Chapter 9 Fran: A Lost Opportunity

Fran awoke to birdsong not far from her bedroom window. Though she would never have admitted it to any of her neighbours, she loved her new living space and was exceedingly pleased with how beautiful her village was. Days started peacefully with the natural world around the village slowly stirring, and as the morning wore on the members of the community began their activities.

But this morning Fran’s sense of contentment was short-lived as she groaned, remembering that she was nearly out of water. This meant a trip to the wellspring and interaction with people.

“Why couldn’t they have put in decent plumbing?” she thought to herself as she procrastinated in bed. “Surely ‘heaven’ could have taken on the best of human technology from the Previous Age!”

Mulling these thoughts, Fran dressed and went downstairs. She and her husband had always taken it in turns to get up and make the early morning pot of tea on the gas stove at home. Keith and Fran had shared their lives for twenty-three years before her death. Keith was a steady man, who worked hard at his job on the railway. He liked watching football, seaside holidays, fish and chip suppers on a Friday and the occasional flutter on the horses. Typical of many young people in Britain in the early 1960s, they had met at the local dance hall and dated for six months before getting engaged. They were married in the local church within the year and soon started a family. Fran had enjoyed their simple life together, and Keith’s hard work meant their family had never wanted for anything.

But life was different now. Making tea needed water, and water had to be fetched. You also needed wood for the stove to heat the water, so wood had to be gathered. There was plenty of wood to be found, and Fran didn’t have to go far to collect it. There were particular trees that seemed to drop perfectly sized twigs and branches specifically for human use. The whole process of making tea thus entailed regular interaction with the land and its natural resources, which were varied and plentiful. Fruit trees, berry bushes and root vegetables grew in abundance and were larger and more nutritious than in the Previous Age. Mushrooms, edible bark and delicious tree saps, similar to maple syrup, added to the variety of food that was freely available for everyone across the New Earth. Hunger and lack were things of the past.

However, food still needed to be harvested and prepared. In the Previous Age, Fran had only needed to go to the shops to buy everything they needed. This she had done every few days, enjoying the opportunity to catch up with all the latest gossip from the various shopkeepers and acquaintances she would meet on the local high street. But here on the New Earth, Fran was irritated by the need to gather what she needed. She felt it was a rather primitive and unrefined way to live.

Fran peeked through her net curtains. Her view took in the village green and several of the cottages on the other side. As on most mornings, she noted the twitching curtains in the window of the cottage directly opposite and was irritated that someone else was observing her and the neighbourhood. Fran tutted and went into the kitchen.

“Damn!” she cursed under her breath, realising that the fire in the wood burner had gone out and the water in her kettle was tepid. She put some twigs on the embers, hoping they would catch alight.

“Oh, for crying out loud!” she wailed, as the last glow in the embers faded. Glancing through her kitchen window she was infuriated to see Imelda watching her from over the hedge.

Fran marched through the back door and up to her side of the boundary.

“Morning, Fran,” smirked Imelda. “How’re things?”

“Fine, thank you,” snapped Fran defiantly. “But my fire has gone out.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry for you! Want a splint from mine?”

“That would be… thank you,” she said briskly.

“Come around the front,” invited Imelda.

As Fran approached Imelda’s door, it opened and her breath was taken away by the sight of a beautiful full-length coat hanging proudly on the banister at the bottom of the stairs. It was made of sumptuous purple cloth with bright golden buttons and was just like the ones she had seen wealthy women wear about town when she was a teenager. Imelda was pleased to see Fran’s reaction. She held the splint close, making Fran come nearer to take it. 

“Thank you,” she said, forcing a smile, before hurrying back to her cottage.

Imelda closed her door, satisfied with the exchange.

Fran felt so flustered that it took her four attempts to light the kindling from the splint. She seethed as she stood and watched the flames spread in the wood burner.

“How the hell did she get that?” she whispered to herself as she leant against the kitchen wall waiting for the kettle to boil.

Next door, Imelda gazed lovingly at the coat. She had drawn the design herself and then shown it to her neighbour, Dawn, who had been happy to show off her needlework skills.


Dawn’s finger stung from a pin prick.

“Oh, poor you!” cried Imelda as Dawn hurried to the bathroom to wash off the blood before it stained the silk garment in her hands. While she was gone, Imelda’s eyes remained fixed on the dress that was beginning to take shape.

Dawn sat back down and continued to sew the hem she was working on.

“I really need this dress finished in the next hour. Do you think that’s possible?”

“Forgive me, Imelda,” said Dawn meekly. “I’m so clumsy when I’m working this fast.”

Imelda raised her eyebrows. “Well, I guess you are doing your best,” she said with a note of exasperation and returned to her daydream. She couldn’t wait to see the look on Fran’s face when she would open the door to her later that evening wearing her new creation.

Making things brought Dawn satisfaction and she had always been talented with a needle and thread. Like all the women in the village, she had been born in the second half of the twentieth century in the Previous Age, and she had run a successful dressmaking business in Birmingham, England. Dawn’s heart was generous, but she had a tendency to store up bitterness and grudges. She was happy to show off her skills off by working with Imelda but was beginning to feel frustrated with Imelda’s self-centredness.

