“Okay people, take your seat,” Riles instructs later that night when we’re all gathered together again.
We eagerly abide his instructions and sit down, all eyes on him and Marcus.
“I guess you want to know what the government had to say about the plans,” he says and everyone nods. “Marcus and I had our meeting yesterday which is quite sooner than we expected. I think even we as a group have underestimated how desperate they are for a solution to the problem that is growing worse every day.
While we were there we learnt quite a few things. Firstly, the attacks you see on the television screen aren’t the only ones going on. Many outside the city and on the boundaries and barricades have gone unreported. This is to control the fear that everyone is now starting to feel here in the city.”
He pauses and everyone beckons for him to continue.
“They don’t know how long the walls are going to hold up and that means the moment they come crashing down, all hell will break loose. They have confirmed with us that the attacks in the city have been made from city people themselves. No names are yet to be released.”
I curl my hands into fists and grit my teeth. I can’t wait to sink them into the person who killed my wives.
“The government, as we know, has become desperate. To the point now that they will accept any idea of stopping it.” Riles eyes meet mine across the table and he smiles a sad smile. “That means they’ve accepted the plan.”
The room erupts with applause and everyone starts high-fiving each other. I’m seated next to Gordon and Thomas whom I high-five and I also high-five the men across the table. One man is old and grey like the majority in the room but also has impeccable good eye sight for a man his age. I forgot his name, but I know his son next to him, who’s around my age, to be named Darrian. I’ve noticed the men in the room have quite interesting and bizarre names.
“Settle down people,” Riles chuckles and people settle back into their chairs. “The battle is far from over. Firstly, I think we should all give Jonathan a cheer for coming up with the idea.”
The room cheers my name and I smile.
“However,” Riles continues, “We now have to turn it into a proper plan.”
The room nods in agreement.
“Marcus has contacted and made plans with a few more science geniuses to join with Thomas. Late tomorrow evening and night we’re going to have people delivering lab equipment into this facility and we’re hoping that within the next few working days we’ll have things up and running.”
“What does that mean for us?” Richard, the gay guy, asks. “What’s our role in it from this point forward.”
“All we have to do now as a group is decide on the finer details.”
“May I say something?” Thomas raises his hand and Riles waves his hand for him to continue. Thomas stands to his feet.
“Since the idea was proposed by Richard Charles I’ve been thinking about how to make all of this possible. What I’ve concluded now is that a lot of these finer details, we won’t be able to decide. Many of these things will just have to come with whatever we can create and their reaction to people.”
“We do need basics though,” Marcus interrupts and Thomas nods his head in agreement.
“Of course sir. We should decide on the basics. If we can make them happen we will, if not, then we have no choice.”
“We need to have straight people,” Nate raises his hand. “To keep population going we need people to keep popping out babies.”
Richard sniffles and Riles rolls his eyes before interrupting himself.
“On that note while I remember, the government also told us they want to bring in the one child policy along with this new.. vaccination. Thomas, in your knowledge, is there any way to make that happen?”
Thomas looks utterly horrified.
“The one child policy is an awful idea,” he stammers and I nod in agreement.
“That’s not fair to people’s rights,” I add and Marcus lets out a bark of laughter.
“So is taking away people’s religions. It’s the exact same thing.”
I shut my mouth then. He has a point.
“The one child policy is to help with the population,” Riles explains. “Obviously, the more people, the more likely bad things are going to occur.”
“What about what happened to China?” Gordon asks. “They ran out of females because the men were favoured more in families.”
“Don’t worry, that’s all being worked on, but Thomas, is it possible?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “It’ll take a lot of work but I might be able to figure something out with it.”
“If not, the government will come up with something,” Riles tells us. “So we agree sexual orientation should be straight, skin pigment?”
“White,” everyone says in unison.
Thomas jots down notes in his notebook.
“Anything else?” Marcus asks the room.
“I think that’s all we need,” Thomas shakes his head. “I think everything else will have to be based on what we can create.”
“Obviously then we need to discuss how we are going to implement a level of sameness in people’s lives.”
“I had an idea?” One of the older people raises his hand before continuing. “Maybe something that could work is if the general population change jobs on a regular basis. One day they might be working in retail and the next in the hospital.”
