He didn’t recognize her all at once. Her voice hit him first, just like it had four years earlier when it knocked him right out of his mundane life as a beat reporter and sent him into a tailspin. Yes, that was what had done it. Her posh affectation, the slight slur of a child’s unpracticed speech that she never quite grew out of, and how she had used it to ask all those chemistry questions to show off her intelligence and yet look needy and helpless at the same time.
Since he’d gone off his Joy, he had remembered her, certainly, but only in terms of their youth. He knew beyond that, but he’d been careful not to let himself land on that topic. He’d distract himself with a deft tangent if he edged too close to thinking about Sally who left in that green and white checked dress and used that voice and everything else she had to win herself helpful new friends at every turn, how she had never used those things on him.
And look, here was a helpful new friend now! Didn’t Sally’s latest companion look spiffing with his hat tilted at a jaunty angle to belie what carefree and lighthearted company he must be. He was fit and fashionable and not too tall as well, not awkward and gangling like Arthur was. He’d look just right with his arm interlocked with Sally’s. Glasses too, of course. Sally always did love an intellectual, didn’t she?
“Come on, love. I thought I finally found him a girl who understood how this was going to work. Someone who wasn’t going to get emotional about it,” Virgil appeased. “You knew what you were signing up for.”
“Oh, I know! You explained it so nicely, just like one of your bloody lyrics! ‘He’s only any good when he’s doing something bad,'” Petunia fumed.
“Then I don’t know why you’re acting so wounded about it. You knew he was going to step out on you. That was the whole point!”
“HE. FUCKED. MY. SISTER.”
As soon as Sally was clear of the fence, James started in on Roger.
“Dr. F said not to tell anyone she was alive. She said she didn’t want anyone to ask her for anything.”
“But she likes Sally,” Roger scoffed. “Everyone does.”
“Yes, I noticed you putting on your little show for her.”
“You can not be serious. We just had this argument thirty minutes ago!”
“Don’t you realize that you’re living a lie? The world you live in is a fiction! This rainbow road leads nowhere! It is a dead end! And we all know it,” William Godwin started his speech, shattering the serenity of Dogberry Park. He stood on the basin of the fountain base of the revolving statue and the eyes of several canoodling couples peppered about the park turned on him. “But we hide it from each other! We conspire in our own fantasy. We wake up to Uncle Jack, and we go to sleep with Uncle Jack, and we nod our heads, and only in our dreams do we dare confront the truth!
“And the truth is,” he said, encouraged by their now undivided attention, “that the rich are robbing us blind! The tiny minority living in the Parade District has taken all the bread and all the butter. And those who live in that Emerald City say, ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!’ It’s time to pull aside that curtain and see that our lords and masters are rubbish wizards and aren’t any better men than we are!”
The couples were getting up now and coming to surround him, and they looked mad! Rightfully so, William thought. He was getting through to them!
Though he had been conscripted into the role long ago, Jack Worthing took his responsibility to Wellington Wells seriously. “Uncle” Jack was the face of optimism and stability. He acted as master of ceremonies through the good times and saw the town through the bad, emboldening them when prudent, encouraging them to endure when it was not – or rather he would have if indeed they’d ever had any bad times. When anyone wrote to him about their worries and concerns – which was surely a symptom of having too few problems – he allayed any doubts or questions and set them back at ease. He saw it as his duty to be the very embodiment of keeping calm and carrying on, a shining example of stalwart English spirit that Wellington Wells could rely on and emulate.
He didn’t have much of a memory of how his fellow entertainers felt about their similar standing in the world. So many of them left the industry at some point between the indeterminate then and now, preferring a life of anonymity. Jack was very nearly the only one left, save for some hobbyist musical acts. He had the vague feeling though, that the way Nick Lightbearer was fidgeting and looking unsure of why everyone else seemed so pleased to be in his presence was not becoming of an entertainer of his notoriety.
September 7th, 1964
“How do you feel today?” Verloc asked. He bent down in front of Gemma and inspected her pupils for dilation. He spoke with more interest today than he’d shown yet to date. It was progress. She made herself smile just a bit more than she had yesterday and perked up her eyebrows a smidge to look more open and at ease. She couldn’t actually do anything about her pupils but with the rest of her adjustments, maybe his own wish for success would convince him they looked bigger too.