“You know, maybe some of the other girls would like some new clothes too?” suggested Dawn, trying not to sound too assertive, as she wanted to remain in Imelda’s good books.

“Yes, all in good time. There might well be a chance to make a lot of…” Imelda stopped. “Hang on. What do we make here, if we can’t make money?”

“Well, when I was running my own business, there were times when we traded things rather than getting paid. I had quite a good deal going with a gardener. In exchange for dressmaking and repairs, she would spend a few hours doing jobs in my garden.”

“Well, yes, obviously we could do some swaps.”

Dawn sighed quietly. Imelda seemed to have the knack of making her feel small and of little consequence.

“But how would we split things?” she ventured.

“No need to worry about that now. We can decide nearer the time. Now come on, I want to try this on so you can make adjustments before I go. Then you can start on this blouse design I’ve come up with. I think you’ll agree I’ve excelled myself this time.”

“Yes, Imelda,” said Dawn as she continued with her sewing, pushing down her growing resentment.


Fran tried desperately not to look at Imelda’s dress as she stepped inside her neighbour’s cottage. Imelda took the bunch of herbs Fran had brought with her from her garden.

“These will do I suppose.”

Fran hardly heard her, trying to look anywhere but at her neighbour.

“So, a new and rather ravishing dress!” cried Imelda, striking a pose.

 “Well, yes,” replied Fran with fake nonchalance. “It’s…” she deliberately paused, “… very nice.”

Imelda could sense Fran was struggling to hide her envy, and so she kept pushing.

“Of course it’s all silk, you know. And New Earth silk feels just sublime. You can’t imagine until you’ve tried it. I feel like I’ve been raised all over again!”

Fran pursed her lips and cocked her head to one side, trying to unnerve Imelda with a critical eye.

Imelda wasn’t deterred.

“And actually, I’m soon going to be a wealthy woman. It won’t be much longer until I can upgrade to a much nicer neighbourhood.”

Fran saw her chance to catch Imelda out.

“Haven’t you heard? That’s not at all how things work here.”

Imelda was determined not to reveal any cracks in her veneer of confidence.

“Oh, is it that right? And who did you hear that from? Jesus Christ himself?”

Determined to gain the upper hand, Fran lied. “Actually, yes, he said so himself when I was raised. He said that there’s no way out of our community. Didn’t he explain that to you?”

“He never said that. You’re lying!”

“I am not and you can’t prove it.”

Having reached an impasse, Imelda changed tack.

“In any case, I will be rich as soon as we open our clothes shop.”

We?” asked Fran. “Who is ‘we’?”

“Oh, just me and my workforce,” Imelda exaggerated.

“Exactly who though?” pressed Fran.

“All will become clear when we open for business. Let’s get those herbs in the dough, and we’ll have herb bread ready in no time.”

Fran followed Imelda to the kitchen, comforting herself with scathing thoughts of the preposterousness of Imelda wearing such a fine dress just to bake bread.

“Well, I was more of a miniskirt girl myself,” sighed Fran, slightly wistfully.

“Oh, really? When were you alive in the Previous Age?” For the first time, Imelda showed genuine interest.

“The 1960s,” replied Fran. “Well, that’s when I was a teenager anyway.”

“Well how about that? Same for me!” 

“And I’m guessing that’s a Liverpudlian accent,” said Fran with a tentative smile.

Imelda snorted with laughter, “Yes, and I’m glad you didn’t say Scouse! How do you know the difference?”

Fran looked back at Imelda with a knowing look.

“Two words,” she said with a cheeky grin.

“The Beatles!” shouted the two women at the same time, laughing.

“Well, Liverpool was the centre of the universe for a time, wasn’t it?” said Imelda.

“I was a London girl,” said Fran, “and all we wanted to do was go up to Liverpool and see the Cavern Club… and Penny Lane.”

“I didn’t live far from Penny Lane. In the early days we’d sometimes see the Fabs just walking around. My dad knew Paul’s dad!”

“I wonder where they are now? Do you think they’ve been raised yet?” said Fran with all the enthusiasm of a teenage fan.

“Oh, that’s a good point!” exclaimed Imelda. “I wonder if John still thinks he’s more popular than Jesus?”

“Oh gosh, yes! That certainly makes for an interesting encounter. And what about that song of his, ‘Imagine there’s no heaven… no hell below us.’

Imelda looked thoughtfully at the dough she was kneading. “You know, heaven and hell are sort of redundant concepts here, aren’t they?”

“Peace and love,” smiled Fran, holding up two fingers on each hand.

Imelda smiled but caught herself.

“Pass me the salt?” she asked in a flat tone, the joy now gone from her face, as she began to knead the dough with more force.

Fran was disappointed to see Imelda shut down the conversation and wondered what had caused the sudden change. She passed the salt. 

“Well, I must be off now… things I need to do.”

Alone in the kitchen, Imelda’s face flushed a little with embarrassment. Part of her wanted to run after Fran to apologise and rebuild the connection, but as she considered it, the moment passed and self-consciousness regained control.

Imelda continued kneading the dough, but in her mind she was imagining where The Beatles might be on the New Earth and hoping that they might not be too far from each other.