One day in June, Maxine woke up wondering about politics and found this weally sick. The Shuffle was due next Thursday but she had never wondered what to vote before. Like most people, she thought it didn’t weally matter. She just intuitively assumed that it was better to vote Hearts, and since her mum voted Hearts, Maxine voted Hearts, so there.
On most days, Maxine woke up wondering what to do first, check her phone or take her sonic shower but today, no such luck. She knew it was obsessive but she couldn’t stop worrying about The Shuffle. She found this idiotic because thinking about politics was a waste of time and energy. Everybody knew that. What difference did it make anyway? None whatsoever, Maxine told herself and turned on the sonic shower.
As she lay in her cubicle on the seventeenth floor of The Covent Garden Estate, she asked herself why people bothered to call these things bedrooms. They were wall-mounted sleeping modules between the sonic loo and the kitchen sink. But hey, this was today’s world and everybody slept in cubicles so why not get used to it, Maxine told herself.
When they had moved in to their flat twenty years ago, Maxine’s mum said that this was just what they had in Tokyo. She was wondering what Charmaine was on about talking of Tokyo as if she’d been there but she had probably got that from the telly when it was still working. Nobody Maxine knew had ever been to Tokyo except of course a few Luvvies and Masters, flying about in aeroplanes and the like. Maxine didn’t know such people, neither personally nor officially.
“Weally out of the question to fly in an aeroplane”, Maxine said to herself, “would take a life’s savings just walking to Heathrow.”
She had travelled in a taxi once, she remembered, after selling her first ear. Not her own ear, mind, but the one she was growing on her back although it freaked Freddy out having to look at it when they met but that was a different story and Freddy was a wight old stinker anyway.
Maxine hadn’t grown the ear because she needed the money. Of course not. She weally liked helping people, at least that’s what she was taught at school. Besides, half of the Sweets were worthless after they got out of the cinema on Leicester Square thirty minutes later; of which twenty minutes were the commercials.
She and Charmaine had to walk back three blocks to the North-West Corner of The Covent Garden Estate in the dusk because taxi fares had risen by 100% at the end of the show and Charmaine wouldn’t walk through the Tube because, well, the older generation was rather light skinned and accidents would happen? One did well to remember this.
For pudding, the ladies had shared a small seaweed sandwich from a Mr Quorn at the North-West Corner, or Mr Moan as Freddy used to call him. Well, Freddy, to blazes with him, Maxine thought and turned out the sonic shower before cautiously feeling her way to the slippers hanging in her cubicle. She always left them bang on the spot marked with a dot in fluorescent yellow that had “SLIPPERS” written around it top and bottom, in capital letters.
Sitting on the last rung of the ladder to her cubicle, Maxine had a peep through the curtains of her mum’s bedroom and saw that the light was out and no sonic shower had been taken. Charmaine was currently growing a new leg for a woman in Coventry, a vicar’s wife who had fallen from a unicycle. That stupid cow, Maxine thought, but it was just the same. It paid well to grow things and what else could Charmaine do with her forty-two years of age to help people?
Charmaine had no pretensions about her future and often said that for all she cared, they could turn her into an Oxo cube when The End came. But luckily, The End was still another two or three years away, Maxine thought.
It was also very clear to her that she couldn’t sell Charmaine’s body for human consumption because she had partaken in her youth. All those English Breakfasts, you see, with these lovely pork sausages and then those bacon sarnies for lunch. Well the older generation, what can you say, Maxine sighed and touched down silently on the floor.
Growing things wasn’t too bad for Charmaine, Maxine thought. Charmaine always said she wanted to be of help and everybody knew that the English people liked to grow things but it was becoming difficult to get work for her from the NHS as the years progressed. Charmaine had gotten on the stem cell project only because her flesh was just about wight and wouldn’t contrast too much with the skin tone of the vicar’s wife. And being the vicar’s wife she wouldn’t mind the pork part neither. Well you can’t pick and choose when you’re only working in a circus, Maxine thought.
Maxine knew that her mum was always feeling a bit under the weather when she was growing things so better not disturb her until they take it off at Al-Thomas and send it to Coventry. The Soy poured slowly into her cup and Maxine reached for the flakes. Soon she got stuck with politics again. She was going to vote for Miss June and had been quite sure of this but then she saw Missus Mugabe on the phone last night in her cubicle.
