From The Book “Tell Me Tomorrow And Other Stories”
written by: Karen Clark
It was late November – the darkest time of the year, when leaves had abandoned the trees and the sun became mean, turning the climate to ice. Reign switched on her cellular phone, chewing her lip in defeat as she rushed through the blanket of foliage covering the ground. Her sister had bluntly rung off after bruising her ears with a stinging tirade – words which Reign felt were uncalled for and viciously cruel.
It was twenty past three, and the light was beginning to fade; the sun streaking crimson all over the sky before yielding to dusk. Hearing a rustling sound from behind, Reign stepped up her pace; and nervously grasping her phone, she started to run, frightened of being waylaid by “Keep Britain Sane” – cited the “KBS” by the public and press.
She continued to scamper as fast as she could; her pulse vibrating in fear. For Reign was mentally ill, but had so far managed to dodge the clutches of “Keep Britain Sane” – ever since the bigoted party came into being. The rustling still pounded her ears, but on nearing the end of the forest, she dared to look round; her body swamped by a wave of relief as a track-suited jogger sped past her to swiftly be lost.
Placing the phone in her bag, she made her way home, feeling uniquely at risk as her job would be lost; her workload had grown, and she felt unable to cope. As much as she tried to keep calm, she panicked when dealt out a task – and in the end she caved in, being left with no choice but to hand in her notice the previous day.
“What if the ‘KBS’ find out and set about hunting me down?” she thought, as she let herself into the flat that she shared with Janine – a carer, divorced from her husband, who only worked nights.
“Reign! I haven’t seen you for weeks. How have you been?” Janine called, as she saw her flatmate come in.
Reign lowered her eyes; she was not in the mood to converse after such a hard week.
“Oh dear; you don’t look too happy; is everything OK?” frowned Janine.
“No,” Reign sorely replied, as her flatmate raked through the litter of post in the hall.
Janine seized two items of mail, turning to face her co-lodger in curious concern.
“It sounds pretty bad,” the flatmate remarked, tucking the posted envelopes under her arm. “There’s some time to go before my shift at the old people’s home. If you want a shoulder to cry on, why don’t we both have a chat in the lounge once I’ve made us a nice cup of tea?”
“All right,” murmured Reign, not wanting to seem impolite; having hoped to spend the evening entirely alone.
“I’ll bring these in with me for now to save going up to my room,” Janine said, referring to the items of post tucked under her arm. “Come on; let’s both go in,” she perkily added, making her way to the lounge, as Reign followed suit.
Feeling fearful and tired, Reign made for the couch, while Janine bustled into the kitchen to make the hot drinks. During her wait, Reign switched the television on to divert her mind, reeling in utter disgust as she caught the tail end of the news. There on the screen lurked Dale Wolf – the menacing leader of “Keep Britain Sane” – a man of about her own age, wiry and lean, with a handsome but mean-looking face; his eyes suggesting that he was not to be crossed. His members hung close to his side, listening in awe to all that he voiced, and keenly applauding his condemnation of those who were mentally ill. Each member was wearing a standard, four-piece, two-button suit in bright orange and green; their lapels adorned with the logo enacting their group: a Union Flag and reversed smiley mouth featured over a brain that was superimposed by a cross.
Reign switched off the set as Janine re-entered the lounge with a tray holding two cups of tea and a small slab of cake.
“I’ll pop these things down on the table, and then we can talk,” said Janine, ready to pour out the tea.
“I’ve packed in my job,” Reign burst out, before Janine sat down.
Janine swiftly put down the tray, realising her flatmate felt plagued by the look in her eyes. She took a seat beside Reign; the plate of cake still in her grasp.
“When?” she curiously asked as she put down the plate.
“I handed my notice in yesterday morning – when I got in,” Reign glumly replied.
“What led to that?” Janine asked with a look of concern.
“It all got too much – the workload, the people and everything else,” Reign wearily sighed, letting her tea turn to ice as she stared at her cup. “I just couldn’t cope in the end; it was driving me mad,” she went on, feeling increasingly tense.
Janine picked up her cup, sipping her tea as she tried to comfort the flatmate that she hardly knew.
“Were you given too much work – or was it that you just couldn’t cope with what you were given?” Janine carefully asked, sensing the raging fear Reign was trying to suppress.
“It was more subtle than that,” Reign replied. “They made me do more than my fair share of work – but in only one field. There were other duties in my job description as well – but I’d panic, so they restricted me to the one task. There were snide comments from my colleagues regarding my ‘inability to keep calm,’ and the ‘state of my mind.’ The remarks built up – and so did the volume of work in the only area in which they thought I could cope. The atmosphere grew so bad in the end, that I felt I just couldn’t stay. I suffer from anxiety, you see – and that makes things so hard.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” said the other, draining her cup. “I hardly know you, but from the moment I first saw you, I realised you’d suffered with nerves. People aren’t always nice – and just by talking to you, I can tell you have a breaking point, if pushed a little too far.”
Reign gulped with unease, somewhat taken aback at what her flatmate had said; she had not been aware that her breaking point rate had been so strikingly clear to everyone else.
“So I take it you haven’t found another job yet?” Janine guessed by the troubled look on Reign’s face.
“No,” Reign tensely replied, “Nor will it be easy for me to do so – the way that I am. Why do you think that I still share a flat, pay a low rent and not live in a place of my own? I’ve dared not take out a mortgage and rely on whatever I could earn – in case I’d cave in on the job if the stress grew too much; either that or I wouldn’t be wanted because of my nerves. The mortgage would only go bang; I’d lose the flat, and find myself out on the streets. Because of my nerves, I’ve experienced problems with jobs again and again – and it’s ruining the quality of my life. My predicament was bad enough before – but the way society is now has made it much worse.”
Janine put down her plate, and stared quizzically into Reign’s eyes.
“What do you mean – ‘the way society is now?’” she asked with a frown.
“The KBS – Keep Britain Sane,” Reign sorely replied. They seem to have built up more power over the years – and are shown on the news quite a lot. They aim much of their bias at those who are anxious, nervous or mentally ill – people like me. Didn’t you see their leader, Dale Wolf, threatening and laying down the law on the news the other night? What he was saying was really extreme.”
“There’s no way the KBS would come looking for you here – just for you giving up your job. No other party ever has – so why on earth would they?” Janine firmly replied.
“The KBS persecute people like me; they hunt certain citizens out,” Reign said with a sigh.
“I doubt if it would ever come to them badgering you,” Janine exclaimed. “But in the unlikely event that they did, and they came round here, I’d send them away; throw them off scent; pretend no one else was in, and say I didn’t know who you were.”
Reign did not reply; she threw her flatmate a smile, secretly sure that if Keep Britain Sane turned up at her door, Janine’s loyal actions would fail to deter its members from entering the flat.
Years ago, when the movement began, the party was relatively tame; but over the years, its power had steadily increased; and had Reign given up on her job when the group had just formed, she would not have been as afraid as she was currently was.
Janine glanced at her watch, placing the half-eaten cake with her saucer and cup back on the tray.
“I must hurry up and get ready; my shift begins soon,” she piped up, as Reign gulped down her icy cold tea. The care manager isn’t exactly my most ardent fan; she doesn’t need much of an excuse to try and trip me up; but I’ve learnt to look after myself,” the care worker went on, hurriedly adding Reign’s empty cup to the tray.
“Thanks for your words of support,” said Reign, getting up from her seat, touched by what Janine had said about turning Keep Britain Sane away if they came to the door.
“That’s perfectly OK,” the other replied, as she picked up the tray. “Have a nice evening – and maybe I’ll see you tomorrow,” she added, heading for the kitchen to put away the cake and wash up the saucers and cups. “Oh, and by the way,” she finally said, briefly turning back. “If the type of job you’ve been doing isn’t working out, perhaps you’d do better trying some other kind of work.”
The following morning Reign suffered a panic attack; her body an electric current of nerves as she dreaded facing the colleagues who made her feel small. About ten minutes later, the fit of anxiety passed, and she forced herself into the bathroom to wash and get dressed. On her way out, she realised Janine would be sleeping in the next room after her shift, and made sure not to make too much noise as she tiptoed downstairs. Entering the kitchen, she found herself loath to stomach even a thin slice of toast, and poured out a mug of hot tea, before forcing it down a tense throat that seemed to be blocked.
Within the next hour, she was sitting at her desk, deprived of tasks from the colleagues who blanked her as soon as she entered the room.
“Why don’t you bring something in to occupy your mind?” the telephonist asked. “You could read a book, or knit, or browse the internet on your PC.”
“You can read this, if you like,” the secretary joined in, slapping a newspaper onto Reign’s desk with a smirk.
Reign opened the newspaper up and pretended to read the first page, wondering what sneering remark would be hurled at her next.
“What are you reading through now; looking for another job?” the secretary jibed, as she and the telephonist looked at each other and laughed.
The two women returned to their desks leaving Reign to stagnate in her seat without any work, riddled with guilt and unease as the telephonist glowered into her eyes to make her feel cowed.
When lunchtime arrived, Reign abandoned the office in haste, turning into a parade a few metres away. As she neared the town hall, a male voice enhanced by a loudhailer blasted her ears; but she was unable to see his face or decipher his words from a distance so great. She drew closer, to see a rally – held by a few politicians – take place in the street, as ardent supporters gathered around, brandishing banners with slogans in what they believed. At first, Reign plunged into denial, convincing herself that her eyes were deceiving her brain; but the fervour and din of the rally forced her to open her eyes and admit that what she observed was seriously real. An unpleasant sensation shot through her veins as she finally acknowledged who the politicians were, as their supporters swiftly flocked round, cheering at every sentence their leader yelled out.
