Time To Repair

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Chapter 7

Marseille France, Wednesday August 6th 2262

13:07:43 hours (local time)

Simon strolled happily along the Quai de Rive-Neuve, the harbour’s south quay. The sun was sweltering. Northampton had been hot; but this heat was something else. He didn’t mind though, he loved the sun.

His dat-com strap warned him of the sudden increase in temperature and that he would start to dehydrate in thirteen minutes. He would be at his mum’s place by then though, he thought.

To his left were a selection of boutiques, cafés and restaurants, tourists and locals alike milled around, going about their daily business. The entire quay had only recently been reopened. It had been rebuilt and revamped to look like it had before the war. It had taken many decades to finish, but it had been worth it. He admired the finishing touches that had gone into the architecture; the attention to detail on the buildings had made the reincarnation. The French certainly knew how to achieve perfection.

To his right was the Musee de Vieux Port, it hadn’t been used as a port for well over a century. It was good to see the numerous permanently moored vessels that had recently been added, it gave the whole area an authentic feel; there were too many harbours around the world that had been left to the elements and were now just a fenced off eyesore.

Some of the larger vessels had been turned into bars, restaurants, cafés and shops.

Once a week several of the larger yachts would set sail around the bay. You could pay a small fortune to take one of these excursions and experience the sea breeze in your face. He had decided it would be the ideal treat for his mum’s upcoming birthday; it wouldn’t be cheap but seeing her happy face would make it worth every V-credit; and he could certainly afford it now with his new job.

Simon left the quay and headed up the gradual slope of La Canebiere. He chose not to keep to the paved areas, adjacent to the high-rise buildings, but to walk up the centre among the trees, benches and ornamental gardens.

He ambled beneath a row of tall silvery-green-leafed olive trees; making the most of the short respite in the shade. The sun light twinkled through the long slender leaves every now and again as they swayed in the slight sea breeze. He turned onto his mum’s street Place du General De Gaulle. On the corner there was a 20th century musical merry-go-round topped with a sun-faded green peaked canopy. Its two decks spun around whilst its quaint old tune played. Children of varying ages enjoyed their ride on the brightly painted wooden horses, happy parents stood by waving sporadically as their excited children rode by.

On seeing the children Simon thought back to his morning group, Gillian especially; the poor, sweet little wretch. After seeing them off on the port floor he had returned to his office. Valery’s report on Gillian and her parents was active on his data-desk. The read wasn’t a pleasant one. Valery had contacted the Government Child Welfare Department.

Gillian’s father had an alcohol problem. On three different occasions he had been arrested outside a bar or restaurant with alcohol in his system; he had been way over the permitted level for being on the streets and not within the confines of his home or a licensed establishment. His regular refusal to take the required Antihol before leaving these establishments, had led the bartender or restaurateur to call the Government Police Authority; it was more than their license was worth not to.

The government were very strict on alcohol abuse in a public place. Consequently, the last time he had been arrested, he’d been heavily instant fined, banned from drinking anywhere but his own home for twelve months and had his rights to international teleporting suspended for six months.

Gillian’s mother, if you could call her that, spent little time at home. Apparently she worked too hard during the week to spend all her free time stuck at home. She had used these exact words when a child welfare officer had called round. She had also aimed some vulgar and very offensive language at the poor officer. With foul language like that the mother belonged in the 21st century, not the 23rd. Swear words were just not tolerated among most individuals today. Following the ‘Clean Society Act of 2052’, when swearing had been banned in public, subsequent generations of people gradually swore less and less. The CCTV of the time and then the subsequent Satellite Surveillance System made it impossible not to be caught; fines were hefty, and still were, and so it was that verbal obscenity gradually, and nearly completely, died out.

In the space of six months, both Gillian’s parents had lost thousands of V-credits from their individual accounts with instant fines.

The officer’s visit had only come about following a concerned neighbour’s call to the department about neglect.

The content of the report had angered and upset Simon equally. What could he do about it though; other than file his own report?

Simon entered his mum’s apartment block. The communal ground floor hall was very run down and desperately in need of refurbishment. The elevator and teleporter that serviced the eight apartments both had ’en panne’ stickers across the front of them. The elevator had been out of order for the last three weeks; the teleporter at least four months. Fortunately the nearest public teleporter was only by the merry-go-round. This was the one he normally used, unless he took the scenic route via the port.

