Mills was shocked
Verity is deliberately burning her hands on the Globe! I have put her through too much and now she has finally lost her mind...when I thought it would be her heart that would go first.
Mills strode into the foyer as if he belonged there. Verity waved at him, pointed to her sore hands and went to soak them in a basin of cold water in the ladies’ for a few minutes.
Then she explained about the redundancies and the Administration.
“So, Rathlin, Was it mortal? Has it died?”
Verity had never thought of it that way before but, yes: Rathlin was mortal. Plenty of other firms were “dying”, too. People would move on and find other jobs, if they were lucky: some would take early retirement and some, like herself, would simply live with less. She had called Chris to thank him for helping her in the morning and to ask if he had heard the news: yes he had, he was going back to his parents’ farm. She left him her contact details. Joe had always said he would rather be in Renewable energy than Hydrocarbons, so perhaps this was the push he needed. And in a few months’ time, if all went well in Parliament, the Citizens’ Income would take most of the stress away from this kind of thing.
“Why did you burn your hands?”
“Quickest way to get you here. Administrators take everything: they’d have your Globe flogged off to someone in China by tomorrow if you don’t grab it and run”
“That was very thoughtful of you. Shall we...?”
Verity felt dizzy. “Blimey Mills, where are we?”
“My apothecary in Kirkgate...”
“...Castle Museum, York”
Verity thought of all the hours of commuting she could have saved.
They left the Globe in the gift shop and walked home along the river path.
There was a note on the kitchen table: Sacha had a paper deadline and would be working in his office until he’d finished writing, probably after midnight. Verity lit the woodburner and brewed tea: “When in doubt: Brew up. Did you ever see one of those posters during the last war?” Mills said he had. Verity said she wished she had one.
Verity seems to have a lot of war memorabilia: Victory Gardens poster, tea-ration mug, even a victory cookbook. Does she think her Green people are fighting a war? A war against my Plan?
“Verity...” Mills hesitated “Can I ask...about your hair. What happened to it?”
“No idea. What do you mean?” Verity seldom bothered with a mirror: she just brushed her hair until it felt smooth, and didn’t use any make-up.
“Verity, your hair is violet. Why?”
She went and looked in a mirror. “So it is. Well it’s sort of burgundy. I don’t remember doing it but it’s easy enough to explain. I must have wanted a job, right? So that meant going to an interview. And nobody, at least in any industry involving technology, employs anyone with white hair. Everybody knows that.”
“Why not? Don’t they want people who are knowledgeable and wise?”
“No. They want people who’ll do as they’re damn well told and no questions. And who won’t ask for too much money: wages tend to go up with age, well, people tend to expect them to anyway. And above all, if you’re a woman you better look presentable: that means young. And so, I dyed my hair_”
“Not die as in mortal, I mean dye as in colour. Like dying cloth.”
Verity suddenly thought of something
“Mills, this colour, it’s not forever. My real hair colour is still white. Mortal hair grows all the time, remember? In three month’s time, it will all be its true colour again”
“Now I must ask you about my appearance”, said Mills: “does anything about me, disconcert you at all?”
Verity looked carefully at Mills’ face: he reminded her of the Vikings from the February festival the city held. Except, he was rather better-groomed. Verity did not find Vikings disconcerting: as a Yorkshirewoman, she probably had a few as ancestors.
“No”, she said finally.
“Absolutely not. Should it?”
“I am, as your Sharon once so perceptively put it, ‘fear turned into a person’. You can’t see that?”
“I can’t read faces. Remember?”
Verity thought: poor Mills, perhaps everyone else he ever meets is scared of him.
Yes they are, Verity, everyone but you. And even you don’t trust me. I have only four days left in which to change that...
He thought he’d start with something simple.
“There are knots, in your shoulders. Shall I_”
“Oh yes please; that would be marvellous”