Vivian stared at the broken window and wondered how it had all happened.
Not the window, of course. She knew how that happened. She just meant the all-encompassing It. How had It come to This? She had blundered through the last couple of weeks with a small, but ever-burning hope that, in spite of reality, things would turn out all right.
Switching on the television that sunny Thursday morning, she had discovered this was not the case.
“And the results are in!” the broadcaster announced. “It would appear that the Culverton Squires party has won by a surprising majority! Meaning, of course, that they will continue to lead Parliament for the next five years.” The woman stated this with a smile, as if she hadn’t the day before been interviewing a woman in tears because she couldn’t afford a full week’s food shopping. “As for the United Progressive’s Party,” the newscaster went on, “they appear to be in disarray after such an historic defeat. Is this the end of the last remaining left-leaning political party?”
That was the point Viv switched off. Her head swam and her stomach churned. It had all been going so well, she had thought. The CSP leader, Walton Hemsworth-Caine, was a vile gargoyle of a man. A figure that looked as if he had lurched out of a Dickens novel with the sole intent of suing the writer’s estate for using his likeness. Various members of the party had been caught in the act of lying during the campaign. And one had even been discovered posting envelopes of dog leavings through potential voters’ letterboxes, all whilst dressed up as a canvasser for the United Progressives. Their manifesto was a seventy-two page window into the depths of Hell itself, and during their last five years in power, they had managed to triple the national debt, crippled half of the NHS, and almost started a war with half the nations of Europe after Hemsworth-Caine broke into a colourful limerick he had written himself.
The election should have been a slam-dunk! And it was, just for the wrong party. She had gone through the rest of her morning routine in a sort of numb haze. She brushed her teeth for a good three minutes before remembering to put some toothpaste on the brush. This stunned feeling didn’t leave when she finally got to work. The air in the office was thick with despair, except at Lloyd’s desk. Lloyd was the sort of man who retweeted what he called: ‘Anti-PC Truth Bombs’. It was widely agreed that Lloyd was a knob, though, of course, you’d never hear Vivian use such language. She left that to the young people.
“We’ve just got to hope for the best now,” Glen had said, staring morosely into his cup of tea. “Maybe when people see what the Culverton Squires are really like, they’ll vote the bastards out!”
Vivian hadn’t quite understood this thought. Surely, after five years in government, people already knew what the party was like. For many people, Lloyd included, this was why they voted for them.
“I just hope,” Harriet said, “that they don’t get around to achieving even half of what was in their manifesto!”
This had been received with a muted round of nods. But not from Vivian. She had stared down at her Kenco, lost in a tempest of thoughts. A saying of her old Gran’s came back to her: “Hope is just complacence with a dusting of glitter.” She used to say it was what people had when they thought they couldn’t do anymore. Hope, she said, was the same as making a wish, saying a prayer, or writing a letter to Santa Claus; it was simply passing the buck. Vivian had never agreed with her Gran on that, until today.
The day had passed in quiet misery; even the customers ringing up had sounded even more dejected than usual. But then it was over; one day down, four years and a three-hundred-and-sixty-four days left to go. Trudging down the streets – the eerily quiet streets, the words of her grandmother echoed through Vivian’s head. Her grandmother who, at the age of eighteen, had slashed a man’s bicycle tyres because he had almost knocked her down in the street. “If the world ain’t goin’ your way, my girl,” she had cooed, “then give it a good kickin’ ‘til it does!”
She had fallen to a stop in the street and turned to the right. She looked at herself in the reflection of a darkened window. She was a plump, slightly-short, mildly-Northern, verging-on-fifty-year old. Just what sort of a kickin’ could she give this world? There’re always the local elections, she thought lamely. Then her eyes drifted further right. The leering face of her Prime Minister glared at her.
The poster proudly announced that the owner of this window had voted Culverton Squires. Vivian looked up. She had stopped outside a pub, not one she knew, but the sort she recognised. She could imagine that landlord now; a barrel-chested man with a shining head of scalp, and undoubtedly a tattoo on his upper arm. He’d be the sort of man who gave every woman a wink and an imagined grope, and described foreigners as ‘You know, Them lot.’ The sort of man who read The Eclipse and believed that his financial woes were all down to the socialists and their funny hats.