The broken elevator was a pain, he thought, as he took to the grubby concrete stairs. There was an awful smell on the second floor; he didn’t want to think about what that was.

His mum’s apartment was on the fourth and top floor; he was a little breathless when he finally reached it. He placed his thumb on the outdated pad next to the front door. Bridget Kingsley was displayed on it. The pad gave an error buzz.

“Stupid damn thing!” he complained out loud. He tried a further two times before the door slid aside to let him in with its usual cheery bing.

“Hi Mum, only me!” he hollered down the short narrow hallway.

“In here love!” she called back from the lounge at the end of it.

The hallway had a bathroom about halfway down to the left and one bedroom directly opposite, both were small.

His mum was very house-proud; the climate control mock red quarry tiles on the floor gleamed. The white painted walls on each side of the hallway had framed photograms of Simon throughout different stages of his life; some of them went back to early childhood. He had always been particularly embarrassed about the photo of him as a six year old naked in the bath with everything on show. He cringed once again; he could never bring a date here, he thought as he entered the lounge.

“Hello sweetie,” Bridget said getting up from the sofa.

“Hi Mum.”

He went over to greet her, they hugged affectionately. She was considerably shorter than him; his chin ruffled the hair on the top of her head slightly. The aroma of her usual lavender fragrance, Lavamour, filled his nostrils. On the rare occasion he smelt it on someone else he always thought of her.

“I’ve missed you Son.”

“It’s only been a week since I was last here,” Simon said sympathetically.

It felt good to be missed and he always loved a hug from her, she was quite strong for her age and also very tactile. She had surprised many a friend over the years with a back-breaker of a hug.

She let go. “Can’t a mother miss her little boy now?”

“I’m far from little Mum.”

“You’ll always be my little boy darling.”

She scurried into the small kitchen end of the open-plan room. “Go and take a seat on the veranda, the table’s set and lunch is ready, I’ll bring it out.”

“Can I help with anything?” Simon asked.

“No love, just take a seat.”

Simon stepped out onto the long narrow veranda via the single door from the lounge. The summer heat hit him again. He was pleased to see his mum had pulled out the fan-awning. It was fitted to the white rendered exterior and extended out over the table. The blue and white striped fabric provided shade from the sun and converted the heat from the top side into cool air that wafted gently down from the underside.

The small round table had a white linen table cloth and two place settings. A glass cooler-jug sat on one side full of orange juice.

He took a seat in one of the white cast iron chairs; it juddered noisily as he pulled it in to meet the table.

Bridget appeared with a large plate covered with a selection of cheese and hams in one hand, and a bowl of mixed salad in the other. She placed both on the middle of the table and disappeared into the kitchen again. Her voice came from inside. “How’s the first day going?”

“It’s been great so far,” he replied.

Bridget reappeared with a basket full of bread rolls and a steaming bowl of minted new potatoes.

“That’s good,” she said, trying to squeeze the bread and potatoes onto the packed table. “I’ve been thinking about you all morning.” She sat down opposite Simon with a sigh.

“Anyone would think it was my first day in schooling,” Simon said jovially. He helped himself to the salad. “This looks great mum!”

“Only the best for my little boy on his first day,” she said with a wide smile.

Simon frowned as he piled up his plate. “How’s your day been?”

“I’ve not done much other than prepare lunch. I’m out with the girls from the tennis club this afternoon.”

Simon watched his mum positioning the different foods neatly around her plate; like it was to be entered into a contest. It was so her. Her whole life was arranged neatly into suitable slots and areas. She really did look after herself too.

She always looked her best; she would never be caught out with an unexpected visitor or video call looking like she had just got out of bed. Her dark wavy hair always looked as if she had just stepped out of the salon.

Today she wore an ankle-length black sarong almost completely covered in bright red flowers, with an orange Kebaya above. Her toenails were the same shade of red as the flowers on the sarong, they peeked out from her open-toed sandals. Her lips were covered perfectly with her usual deep orange lipstick, or Autumnal Sunset, as it was officially named. She had corrected him many a time over this… and he had called it orange many a time just to tease her. With it being her favourite shade she rarely wore another.

Bridget finished a small mouthful of salad. “Have you met anyone nice yet this morning? I would imagine a place that size must have hundreds of staff.”

“I’ve only met a small handful so far, so it’s hard to tell, but they have all been very nice,” Simon replied. He took a large swig of orange juice.