Before her eyes – in the flesh – were the men she had seen on the news the previous day: the fanatical, bigoted members of Keep Britain Sane. Revolted and scared by the sight of these vicious, young men with polished facades, she stood in the crowd and looked on, appalled by their condemnation of those who were jobless and mentally ill: the ‘waste of space ciphers unfit to roam the free world which they ruined for those who were able to cope.’ The whole theme of the rally resembled the mindset of those where she worked, who treated her as a minion because of her nerves.
Reign watched in disgust as the crowd waved their fists, shouting “Keep minorities and mad people out!” in one synchronous voice that baaed like that of a sheep; their banners daubed with the vile, evil logo of Keep Britain Sane: the flag, the cross, the brain and the miserable mouth that condemned the outnumbered, the poor and the mentally ill. Sick of the logo, Reign shifted her gaze to the zealots ahead, only to see the identical emblem on their lapels, as Dale Wolf‘s continuous rant bombarded her ears.
Then all of a sudden, the leader went quiet, moving the bullhorn away from his face which broke into a smile, as the crowd applauded and cheered, watching his henchmen submerge through the rear of the van used for their campaigns. Reign lingered ahead as the crowd dispersed to leave her standing alone in the midst of the square; the leader of Keep Britain Sane a mere metre away.
“If only he knew I hadn’t been able to cope in my job – and what if he suddenly found out?” she fearfully thought, as she stood, waiting for him to get into the van.
But Dale Wolf remained where he was with the loudhailer clasped in his hand, as they stood, face to face; Reign struggling to hide her unease as his eyes met her own. For the first few seconds she felt relatively calm, as his manner suggested that he did not know who she was. Yet within the next moment, the look in his eyes became cross, raising her sense of alarm as she realised how clear it had been that she did not support “Keep Britain Sane” by not waving a banner or cheering along with the crowd.
She lowered her eyes, resisting the urge to hurry away and make her fear and dislike look blatantly clear. She took out her phone and pretended to browse through ‘overlooked’ texts, subtly turning away from the merciless bully in orange and green. Slowly she retraced her steps; the back of her head perceiving his cold, probing eyes, as the garrulous din blaring forth from the politicians’ van gradually waned.
After buying a sandwich for lunch, she continued to walk, greatly relieved that Dale Wolf was no longer in sight when reaching the street where she worked. As she entered the block, two colleagues walked out, stepping through the door with their heads in the air as if she did not exist, after which she ascended the stairs with a feeling of dread. Walking into the office, she found that her desk had been moved; now positioned close to the door – away from the rest of the staff. As she stared at the alteration in utter dismay, her supervisor approached, pointing at the newly-placed desk in a cavalier way.
“Don’t worry,” the supervisor smirked, “You’ll find all your things are still in your drawer,” and throwing her colleague a look to suggest that the problem was far from her own, waltzed back to her desk.
For the rest of the working day, no words between Reign and the rest of the staff were exchanged; and she struggled to bear the sting of their mutual sniggers and smirks until it was time to go home.
Once reaching her flat, she let herself into the hall, where she saw Janine at the foot of the stairs, dressed in her nightclothes and newly-awoken from sleep.
“I’m awaiting a letter,” the flatmate announced, making her way to the stand to sort through the post.
“Oh, I see,” Reign abstractedly sighed, frayed by the way her colleagues were acting at work.
“Reign – are you OK? You seem rather on edge,” Janine said, looking up from the table in haste.
“While I was at lunch, my desk was moved near the door – apart from where all the other staff sat. Hardly anyone would speak to me either; and when I got up to go home, none of my colleagues said goodbye. I can’t bear to go back and work my notice; but I need the money – and if I ring in sick, I’ll go without pay, as I’ve no more sick pay to come,” Reign sorely replied, removing her coat which she placed by Janine’s on the stand.
“I wouldn’t bother about what your colleagues do now. I know the atmosphere doesn’t sound nice – but in a few weeks, they’ll be out of your life – and you’ll financially pick up if you find another job soon,” Janine said, ceasing her search for the letter with a cool shrug.
“But that’s just it; I don’t think that I will. My nerves are too bad – and this job has taken away the little confidence I had,” her flatmate replied.
Janine stared into Reign’s eyes, before dropping her gaze.
“I suppose you could try signing on – but the Department of Employment doesn’t take everyone these days; and if that doesn’t work and you don’t find another job soon, would that leave you with no other choice but to move out of here?” she carefully asked.
“Yes, it would – at least after a while,” Reign replied with regret. “I only have a little money in reserve – which is going to run out – and the medical retirement pension I get is quite small; it wouldn’t be enough to cover my rent as time would go on, and I’d plummet into the red.”
“That would be a shame,” Janine sadly remarked, securing the clips that held up her coarse, woolly hair. “I don’t know you that well – but you seem so easy to get on with. I reckon you need to be bossier; to stick up for yourself a bit more – or others will be trampling on you for the rest of your life.”
Reign lowered her eyes, slightly abashed, as she realised that Janine was right; her colleagues had milked the fact that she suffered from nerves.
“Oh, and by the way,” Reign declared; the memory making her tense, “I saw Dale Wolf and his cronies at lunchtime today – in the parade, near where I work; the KBS were holding a rally outside the town hall, where he was giving a speech.”
Janine’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“What? The KBS headquarters are in Keele, Newcastle-Under-Lyme – so I don’t know what they’re doing – coming all the way here,” she incredulously cried, seeing by the pained look on Reign’s face that her flatmate was telling the truth.
“The KBS are everywhere now. There will always be those who detest them; but their popularity and power has increased since they came into being – particularly over the past couple of years,” Reign firmly replied.
Janine threw Reign a glance that was irked but slightly amused.
“OK – so the KBS are more prominent now than before; and I know I was shocked to hear that they’d come all the way to this neck of the woods when they hadn’t before. But a general election is to be held very soon – and the KBS are not going to bother to focus on small fry like us. Besides, they don’t even know who we are,” she replied with a snort.
Reign mutely lowered her eyes. She deemed herself no more of note than the clapped-out, old man who lived two doors away. Nor had she felt that Keep Britain Sane had come all the way from Keele just to trail her; but Dale Wolf’s dark glare when seeing her in the parade hours ago had left her unnerved.
The look of annoyance on Janine’s pert face had remained, prompting her flatmate to end the discussion at once.
“Oh, look at the time; I must go. Have a nice evening,” said Reign, as Janine made it tacitly clear she had lost her incentive to talk.
Reign made for the stairs, skulking up to her bedroom to take off her shoes.
As she massaged her sore, aching feet, the office’s veto of trainers entered her mind, niggling and jabbing away until making her cringe. She reached for her slippers, which she slid on, shutting her eyes in dread at the prospect of having to bear her co-workers’ spite, and seeing her notice through for another few weeks.
“Did you have a nice holiday, Chris?” the secretary asked, addressing the office accountant back from his leave.
“Yes, thank you; I did,” Chris replied, as Reign sat at her isolated desk feeling wholly ignored.
“Listen, Chris – me and Jill are popping out to the shops; is there anything you want? We’ll ask you more about your holiday when we get back.” the secretary said, as she and the telephonist hastily rose from their desks.
“No thanks, Elaine,” the accountant replied; his chubby face forming a grin as the two women put on their coats.
“OK then, Chris. See you when we get back,” the secretary said, before she and her colleague submerged through the door to leave Reign and Chris in the office all on their own.
Reign felt her muscles contract, bracing herself for another instalment of hell, as she saw by the spite in her male colleague’s eyes that he was about to home in.
“Oh, so your desk has finally been moved, then?” Chris wantonly sneered.
“Finally?” Reign bafflingly asked, not knowing what he meant.
“The other members of staff had been planning it for quite a while; it’s just that they hadn’t told you,” he smugly replied.
Reign lowered her eyes; it was best not to rise to the bait.
“It hardly surprises me, though – as no one here’s wanted to speak to you from the moment you joined,” the accountant went on, eager for her to react.
Reign remained quiet; her face was deadpan, but her insides were cringing with shame.
“I noticed today that Jill and Elaine left you out again before going to the shops; they’ve been bad-mouthing you for a long time now – when you’ve been out of the room. I had to defend you three times before I went away – and that was in one afternoon.”
“It hardly matters now, as in a few weeks I’ll be gone,” Reign finally replied, without sounding ruffled or cross.
“Oh, it will be the same wherever you go,” Chris cruelly replied – a cutting remark which left her feeling unnerved.
Reign fell silent once more, but the bullying went tirelessly on.
“You know, it’s funny,” jibed Chris with a grin, “but the other day, I read in my local paper about someone like you. She hadn’t been liked where she’d worked, and gave up her job without finding another elsewhere – exactly like you. The KBS found out about this – and once she’d signed on, they accosted her outside the benefit office for ‘not being strong enough to cope’. They also found out her address, and harassed her with threats and abuse – calling her vile names online and on notes they pushed through her door. Graffiti was sprayed outside her house – and she received anonymous calls on her phone – branding her as ‘mad and unfit to be in a world amongst those who could cope and were sane’. So if you’ve plans to sign on once you leave here, then I feel sorry for you. The KBS are now said to be hanging around benefit office grounds – badgering those on the dole; and there’s nothing anyone can do, as they’re growing in power. You may not have heard about this yet, but I expect that you will very soon. The only trouble is, though, you can’t take back your notice, because no one’s wanted you here, and your hand has been forced.”