“Won’t that be a little hard?” Nate raises his eyebrows. “The tougher stuff requires training.”
“So we supply training. That way everyone can still experience the successful careers they’ve always wanted while staying humble at the same time.”
“What about pay rates?” Riles asks the room and people pause to think. “We all know equal wage will never work going off of history books.”
“Then people get paid according to their jobs on the day,” the same man continues. “Everyone would have to be rotated between equal good and bad jobs as everyone else.”
“Good thinking, Donald,” Riles nods his head in appreciation as he writes it down in his notebook. “Next?”
We spend the next hour coming up with ideas to add to my idea and by the end of the night, it seems everyone is almost happy, even in this impossible situation.
“We need a name,” Riles says just as everyone prepares to leave. “This experiment needs a name.”
“What about T.C,S?” Gordon proposes. “The Changed Society.”
“Catchy,” Riles purses his lips and quickly scribbles in his notebook. “T.C.S it is.”
I’m making my way to the car when Thomas jogs up beside me.
“Congratulations, man,” he pats my shoulder.
“It was my wife’s idea.”
“Congratulations to your wife,” he amends himself with a sad smile. “Hey, sorry to ask, but I need someone to come up with a media design for the new experiment I’m working on at Telcorp. Would you mind helping me out?”
“Of course I don’t mind. Just stop by when you’re ready.”
“Does Monday work for you?”
“Thanks, mate,” he slaps my arm again. “Catch you later.”
I jump into my car, smiling with triumphant. Not only was the idea approved of by the government, but it’s already being laid out. I wish Danielle could be here to see it being thrown into place. It should be her gaining the credit, not just me.
“I kept my promise,” I tell her in my mind, smiling broadly. “Things are going to get better in this city.”
As promised to Rose, I make the phone call to Riles the next morning about organising an excursion. As expected, he doesn’t sound to please with my request, but after a few convincing words, he finally relents.
“I’ll think about it,” he tells me with a sigh. “You know it’s against company policy.”
“I’m pretty sure you could request anything from this place and they’d willingly throw it at you. You do run it, at least, this branch.”
“I’ll think about it,” he tells me again. “I’ll get back to you at a later date.”
“Thanks for that, Riles.”
“No problem,” he says before hanging up.
I fly through my work and even get a start on next weeks. I feed Larry some food before tapping on the glass and heading out, ready for one of the hardest challenges yet:
I haven’t gone shopping with Danielle for years let alone gone by myself. Earlier in the morning I had Rose write down a list of groceries she wanted and needed and then added to it myself, going through and crossing out the bad foods Rose had listed as I do.
“We are not getting ice-cream cake,” I had chuckled and she pouted at me.
“But it’s ice-cream cake.”
“That’s exactly the point.”
“It’s okay to splurge once in a while.”
“We’ve splurged all week,” I had pointed out and she frowned. “No ice-cream cake. We have to get you back on healthy foods.”
She finally agreed. Still, I plan on picking her up something. I can’t not give her what her heart desires from me. Not yet anyway.
I make my way up and down the aisles. I briefly remember the pattern that Danielle once showed me when I made the fatal mistake of going with her one afternoon when I had a sick day. It felt like it took forever going up and down each aisle, but now as I’m doing it, I can see the sense in the idea. After all, running up and down aisles looking for a specific item can usually make you forget something. Plus, I don’t have to rush.
I quite enjoy myself walking up and down, grabbing items from the shelves and placing them in the trolley. I smile at those who walk past me and they look startled by it. Sadly, people don’t interact with strangers much anymore. It was Danielle who pushed me into doing it even though I saw no sense in doing so.
I’m reaching for Rose’ favourite muesli when I’m tapped on the shoulder and turn around to find Kirsty smiling at me.
“Hey, Jonathan,” she steps forward and I give her a small awkward hug. “You’re looking well.”
“So are you,” I say, but I’m not sure I mean it. Of the few times in the past where I have seen Kirsty, prior the attack, she was always dressed orderly and perfect, kind of like Elaine. Today though dark circles rest under her eyes and her hair is pulled up in a messy knot.
“How have you and Rose been coping?” she asks with concern and I shrug.
“As good as one would expect, I guess. We’re missing her like hell.”