For once in her life, Vivian began to feel herself grow hot under the collar. She’d been angry before, of course, but was this what people called ‘Fury’? She stared at the insidious features of Hemsworth-Caine and gritted her teeth. Oh, if only she had him right in front of her. In an effort to expel some of the rage building, Vivian shook her pudgy fist at the poster.
That was no good, she thought, she was still furious! Mad at the CSP, mad at the Progressives and their dire campaign, mad at her co-workers for their resigned dismay, mad at Lloyd in her office and all the Lloyds in the country that were revelling in the vile future. Most of all, she was mad at herself. Mad that she had been so dim as to think the democracy that had allowed the Culverton Squires into power once, would suddenly flip around and kick them out again. That’s when her red-mist cloaked eyes caught sight of the brick. The building next to the pub was stricken with scaffolding, and the top three stories were still under construction. One of the bricks had tumbled down and shattered on the pavement. Fortunately, no-one had been hit, but even more fortunately, Vivian thought, one of the shards was just big enough to fit in the palm of her hand.
Hearing the voice of her grandmother egging her on, the usually-mild woman bent down and picked up the piece of mortar. Its jagged edges jabbed into her palms, but she didn’t mind. If she could feel it, it meant what she was doing was real, and not some delightful daydream.
Vivian looked at the brick, then at Walton Hemsworth-Caine. Oh, she thought, if only it was the man himself. Then, with a polite little smile, Vivian Mulberry chucked the brick through the window.
PC Padloq (he’d heard all the jokes) struggled to believe what he had just seen. Up until then it had been a normal beat. Sure, people had looked more scared than normal, hell, he was scared himself. But, overall, it was quiet. Then he had noticed the woman across the street. Usually he wouldn’t give her a second-glance, maybe not even a first. She was fairly short, close to being overweight, and wearing a cardigan that screamed: “Give me a cup of tea!” But, something about her piqued his interest.
She was standing in front of The Holy Cow, an establishment Padloq had often visited on Friday nights, and not for recreational purposes. The policeman couldn’t see the expression on the woman’s face, but she seemed to be looking at the election poster for Hemsworth-Caine (not Padloq’s cup of tea at all). She seemed to spend longer than usual staring at that poster. He was about to shrug and walk off when she switched focus.
She looked at a fragment of brick on the pavement. Nasty looking piece, Padloq thought. Might do a bit of damage in the wrong hands. She picked it up. Ah, the policeman thought, she’s going to move it out of the way so people don’t trip. She looked again at the poster of the CSP leader. No, Padloq thought, smiling to himself. This woman’s not the sort.
The woman raised her arm.
No, no, Padloq thought again, this time without the smile. She – she wouldn’t.
The sound of smashing glass also matched the sound of all Padloq’s expectations shattering. He was frozen, stunned to the point of immobility. She had actually thrown it through the window. For a moment she continued to stare at what she’d done. She looked as if she didn’t know whether to jump on the shards of glass for good measure, or to start sweeping the mess up. Either of these would have been a normal response, Padloq felt. What wasn’t, he was adamant, was plonking yourself down on the pavement and folding your arms. Yet, this is what she had done. A look of angry determination was cast over her peach-shaped face.
The sound of dogs barking and people shouting roused PC Padloq from his surprise. Of course, he thought. He had a job to do. Rearranging his hat, the policeman crossed the road. He raised a hand towards oncoming traffic, but quickly realised there was no need. The various drivers were already coming to a halt, their eyes glued to the smashed window and the surprising culprit.
Padloq mounted the pavement and squeezed past the already growing crowd around the woman.
“I’m sorry, love,” Vivian said to the police officer that approached, “but I had to do something.”