This was exactly the kind of nightmare Reign feared would play out; and as much as Chris had told her about it to fill her with fright, she sensed it was true, as Jill and Elaine returned from the shops; the accountant showing a friendlier face as he saw them emerge.
Reign spent the next several hours suffering alone, remaining completely ignored, as Chris, Jill and Elaine talked amongst themselves; and the staff who once gave her work evasively brushed past her desk, as if she were not in the room.
At five minutes past five, she sat, alone, on the bus. Seconds before the doors closed, Chris scrambled on board; his eyes throwing her daggers as he rushed past to hastily clamber his way to the storey above.
By half past five, Reign was home, relieved that Janine was nowhere in sight as she entered the hall and took off her coat, withdrawing into the lounge to gather her thoughts. She sat on the couch and closed her tired, aching eyes; the unopened letter she had plucked from the stand ensconced in her lap as she thought of the past several hours she had to endure. Now more than ever the thought of returning to work the following day filled her with dread. After what Chris had said about the unemployed woman being hounded by Keep Britain Sane, she knew that her mental ill health had been cruelly discussed. Chris’s vile, frightening words had also cast doubts on her plans to attempt to sign on: what if she were to exit the benefit office only to be stopped and mercilessly grilled by Keep Britain Sane?
Reign re-opened her eyes, pushing her doubts and fears to the back of her mind, as she studied the unopened letter that lay in her lap. Picking the envelope up, she unsealed it in haste, as she heard Janine’s footsteps pervading the hall, hoping she would not decide to enter the lounge. Lifting out and unfolding the letter – sent by her sister, Shanelle, in Bexleyheath, Kent – she perused the first couple of lines, aware that the sender had no idea that she would soon exit her job.
the letter began.
“How are you? I hope you are well, that you’ve now settled into your flat, and that all’s OK where you work. As for that hideous character, Chris – I hope that he leaves; but you know what they say: ‘wherever you go, you always get one.’ It’s just part of life–.”
Reign lay down the letter and sighed, aware that her sister’s high self-esteem would prove her less of a target for ill-natured Chris. She picked up the letter again and continued to read.
“I’m writing to you to share my good news. I’m happy to say that I’ve just been promoted in my job, which I’ll be celebrating with drinks after work at the end of this week. I’m now head of my auditing team, and am so looking forward to stepping into my ex-boss’s shoes at the start of next week.
I’m sorry about the problems you’ve faced in your previous jobs. In fact, I wish that my employees were as honest and hardworking as you; you’ve just been unlucky, that’s all. Perhaps the job you have now will bring you more luck, and will enable you to move into a flat which you won’t have to share.
I know it’s short notice, but I’m holding a party at my house this Saturday at 5.30pm to celebrate my ‘increase in rank.’ There’ll be music, drinks and plenty of food. I know it’s a long way for you to come, but I hope you’ll be able to attend. It would be nice to see you again – and you can update me on how things are going in your job; so please let me know if you’re able to make it as soon as you can – preferably by tomorrow afternoon. Mum will also be there, and so will my friends – so please come.
Anyway, Reign, take care – and I hope to hear from you soon.
Lots of love,
Reign refolded that letter, stuffing it into her bag with a frustrated sigh. The last thing she needed right now was to go to a party of slick, prying guests, grilling her on a new job that had failed to work out. She took out her phone, resolving to turn down the invitation as soon as she could. Tensely, she started to dial; Janine waltzing into the room as she pressed the phone to her ear, in the hope that her sister would promptly answer the call.
A few seconds later, she heard Shanelle’s voice; Janine submerging into the kitchen in haste.
“Hello, Reign,” greeted Shanelle. “Thanks for getting back to me so soon. How are things?
“I can’t come,” her sister burst out.
“Why not?” Shanelle asked, her tone changing from friendly to frosty and cross.
“Something’s come up,” Reign replied, struggling to think on her feet.
“What has?” her sister indignantly asked, sounding as if she were just about to explode.
Reign thought of the first excuse that came into her head.
“I’m seeing a film with my flatmate on Saturday night,” she uneasily said, preferring the sting of her sister’s sharp tongue to a swarm of gossipy guests.
“And, I suppose a trip to the cinema with a flatmate comes before going to a party held by your own flesh and blood?” Shanelle sourly asked.
“It’s not that at all,” Reign replied in an effort to calm Shanelle down.
“Well what else could it be?” Shanelle snapped. “If my party were more important, you would have told your flatmate you weren’t able to make it – not me.”
Reign saw Shanelle’s point, and discarding her impotent lie, came out with the truth.
“OK Shanelle,” she began, wishing she had feigned the excuse that she had not been well. “If you’re going to take offence, then I’ll have to come clean. You wanted an update on how things were going at work, so I’m telling you now: quite frankly, they’re not; I’ve had to hand in my notice, because the job just hasn’t worked out.”
Following a sigh from Shanelle, a silence ensued; and at first, Reign thought that her sister had ended the call.
“What happened this time?” Shanelle asked at last, considering the numerous jobs her sibling had lost.
“The usual,” Reign ruefully said, “Because of my anxiety, they withdrew certain tasks, as they felt I’d panic and wouldn’t be able to cope; and as soon as my probationary period was coming to an end, my hand was more or less forced. Hardly any of the staff will talk to me now, and my desk has been moved near the door – apart from everyone else’s in the same room.”
“So, it’s happened again. I wonder what it is you’re doing wrong to be treated like this all the time,” Shanelle said, sighing again.
“I’m not doing anything wrong,” Reign sorely replied, peeved that her confident sister would not understand. “I’m being treated like this because of my anxiety, that’s all; and the benefit office won’t give me disability pay, as according to them, I’m fit and able to work.”
“That isn’t good news,” her sister remarked. “Do you think you’ll still be able to pay your rent once you exit your job? If you can’t, that’ll mean you’ll have to move out and live back at home.”
“I could, perhaps, still pay the rent for a while,” Reign replied, in the hope that sudden expenses would not arise. “But I may not find another job for some time; and even if I am allowed to sign on, I’d hate having to pay rent through the benefit office – not that my landlord may take tenants on the dole.”
“Oh, Reign,” soughed Shanelle. “How on earth do you manage to get yourself into such scrapes? I must admit, I wouldn’t want to be in your position right now. But if you come to the party on Saturday night, no one need know that you’re losing your job; we simply won’t tell them, that’s all.”
Reign nibbled her lip. How could she really be sure that Shanelle would refrain from revealing the truth to her mother and friends before the party began?
“Look, Shanelle, I feel pretty dire, as things stand. I’ll hardly be in the mood for a party on Saturday night,” she regretfully said, deciding to stick to her foregoing plans, and shun Shanelle’s party and friends. “And don’t you agree that the fares to your house would prove costly for me at a time such as this – when I’m soon to be out of a job?”
“Mum and I will club together and cover your fares. It’s too late to send you the money in advance – but you can have it when you come round,” her sister cut in, determined that Reign would not turn her invitation down.
Reign sighed again. She knew how wilful her sister could be, regardless of how others felt.
“I wouldn’t dream of you having to fork out; you’re not responsible for my financial mess,” she tried to persist, not only loath to be cowed by Shanelle’s prying friends, but to be left feeling shamed by ‘alms’ from her family, to boot.
“It shouldn’t prove much of a financial burden to me, now that I’ve landed a job with much higher pay!” Shanelle absurdly laughed, which left Reign feeling more riddled with shame than before.
“I’d still feel bad if you and Mum covered my fares; and the way I’m feeling right now won’t make me good company for you, Mum or your friends,” Reign flatly replied, peeved that Shanelle had not taken her chagrin on board.
“Oh, go on, Reign – come,” persisted Shanelle. “Brooding alone in the flat will just make you feel worse. The party will help bring you out of yourself; help take the job off your mind.”
Reign gave up the fight; there was no way Shanelle would give in, which left her with no other choice but to face her family and elder sister’s friends on Saturday night.
“What time do I need to arrive?” Reign reluctantly asked.
“Six o’ clock would be fine – but you could come a bit earlier on, if you like,” Shanelle advised, relaxing her tone now that Reign had agreed to attend.
“OK then, Shanelle. I’ll see you this Saturday evening between five and six.” Reign reluctantly said, wishing to end the call and to be left in peace.
“OK then; take care,” her sister replied. “See you on Saturday, then. And remember,” she glibly added before ringing off, “I won’t breathe a word about your job to any of my friends.”
Reign switched off her phone, placing it back in her bag, as Janine – still dressed in her nightclothes – re-entered the lounge.
“You don’t look too pleased; is work getting you down?” Janine enquired, pausing beside the settee on which Reign glumly sat.
“Yes, it is – and to make matters worse, my sister’s insisting I come to her party to celebrate her promotion to manager on Saturday night,” Reign sorely replied.
“What’s wrong with that?” Janine asked, throwing her flatmate a quizzical glance.
