told John she could see he had a point.
“We’ll maybe talk it over tomorrow, I’ll be straight home.” John quickly thought of a peace offering. “I’ll even pick Adam and Jo up from the BBs and GGs and even make the dinner.”
“Well, I can’t exactly go out for a few pints tomorrow night. Though since you seem not to care much about what happens to our new baby maybe I should!”
“You know that’s not true, but things have sort of gotten ahead of us.” John demurred. “We should at least talk it over tomorrow night, or at least get a quote from the Eugenics Office.”
“Given it a lot of thought, have you?” Debra asked.
“I have,” John said firmly. “I reacted exactly the same way you did when the news came in; it was why I was glad to get a chance to think things through. I’ve not made up my mind about anything, but I think we should talk things through tomorrow night.”
He rose from the couch, putting the half-eaten plate of noodles on the adjacent pillow. He walked to Debra and wrapped his arms around her, planting a kiss on her cheek.
“Sorry, I know you hate the smell of those noodles.” He apologised.
Somehow, he was able to tell that raised a small smile.
“Stop worrying, everything will turn out. It always does, we’re not in as bad a state as some. You could even upskill if you wanted to, and to think Mum warned me about getting involved with a girl from the shipyards.”
“She’s always had it in for me, if you’re not in the steelworks from when you’re able to crawl you’re not to be trusted is her way.”
“But it’s not mine. We’ll work it out.”
Peace seemingly made, Debra bade John a goodnight and went through to their bedroom. John turned off the television and finished his meal in the kitchen.
From the jacket he put on the chair in the kitchen he withdrew two pieces of paper. On the first was the last ultrasound Debra had received, along with a printed report from the health centre. On the second, was a quote from the National Family Service for how much a child with that lineage and state of health could fetch.
He only had a couple of pints; he had spent most of the evening at an NFS office a suitable distance from their home and away from the prying eyes of gossiping neighbours. He had another drink on the way home, the price they would offer was unbelievable if the baby boy was carried to term successfully, he had to steady his nerves.
Debra would be hard to convince, but John felt he could do it. Especially once she saw how much money they could make from selling the baby on to where the numbers were going up.