Chapter 4

Married Bliss

His bus from work had been delayed, but Stephen Higgs thought he would just manage to get back home before the time for the male curfew. Being out after curfew had two perils. Getting stopped by the police would end up with a night in gaol and a fine or worse if they decided they wanted some “amusement” before letting due process take its course. Getting stopped by a bunch of women who weren’t affected by the curfew would be just as bad.

That was something every man had to worry about.

Stephen had other problems, though. The trouble was, because of his relationship with his wife, he also had to put up with barracking by men that knew him. That was the problem: the fact that he had a relationship with his wife. The fact that he had this anachronistic thing called a “wife.” They thought he was in some way betraying his sex by not being subject to the same privations as the rest of them. He thought it was pretty unfair. It wasn’t his fault that his wife held the views she did.

As he turned into his road, one of his neighbours was standing beside a car waiting to open the door for his sponsor so she could head into town. He had a bored look on his face. From what Stephen knew of him and his sponsor, the man would be busy all evening while his wife was having fun. “Off to your cosy nest, cuckoo?” the man had hissed as Stephen walked by. Stephen didn’t stop. He knew there was no point in getting into an argument. He wasn’t even sure he understood the allusion. “Least you’ll be getting some prick-sex.” Nothing could be further from the truth, Stephen thought, glumly. Marianne might support traditional marriage, but it was more of the “Not tonight, dear, I’ve got a headache” kind of tradition that she favoured when it came to sex. Marianne was deeply conventional – she certainly wouldn’t indulge in anything that was as socially proscribed as prick-sex was, even with her enthusiasm for traditional marriage.

Ten yards along the street, Stephen saw Fara Dangerfield just outside her front door, calling back to her mother. “I’m just going to get a coffee with some of the girls from New Opportunity. It’ll be past curfew by the time I get down town, so you needn’t worry. See you later.”

Stephen stepped off the path into the road to let her pass. Fara looked at him as some sort of curious oddity. He knew his wife had to put up with a lot of comments from Phyllis and her friends because of the way she chose to live her life. They were too polite to use any of the popular terms of abuse for a woman with a regular husband. Even so he guessed that Fara would be aware of his circumstances. He wouldn’t be surprised if she and her friends in New Opportunity had a good laugh at his expense. “Can you imagine? Married? Yeukk!” he thought of her saying.

“Good evening, Mister Higgs,” she said as she drew level with him.

Was the “Mister” sarcastic? Stephen wasn’t sure, but he just nodded in acknowledgement as she went by. He was careful not to do anything more. He knew he needn’t reply. The last thing he wanted was to be thought to be reacting to an eighteen=year-old girl in a short kilt and a tight white sweater showing off her titties, least of all by the girl herself. Fara carried on down the street without giving him another glance.

Stephen reached his home.

“I’m back,” he called to his wife as he opened the front door.

“Just in time, too!” Marianne responded. “There’s only ten minutes to go to curfew.”

“I know. Still, it’s quiet out. You don’t often see patrols down here. Let me just check my ident in and then we can have some dinner.” The ident thing was an irritation. It wasn’t just that you couldn’t be out after curfew, you were supposed to be in an “approved, personally designated, location”. You slipped your card into a reader, usually connected to a television set, wherever you were. Maybe the Government checked, maybe it didn’t. Certainly, sometimes there were location prosecutions so Stephen thought they must check, but how often? Who knew?

The screen remained blank except for a spinning hourglass. Stephen bit his lip, anxious that his card should be recognised and registered.

“Confirmed,” the message on the Higg’s television finally said. That was a relief, at least. There were times when either the reader didn’t seem to work or the system at the other end seemed to be malfunctioning. He supposed it must get heavily used just before curfew

“I felt like cooking. There’s a stew in the oven.”

“Great.” Stephen knew how unusual this was. In any other household, he’d be coming home to fix dinner and clean the house, but his wife’s pre-New Order upbringing meant they had quite an equal relationship. At least, inside the house.

“How was work?”

“OK. We’ve got a new supervisor. Fresh out of New Opportunity, a bit gung-ho but she seems all right so far, I guess.” Stephen’s job collating sponsorship statistics for the Home Office was dull, uneventful, and paid at the minimum male rate but at least Stephen could console himself with the fact that it was so unimportant that it didn’t attract ambitious managers or outside attention. He remembered complaining once about the Head of Section to a co-worker. “She’s useless; they should post her to an unimportant corner of Government where she can’t do any damage.”

“Yes,” his colleague had responded. “But can’t you see, that’s exactly what they have done.”

Marianne had laid the table and the two of them shared their meal. In one corner of the room, a radio played quietly. The intricate chords of a Chopin piano piece provided the background to their talk. “I had coffee with Phyllis,” Marianne said.

“Uh huh.”

“She’s still worried about Fara.”

“Worried?”

“You remember, I told you. Boyfriend problems. Phyllis doesn’t like how she treats Jim. I tried to tell her that maybe they need to just – well – be friends, but she was having none of it.”

“Yes, there’s a lot of pressure on girls to conform. You can’t blame Phyllis for being worried, though. That’s just the way the country is these days. She just wants the girl to fit in.”

“Well, she seems so young to be being encouraged into this whole girls-on-top view of the world. I know they have to do gender politics even down at primary school level these days, but is encouraging her to bully Jim a good idea?”

” I can’t see that you’re going to convince Phyllis that she should try to get Fara interested in sexual-equality, even if she thought it was a good idea herself.”

“No, I guess not. Heaven knows I’m no evangelist for that, but I just think we have a better way of living.”

Stephen nodded. He was certain his wife was right, but it didn’t matter. That wasn’t the course that the country had set itself on. They had to live in the place as it was, not as they might like it to be. Maybe Fara would be one of a generation that would overturn the current way the country was being run. He allowed himself a moment’s fantasy of an energetic bout of prick-sex with Fara before shaking his head and thinking that it really wasn’t a sensible thing to be spending time on. “I saw Fara as I was coming in. Heading off without a care in the world. I’m sure Phyllis hasn’t anything to worry about. These things have a way of working out.”

“You’re probably right.”

Stephen smiled. He wondered how many men would have the woman in their life say that to them tonight.