“I’m having a terrible time – seeing working my notice through,” the other replied. “This morning I got into work to find that my desk had been moved near the door – far away from everybody else’s in the room. Chris, the accountant, started to taunt me once getting me alone while the others were out – telling me that moving my desk had been planned for some time. He said that none of my colleagues had wanted to speak to me from the moment I started the job. As much as I need the money, I come home from that office feeling so bad that I can’t bear the thought of going back there for even one day; and to be honest, I now feel I can’t face anyone at all. I tried to explain all this to my sister just now, but she took offence; didn’t understand how I felt. She’s insisted I come to her party; and her friends will be there – giving me the third degree about the job that I’ll lose. She’s advised me to lie that I’m being kept on, saying she won’t let them know that I’m leaving the job to become unemployed. But not only won’t I be in the mood for a party, but I fear she may split, and tell her friends what I’ve told her about my job on the quiet – before the party begins. And even if she doesn’t spill the beans, maybe my mother – who she’s probably told about it – will.”
Janine abandoned her plan to exit the lounge, and took a seat beside Reign.
“Perhaps you should have lied to your sister, and said you weren’t well,” she remarked with a smile. “I’ve never met her – so haven’t a clue what she’s like; but if she’s the type you can’t trust, then you shouldn’t come clean. There are times you need to be sly to cover yourself. Having told your sister the truth now means that you’ll have to attend the party you’d hoped to avoid – so good luck with that! But once you turn up, just carry on as normal and pretend that everything’s OK – even if you think that her friends may know that you’re losing your job. Don’t let them know that you know that your sister has split, whatever you do. By the way – where is the party being held?”
“At her house in Bexleyheath, Kent,” her flatmate replied.
“That’s a long way from here,” said Janine. “Now you’re also saddled with paying the fares!”
“When I told my sister I was losing my job, she said she and Mum would cover the cost.”
“I hope she sticks to her word,” Janine said, eyeing her flatmate in doubt.
“I hope so, too,” agreed Reign. “I’m so worried about money, that I’m now going to have to try and apply to draw dole, after all – whether I get it or not.” But you never know; it’s worth a try, I suppose.”
“If the Unemployment Department grant you dole, they’ll make you seek work, and force you out to job interviews once you sign on. I still think it would be well worth you looking for some other kind of work; I can imagine the atmosphere in the office once you walk in,” Janine remarked in a tone of regret. “But you must tell the benefit office you’d like to change your career; otherwise they’ll keep sending you to interviews for the same kind of work that you currently do. Had you been me, I’d have abandoned that kind of work ages ago. There’s no way I would have been kept – and you wouldn’t see me go back. I’ve known a few people who’ve had office jobs – and they’re bar workers now; they couldn’t take the strain that the office environment involved. Do you think you’ll go in again tomorrow? The atmosphere in your workplace sounds pretty dire.”
Reign stared at Janine and sighed.
“Not as things stand. That Chris is the worst of the lot; and now that he’s back from his break, he’ll be giving me hell when we’re together in the office alone. Yesterday, the atmosphere was worse than it’s ever been before – and I wanted to run out,” she sorely replied.
“Then you’ll just have to ring in sick, and let all your colleagues clear up your work. For after all, from what you’ve told me, that’s what they’ve been doing to you,” Janine firmly remarked.
Reign looked down and sighed, recalling her dental appointment a few months ago. Jill was on leave, and Reign had asked Elaine for the afternoon off in order to attend the appointment at a quarter to three. Yet despite covering for Jill in her absence many times before, the manager summoned Reign into his room, scolding her harshly for ‘planning to let down the team’ by ‘abandoning the crew while the office was one person short.’ Reign clearly remembered him urging her to make appointments ‘in her own time,’ without bearing in mind that, come 5pm, both the office and dental practice concurrently closed. Whereas Jill would take days off work on a whim without being chastised; and indeed, a few hours ago, Elaine had granted her yet another day’s leave; that day, of course, being tomorrow – when, by planning not to be in, Reign would be ‘letting everyone down by leaving the office two members short.’
“Anyway – must make a move and prepare for my shift,” Janine piped up, rising at once from the couch.
“Thanks for your advice,” Reign gratefully said, as her flatmate made for the door, uttering “Take care,” before disappearing upstairs.
Reign sat alone on the couch feeling anxious and drained, as she faced the awful dilemma of ringing in sick and being condemned, or going into work and being a target of spite.
Reign took a deep breath as she reached her sister’s front door, having spent the whole journey to Kent reflecting that her absence from work over the past three days had made her fare harder to find.
Within seconds of pressing the bell, the patter of footsteps from the hall distracted her thoughts; her muscles growing taut as the door unlocked in one click, edging open to bare her mother’s face from behind.
“Oh, Mum! You’re early; I thought I’d be the first to arrive,” she exclaimed in surprise.
“Come in, Reign,” her mother replied in a standoffish tone.
Reign entered the hall and took off her coat, which her mother irascibly snatched whilst shutting the front door in haste.
“Mum – is anything wrong?” Reign uneasily asked, cowed by the irritated look in her mother’s dark eyes.
“Come into the lounge. Shanelle and I are the only ones here – so it’s best if we talk before anyone arrives,” said her mother, hanging Reign’s coat on the stand.
Reign’s unease increased as she followed her mother down the hall, realising at once that the anger she sensed had been linked to the loss of her job.
“Hello, Reign; would you care for a drink?” called Shanelle, as her mother and younger sister entered the lounge.
“No thanks; perhaps later on,” Reign abstractedly said, bracing herself for a talk from her mother and Shanelle.
“Come and sit down,” said her mother, taking a seat next to Shanelle on the settee.
Reign sat down on a chair in front of the table of food, facing her mother and sister in dread, as the latter parted her lips, ready to speak.
“Mum and I would like a quick word,” Shanelle began, whilst she and her mother swapped looks. “It’s about the money for your fares. For both Mum and myself, things have cropped up; we’ve both had unforeseen expenses to pay since I spoke to you last.”
Reign stared at Shanelle in dismay; nothing but brazen aggression glowering back.
“So, you and Mum can’t reimburse my fares, after all?” she assumed in despair, remembering how, a few days ago, Shanelle had promised that she would go halves on the cost.
“No, I’m afraid that we can’t; and it wouldn’t be fair for Shanelle to cover the cost of your fare on her own,” her mother cut in.
Reign longed to protest, cross that Shanelle had gone back on her word without taking her sister’s predicament into account. Furthermore, if Shanelle could not be trusted to cover her fare, could she have lied about keeping the news that her sister’s job would be lost from her colleagues and friends?
“I hear from Shanelle that you’ve handed in your notice at work,” her mother went on, impatiently sighing before continuing to speak. “This seems to be following a pattern; you’re failing to hold a job down. You can’t keep asking for handouts from me and Shanelle. This may sound a bit harsh, but it’s high time you learnt to stand on your own two feet.”
Reign felt her heart sink, and looked to Shanelle for support.
“Mum has a point,” her sister piped up, springing to her mother’s defence. “And you were the one who chose to leave home – something there’s no point in doing if you can’t hold down a job and keep up with your rent.”
Feeling frustrated and misunderstood, Reign nibbled her lip; the look in her relatives’ eyes remaining incensed.
“Look – I tried; I honestly did,” she strived to explain. “I’d always obeyed; I hadn’t been sullen or rude; I’d never been late coming back from my lunch, and had always got into work each morning on time. Things turned a bit nasty, that’s all.”
“Well, that’s life. People aren’t meant to be nice; you’re not going to change them – wherever you go; don’t you realise that yet?” her mother sententiously replied.
“Yes,” Reign sorely cut in, “But what you’ve failed to point out is that when one is anxious, people are worse. They sense your unease, and try to unnerve you all the more; and managers see you as a drawback rather than a help – depriving you of tasks that they give to the confident instead – even if they’re thick – in case you’ll panic and feel that you’re not going to cope.”
“Then confront them; stand up to them; try and prove them wrong. Just tell them: ‘Look, I feel that you’re passing me off as inept without having given me a chance; I can cope; give me the task and I’ll show you I can,” asserted Shanelle.
Reign felt even worse after her sister’s dogmatic advice, since having realized within a few days of starting her job that the earliest signs of a worker no longer being wanted by a firm were not being allocated tasks that were linked to his job.
“They didn’t want me, so they wouldn’t train me up. There was definitely some bias towards me somewhere along the line, if they’d moved my desk all the way to the door. I can hardly point a gun to their heads and force them to keep me; what say do I have?” she said in retort.
Her mother stared at her closely and tightened her lips, as her misconceived daughter sat hunched on her solitary chair, bracing herself for yet more unwanted advice.
“OK, so you don’t carry weight, and aren’t good at your job; so you accept it and find a way round it. There’s always something one finds hard to do; you’re not the only one to have felt unsure of particular tasks. I’ve done, and so has Shanelle; various other people who I’ve worked with have, too. But we’ve all survived; still managed to hold down our jobs – as hard as we’ve found certain tasks. However, with you there have always been hurdles you’ve never jumped over in each job you’ve had. You must be doing something other people aren’t. It’s not only your work on which you are judged; there are other factors employers consider, as well,” the older woman said in a resolute tone.
“Yes – and you must be careful what you say – because if you upset employers by rubbing them up the wrong way, they start to get awkward and then they close ranks; and we’re both aware that you’re not very tactful at times,” cut in Shanelle; she and her mother exchanging looks once again. “You must be particularly careful when you’re new to a job, as usually, whoever’s first in is usually first out.”
Reign’s head felt excessively crammed. She could stomach no more of her relatives’ meddling advice, which left her feeling dismissed and entirely misjudged – just like her colleagues had done – which increased her frustration that none of her jobs had worked out.