“Well, I don’t know about you, listeners, but I think it’s dreadful! Utterly dreadful! I – I mean, we had a vote – we had an election, and the people – that’s you, you decided! That’s how democracy works, isn’t it? I mean, am I going mad? Because, now – now some – some – well, let’s not beat about the bush, folks, some fascists! Don’t shake your head at me, Carol, I mean what I say. They are fascists! Just because they don’t like how the results went, they now want to change it! I mean, I mean, that’s not how democracy works! You can’t just make people change their minds!
“Take – take this woman! What’s her name? Vivian, that’s her name, Vivian. Well, what does she do? Can you believe this? She went and threw a brick – a brick, ladies and gentlemen – through a window! I mean – what sort of hooligans are walking amongst us? That is what I’m asking! Not only did she cause untold damage to some poor, hardworking man’s pub, but now – now, ladies and gentlemen – she is sitting! Can you believe it? She is refusing to move, wasting the time of our valiant and reliable police officers.
“What’s the Prime Minister have to say about this shocking – shocking – act of, I’m going to say it folks, terrorism. Oh, oh yes, Carol, I went there, don’t think I didn’t. Hmm? Well, seems the Prime Minister wasn’t available for comment. He’s currently having dinner with Lord Eustace Fiddleback, the philanthropic owner of sixteen of this nation’s newspapers and broadcasters. Ah, old Eustace. Now there’s a man who knows how to grill a steak.”
Padloq was beginning to think he was out of his depth. Which was strange, after all, at the beginning he had just been dealing with a simple bit of vandalism. The resisting-arrest part wasn’t a problem, it was just an extra bit of spice to put in his report. It was . . . well, it was the niceness he couldn’t fathom.
Over the years he’d dealt with countless instances of abuse. Some had been original, most had not. But he’d been able to deal with them. He was trained to deal with them. This woman was something entirely new. Whilst the glass was still settling, and she was still making herself comfortable on the hard pavement, Padloq had made himself known.
He had nodded towards the shattered window. “Did you do that?” he had asked, as if he didn’t already know the answer.
The woman nodded guiltily, but firmly. “I’m sorry, love,” she had said. “But I had to do something.”
Padloq rather doubted this. In the long list of things people had to do, he doubted throwing bricks through pub windows could be found. “I hope I haven’t caused too much bother,” the woman had continued.
The window, which on a good month, got smashed at least once a fortnight, had fortunately shattered inwards. The few fragments that had landed on the pavement were even now being collected into a small pile by the lady and pushed up against the pub wall, away from anyone’s unsuspecting feet.
“You do realise,” Padloq had said, trying to find some more secure footing. “That you have committed an offence. Damaging public property is an act of vandalism.”
“Oh, I know,” the woman had answered, her eyes widening as if she had been a witness as opposed to the culprit.
“Could you come with me please?” Padloq asked, aware that the crowd around the woman was growing with each passing moment.
Vivian had shaken her head. “No, sorry, love.”
This was resisting arrest, he thought. It had to be. He’d seen it countless times. Though, never quite so politely. “Come along, now,” he said, bending down. “I’m afraid we have to go to the station.”
“I’m happy where I am,” she had responded, refusing to budge even as the policeman had pulled her by the arm. She had made herself a dead weight, and given her size, that was a lot of weight.
That was when the landlord had appeared. Scratching his sword-tattoo, and his head gleaming in the dying light, the six-foot man had barged through the crowd and taken one look at the culprit behind his glass-littered carpet. His blazing eyes shifted towards a more punchable target: PC Padloq.
“’The hell’s goin’ on here?” he had roared.
Now this, Padloq had thought, is more like it. Drawing himself up, the policeman held a restraining arm between the barman and the benevolent vandal. “The situation is under control.”
The landlord’s eyes had boggled at this. “Under control? She looks like she’s ready for a picnic!”
“As I said, sir –”
“Why aren’t you arresting her? Lock her up! Hit her with your truncheon!”
“He tried,” one passer-by had commented, munching cheerfully through her bag of popcorn, “but she said no.”
“What? She said –? Right. That does it!” After shooting another glance at Vivian, and deciding against giving her a kick, the landlord had marched back into his pub.
