Hope Your Dreams Come True
She did not know what she was sorry for, but she knew that she was sorry: sorry that the girl wasn’t there anymore, sorry that she was, sorry that things hadn’t worked out the way they should have done, sorry that she was even born.
With no school to go to now, she simply trod the old wooden boards of the Northern Line between Chalk Farm and faraway Morden, watching her fellow travellers, trying to second guess where they would disembark. The richer they were, she noted, the more expensive the blindfolds they wore were—’cept if they were super rich, they didn’t wear blindfolds at all… super rich or super poor, she noted.
At 16-years-old, everyone was supposed to have their eyes plucked out, that was the rules, but no one cared if you were poor because what difference could you make with or without eyesight? And, if you were really rich, well that spoke for itself, rich people made the rules, you didn’t need to be a genius to work out how that went.
She shivered in her old coat, not because of the cold but because the idea of losing her eyes scared her, regardless of what the radio told her. The coat had been her older brother’s before he had left, gone off to fight a war somewhere, she didn’t know where, Afghanistan, Argentina, somewhere that began with an ‘A,’ somewhere that old wind bag off the telly was big on talking about.
‘A— is the enemy, A— must be opposed with all our might.’
Next month it would be B—, then the month after that it would be C—, Jessica didn’t care about none of that, there was always a war going on. Well, she told herself, if didn’t care but that was only because no one would talk to her anymore about when Bill was coming home. In six months, it would be mid-winter and she would be 16 too, old enough to know better than to go asking questions about that, her father shouted, brandishing his belt.
Didn’t matter, she thought with a shrug, she was going to run away anyway. What was the point in staying in London, London was just a big factory now, a factory that made things that no one needed.
‘The Devil soon finds work for idle hands,’ said the radio in the dark of night.
The train slowed to a halt, the doors opening under duress to allow two guardsmen on-board, their beige uniforms and black truncheons, black goggles, cotton blindfolds, not like the rich people they served had.
She looked away quickly, not wanting them to sense her expression, sense the disgust that radiated from her. They had weird ways of sensing that kind of thing, the guardsmen did. Her dad said they hadn’t been like that when he was a kid, when they still called them ‘policemen,’ but Jessica didn’t real care about that either; a guardsman was a guardsman was a guardsman and she couldn’t give two shits for what they were called, she didn’t want anything to do with them.
In her pocket, she fingered her catapult, another inheritance from Bill. She wouldn’t think twice about landing a stone right between their unseeing eyes, she thought. ‘Course she had never actually fired the catapult at another person, only at the stray cats that gathered outside her estate in the milky moonlight, keening at each other with passions she could not understand.
Across from her, an old vagrant shuffled nervously in his seat, filthy and dishevelled amongst the blindfolded others that surrounded him. Vagrants were scum, her father opined, you saw them most in the countryside, those who had run away from serving with the guards, those who were too old or too wild to have the operation. She hated them, they always stunk of kidney pie and glue, of vinegar and boiled meat. You couldn’t trust a vagrant, she had been told.
She looked away as the guards strode towards him, seeking him out by the smell of him, no doubt. No one paid attention, no one listened as they started asking him questions, raising their voices, cutting him off when he tried to answer.
Before the operation had become mandatory, it wasn’t like anyone was eager to engage in situations like this anyway, she thought. She remembered being on the Charing Cross branch when she was a kid, when they had just voted in that rat-faced sow, before she became the Leader proper, and there had been a beggar going through the carriages, asking for money for a hostel. Her mother had slapped her wrists then.
‘It’s rude to stare, Jessica,’ she had said.
When had they started calling the old cow Leader, she wondered. Maybe three or four years ago? It was 1984 now, she remembered that, even though you weren’t supposed to use the old calendar, and that time on the Charing Cross branch, going into town with her mother and Bill, she had been, what, 10-years-old, maybe? It was hard to be certain of the facts of the past when no one would talk to her about anything that had happened before last week.
Why did it have to be so complicated, she thought; why did things have to keep changing? She thought growing up meant that things were supposed to settle down, that they were supposed to be normal, but instead it felt like everything was always up in the air, like they were constantly being told things that didn’t agree with the things they had been told the week before.
She hated it, she wanted to run away and live in the countryside, even if it was full of bloody vagrants. She thought again of that girl from school, the one who came from the countryside and lived in Cally, she thought of her dark curls of hair, the way she still sucked her thumb when she was nervous, even though she was 15-years-old, and she felt a weird discomfort, something else that no one would talk to her about.
They said in the countryside that they celebrated the autumn with a great feast, that they voted in secret and two of the men of the village would dress up in great costumes made of horse hair and leather and the first would dance around the maypole until he met with another that was like him, another horse, the new one that came to replace the old one.
‘‘Obby ‘Oss,’ the girl had said one lunchtime, her mouth half full of something that might have been sausage and something that might have been bread.
‘Obby ‘Oss, Jessica thought, and she wondered what it meant, the old horse meeting the new horse and lying down in the dirt before it, the townspeople dancing around it.
At Euston, the guardsmen had dragged the old tramp off the train and he started screaming and crying and then he had started shouting and swearing, words that Jessica knew but didn’t really understand, and even as the doors closed and the train began to move on towards King’s Cross, she could still hear him crying and cursing on the platform until the tunnel swallowed all sound and all hope of resolution.
She hated guardsmen, Jessica thought once more and let her fingers slip from the weapon she carried in her pocket.
Two years ago, when the Queene had died, the guardsmen had all been given black armbands to wear and there had been a solemn procession down through the streets of Westminster that she had watched with Bill on the telly. It had been July, she thought she remembered, July, 1981. They didn’t have them armbands anymore, and at tea-time once, when Jessica had said something about it, her father had hissed at her sharply to hold her tongue and told that there never had been an old Queene, that there was only the Leader, and they should all be thankful for that if they knew what was good for them.
In the countryside, where the ‘Obby ‘Oss danced and all the peoples of the town followed after him, she wondered if they remembered how things used to be.
She didn’t miss the old Queene, she didn’t know that much about her, but she thought even an old Queene must have been better than that rat-faced pig that everyone sang the praises of nowadays.
Ah, but the past is always better than the present, Jessica, she thought and then was exceptionally proud of herself for thinking such a thing. Everyone thought she was as thick as two short planks, but she was smart enough to know that she was being lied to and that was more than anyone else she knew would admit.
Maybe that’s why the girl from Cornwall or Devon had gone away, the girl whose family lived in that cramped flat in Cally, maybe she had started to know things and the guardsmen had cottoned on to it.
She shifted again in her seat, suddenly restless, suddenly full of discomfort. It made her feel ill, thinking about that. Maybe that was why no one thought about the past too much now, maybe the older you got the sicker it made you. She tried to juggle these two ideas: the past was always better but the past made you sick.
It didn’t matter, the future always came anyway, and when that happened then you got told a different story about the past, not the thing that you remembered.
She resolved to not think of that other girl again, resolved not to ask any more questions about where she had gone, and, instead, she turned in her seat and she looked away from the empty seat where the vagrant had been so she didn’t have to think about that either.
Through the dark, onwards to King’s Cross, the train rattled on.