“Look – I haven’t come all this way just to be nagged. I feel bad enough as it is without being chastised!” she peevishly snapped, getting up from her chair.
“The trouble with you is that you won’t listen. No wonder your colleagues and manager have turned distant and cold. You can’t go on like this for the rest of your life; you must settle somewhere; you’re thirty-four years of age, for crying out loud,” her mother affirmed.
A split second later, the doorbell rang out in the hall.
“This must be our first guest; I’ll see who it is,” Shanelle said, getting up from the couch and vanishing into the hall.
“I hope Shanelle hasn’t told any of her friends that I’m losing my job,” Reign anxiously said, aware that it was too late for her to flounce out.
“Neither I nor Shanelle can keep covering for you, Reign”, warned her mother, tightening her lips, “And you can’t keep moving back in with me when a job ends. I won’t be here to pick up the pieces forever. I had you and Shanelle late in life. The house would have to be sold if I went into a home; haven’t you thought about that?” she went on, as Reign retook her seat in despair, knowing that she and Shanelle were not close, and that the latter would not bestow her for long.
Reign and her mother abruptly looked round, as Shanelle and her closest friend, Jenny, waltzed into the lounge; Jenny staring at Reign in a penetrative way.
“Jenny knows,” Reign miserably thought. Shanelle’s told her I’m losing my job; now the whole world and his wife will probably know.”
As Shanelle returned to her seat, Jenny pulled up a chair beside Reign, who realized that, sooner or later, the questions would start.
“Hello, Mrs Myers; it’s nice to see you again,” Jenny said to the older woman in a tone of respect.
“It’s nice to see you again, too,” Reign’s mother replied. “Shanelle will get you a drink if you like.”
“No thank you; I’m OK for now,” Jenny said, turning her interest to Reign, whom she sought to address.
“Hello, Reign; it’s lovely to meet you at last,” she falsely began, swapping amused and clandestine looks with Shanelle.
“Hello,” Reign flatly replied, evading her eye.
“I hear that you work for a life assurance firm in New Cross; have you been there long?” Jenny smarmily asked.
“No; I’ve been there five months,” replied Reign, resolving to keep her answers as vague as she could.
“And how are you getting on there; do you like it?” Jenny enquired; Reign afraid that Shanelle and her mother were going to join in.
“It’s OK,” Reign tersely replied. “It’s convenient for me, as the office is near where I live.”
“You’re sharing a flat at the moment, I hear,” Jenny said, throwing Shanelle a sly glance.
“Yes. I live with a care assistant called Janine. We don’t see much of each other, as she only works nights,” answered Reign with a lackadaisical smile.
“I know what having to share a place can be like – so it’s good that you don’t get under one another’s feet. But I expect that once you become established in your job, you’ll buy your own place; bet you can’t wait,” Jenny said with a sceptical look in her eyes.
Reign promptly clammed up, realizing Jenny knew perfectly well that the loss of a job forestalled one’s chance of being able to purchase a flat.
“Excuse me, everyone,” she murmured in haste, and rising from her chair, she hurried out of the lounge before Jenny could say any more.
Ascending the stairs in the hall, she hid in the bedroom that Marvin, her brother-in-law, shared with Shanelle; its walls neatly strewn with snaps of herself and her sister before they grew up. To study how they appeared in the photographs then, no difference in psychological health between the two girls could be seen; both looking as if they would sail through life without grief. Little did Reign or the family foresee that once she would reach the coming of age, anxiety would cruelly swoop down and rob her of the fulfilling life that she could have enjoyed.
Averting her eyes from her poised, former self, Reign sat down on the bed, dreading having to come home once her money ran out; to relive those nightmare days when her mother’s neighbours and friends would visit the house and berate her for having no job – leaving her mother ‘to cover the cost of the bills and council tax all by herself’ – would prove too much to bear.
Her thoughts were disturbed by the patter of feet, as a voice invaded her ears from the passage beyond.
“Reign – are you coming down?” she heard Shanelle call.
But it was no use; Jenny’s insensitive questions had rendered Reign loath to revisit the lounge and face Shanelle’s guests.
“I have a bad migrane; I’m not feeling well,” Reign announced through the door, regretting how much of her dwindling supply of cash had been wasted on fares.
“Can I come in?” she heard Shanelle ask.
Reign got up and walked to the door, pulling it open in dread, as Shanelle marched into the room, perusing her sister to see how poorly she looked.
“The migraine was hovering this morning, but now it’s much worse,” Reign hastily said, desperate to dodge the shame she would meet by encountering more guests.
“That was well-timed,” Shanelle said in a sceptical tone. “You were always like this when people came round – even as a child. If you’re feeling that bad, at least wait until you feel better before travelling back home. It’s getting late – so you may as well stay here tonight. Marvin will be back from work soon; I’ll let him know you’re staying overnight when he comes. In the meantime, I’ll get you some painkillers while you stay up here and rest.”
Reign could tell that Shanelle was not pleased as she exited the room, leaving her sister to cringe in lingering regret about wasting her fares. A few minutes later, Shanelle reappeared with a glass of water and two oval drugs in her grasp.
“Here, take these,” she advised, placing the glass by the bed and the pills in Reign’s hand. “If you feel better after a while, you can come down. Jenny’s already asking where you are, and why you haven’t reappeared.”
“Of course Jenny’s asking where I am; without me, she’s no one to taunt,” Reign bitterly thought as she swallowed the pills, realising that Jenny had known the truth about her job.
Moreover, the questions Jenny had asked were blatantly cruel; and Reign felt that Shanelle had been downright disloyal by complacently listening in silence; just looking on.
“And remember to try and come down if you possibly can,” Shanelle advised.
“I’ll see how I feel – and thanks for the drugs,” Reign replied, as her sister abandoned the room and descended the stairs.
But no matter how long everyone waited, Reign never came down, remaining hidden upstairs for the rest of the night.
“So how did Shanelle’s party go; was it better than you thought?” asked Janine, as she and Reign sat in the lounge of the flat that they shared.
“Not really,” Reign glumly replied. “But I cut it all short by feigning a migraine and spending the evening upstairs. I stayed at Shanelle’s overnight, as had I left then and there, it would have proved hard to get home at such a late hour.”
“Oh dear,” Janine remarked. “After the distance you’d travelled, and all that money that went on those fares! Did Shanelle and your mother cover the cost, in the end?”
“No,” Reign ruefully sighed. “Shanelle said they both had expenses to pay, which suddenly arose – and my mother told me that she and Shanelle couldn’t bail me out every time I was out of a job; she said I must learn to stand on my own two feet.”
“So your sister can’t be trusted, then,” Janine dryly remarked. “And, has she spilt the beans to her friends that you’re losing your job?”
“Looks like she has,” Reign forlornly replied. “I could tell that her friend, Jenny, knew. Yesterday evening, Jenny was the first to arrive – and she was giving me the third degree; telling me that she bet I couldn’t wait to be established in my job so I could get my own flat. I got the impression she was taunting me a bit, as there was a smirk on her face all the while.”
“Did Shanelle and your mother twig you were feigning a migraine to shun further questions from guests?” Janine carefully asked.
“I reckon they did – because this morning, before I left Shanelle’s house to go home, there was a bit of a row – when they accused me of hiding upstairs to avoid Shanelle’s friends,” Reign tiredly replied.
“Well, you did, didn’t you?” Janine thoughtlessly quipped; a remark leaving Reign feeling hurt and misunderstood.
“Well, how would you like it if your sister split on you to a friend – and then sat on the fence whilst that friend taunted you with questions about what she should have kept to herself?” Reign defensively asked.
“I was joking,” insisted Janine. “And, anyway, had I been you, I’d never have gone to the party and let things get so out of hand. You should have told Shanelle you felt ill last week when she rang; that way you wouldn’t have wasted that money on your fares. Any trouble you sense, you must try and walk round; perhaps if you learnt to cover yourself, you’d stop losing so many jobs.”
“You’re right, I suppose. What a mess I’ve got myself in; and my family don’t seem to understand – which makes matters worse,” Reign sadly replied.
“I can understand how frustrating their intolerance must be,” said Janine, staring at Reign in concern. “But if you’re going to live back with your mother – as you told me you might – you’ll have to keep on both her and your sister’s good side, and try not to argue too much. If I were you, I’d look for another job now, and try to hang on to this flat.”
Reign nodded without a reply, aware that her latest job had destroyed the assurance she needed to impress a future employer.
“Will you be going into work tomorrow?” Janine carefully asked.
“Yes,” Reign hesitantly said. “But I know the atmosphere will be dire – and I’ve no more paid sick leave to come.
“Do you have any paid leave to come?” her flatmate enquired.
“I’ve five leave days left, which I haven’t had the chance to use up, as I’ve been too busy covering for everyone else.”
“Well, you’ve only three weeks to go in that miserable hole; they can all just get on with it now; and as soon as you’ve gone, they can put on some other poor sod,” Janine advised. “Take that week’s leave, and contact the benefit office to try and draw dole.”
Six weeks had passed, and Reign joined the queue in the benefit office, ready to sign on. She had been granted a jobseeker’s handout, but not the disability allowance she had hoped to receive; the disability adviser having told her when she applied that no records of her illness existed on file, and that her anxiety did not exempt her from seeking a job. But his words had left her confused when she thought of how tasks in her previous job had been taken away due to Management’s fear of her feeling too anxious to cope – a factor that finally led to the loss of her post.