Padloq hadn’t realised it, but not only had the man swiftly rung up the local station, but he also made sure the whole of Facebook knew of the trauma he had been forced to face.
Now the policeman was in the centre of the madness.
Two police vans had screeched down the street, vomiting out a battalion of police officers before the tires had stopped spinning. A cordon had erupted around Vivian, blocking off nearly a third of the pavement, and closing one lane of the road. Journalists of every ilk had swarmed out of the woodwork, their cameras flashing as they hastily applied their makeup. In just a matter of forty-five minutes, Vivian Mulberry had become the focus of attention.
In spite of the almost street wide barricade, a small group had joined Vivian. There was a man in his thirties that she very much suspected of being a Hipster. He had a ragged beard, his hair tied in a loose bun, and a dazed look in his eyes that suggested he wasn’t quite aware of just where he was. There was also a trio of young teens, each one periodically holding up their phones to take a picture and repeatedly squealing about how good it was going to look in their ‘Feed’. And, to round off the unusual troupe, there was a seventy-something-year old retired postman, named Glen, who had a fire in his eyes that even Vivian found unnerving. Not one of them had said a word to her before sitting down, though Glen had given her a rather intense nod before slowly lowering himself to the floor.
So, the group had sat in silence, ignoring the growing crowd around them. Now and then Padloq would shoot them a glance, a curious look on his usually expressionless face.
As the evening drew on, an industrious journalist elbowed her way through the line of policeman and quickly knelt down in front of Vivian. Her cameraman, elbowing a competitor in the nose, quickly followed.
“Louisa Bourbon, from the BNC,” the woman announced, speaking rapidly into her microphone, her rodent-like eyes gleaming in the face of such a scoop. “I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” The microphone was thrust into Vivian’s nose.
“Well,” she said weakly, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Vivian,” the journalist said, “your protest has brought this busy London street to a complete standstill!”
Vivian was sure it was actually the police barricade and the army of journalists that had done that, but she was too busy wondering how this woman knew her name to argue. “Tell me,” Louisa went on, “what’s it all for?”
“Erm . . .” Vivian paused for a moment. In the heat of the moment it had all made sense. It was just . . . right. But the longer she sat on the cold pavement, feeling the bits of grit dig into her bottom, that sensation had slowly dripped away. Now, as she realised the eyes of the country were on her, most of them angry, she hadn’t a thing to say. “I . . . I was just angry,” she admitted.
“Uh-huh, uh-huh,” the journalist said, nodding eagerly. “About what?” Again, the microphone was flicked into Vivian’s face, almost knocking her teeth out.
“About what?” Vivian snapped, feeling a lid burst open inside her. “What do you think? Look at this country! We’ve got people living in the streets, children starving in their homes, everything’s more expensive than it has any right to be, our politicians are getting rewarded for lying to us, and nobody seems to care!” She knew her cheeks were flushed and her hair was springing out of control, but what was more important was that the smug look had been wiped from the prim little reporter’s face. The aloofness that had been driving Vivian mad was gone; the cold, patronising look in her eyes had been replaced with shock. And, what was better, was the general murmur from the crowd had disappeared. Vivian was talking, and the world was listening.
“Things are getting worse every day. We all know it, we can all see it, and we were actually given a chance to stop it! But did we? Of course not! Because, what do we hate more than this? Change! Sure, we might not like what we read in the paper, but that’s where it is for most of us, safely tucked away in the pages of a tabloid. If we look out the window, what most of us see is just a garden that needs a bit of tidying up.
“We’ve grown comfortable with things gradually getting worse, because it’s been happening every day. And why change that? After all, things might get better without us doing anything. And wouldn’t that be nice? But it’s not. And – well, I – I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to do something.”
And that was that. With her face red hot and her throat stinging, she glared first at the stunned journalist, then at the crowd peering over the shoulders of the policemen.
“Shameful,” one person murmured.
“It shouldn’t be allowed,” another added.
“Where’s her husband?”
“Why aren’t they arresting her?”
“You know what it is, don’t you?” a particularly loud voice asked. “It’s the menopause; makes women go mad.”