No idea how she got there, but there she was: The Spades’ official candidate, promising “Everything in Spades!” Missus weally was her first name, imagine, and she was the issue of some very wealthy mogul in Afruca. That’s where the people had everything now. Maxine knew that because she had to write her GCSE about how everything was better in Afruca because, well plainly, because Afrucans were much better people than we, so there.
And although Maxine knew that she weally couldn’t believe anything Missus said, she also had to admit that there might be something to it when the Spades promised all that free stuff, like more Sweets and more Soy and more work from the NHS. Even free walks through the Tube now; it had gotten closed to curb greenhouse gas emissions when the Diamond party rose to power shortly before it all went pear shaped again when Jimmy tried to drain the English Channel wanting to re-join Europe but that’s another story.
At least she knew that voting Diamonds was out of the question, Maxine said to herself and closed the tab. Her cup of Soy was filled to overflowing and there was hardly any room left for the flakes. Maxine sipped off the top, found it tasted like always, neither hot nor cold nor sweet, sour or salty. Just a plain white semi-translucent liquified matter that came out of leaky wall fittings.
“I like everything being quite plain”, Maxine said to herself. “What a bit of luck.”
She ought to always take a first sip, Charmaine had told her when Maxine was quite small, because the Soy tasted bitter when it went off and would give you the shits for days on end; better safe than sorry and all that. The flakes added, Maxine turned to checking her phone. The NHS was offering her a nose job and – wait for it – a boobs job! The nose would only take three weeks to grow but she wouldn’t be able to sleep on her back all the time because it had to be grown straight out of her bottom parts and she couldn’t do that ever, three weeks without sleep. That would be worse than the blasted weekend with Freddy in Cumbria.
The boobs job looked quite interesting. For one, Maxine had never grown boobs before, apart from her own. And it also paid quite well, though by the time they’d take them off, the Sweets would be worth only half of their current value. Either way, Maxine never did anything for the money but only because she weally weally wanted to help people, or at least that’s what she was taught in school, and coloured herself interested.
The boobs would have to be grown by the Royal London and she weally didn’t fancy the walk to Diversity Chapel but what can you do, a lady must live of something. And if Charmaine couldn’t get out of the flat to do stuff because her third leg was dangling about in her track pants like a long john silver, then life was a bit unfortunate, I’m sure, for her. So why not help your own mother. Maxine checked once more what it said in the add. Yes, her flesh tone was just about wight, so there.
After her breakfast of Soy and flakes, Maxine gave it a try and called Our Nice Lady at the Royal London. The boobs were meant for a young lad who had always wanted to become a young lady and it would help him enormously if Maxine could fill in for him; after all, she wasn’t transphobic or was she? Of course not, Maxine fired away. She knew she’d never get a job again if she was.
“Take the Crossrail and claim the extra expenses,” Our Nice Lady told her.
So that’s settled then, Maxine thought. Walking through Crossrail was much easier than taking the Tube. In less than three hours she could have her assessment at the hospital and start treatment tonight if the testing went well. Maxine knew it would because she had never partaken pork in her life, lived on Soy and flakes most of the time and only had the tiniest sea weed sandwich with a whiff of gin once in a fortnight for a weekend celebration. This was all quite acceptable even by the strictest standards of most Luvvies and Masters.
Her life wasn’t too bad, Maxine suddenly realised. Surely, this had to do with her voting Hearts every month in The Shuffle. After getting dressed she left the flat and walked towards the staircase on the North-West Corner of The Covent Garden Estate. She felt elated because she had finally made up her mind and was quite at ease with herself when she joined the community, ten thousand people setting off to fulfil their daily duties or just to loiter about on the steps of the estate and take a stroll in the Empowerment Gardens later to get some fresh air and chew Khat.
The other ten thousand who lived on The Covent Garden Estate stayed at home behind closed doors and made sure nobody strayed into their dwellings; when they fancied a sonic shower or a cuppa Soy. But this wasn’t too bad either Maxine told herself. You see, the thing with the one-on-one-off working week was that one person worked on odd days and one on even days and like this, people always got someone to mind the flat. And the Hoppy Working Week was also a Hearts policy. “Someone’s always left behind!” They had promised it in their leaflet for the last Shuffle and it had come to pass: someone was always left behind.
“June in June, it is then”, Maxine thought to herself, “June in June.” And that’s what she overheard other people saying as she walked downstairs.
© Guardian Council 2017