She was third in line, and got out her card to sign on, as two women in the queue to her right began to converse.
“What happened to your job?” asked the first – a middle-aged woman in a checked, threadbare coat, with long, greying hair.
“It was OK at first,” said the other, a youth who looked as if she were fresh out of school. “But after a while, they kept giving me more and more work – and it all got too much in the end, so I had to resign.”
“How long have you been out of work?” the older woman asked.
“Only three weeks,” the young girl replied. “But during that time, I’ve received nasty messages online – calling me a ‘layabout,’ and ‘mentally unstable’ for giving up my job; and saying that if I ‘wasn’t able to cope in the everyday world, then I shouldn’t be in it amongst the sane, and those who could work’. I’m sure that the KBS have got hold of my password, home and e-mail address; because that’s what they’re said to be doing to those out of work and the mentally ill – harassing them online; and when I got home one day last week, a note with the words “WASTE OF SPACE” scrawled across it was pushed through my door.”
“I’ve heard about similar goings on,” said the women in the coat. “The KBS are gaining more power and becoming a menace. I hope they don’t trace my address and start targeting me.”
“They’ve targeted quite a few of the mentally ill and those out of work,” the young girl replied. “I hope I don’t see them loitering outside on my way out of here.”
“Then when we’ve both finished in here for the day, we’ll meet at the entrance and both leave together; there’s safety in numbers, they say,” the older woman said, after which the two claimants fell quiet, as their turn to sign on at the booth finally arrived.
Reign felt her muscles tense up. She remembered what Chris had said about the unemployed woman being plagued by Keep Britain Sane, and the conversation between the two women in the queue had confirmed that what he had told her was definitely true.
During the next hour and a half, Reign’s employment adviser scheduled an interview for her to attend the following week; and she spent the next thirty minutes pretending to browse the job-hunting machines, afraid of leaving the building in case a few members of Keep Britain Sane would be lurking outside. Then all of a sudden, Dale Wolf‘s ruthless face returned to her mind; the last thing she craved was to fall victim to him.
Wishing she were not alone, Reign took a deep breath before making her way to the exit and stepping outside. As she reached the rear of the building, her vision grew daubed with blurred figures in orange and green; and as what she saw see grew clear in her mind, she instinctively paused, ready to retrace her steps and exit the grounds the roundabout way. But the movement of torsos towards her caused her to freeze, as the flags, crosses, brains and reversed smiley mouths that defiled their lapels made it excruciatingly clear who her predators were. In the corner of her eye lurked the van used for their campaigns, obtrusively parked with the cars of the benefit staff where it did not belong.
Reign recognised some of these men from the news and the press; they were also in the parade near where she worked when Keep Britain Sane held their rally two months ago. But this time, Dale Wolf was nowhere in sight, which left her slightly relieved, though no less alarmed, as the men drew threateningly close before coming to a halt. Frozen with fright, she stood, face to face, with the deputy leader, Floyd Cole, warned by her instincts not to show fear as he parted his lips.
“We know where you live and your name – and why you abandoned your job,” the deputy said, eyeing her in reproof, as if she had sinned.
Fearing that answering his questions would make matters worse, Reign took a pace back, trying in vain to avoid being waylaid.
“Let me pass. I’ve no time to talk,” she evasively said, trying to sound as calm and firm as she could.
Floyd Cole and the rest of his men started to laugh; a tumultuous roar that echoed across the whole grounds.
“Had you been in a hurry to get off to work, you would have been believed; but being a lady of leisure means you have plenty of time on your hands,” the vice leader said, whilst blocking her path.
“Even if I do have time on my hands, what’s it to you?” Reign heard herself cry. “My struggles with work are between the Department of Employment and me; it has nothing to do with you and your party at all,” she went on; her anger continuing to rise at being held up.
“You’re obviously not too aware of the power our party has gained. If we win the general election next week, those without purpose like you would be taken in hand,” Floyd Cole said, undeterred.
“Then you’re going to be busy – because you should be aware by now of the thousands of people forced out of their jobs by predatory colleagues wantonly stitching them up; preying on the fact that they’re anxious, nervous, weak, or mentally ill in some way. They’re the ones to clamp down on – not people like me,” Reign said with a snort, placing her hands on her hips.
“The people to whom you refer can hold onto a job. We don’t care how obnoxious they are; they keep the economy going, and don’t waste others’ taxes on handouts to those who are of no use to the country at all,” the deputy leader flatly replied.
It was a remark delivered ‘straight from the horse’s mouth,’ freezing Reign into silence and turning her blood into ice. As the week had progressed, the events defacing her life had caused her to overlook the general election being held the following week: what if the nightmare of Keep Britain Sane taking charge of the country came true?
She resolved to stay quiet from now on, as Floyd Cole and the rest of his men carried on with their taunts; and two hours later, she reached the front door of her flat, nearly in tears, albeit relieved that the cruel persecution had stopped. But on entering the hall to sort through the post, she spotted a sheet of paper lying on the mat, and sensed it had not been delivered by the Royal Mail.
Reign hurriedly took of her coat which she hung on the stand, upturning the note after nervously picking it up. A note in the form of a poem scrawled in red ink – which could have been blood – caused her to reel, confirming her fears that she was now a target for Keep Britain Sane.
“WE WILL WIPE OUT THE WELFARE STATE,
AND WEAK INDIVIDUALS WITH NO INCENTIVE TO WORK, WHO WON’T PULL THEIR WEIGHT.
THIS WORLD IS ONLY A PLACE FOR THE FIT AND THE STRONG.
ALL YOU LOAFERS – GO BACK TO THE LAND OF INSANITY – WHERE YOU BELONG.”
Entering the lounge, Reign switched on the laptop she shared with Janine, appalled to discover more virulent insults online; calling her ‘a layabout,’ ‘thief,’ and an ‘indolent leech, feeding off the taxes of the rich and those willing to work.’
She started when hearing a rustling sound close to the door, fearing someone had forced their way into the flat to pursue the abuse. She looked round to catch sight of Janine hurrying into the room; the care assistant’s expression bewildered and fraught.
“Someone rang while you were out,” Janine announced.
“Who was that?” Reign curiously asked.
Janine massaged her head and looked down.
“I don’t know,” she tautly replied. “It was one of those anonymous calls where they shout down the phone; it wasn’t very nice – and I wasn’t sure if the call was intended for you or for me.”
“What did they say?” Reign nervously asked, realizing that it was she who the caller had meant to address.
“Well, as soon as I said ‘hello,’ they started to yell – calling me a ‘parasite, living off the taxes that other people earned.’ Then they shouted ‘Waste of Space! You’re a pariah who should be locked up, and kept apart from people who earn their right to be here.’ I was also called a number of other vile names – those too vulgar to repeat. I wonder who it was. It may only have been someone mucking about – but it made me feel threatened and scared,” Janine said in repulse.
Reign abandoned her seat, showing her flatmate the note she had found on the mat.
“This came through to door; I saw it when I came in,” she confirmed in despair, as Janine studied the poem in utter dismay. “I’ve received an e-mail as well, similar to this – but I very much doubt if you’ve received one as well,” she added, taking the note from her flatmate and folding it up.
“What makes you so sure that I haven’t?” Janine edgily asked.
“I know who’s behind this,” Reign said with a feeling of shame.
“Who?” Janine queried, aghast.
“The KBS,” replied Reign, pocketing the note. “I was stopped by some of its members outside the benefit office this morning – once signing on. They kept me for nearly an hour; bombarding me with taunts about giving up my job and sponging off the state. They told me they knew my name and address – so they must have got hold of my telephone number and e-mail address now, as well. I’m now frightened of signing on at the benefit office next time, in case they accost me again; and what if they win the election next week? Then where would I stand? I may have to live back with my mother sooner that I’d planned.”
Janine shot her flatmate a glance of reproof, which took Reign aback.
“Yes – it looks like you might – and maybe you should,” Janine fiercely replied. “I’m living here too, which means that if the KBS – or whoever the harasser may be – has a vendetta against you, then I’ll be targeted as well. Every time I go out, I don’t fancy the thought of coming back to threatening messages on the phone, or through the front door, or a brick through one of our windows – thanks very much. The longer you’re here, the worse it will get; I wouldn’t be able to live with that torment at all!” she frustratingly added, before flouncing out of the room and thudding upstairs.
Reign now felt entirely alone, resolving to ask her mother if she would take her back home. Her previous job and the bias of Keep Britain Sane were about to succeed in driving her out of the flat that she shared; the latter having destroyed her rapport with Janine. She took out the note, wondering whether or not she should call the police.
But first she would speak to the benefit office and urge its security staff to stop Keep Britain Sane from harassing its claimants once they signed on. She switched off the laptop and placed the note in her bag; and putting her coat back on, she exited the flat. A few minutes later, she boarded the bus, heading back to the benefit office where she had signed on.
Reign got off the bus and entered the building with care, heading for the entrance the long way around to avoid passing its rear, where Keep Britain Sane had waylaid her earlier on. When the security guard at the door asked her why she came back, she explained how Floyd Cole and his men had made her feel cowed; that they found out her name and address, and harassed her with phone calls, e-mails and unpleasant notes – all because she was out of a job, and claiming the tax payer’s money that she did not earn.
She had hoped to speak to her appointed adviser about the harassment as well; but he was too busy interviewing claimants who had to sign on, which left her with no other choice but to exit the building and travel back home.