“So do I,” Kirsty admits. “The gallery isn’t the same without her.”
I remember Rose’ request and quickly ask,
“Do you still have her paintings there?”
“The ones that weren’t sold prior to the accident, yes. I’ve had a lot of people come through. Somehow they thought it would be a poetic idea to feature the last paintings of a dead artist. I refused to sell them of course. I thought you and Rose would come on down one day when things had settled down a little bit.”
“Thank you,” I reach ouch and squeeze her hand sincerely. “That means a lot to us. Is the gallery going okay?”
“As good as it could be. I’ve taken on an art graduate. She’s not as good as Danielle but she’s bringing in customers to pay the bills and wages.”
“I’m glad you’ve been able to keep the business going.”
“It’s all I have,” she sighs. “I can’t afford to lose the place.”
“If you ever need help looking for a job, I could talk to the manager of Telcorp. They might have something they could do for you.”
“Really? Thank you, Jonathan!” Her eyes brighten immediately. “That’s just taken a big weight of my shoulders. Arnolds been sick, you see so he hasn’t been able to go to work for a while and we’re just living off of his holiday pay and the money from the gallery. I’ve been worried it would start going under and we’d be left with nothing much to support the family.”
“It’s really no worries. If you need the extra help, Rose might be able to go down after school and do some cleaning for free. Holidays are coming up too so she could help out with workshop if you’re holding them.”
“We are actually and we could really use her help with that. Besides, she’s a customer favourite that one. They ask about her all the time and when she’ll be there next to teach others how to draw.”
“I’ll talk to her tonight about it,” I pat her arm. “We might come down on the weekend to see if we can pick up some paintings. Do you mind if we just let ourselves in if you’re not there.”
“Of course not,” she shakes her head, a smile still on her lips. “As far as I’m concerned, that place is still Danielle’s. Her husband and daughter need no one’s permission to enter it. Do you have a key?”
“It was returned to me by one of the officers a few days after the accident.”
“You should be fine getting in. I suggest going through the backway.”
I thank her for her help and then after another quick hug, we both go our separate ways. I finish filling up the trolley with the needed groceries before making my way towards the checkout. Due to the level of homelessness in the cities and surrounding areas, the old self-service checkouts were thrown away after the loss of thousands of jobs. Companies were forced to start hiring more and paying more fairly instead of being skimp on the money and lack of workers. Just another reason for The Changed Society. With all competition taken away, no one will be able to take from others and keep for themselves.
Almost like a reverse version of the old fairy-tale, Robbin Hood. Instead of steal from the rich and give to the poor it became steal from the poor and give to the rich. When the change arrives, people will feel the desire even less.
On my way out the shopping centre, I stop in at the florist shop where I’d buy flowers for Rose and Danielle on special occasions. I choose two different types, violets for Rose and roses to go in my bedroom. They were Danielle’s favourite flower and that’s how we chose Rose’ name. Right up until the birth we didn’t know what to name the baby and after the labour I bought some roses to go in her hospital room. When Danielle saw them her face lit up.
“Let’s name her Rose,” she told me and I agreed whole heartedly.
The name suits her perfectly.
I arrive home at half past two. The first thing I do is fill two vases to put the flowers in. I walk up the stairs to put the violets in Rose’ room as a surprise for when she gets home. As normal, her teenage room is neat and tidy, with only a pile of dirty clothes stacked in a basket in the corner. I quickly go up to the main bedroom to put the Rose’ on Danielle’s bedside table before grabbing my own dirty clothes and retrieving the basket.
The laundry is situated at the back of the house. I rarely had time to come back here and do the washing and drying. Thankfully, I still know how to use the washing machine and I quickly put on a load of washing.
I push open the back door, deciding I should probably check on the back yard’s condition. I’m surprised to see the grass is relatively short, probably due to the lack of rain this season so far. The trampoline and swing-set appear to be a little rusty for lack of use, but besides that, everything seems fine.
I head back into the kitchen to unpack the dishwasher. As I peer around the room I can already see the dust and grime that’s beginning to build up and I’m too tired to do anything about it.
I look up at the ceiling and smile.
“How you looked after the house, the studio and this family is beyond me, my love.”