“What about your boss? Have you met her yet?” Bridget asked.

“No, I’ve not had that pleasure as yet.”

“That sounds ominous; what do you mean.”

Simon paused with his fork of cheese between the plate and his mouth. “Apparently she’s an evil bitch that you wouldn’t want to cross if you could help it.”

Bridget put her knife and fork down with a clatter. “Oh dear, I don’t like the sound of her.”

“I’m sure I will have her eating out of the palm of my hand by Friday evening,” Simon said with a smile. “I can handle anything she wants to throw at me,” he added.

They spent a further fifteen minutes eating and chatting. A solitary fluffy cloud slid in front of the sun; dimming the brightness for a second or two. Simon looked over the rusty white railing. The veranda faced the backs of a number of other buildings; all looking equally run down. There was a sea of vegetation below that grew wildly out of control. Between two of the blocks in the distance you could make out the quay he had just walked through and see the sapphire blue sea.

“Mum, what’s the matter?” Simon asked. He knew his mum well enough to know that she had something on her mind.

“Oh nothing,” she replied. “It’s just me being silly.” She pushed her plate to one side and looked away from the table over the veranda. She poked at some of the loose paint on the railings with a finger nail.

“Spit it out Mum.” Simon stared at her, unblinking.

She turned to face him again, her eyes closed momentarily. She took in a deep breath. “I don’t want you getting into trouble again at work. There are going to be a lot of attractive young….”

“Hold it right there!” Simon butted in. He stood up angrily; pushing the chair back noisily as he did.

“You know I was cleared of what happened in Bristol,” he stated loudly. “It was all a pack of lies; I can’t believe you’re bringing that up!”

Bridget’s eyes were moist from holding back the tears. “I don’t want you to ruin your second chance.”

“Second chance!” Simon blurted out. “You make it sound like I am guilty of something I was cleared of!”

“I’m sorry Son; that didn’t come out right.” She bit her bottom lip.

“I earned my promotion to Northampton,” Simon declared boldly. “Do you think I was just moved on because of the awkwardness at work and in Bristol? He didn’t give her time to answer. “Don’t you think I’m up to the new job? I would have been promoted regardless of what happened at some point.”

He slipped out from behind the table and stomped angrily along the veranda. He lent on the railing, looking out at the perfect aquamarine sea in the distance. Bridget jumped out of her seat and went and stood beside him.

“Son, I’ve always believed your account of the events; I don’t doubt you for one minute,” she swallowed trying to keep her composure. “All I am concerned about is that because you have that black mark against your good character, it wouldn’t take much for someone that knew about the Bristol University situation to jump on it and start pointing the finger at you again. Mud sticks unfortunately, so you have to be more careful than anyone else would.”

Simon didn’t answer.

“Perhaps if you had continued living in Bristol it wouldn’t have looked like you were trying to get away from something you are guilty of.”

“I wanted a fresh start,” Simon said; still facing out to sea. His stiff rigid posture loosened. “Yes, you may be right; perhaps moving to Northampton does look like I fled, tail between my legs…that’s not the case though.”

“I know darling.” She slipped her arm through his. Thirty seconds elapsed without a word.

Bridget then said softly. “You’re an extremely attractive man; you’re going to generate interest from a lot of people; I know your father did, and with your nature very much like his, then...” Bridget stopped mid sentence as Simon pulled away and turned to face her.

“Don’t ever compare me to him!”

“I’m just saying that you and he are very similar, whether you like to admit it or not.”

“I’m surprised you remember; wasn’t I four when he walked out and dumped us both?” Simon snapped.

“NOOO!” Bridget wailed, “I won’t have you say such things about him, he would never have left us! His disappearance is still being investigated today.” Her face was a picture of misery.

“Only because you plough every last V-credit you have into looking for him,” Simon spat. “You live in near squalor in a block that should have been pulled down years ago because of him. You’ve looked for decades; anyone that had just disappeared would have been discovered by now.”

He looked her in the eyes and spoke coldly. “Just face it Mum, he walked out on us both, met someone else, changed his name and appearance and got on with his new life.”

Bridget broke down and ran inside. Simon’s heart sank, he had overstepped the mark.

He went in after her. She was sat in the middle of the sofa, hunched over, hands covering her face sobbing uncontrollably. Simon went and sat next to her. He put an arm round her back, again emphasising the size difference between them.