On her way out, she watched for anyone loitering about who may hound her again, avoiding the rear of the building as she walked on. Nearing the exit of the grounds, Reign sighed in relief to see no one in sight; but a few seconds later, she froze in suspense as the Keep Britain Sane campaign van pulled up on the kerb; her heart leaping into her mouth as Floyd Cole and his gang of foul men emerged from its rear.
As they approached her, she turned on her heels, preparing to flee – only to find her path blocked as she had done before.
“So we cross paths again,” Floyd Cole viciously sniped. “You love it here, don’t you? You can’t keep away. It’s clear you’ve no intention of finding a job,” he coldly went on, as he and his followers threateningly gathered around.
Reign took out her phone from her bag.
“If you’re not careful, I’ll ring the benefit office and get the security guard to come to my aid. I’ve already reported you to him – minutes ago,” she angrily warned, preparing to dial.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the deputy leader advised. “When we win the election next week, the benefit office will have no power to do anything at all; Keep Britain Sane will ensure that it does not exist.”
“You haven’t won yet,” Reign said in retort, cross at having been baited a second time round.
“I wouldn’t keep riling me if I were you. Our party is racing ahead in the poles. More branches have opened up in our name since we joined the political race – or aren’t you aware? People in your position are standing on seriously dangerous ground – particularly now that we’re on the verge of being in power. You’re not the first to be stopped and targeted by us. But the time has come to start taking things to a more mature stage,” he resolutely added, as two of his members homed in, seizing Reign by the arms.
“Where are you taking me?” she yelled, trying in vain to break free.
“To our new branch,” Floyd Cole flatly replied, as she felt her body and legs begin to advance.
All of a sudden, she found herself trapped in the back of the van; sitting among the members of Keep Britain Sane, as the driver sped down the road, leaving the grounds of the benefit office behind. She glanced at her watch to note it was only a matter of minutes before the van turned a corner and swiftly slowed down. In seconds the vehicle pulled up, after which she was ushered out of its rear and on to the street, looking toward a gated building of multiple floors. The men led her inside, and then down a passage with posters in orange and green daubed on its walls, each flaunting the prejudiced logo of Keep Britain Sane.
The members ground to a halt, once reaching a door besmirched with fly-posters of Union Flags and far right-wing slogans condemning abortions, help for the jobless and socialist views. The billboards resembled a brain smeared with the phrase: “Debar the mentally ill,” leaving Reign feeling sick, as Floyd Cole clenched his bigoted fist and rapped on the door. Within seconds, a voice she had heard on the media before uttered “Come in,” after which Floyd Cole thrust open the door, revealing the face of the person to whom it belonged.
The nightmare Reign feared had come true – as there, at his desk, centimetres away – sat the member of Keep Britain Sane who scared her the most: the leader, Dale Wolf, whose cold, leaden eyes had pierced her like bullets in the square nearly two months ago. With a glacial nod, he signalled her to sit down, and she took a seat at the opposite side of the desk. On the wall that she faced, a fixed screen with the volume turned down captured her eyes, airing scenes of ‘fortification groups’ called ‘Sentinels,’ formed on behalf of Keep Britain Sane. They comprised gangs of young men armed with chains and iron bars, guarding the party’s marches and rallies from left-wing dissent: an example of how inauspicious the movement could be. Having seen these groups wielding these improvised weapons on her television many times before left her horribly aware of why these marches took place in areas where unemployment was high and dwellers were desperately poor: to launch propaganda by battling with counter-protesters who they could seek to politically exploit.
Reign shifted her eyes to the desk, where at Dale Wolf’s side sat two neo-fascist magazines – both produced and revised every month by the leader himself. One was entitled “Ignite” – aimed at students and youths, and circulated in colleges and schools; inciting learners to form activist groups and musical bands in order to drive ethnics, the poor, the weak, the mentally ill and anti-nationalists away. The other periodical, “Crusade,” was placed on the shelves for the older Keep Britain Sane supporter to buy – used to voice the party’s dislike of the welfare state, social justice and other socialist views.
Reign could no longer bear her unease, as the seconds of silence built up.
“Where am I, and why am I here?” she heard herself ask; a surfacing anger abruptly outweighing her fear.
“You’re in our sub-office,” the leader replied. “Keep Britain Sane has just opened it up – and I think you know why you’re here,” he added, as if she had broken the law.
“Is this because I’ve signed on?” Reign surmised, remembering the party had left her alone when she worked.
“Yes,” the leader replied, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on her own to make her feel cowed.
“Could you elaborate on that? What, exactly, is it about me drawing the dole that’s causing you offence?” she almost snapped back, as her anger increased.
“You must be aware of the general election that takes place next week. We are tipped to win in the poles; you wouldn’t be claiming benefits under our rule,” the leader affirmed.
Reign let out a frustrated sigh, remembering how those with whom she had previously worked had exploited her weakness and forced her to leave.
“Who would your party grant benefits to, then?” she enquired, refusing to hide her objection to what he had said.
“They’d be granted to none but the basic, the very young, the very old, the sick, the severe and the obviously disabled – an umbrella that doesn’t include those such as yourself. Keep Britain Sane would abolish the welfare state as it’s currently known – which discourages civilians from marrying – as it’s done you. The benefits system also heavily supports single parents. Our party is no supporter of feminist views. We believe that the single woman – particularly those like yourself, who is unable to keep cool under pressure, and finds the onus of a job too much to bear – should make way for the woman who is psychologically sound, and able to cope. You are wasting the state and taxpayers’ hard-earned cash by claiming handouts you hope to be scrounging for the rest of your working life – because you know that any kind of employment you happen to find would not probably last. Keep Britain Sane won’t support you; we feel that women like you have a duty to cease congesting the welfare state by becoming a twenty-four hour mother and wife.”
Reign’s anger grew more intense, as she felt the urge to abandon her seat and start kicking the desk. Dale Wolf‘s despicable words had rekindled the miserable days of her youth when she was constantly nagged for not being in a bond with a male – a step towards wedlock to steer her out of the province of work. Then all of a sudden, the latent volcano within her began to erupt.
“I was attacked by a male – attacked before I was old enough to start going on dates!” she heard herself cry; her voice increasing in volume with each word she yelled. “Once you’re attacked by a male, you can’t simply shrug, pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and get on with life; that’s not the way that it works. Once you’re attacked, not only are you scared it will happen again – but it alters your view of the way you see others as well as yourself. Since being attacked, I’ve been scared of living with a man, because I’ve feared he may end up knocking me around. Why in the name of the Lord can’t anyone see that? Why are people so thick?”
On the screen in front of Reign’s eyes, an activist from the far left was viciously struck on the head by a Sentinel with an iron bar, as the leader’s hard face masked his shock at the outburst she hurled.
“Then it’s simply a case of choosing to bend or to starve,” he nonetheless said, refusing to take Reign’s excuse for having stayed single into account. “We’ve all known, if not heard, of female victims of attack who have married and managed to settle down in the end. They’ve seen sense not to carry on begrudging men for the rest of their lives; as by doing that, they only work against themselves; they never move on and progress – as you haven’t done.”
Reign mutely lowered her eyes. As grossly unfair as she found what Dale Wolf had just said, she resolved not to try and hit her point home, for fear he may deem her more mentally ill than she was.
The injured rebel on the screen who the Sentinel struck was carried away on a stretcher by the police, as the fray between Keep Britain Sane and the counter-protesters pursued.
“You’ve no hope of hiding behind benefits for the rest of your life – so get that goal out of your head,” the leader resumed. “As you’re no doubt aware, the Labour Party is currently in power, and plan to reintroduce the Incapacity Benefit that the Conservative Party phased out a decade ago, and which the latter replaced with less generous handouts for those who were plainly no use to society at all: the incapable and the insane. Keep Britain Sane will go one stage further than that in its effort to quell the five giant evils of society contained in the Beverage Report of 1942: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease,” he hard-headedly added, as on the screen, the conflict between the opposing two factions increased. “We will also gradually erase state pensions by rising the retirement age – a scheme that the Labour Party had planned to repeal. The number of qualifying years of National Insurance required to draw the pension will also increase – before we abolish it for good. The days of women retiring at sixty are gone and shall never return. By implementing the above and confining the Welfare State to the few who clearly can’t cope, we will save the economy of this country billions of pounds. We will imbue into the young from the moment they’re born that nothing beneficial is achieved without work, discipline and strife.”
Reign let out a scurrilous snort.
“Now there’s an ideal; one that in practice just wouldn’t work!” she remarked, forgetting her nerves and what had occurred on the screen.
“Those who are disinclined to work will always say that,” the leader replied, perceiving that Reign had loathed every job she had held.
“Your political party has no idea of what the world of everyday work’s really like,” she said in retort, recalling how she had been dealt more than her fair share of tasks in the past. “There are employees who are praised for having done no work at all. These so-called ‘hard workers’ form into a clique – and then do whatever they please: come into work late; take too long for lunch; go on holiday whenever they choose. They put on some poor individual to cover – to do all their work – while they’re skiving and swanning around; and their manager turns a blind eye; won’t get involved; couldn’t care less – as long as the work is got out. There’ll always be staff like that who keep jobs and will work their way round sharing any of the workload at all; and it’s the vulnerable workers like me who they dump their work on. And in case you haven’t yet sussed, these bullying cliques target those in the workplace who are anxious, like me – who they scare, taunt, put all the pressure on, and end up driving out. But you bunch of glorified fascists can’t see the wood for the trees; you’re too busy ensconced in a fantasy world of your own to be able to see what’s really going on!”