“Yes! I am mad!” Vivian shouted, almost springing to her feet. “I’m mad as – well, mad as heck! But it is not the menopause! Don’t any of you care?”
“I care about you making me miss my train!” one angry voice shouted, causing a chorus of cheers.
“What do you hope to achieve from this demonstration?” Louisa asked, the I-know-better-look creeping back onto her face.
Vivian opened her mouth, but then looked at the line of furious faces glowering at her, and then at the smug journalist. In the end, she simply shrugged. “I just want people to care,” she said lamely.
The microphone dipped in the woman’s hand. Louisa glanced over her shoulder at the cameraman, a sour look in her eyes. “Not a great quote,” she mused. “Maybe we can spruce it up a bit in editing?”
The man nodded, popping a length of chewing gum into his mouth. “Easy,” he announced. The pair nodded to one another, and then, almost as quickly as they had arrived, they swam back into the crowd and vanished.
Vivian looked to her left and saw Glen watching her. She opened her mouth to say something, then, realising there was nothing ready to spring forth, she shut it again. Glen nodded, understanding, and then revealed a ham sandwich he had tucked into his breast pocket. He tore it in half and passed the larger of the two pieces towards Vivian. Smiling, she took it. Tiger bread, she thought. Her favourite.
“I weep, my faithful listeners, I weep for this country. Can you believe it? After everything that this glorious government has done for us, some ungrateful snowflakes have decided to throw a strop, just because they don’t like the way things are! Well, I don’t know about you, my friends, but I find it sickening! Don’t – don’t these people have jobs? Hmm? Don’t – don’t they have to work in order to afford their – their houmous and their avocado toasties?! All across the country, thousands of these workshy layabouts are dropping down on our pavements and refusing to move! I say our, ladies and gentlemen, because they are ours! I mean, don’t we pay our taxes? I mean, I had to pay at least two hundred quid last year alone. Don’t I have rights? But no, that’s not important to these – these – these lefties!
“You may not believe it, but I too have been affected by these criminals! Only twenty minutes ago I had a call from my chauffeur saying that he would be late picking me up at the end of the show because a group of students had decided to sit in front of the carpark! Well, I ask you, how am I supposed to get home now? A taxi? I think not! It – it – it makes me sick! And no, Carol, I will not accept a lift from you, so stop asking! Christ, you’re a married woman, learn some dignity. But, in the midst of all this, what are the police doing? Absolutely nothing! I mean, what a disgrace! And they complain that they’re hard-done by? Want more funding, Scotland Yard? Try doing your job once in a while! Get the water cannons, get the horses, get the riot squad! And I tell you who you can start with! This – this menace! Vivian Mulberry! What a vile woman, ladies and gents. I’m not a violent man, no matter what my second wife may say. But, if one of you fine upstanding citizens were to take things into your own hands, I would not blame you, not in the slightest.
“The only thing we can be thankful for, is that we have such a strong leader, my listeners. Thank the saints for Mr Hemsworth-Caine, that’s all I say. He released a statement, not ten minutes ago, saying this: ‘We in government are not for the few, but for the many, and though the few may currently be making the most noise, we strongly believe that it’s all big fuss over nothing. As such, we will be making no moves to alter our plans for this nation. Also, we would like to stress that at no point will we ever stoop to legitimising these dissidents by even listening to their demands. We hereby declare that any and all actions are authorised in order to bring these protestors to justice so that the peace and quiet may resume.’ Well, isn’t that just glorious? Praise be to the Culverton Squires! Hear that? Lock them up! And if you break a few legs along the way, well, let justice be served any way possible.”
The news had arrived like a pin to Vivian’s balloon-like feeling. At first, after the interview with the BNC, she had thought the end was immediate. After all, it wouldn’t take the journalists long to edit the footage into making her look like a hormonal madwoman having a minor paddy. But, little to her knowledge, during the interview, one of her teenaged comrades had been ‘live-streaming’ the entire thing. Vivian didn’t quite understand what that meant, even after the young girl had tried explaining the concept with the use of a diagram. All she did understand was that, suddenly, after seeing the unedited footage, the support had bloomed nationwide. The BNC hadn’t even broadcast the interview before people all across the country were dropping what they were doing in order to sit on the floor. Traffic had come to a standstill, early-evening shopping had been slashed, and joggers were suddenly discovering fresh hurdles on their routes.
