After they tore open the skies there was little left to protect. No more checkpoints. No more sanctions. No more barriers. No more disputes. There had been nowhere left to go on sovereign land. No way through the impasse of government and state. There was nowhere left to grow. They looked upwards instead, above the law. The sky was empty. Half of the wealth of the world down below could be lifted up there, into the light, above any regulations. Everything of value could rise into this untethered new world. The word ‘corporation’ could finally be divested of its meaning.
With one small bag and no note he became the next of the disappeared. He was seventeen. They searched for him on maps but the maps were empty and sand covered them. They searched for him across websites but found only redacted rhetoric. He was gone. And he was gone before he was gone. The government said they were liaising with other governments to see if anything could be done. The police said they had monitored him, but he was untraceable. His school said it was a tragedy. His parents said he was a perfect son. He had said nothing.
The stock exchange has declared that trading will be suspended until Thursday. The parliamentary vote on the bailout is being postponed. The man in the shop was in tears this morning; the shelves of his grocery almost utterly bereft. Across the town, cashpoints are running out of notes every ten minutes. Queues are restless, fraught. A military plane carrying a million in cash flew in yesterday evening as part of contingency plans for foreign nationals. At least some people will get to eat.
Back at the hotel it still feels warm enough for a swim – but the water is icy.
They do not listen to me and I do not care. They shout amongst themselves, deaf to pleas of order, order. I have a plan. They know but hardly share their thoughts. They only vainly oppose, and meek protestations coalesce into a sticky goo. I laugh, send deputations of sneering divisiveness: a ploy. Do my bidding, go on. They dance their merry dance even as the weight of disapproval comes, swinging low, the murmurs turn angry. But noise means nothing. It fades. I do not listen. I walk out of the door. I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you.
He makes a cup of coffee: milk, one sugar. Drinks it in the kitchen, his bathrobe loosely tied. He dresses in front of the mirror, tweaks his tie and collar. He walks through the hallway, steps out to the waiting car. He checks emails in his office, calls meetings, takes lunch. He looks at figures, hires, fires, shouts down the phone. He wines and dines the influential. People, when they speak at him, they say… because there is so much to say, and he is the boss, the whole damn thing… if they say, if he was losing, what, what?
There is something especially pleasing about smoking a large Havana cigar while drinking brandy. Feet resting on a leather stool, with the windows open on a late afternoon in summer and the rush-hour traffic grumbling along below. How content one can be.
This was the thought that filled my mind as I let the smoke roll round my mouth and the alcohol warmed my heart.
The moment was broken by the junior who rushed in.
It’s done, he said: We’ve been successful. The schools are ruined, gone.
I smiled. Ah, that content feeling again; truly the way things should be.
How to get the austerity chic look!
Step into this season’s austere fashions by correcting your posture on fiscal deficit. Reduce the appearance of fine tax credits for lower-income earners and plump the riches of the richest. Slip into something less comfortable by removing housing benefit and public services. Look edgy with the latest must-have increases in NHS waiting lists. Remember, DIY rules, so try making your own school or hospital. And if you’re older, adopt the ‘cold-face’ complexion trend by removing all traces of winter fuel allowances – and add a bored expression simply by turning off your TV.
…’kin ’ell, said the new lad. Look at the state of it though.
Better get started then ain’t ye.
But. I mean. Who the fuck’d’ve left it like this?
Been like it fer years mate.
Yer fuckin jokin.
Nah, I mean, but mate. My first day n’all?
You got it. You wanna be back again?
Well yeah, course.
Well ’en: s’all yours.
Brooms in the lock-up. See if ye can get it clean n’ keep it clean.
No buts geez. Gotta be done. N’keep smilin. They like a smile.
…’kin ’ell though. The state.
Before he left the house, after kissing his wife goodbye, he turned to the mirror and smiled, stretching his lips wide so that he showed his teeth. He liked to set off for work confident and, seeing for himself that satisfying glint in his eye, felt rather proud. When he was convinced that the world needed him – loved him – then everything would go his way. Of course, his hair was now whiter by the week, his spectacles prescription stronger and the palms of his cold worn hands looked like raw flesh. But always, always, his faith in himself would prevail.
The road was quiet and amber in the street light. She could hear the sound of violins and voices from high in one of the office blocks. Someone was playing Verdi. She looked upwards. There were no stars in the sky. Beyond the clouds would only be the vapour trails of aeroplanes streaking across the night. Beyond them, satellites beaming TV shows to nations round the world; satellites distributing information about the location of individuals; rockets testing the limits of technological power; defence shields that cost citizens dear. And what was beyond that? Perhaps it was only daydreams and notions.