This story is from my second anthology MORE REASONS FOR A LATE NIGHT, and it’s futuristic. It celebrates those who try to do “things” naturally — while noting how people can jump to conclusions. Join Muriel in her quest for NATURAL.
A nose for need: a heart to bleed. That’s Muriel.
Senior citizens, “good neighbours” and stringently pre-millennial folks are all endangered species by mid-twenty-first century. To Muriel, “drop you a line” suggests outmoded handwriting — which she is willing to do. “I’ll just drop in” denotes laborious foot-slog, her vertiTrans relocator pack never zooming over rooftops but instead hanging in her closet.
She’ll make sure she uses it more, following this Dreadful Day.
Muriel’s grandchildren have careers in hitherto unheard-of areas, one even altering DNA of unborn progeny.
“Nope,” says Muriel. “Give me the old-fashioned way every time.”
Nothing, but nothing escapes her scrutiny. If a hoverShip drops a relocatable domicile nearby, there she is on hand. Perhaps those neighbours will install real plants! If not, slow-grow grass will have tubs of synthetic trees plonked about, equipped with built-in air purifier and optional sound of rustling leaves.
There’s Muriel, first-past-the-post and first to learn the most… “Welcome to Eden Drive! I’m Muriel — number 82 with the real hedge. Aren’t your kiddies just gorgeous! Here’s some cookies for them. If you need a sitter, I’m officially approved!”
The minute she leaves, small teeth test Muriel’s output, superior to endorsed brands. Parents are suspicious, children entranced — “Mum! Why can’t you make cookies?”
Muriel’s assessment of the new arrivals’ furniture — whether meagre, sumptuous or ultra-elegant — speedily circulates the street. She had fought compulsory internment in a Twilight Home. “Eighty, going on fifty,” she sings. “Community activities keep me young.” That was her ego’s panegyric …
… until the Dreadful Day. She arrived home from a fortnight away, finding the vacant house next door now occupied. A fait accompli in which she’d had no share! Such poor things: she ought apologise. “I had no idea, no idea at all!”
“It’s a young couple,” confided Betty over the back fence, whose remote overhead umbrella sheltered them from skiffs of rain. “No children — yet.” Their sharp glances took in a battered vehicle, distinctly off-white tube-suits on the outmoded washing line, and the lamentable chartreuse colour the back door now wore.
Even worse, rudimentary attempts to establish a vegetable garden. These new arrivals could have used some advice. Still, full marks for trying! This world could do with many more Do-It-Yourselfers.
Ah, food! Young things always skimped! Muriel slaved over a tasty casserole, for once turning her oven onto Accelerant. Stirring in extra dollops of her homemade sauce, she envisaged a few cute littlies next door. New blood: high time!
Soon a lip-smacking aroma pervaded the house. Muriel stowed the casserole carefully in a bag. Advancing up the neighbour’s approach to their back door, she rehearsed her welcome.
Ah! An open door! Few people exposed themselves unnecessarily to the atmosphere’s inclemency! Strangely, all door onto the central hallway were open, bar one.
Muriel pressed the viziBuzz. It didn’t work. She applied her knuckles to the dreadful chartreuse paint, but frowned. Answering thuds came from behind that single closed door — the bathSuite, she realised. Afraid somebody might be trapped there, she deposited her burden on the step and ventured in.
“Come on, I want out of here” — a male voice. Muriel’s hand flew to her mouth. Coercion and violence in Eden Drive? God forbid! If she had to rescue someone, where would she find their deterRay? She should search the kitchen for a knife.
“So do I,” — a woman’s voice — “but I need your input, Honey.” Well now, it didn’t sound exactly like murder. Yet Muriel was still rooted to the spot.
“Yeah. Well, tell me what to do next. There’s not much room.”
“Hold it! This is getting in the way.” Something bumped the door. Muriel’s heart lurched. but what she now suspected, she really needed to confirm or deny.
“You know, I was perfectly happy with the ways things…” HE protested.
“You’re aiming too high, you know,” SHE interrupted.
Oh! Muriel shook her head over the pernickety young woman. A chap who liked doing things the old, natural way deserved admiration. And if he also needed guidance — well, how refreshing compared with those medics who harvested your progenic potential and returned it in measured, packaged doses! This couple followed D-I-Y in every respect. Muriel’s head nodded in encouragement. She ought to go back home, respect their privacy, but … more thumps.
“Dope!” HER again.
“Aren’t you overdoing it? I hope you don’t plan this for every other room!” The poor chap, on a short fuse already!
“We’ll see.” Hurrah, a more honeyed tone on HER part.
A swear-word erupted near the door. “Now I believe it. This really is a test of a marriage.”
Muriel smiled. Ah, a marriage: how refreshing!
“Drat!” The woman was becoming exasperated too. “I don’t think much of that size. There’s absolutely no slip.”
How dare… Muriel’s jaw sank as far as her string of Grandma’s cultured pearls. A chill passed through her and she drew her thermaVest tightly across her chest. Her mind suggested retreat, but then again…
“Hey, not so fast!” (thump, thud). “You and your babies.” Muriel sucked in her cheeks. Didn’t the guy share his wife’s plans?
“Well, I don’t want this one to abort.”
Muriel smiled, mollified. The girl had feelings! No doubt she’d been through some false starts, as had Muriel herself, not to mention little Kenny once at death’s door, and Bill’s long illness. Muriel was a walking been-here-done-that. A little frisson washed over her face at the thought of the girl’s plight.
That’s it for Part One. More tomorrow! What will Muriel do? What is happening in the world of the future? Has everything gone haywire? Can she help?