Something sweet happened yesterday. M’s random perfume club subscription which I gave her for Christmas delivered her March tester box on the same day as my Random Book Club subscription which she gave me for Christmas delivered my March book. We thought it was sweet, anyway.
Something not so sweet happened yesterday. The minister in charge of the UK’s finances, the Chancellor, delivered his spring statement, a new budget, in other words. There had been hopes that, for once, a Conservative minister might be compassionate, might look at the disproportionate rises in the cost of living, and introduce measures that would help the poorest in society to survive. Yes, survive. To continue existing. To be able to live. Not to starve to death, not to freeze to death. But no such thing happened. The sleek millionaire with the slicked-back hair, with youth and wealth on his side, proudly shouted for 25 minutes how he was making the country a better place, for those with money. The highest tax burden on the poor for decades. Spring has just started, but for the poor and disadvantaged winter is coming. This was a budget for genocide. And of course everything, absolutely everything was blamed on the war in Ukraine, although the at least doubling in energy costs was already determined before the illegal war began, although the rise in food prices was already determined by the national catastrophe that Brexit is (before even taking into account the impact fuel price rises will have on food prices). At times like this, it’s difficult to remember the lessons and insights Bregman gave me just 10 days ago. And it makes the one major weakness of his book stand out – why do sociopaths and psychopaths like the Chancellor (and the Prime Minister, and Putin) rise to positions of power where they can practice wholesale murder.
What was needed for the UK economy was for the rise in National Insurance to be withdrawn, for the energy price cap to be re-introduced not lifted, for a windfall tax to be levied on energy and oil companies making billions of pounds of profit every year (example: energy price hikes in France are being held below double digits while here in the UK they will rise by 50%), for provision to be made to ensure that the National Health Service is properly funded (the rise in National Insurance was initially touted as raising more money for the NHS, but it’s pretty obvious the resulting money will be used to plug the gaps in funding caused by reducing taxes for the rich), not defunded so that it can be privatised and sold off, bit by bit, to the highest bidder. What was needed was for the assets of Russian oligarchs to be seized immediately and sold off for the benefit of the public purse (though I suppose the benefits would have gone to the Chancellor’s rich cronies). What was needed was not to blame something that’s now happening for the damage done to the economy by this government by pandering to right-wing populism and xenophobia by exiting the EU and imposing additional bureaucratic and financial burdens on small businesses and people. Not to mention the government’s continuing mismanagement of the covid-19 pandemic. Some might say that’s another example of the genocide being perpetrated by this government.
You might even think that the timing of the war in Ukraine was something the Tories and Putin worked out together.
The end of days is signalled by cruelty.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 40
Aggie leaps backwards, dives out of the way of the door, takes Zav with her, rolls across the concrete floor. A flash and a bang, almost simultaneously. Anyone slower of hearing than her wouldn’t have noticed the split second between. A bullet crashes into the wall where they’d just been standing. ‘Stay,’ she whispers, rolls onto her back, her gun in her hand from nowhere, and shoots out the lights in the hallway. Now she inches forward on her stomach. Her eyes split the dark apart. Her hearing dissects the sounds coming from this last room. She sees the skeletal shape hugging the wall, a long dark wand in one hand, its legs moving in tiny increments, slower than the hour hand on a clock. She doesn’t want to do this. The cellar fades.
Do it, do it now. Not a chessboard. Not a room. A forest. The big house somewhere in the distance, forgotten. The mentor had woken her in the dead of night, barely given her time to get dressed in one layer of skinny clothes, walked out of the library with her, down the stone steps at the back of the house onto the lawn sloping down towards the brook, the shallow brook she’d jumped over while the mentor had to wade, their breaths entangled in the fog, footsteps damp and glistening, silent treads on the long walk through the lengthening grass, the moon nowhere to be seen. And then the trees, first saplings, then taller and taller, denser and denser, closer and closer, so tall into the sky even her eyes lost their way before they reached the tops of them. No words, just a push and a pull here and there, until they saw, far away ahead, in the densest part of the undergrowth, of the forest’s overgrowth, a tiny flicker of yellow light. They’d slowed then, and the invisible green eyes, shaded by the absolute night, had made tread silently, taught her to walk on the edges of her soles, keep her eyes and ears to the ground so no sound would come from her body, from her steps. They came closer to the light, and she was dragged down onto the ground, a gun pressed into her hand. A fire, a lone figure the other side of it, long black hair, short wiry body, tight black catsuit. In between her eyes. Now. Or I’ll cut you open and send you back to where you belong. A hiss, a snake of a sentence, a pinch of the face. Do it. Do it now. And she’d pulled the trigger. Speed can deceive.
Aggie leaps across the divide at the shadow only she can see in the shadows, hands forwards, gun changing direction so she’s holding the barrel in her fingers. She flies, for her in slow motion, for anyone else in unseen speed, and the grip collides with the unseeing opponent’s forehead, knocks them down. Aggie catches the figure before it hits the ground, the gentle embrace of the woman who refuses to be an assassin, of the woman who can live in two pasts and the present all at once. She carries her unconscious burden out past Zav, past the shot-out lights, up out of the darkness into the light of the house, of the day, of the sun, lays it down on the floor outside the cellar door, looks down at it. She recognises the face immediately. The face from the forest, the face she had deliberately not destroyed, the face that hadn’t crumpled in pain when the bullet from Aggie’s gun had gone through her shoulder, a miss Aggie paid for with a month’s confinement in a dark room, no wood panelling, no chess boards, no warm food, no human company, no light. ‘Anna,’ she says, and the black eyes flicker open.