Vivian was sure it was too early to say so, but she was actually beginning to think she had started something! Surely, in the face of so many people feeling as she did, finding themselves overwhelmed with the anger at what the country had become, the people in charge had to sit up and listen? But, if this election had proven anything, it was that life was always full of surprises.
The hipster had vanished long ago, complaining that he was getting the munchies. Half-an-hour hadn’t passed before the gang of teenagers also made their escape; upon hearing the Prime Minister’s announcement their faces had turned pale and the phones had been stuffed away. It seemed they wanted the fame, but not the infamy that came with protesting. One by one, Vivian’s comrades had shot into the now dissipating crowd. She was alone, save for the dozen or so police officers standing in front of her, and Glen sitting a few feet beside her, pouring the last of the tea out of his thermos.
“That’s that,” he said, revealing a gruff, Geordie drawl. “We did our best, and that’s all we can do.”
“That’s it?” Vivian said, her voice barely louder than a whisper.
“Aye,” Glen said with a mournful nod.
“But – but surely there must be something else!”
The former postman considered for a moment. “We could always start a petition?”
“But we haven’t achieved anything!” Vivian whined.
“Sitting on yer arse rarely gets anything done,” Glen pointed out. “Over the years I’ve been to a great many protests. I’ve waved the placards, I’ve sung the chants, and if any of them had actually worked, I wouldn’t have had to go to ‘alf as many.”
Glen shrugged and slowly, wincing as his knees popped and clicked, rose to his feet. “When it’s a chance to get yer face on the telly, no one can resist. But when it’s a chance of getting yerself behind bars, no one wants to be the first. The chance of real change becomes all that slimmer under the glare of flashing blue lights.” His head jerked up and a grim smile spread across his lips. “Speaking of which.” he nodded towards the end of the street where a large police van was slowly crawling towards them. “Best of luck to ye,” Glen said, giving Vivian one final nod. And then, without a regretful glance back, he too was gone.
It was to end as it had begun. Vivian sat alone on the pavement, with only a smattering of the most dedicated onlookers for company. Slowly, out of the crowd, emerged PC Padloq. He gave Vivian a nervous smile. It hadn’t been an easy night for the young policeman. As a child he’d always loved the Star Wars films. But, even in his child-like innocence, there had been one point that bothered him. Did the Stormtroopers know what they were doing? Did they know they were the bad guys? And, if they knew, did they care? Did they delight in the evil of the empire, or was it just a means of earning a pay-cheque? He hadn’t been the only one having that troublesome thought; but, as they had agreed, what could they do?
“Erm . . . Miss Mulberry?” he said, clearing his throat.
“Yes, love?” Vivian said, even now managing to muster up a smile.
“There’s still a chance, you know?”
Vivian stared at him, a small flicker appearing in her eyes. “A . . . chance?” she murmured. Her eyes drifted over his shoulder and fixed on the approaching van. The wagon, she knew, brought especially for her.
“They want to take you away in that,” Padloq said, following her gaze. “The Prime Minister wants to make an example of you. But, if you come with me now, well, there won’t need to be any more trouble. We can forget this ever happened. What do you say?”
Viv stared back at PC Padloq and nodded. “I know what I need to do,” she said.
The policeman breathed a sigh of relief. The sigh stopped short when he realised what she meant. She was now standing and staring down the van that was slowly approaching. It was like the showdown between a matador and a bull. “Are – are you sure?” he said, watching with dismay as the van doors swung open.
Cameras appeared out of the darkness, journalists crept out of the alleyways, heads popped out of windows. All eyes were once more on Vivian, some not believing what they were seeing. Vivian, placing one foot on the steps of the police van, turned back and smiled at PC Padloq. “Sorry, love,” she said. “But I have to do something.”