“I’m sorry Mum, please forgive me, I am mad at him… I didn’t mean to upset you.”

She turned her upper body and placed her head on his arm. He put his other arm around her and kissed the top of her head.

“Let’s not talk about him; it always ends like this. We are going to have to agree to disagree.”

They sat in silence for a couple of minutes, Bridget’s antique clock ticking the time away loudly.

She sat up. “How about a nice cup of tea before you go?”

“That would be lovely Mum.”

Bridget got up and went to the bathroom. Simon could hear her delicately blowing her nose and then washing her face. Several minutes later she reappeared with fresh make-up on and headed into the kitchen.

“Go back outside love and I’ll bring it out,” she requested politely.

Simon returned to the table on the veranda. He sat down with a heavy sigh and stacked up the empty plates and dishes. Minutes later Bridget appeared with a tray containing two cups of Earl Grey and a plate of scones, freshly prepared with clotted cream and raspberry jam.

“Ooh, lovely!” Simon declared as she placed the tray on the table. “Homemade I take it?” he added.

“Of course love, the French wouldn’t know a scone if it jumped off the table and bopped them on the nose!”

Simon laughed, he loved the way his mum put things. They spent a further twenty minutes chatting, laughing and enjoying the tea and scones. The upset and the tears were over and forgotten, for now.

Simon wiped cream from his mouth as he finished his third scone. “I’m stuffed,” he announced, blowing his belly out to create the image of a full stomach. He patted it with both hands rhythmically.

“Well I’m not surprised on three scones,” Bridget said with a smile. She loved watching him tuck into something she had prepared.

Simon drained the last of his tea. “I had hell of a job getting in here today; that damn panel wouldn’t recognise my thumb signature.”

“I know,” Bridget replied. “It’s a temperamental old thing that plays up on you every other time.”

“Just like my Mum,” Simon quipped.

“You cheeky beggar!” she said, trying not to laugh.

Simon chuckled at his joke. “I wish you would let me help you out with repairs like that, I can easily spare some V’s now. Let me send an engineer round,” Simon offered.

“Are you trying to upset me again?” Bridget replied, sounding deeply offended. “I am quite capable of taking care of things myself.”

“Okay Okay,” Simon said quickly, knowing he was fighting a losing battle with her when it came to her finances and his help. He continued quickly. “Any news on the elevator, teleporter or surveillance system yet; it’s been a long time since all three of those were up and running at the same time?”

“Sadly not, most of the residents in the block aren’t that bothered; it’s only Julie opposite and I that ever approach the landlord over these things; the rest of them know we will see to it so don’t bother. If we all got together I’m sure we’d have more success.”

Bridget took a last swig of tea and then placed the cup back in its saucer. “Last week the landlord’s secretary assured me that all three issues were being dealt with; I will port straight to his office building and confront him directly if they don’t sort them soon.”

“Good on you Mum!” Simon said proudly. She had always stood up for herself and for others, and for what was right.

“I guess I had better get back to the museum; I still have things to do before my next group.”

He stood up, brushing scone crumbs from his lap. “Thanks for lunch Mum; it was superb as ever.”

She beamed from ear to ear. “Anytime love, you know that.”

“I do,” he agreed.

They walked back to the entrance door in the hall.

“Are you out with Larry and Spencer this evening?” she asked. She rolled her eyes and added. “Stupid question Bridget.”

Simon chuckled. “Well, it is a Wednesday.”

“You just be careful,” Bridget said with a slight frown. “You’re like big kids; when you’re together mischief is bound to follow.”

“I promise we will be on our best behaviour.” Simon said with a cheeky grin.

“Hmmm, you used to say that when you were kids if I remember correctly.”

Simon grinned as he put his thumb to the pad by the door to release it. “I will visual call you before I meet up with them.” He bent slightly as the door slid aside on the first attempt and gave Bridget a big hug.

“Make sure you do,” she insisted, her voice muffled by his shirt. “I want to know how your afternoon goes.”

“Love you Mum, must dash. Give my love to the girls from the tennis club.”

“Will do Son, love you too.”

Bridget stood in the doorway to her apartment as Simon sauntered over to the stairs. He turned and waved at the top of the flight and then disappeared from sight. She gave a happy sigh and returned to the veranda to clear away the debris from lunch.

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