“Better. I still have a headache but I forget about it sometimes,” she answered. “I think the fever’s broke finally, but I still feel warm. And sort of… fuzzy?”
“What do you mean by ‘fuzzy’?” he asked, leaning back.
She’d just been laying it on a bit thick throwing that detail on the pile and hadn’t expected to be asked to elaborate on it, but that wasn’t a problem. “You know how Joy- Oh. No, I suppose you wouldn’t know, would you?” she said, catching herself with a little laugh. Verloc didn’t share her amusement and just gave her a look of impatience. Gemma got back to the point. “Joy makes everything seem a little softer. And when you think about things, any things, you never really think that hard. Everything is just… fluffier? I feel like I’m just on the verge of feeling like that.”
Not bad for some absolute bollocks.
There were two kinds of Doctors in Wellington Wells: those who worked at Wellington Health Institute (under which general practitioners also fell) and those who worked at Haworth Labs. One might assume that this was a mere distinction of workplace, determined only by the needs of the town. In fact, there was a great divide in sensibilities of these Doctors and the stark separation in assignment was a symptom of that rift, not the cause.
Haworth’s Doctors tended to be a somber sort with overt concern for the noble dignity of their profession. They carried themselves with stately composure and took things very seriously. They chose work at Haworth Labs for its clean and precise ethic. Pharmacology was a matter of measures and mathematics, and the only variables were in the patient’s response to their compositions.
Health’s Doctors, on the other hand, dealt with biology. The human body was little else but variables and with only some tentative principles on which to work, Health’s Doctors had to be much looser in their expectations. This looseness followed in everything else they did. They did not take the work seriously, they cut up in the lab, and made puerile jokes about bodily functions.
And yet, these two cohorts got along well enough under most circumstances. They each had their separate domains, well away from each other, and only occasionally did they have to set aside their differences and meet each other in the middle. For the most part, it was not a lot to ask for a Haworth Doctor to offer a concessive chuckle at a fart joke or for a Health Doctor to refrain from giggling at how closely the word “organism” sounded like “orgasm”.
For the most part.
Beryl Markham usually kept a sentry post at the entrance to Edenham during the day, as long as David Livingston was around to hold their claim on All Souls Church. Indeed, she had helped build the fortifications blocking off all but this one path into the small hamlet when Barrow Holm was designated the dumping ground for those who developed Joy intolerance. Most of the people she had built the barriers with had since succumbed to the various hazards of Wastrel life, but she remained. She was lucky, in her way. She’d seen the mistakes others had made and so she made it her duty to catch new Wastrels before they made the same errors and school them in the etiquette of the Garden District. She had posted the signs on the way in to help prevent mob murders, but a friendly face was a better teacher than passive aggressive notes.
She did this not just as an act of camaraderie with her fellow Wastrels, nor only to extort whatever goods they might have come here with – that was an important lesson for life in the Garden District itself: everything came at a price. She did this out of spite towards Mr. Kite and his safehouse.
Mikey Forrester always knew the day would come when Sally called in the favor he owed her, but he never thought she’d be so absolutely bollocks-for-brains careless about it. Thanks to her, he would have to skip his lunch break to clean up after the mess she’d made for him. He waited in his office until ten minutes past noon, then headed down the Wellington Health Institute’s records room. Hopefully the girls who ran that office had gone out to lunch.
The records room was clear thankfully. He checked that no one else was in the hall and slid through the door. He needed to find and remove their copy of Sally’s request so whatever she was doing couldn’t be traced back to him.
Mikey scanned the file cabinets until he found the F section, then looked at each label until he found the drawer that would contain his own records. Sliding the drawer open slowly so as not to make a racket, he looked over his shoulder before rifling through the folders. Faris, Farrell, Forrester. There it was. Now to find the B for Boyle file under that and… Mikey yanked out the offending missive and reread it just to reassure himself that it was just as egregious as he thought when he read the original in his office.