Calling her that makes me feel a little sad, but it’s a happy sad. I miss her, but she’s still here. I just can’t see her.
I check my emails while I sip at my coffee. Sure enough, I’ve had a few responses to the ad I had posted yesterday about the housekeeping position. I click the buttons to print off the different applications and make my way up the stairs. The laptop is connected to the laptop from any room or any place in the country so all I have to do is grab the pages from the tray before heading back down.
I flick through the different applicants, searching for one that Danielle would have liked. A lot of those applying are young school aged girls look for part time work, but I decide against them. Even though I’m sure she’d deny it, Rose needs another lady in the house to discuss girl things with. Plus, the presence of a woman wouldn’t be unwelcome in this place.
I decide on three applicants to show Rose. All are older than fifty with kind faces and gentle hearts, I’m sure. Not only could they be a mother figure for Rose, but another old soul to converse with. We’d be able to offer them a room to stay in plus full time work.
I set them on the bench for when Rose gets back.
When she does, I’m just setting veggies on to boil at the stove. She walks into the kitchen and tosses her backpack on the table, eyes immediately falling on the paper pile.
“What are these?”
“Those are the housekeeper applicants,” I tell her as I set the lids on the pots. “We had quite a few more but I narrowed it down to those three.”
“They’re all old,” she wrinkles her nose a little. “Won’t they find it hard doing the work?”
“Not if they take their time. I’ll do all the harder stuff when I get home from work, but goodness knows I can’t handle all this housework and I want you focused on your schooling.” I point a spoon at her and she laughs.
She’s looking lovely today and I’m not just talking about the clothes she’s wearing. Her eyes are just a tiny bit brighter than they were yesterday and that makes all the difference. Little by little, we’re learning to live again.
“Are they going to live here with us?” she asks curiously.
“That depends if they want to. They might have families at home with them.”
Rose flicks through the pages, studying them intently. After sometime, she hands one of the applications over to me.
“I like this one.”
I scan her profile, nodding in agreement. Her name is Rosemary Bownds, sixty-eight years of age. She’s had experience as a nanny and housekeeper before which is a plus.
“Why her?” I ask Rose curiously and she places her finger on one of the paragraphs. I make sure to read it this time.
“She’s a widow?”
“Meaning she might just move in with us,” Rose says, excitement creeping in her voice. “It’d be nice to have someone else here. No offence, dad.”
“None taken,” I chuckle and rustle her hair like I used to as a kid. As expected, she pulls away and pats her hair back in place, grinning at me. “You start on your homework, and I’ll give her a call.”
Rosemary agrees to come over to the house on Monday afternoon after work. She sounds pleasant on the phone, sincere and ladylike.
Exactly how Danielle would want our housekeeper to be if she were here helping us make the decision. Of course, if she were here, we wouldn’t need a housekeeper because Danielle was dedicated to keep the house clean on her own. It was her pride and joy making the place glitter and sparkle.
I help Rose on her maths homework before dishing up our dinner. I’ve made peppered steak with boiled veggies, a family favourite. Even though Rose is in charge of stacking the dishwasher, I help her this time.
“I spoke to Kirsty today,” I tell Rose as I place the cutlery into their spots. “She might need a bit of help over the holidays to hold some workshops again.”
“She’s keeping the place open?”
“She loves the gallery. She’s even taken on an art graduate.”
Rose’s eyes brighten.
“I want to study art when I finish high school. Am I allowed to?”
As I open my mouth to tell her of course she can, I pause, my mind sparking alight.
No doubt the Changed Society will take affect before then and that means she won’t be able to.
Knowing I can’t say anything, I give her a small smile.
“Of course you can,” I assure her. “You’ll be fantastic and I’ve been told artistic talent runs in this family.”
Rose smiles shyly and begins to rattle on about the course the college in the centre of the city offers. I try to focus on what she’s saying, but all I can do is nod, mind blank. It makes me sad to think that my daughter won’t be able to have the future she desired. I try to remind myself it’s for the greater good of humanity, but my mind won’t take any of it. Instead, I just focus on trying not to hate myself for putting the plan into action that could rip away my daughter’s dreams. As a father, my daughter is my number one priority and now she’s being threatened, I’m not sure what to think.
It makes me sad that I’ll be the one to do it.