Paul Braddon: The Actuality

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Paul Braddon The Actuality
  • Название:
    The Actuality
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Sandstone Press
  • Жанр:
    Фантастика и фэнтези / Триллер / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2021
  • Город:
    Inverness
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • ISBN:
    978-1-913207-16-8
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The Actuality: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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She belongs to me – property rights will prevail. Evie is a near-perfect bioengineered human. In a broken-down future England where her kind has been outlawed, her ‘husband’ Matthew keeps her safe but hidden. When her existence is revealed, she must take her chances on the dark and hostile streets where more than one predator is on the hunt. The Actuality

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Paul Braddon

THE ACTUALITY

There is no need to question the unity of soul and body, the one being form and the other the matter corresponding to it, that which possesses being and unity is in the fullest sense the actuality.

ARISTOTLE, DE ANIMA

-

There is movement along the skyline and figures with guns emerge between the trees.

Evie takes the child by the hand and leads her away quickly along the bank.

Four men in grey camouflaged jackets and military caps, carrying hunting rifles with telescopic sights, crest the hill, together with another – taller, familiar in outline. No, she thinks, it is an impossibility. She saw what she saw four days ago in Paris. It cannot be him.

From here the ground rises and they hurry up an overgrown path, batting the branches from their faces with their elbows. As they run, the dog, sensing the child’s fear, fights its way out from under her coat, leaping to the ground, and valuable time is lost in retrieving it from between the rocks.

While the voices behind grow louder.

Hiding behind a fallen tree they watch the men descend. One carries on his back a steel cage, nine or ten inches deep and three feet high, struggling under the encumbrance to find his footing on the mossy stone.

PART 1

The Walled Garden

1

So what is it you think’ll happen? the voice inside her nags. If you continue to do nothing?

Evie shrugs and walks more quickly, feigning weariness to hide her misgivings and save herself further interrogation. The afternoon is on the cusp of evening and the air, from which all the colour has rinsed, is foggy and cold; a mere forty degrees here under the bare branches of the black-skinned cherry. Despite that, she is dressed thinly in a hard-to-get-hold-of-any-more dress made from cotton, and a slate wool cardigan on which the neck isn’t even buttoned. When it freezes, she will take more care.

You can’t hide from it, Evelyn. He is old. I’ve told you over and over that you must ask him what he has planned for us. The voice is male and assertive, and although part of her from the very beginning, has the habit of wrestling for control when she shows uncertainty. She thinks of it as Simon, as in ‘Simon says’. Of course, he is right – she needs to be doing something. She just doesn’t want to be reminded of her failure to decide what and how.

She reaches the wall surrounding the garden. Nine feet high at this point, too high for her to see over. In sections the mortar has cracked and the bricks settled, shedding flakes of clay. Not unlike Matthew – no longer the young man she was presented to forty-one years before.

‘I will ask him when I am ready,’ she replies, picking her words carefully, hoping to close the conversation down. Her tone is clearly evasive and it would not be unlike Simon to tell her so. Walking briskly, she takes out her anxiety on the gravel. Anxiety, an emotion she was never intended to have but which, like a virus, has wormed its way in. If she had even been intended to have emotions.

As you wish, Simon says, but he is not happy. If she could change anything about him it would be the tenor of his voice. Substitute the unsympathetic maleness with something motherly. Something with a hum of warmth. Something nurturing and reassuring. Something to make her feel less like a witless child. He should be helping her, advising her, encouraging her right now, not accusing.

Are you going to continue to act sorry for yourself? he asks, monitoring her mood develop. Or can we actually get back inside out of the damp?

The grey hedges at this end of the garden overhang the path. She comes to a stop and massages her hip. His upsetting her by raising all of this again, and her resulting restlessness, has caused her to walk heavily, jarring it. A warning light of age and neglect.

She straightens and gazes back across the garden – the only outside space she knows – a mere sixty paces by fifty, although Matthew told her once that it is generously proportioned and up here, thirty-plus floors above the city, is as good as unique. In the early days of their marriage he walked its paths with her each morning, explaining the plants, the countries they came from and the programme for their maintenance. He’d delighted in surprising and amusing her, guiding her fingers over the jagged fronds of an Amazon fern or bending to pluck a tiny Alpine flower and tickling her nose with its minute petals. Perhaps he’d hoped to encourage an interest in botany so that she could grow as a companion. That had been her first summer; now it is winter many years on and the flowers are dead and the branches bare.

Daniels – Matthew’s long-suffering servant – also has been known to proffer an opinion on the garden. ‘No, they certainly don’t do anything like it any more,’ she’s heard him say enough times, ‘far too much fuss ‘n’ bother,’ leaning on his fork, kneading the stiffness from his back with his knuckles. But despite the fact that it is he who must carry out the work, he goes to lengths to make things nice for her – trying his hand at propagating orchids, all because she once showed him their intricate designs printed in one of her husband’s books.

Each in their own way – her husband Matthew and Daniels – wants her to be content.

Simon inevitably has his opinions too. When doesn’t he? Generous proportions! he’s sneered. Prison exercise yard is closer to the truth!

Simon is the third male in her life, but in the list comes before Matthew and Daniels as, unlike them, he is in her head from the moment she wakes, eavesdropping on her every thought.

She reaches the corner and turns, the gravel crunching under her shoes. Beneath the ridges left by Daniels’s rake lies the groove she has carved over the years in the packed mud. Routine and repetition, which once provided a sense of security, are now a reminder that at some point things must surely change.

The wall behind her provides shelter from the hard edge of the January wind. It will snow soon based on recent seasons. It is something to look forward to – winter, once the leaves have fallen, holds too little variety.

Rain patters her scalp and she tilts her forehead to the darkening sky to let the drops slide down her nose and cheeks.

We should go inside, Simon says, get out of this.

No! she thinks back at him, more fiercely than she normally dares; even though of course he is right and she should. The drab weather, neither one thing or another, is only fanning her mood.

The water collects in the hollows beside her mouth but she keeps her lips closed, careful not to let any in, wary of the seal around her gums.

There is a swing here, attached to the branches of the crab apple. Perhaps merely to continue to resist, Evie lifts herself onto it, kicking back with her heel, and drifts in the wet air, scuffing the toe of her shoe along the furrow she herself has engraved in the bare dirt.


By the time she walks back, her cardigan clings damply to her arms. She could cut across the lawn and skirt around the fountain but she returns the long way by the wall, completing her familiar circuit. The climbing roses here have been pruned hard, like they advise in the old-time copies of gardening magazines in the library, but a trailing stem that escaped the cull sways in the breeze and plucks at her sleeve. She stops to remove it before it snags the wool, pausing with the blackened thorn held lightly between her fingertips. Suddenly alert…

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