All of a sudden, the fighting between the two factions came to a head, forcing Reign’s eyes and attention back on the screen. She watched in dismay, as a left-wing counter-protester was killed in cold blood by a support group member as he tried, in vain, to intervene: a despicable scene to suggest that the former was axed from the world on behalf of Keep Britain Sane.
Dale Wolf had replied to Reign’s view on workers and cliques; but she had not absorbed one word of his blinkered remarks, as the hideous gore that spewed forth from the screen threw her mind.
“Look what your party has done!” she cried in disgust, pointing to the screen. “Your demonstration has led to that activist’s death! Those pre-election votes must be rigged. How could the majority of citizens want you in power? You’re nothing but a bunch of bigots and legalised thugs!”
The colour of the leader’s cruel face changed from white to deep red, and pressing a switch on the wall by his side, the screen promptly went dead.
“That’s enough!” he furiously yelled. “Do not forget where you are, and that you’re detained! When you first walked into this room, you asked me why you were here – and I’ll tell you why now,” he went on; his tone remaining irate but less fierce than before. “We brought you here to radicalise you – to mould your mind into ours. But it’s clear to me now that you’re simply a case beyond hope; one that our party would never be able to convert: blinkered, stubborn, self-centred, idle, tenacious, negative, self-defeating, unwilling, feckless, anti-male, totally left-wing, and a burden to the economy and society as a whole. Your uncooperative manner has already played a part in ruining the quality of your life; but it is clear that under our rule, you won’t even survive. Our party need take no steps to reprimand you. All we need do – as you’re no good to us – is simply to leave you to struggle in the new society we’ll create without any aid or subsistence at all. So even though you’re a disgrace to humanity by not having raised a family of your own, as well as having proved yourself unfit to hold down a job, I’ve decided to release you from here. When we win the election in a matter of days, and are in unlimited control, you’ll find that you won’t be wanted by society at all. You will be constantly looking over your shoulder for opposition from our Sentinels and groups, and for graffiti to be randomly sprayed across your front door; and as you’ve experienced already,” he coldly went on, referring to the odious note that was pushed through her door, “the hostility towards you has already begun to take hold.”
“So, those messages telling me to ‘go back to the land of the insane’ via phone, e-mail and note – they were from you,” Reign wearily sighed, eyeing Dale Wolf in reproach.
“They were messages targeted at you on my behalf. We keep a database of those who’ve signed on. We’ve also the names and addresses of our opponents on file, which enables us to defend ourselves from potential attacks,” the leader confirmed.
“I’m not a member of any of your opposition groups. I’m not a Zionist, anti-fascist, communist, trade unionist, or anything else,” Reign replied, feeling unfairly harassed. “I’m hardly likely to lie in wait outside a town hall during one of your meetings with an axe – so there’s no need to home in on me. And look at the damage you’ve caused by sending those threats to my flat? Because you’ve targeted me, my flatmate’s now scared, as she feels that in turn, you’ll start terrorizing her. She’s turned hostile towards me since having been on the receiving end of a call from Keep Britain Sane while I was out – labelling her all sorts of vile, antipathetic names that were intended for me – not her. She’s an innocent party in all this; she holds down a job, and has never signed on in her life. Do you honestly believe that she should suffer, as well – even though she’s not on the list of the people you hate? And because she’s scared of the flat being targeted by you, she’s now saying that I should move out – as the longer I’m there, the more frequent the harassment will get. Please – for her sake – would you be willing to stop all the threatening calls and notes to my flat?” Reign imploringly asked, dreading the thought of having to find a new home.
The leader’s impassive expression stayed wholly the same, as Reign fought to contain her panic at having felt trapped in a corner from which she could not escape.
“You know our answer to this,” he coldly replied. “Until either you manage to prove you can hold down a job, or you marry, breed children and settle down – which would leave the responsibility for your keep entirely to your spouse – the e-mails, phone calls and notes of abuse will not stop. Keep Britain Sane won’t change their policies just to suit you,” he firmly went on, throwing her a look to suggest he had nothing to add.
He pressed the switch on the wall, and the screen displaying the clash between left and right-wing supporters sprang back to life; and as much as Reign loathed all the chaos and bloodshed it caused, now more than ever, she grasped the left-wingers’ protest.
“I trust you know your way out,” he said, in a tone to suggest he had found her no use to his ultra-right group. “And I’m giving you this, in case you don’t know your way home,” he added, handing her a map to show where his sub-office was in relation to her flat.
A few minutes later, she left the building dumfounded and frozen with fear; the Union Flag by the entrance stinging her eyes as she thought of the days ahead and her torment to come.
It was Thursday, 6.30am – the day before the result of the general election would be announced. Reign stood in the queue, ripping to shreds another inimical note scrawled in red ink, as she waited in line for the polling place to wake up.
At 7am, the queue came to life as the building unbolted its doors. Reign got out her poll card in haste, which she was ready to hand to a member of staff in exchange for a sheet containing the MP’s and parties for which she could vote. As the queue edged forward, she studied the voters in front; their faces wholly deadpan and revealing no clues about which political party they wanted to win. Some were frightfully old – citizens Keep Britain Sane would deem fully inept for the resolute world they intended to build. But the bulk of these voters seemed sanguine and fit; probably those with good, steady jobs who were likely to vote for a party like Keep Britain Sane; an action they would regret if they were to fall ill or infirm, and required help from the state.
As Reign reached the entrance, she handed her card to the poll clerk who gave her a ballot for casting her vote. Once reaching her allocated booth, she studied the list of MP’s and the relevant parties contained on the sheet; her eyes and nib evading Floyd Cole of Keep Britain Sane.
Hoping the current political party would rule for another five years, her eyes scrolled down the list; her fingers marking a cross by her Labour MP. After slipping her ballot sheet into the box, she made her way home, scared of the prospect of Keep Britain Sane seizing power within the next twenty-four hours, since being warned by Dale Wolf about what her life would be like if his party prevailed.
Once reaching her flat, she took off her coat; and recalling Janine would be spending the next few days with her boyfriend in Wales, she entered the lounge, deciding to stay up all night to watch the results.
Early the next morning, she woke up to find her body still slumped on the couch. As scared as she had been the previous day of Dale Wolf and his bigoted party winning the race, she had felt sorely tired, and had slept through part of the voting the previous night. The television screen – active and bustling with noise from yesterday evening – replenished her mind, waking her up to the fact that the day she had feared for a very long time had finally arrived.
With comatose eyes, she peered at the screen, and wondered if the laborious voting had stopped, recalling that only last night, Keep Britain Sane were still ahead in the poles. But in seconds, Buckingham Palace appeared on the set, and she knew that the final result had already come in. Scared of the outcome, she muted the sound and averted her eyes from the screen, giving herself a short while to gather her nerve.
A few minutes later, she turned up the sound, and forced her eyes back on the screen; and as Downing Street suddenly appeared, she took a deep breath, expecting to see Dale Wolf‘s face outside Number Ten. Then the famous door opened, and amidst all the clapping and cheers pouring forth from the set, the prime minister and his loyal wife promptly emerged.
With a squeak of surprise, Reign heard the elected leader deliver his speech, as he laid out his political plans for the coming five years: prescription fees to be scrapped; Incapacity Benefit and nationalisation to be reintroduced; European Union nationals to reclaim the right to remain; free personal help for the old needing help with day-to-day tasks; care and support for the mentally and physically ill; the national health service and welfare state to be given a boost; the minimum wage to be raised; state pension hikes to be stopped. These were the plans she had hoped for but thought would be lost; schemes that a right-wing party would never endorse.
“What a turn-up for the books!” she heard herself cry, recalling the bias she had met since having signed on; whilst being glad that, at the last minute, the public saw sense.
The prime minister wound down his speech, returning his pipe to his mouth with a jubilant smile, before he and his wife re-entered the home where they would reside for at least another five years. The Cabinet trailed them inside, each member’s rosette not orange and green, but Labourite red; no Union Flag, brain or reversed smiley mouth adorned on each suit; just a friendly red rose.
Reign felt her anxiety wane, convinced by the final results that for all the political might Dale Wolf‘s party possessed, the country would never be governed by Keep Britain Sane; its beliefs being far too extreme, old fashioned and harsh for a nation to bear.
And yes – perhaps all the hype; the far rightist marches with Sentinels brandishing weapons to overawe counter-protesters & underprivileged beings; the hounding of benefit claimants, the mentally ill and minority groups, and the beleaguering phone calls, e-mails and notes would always remain; and Reign would always still suffer bouts of unemployment through the bias and cruelty of managers and co-workers alike. But now all these nightmares had veered to the back of her mind, as she knew that Labour was not going to hound her, force her to marry or take her benefits away.
Pressing the remote control, she switched off the set, before going out into the hall and donning her coat. Without looking over her shoulder, she exited the flat to go for a walk; and stepping into the street, remained pleasantly shocked that the Labour Party had won. She would sign on again next week without being afraid; and if on her way out of the benefit office, members of Keep Britain Sane waylaid her again, she would tell them their party had lost the electoral race, and were therefore in no position to cow and dictate.
I'm Karen Clark from East London. On leaving school, I worked as a shorthand / typist, and then went on to work as an ad taker for Loot Magazine. I've always been single, and have no children, and started writing as a hobby once becoming unemployed.