Fran awoke with the sound of birds singing not far from her bedroom window. Though she would never say it, she loved her new living space and was exceedingly pleased with how beautiful her village was. Days started peacefully, the natural world around the village slowly stirring. As the morning wore on, the community would begin its activity.
Fran groaned as she realised she was nearly out of water. Not only did this mean a trip down to the wellspring, but it meant she was likely to see other people. Tasks like this didn’t leave Fran physically tired; her resurrected body was strong and free of aches, pains and grumbles. Instead, Fran just felt irritated that houses on the New Earth did not have running water plumbed in.
‘Why couldn’t they have built in some pipes?’ she thought to herself as she procrastinated in her bed. Frowning at the idea that ‘heaven’ couldn’t have imported the best of human technology from the Previous Age, Fran dressed herself and went downstairs.
Tea was always a favourite of Fran’s. She and her husband would take it in turns to get up and make the pot of tea on the gas-powered stove in their home. Keith and Fran had shared their lives for twenty-three years before Fran had died. Keith was a steady man, who worked hard at his job on the railway. He liked his football, betting on the horses, seaside holidays and fish suppers on a Friday. Their romance was typical of young people in the early 1960s. They 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 loved their simple life together. His hard work meant their family never wanted for anything.
Life was so different now, making tea involved having water, which meant collecting some. It also meant having wood for the stove to heat the water. This meant gathering the wood. There was plenty of it out there to be found, and Fran didn’t have to go far to get it. There were certain trees that seemed to drop perfectly sized twigs and branches specifically for human use. This all amounted to a regular interaction with the land, and the natural resources that were varied and plentiful. Fruit trees, berry bushes, and root vegetables grew abundantly and in larger, more nutritious portions than in the Previous Age. Mushrooms, edible bark, and delicious saps like maple syrup added to the variety of food that was freely available for everyone across the New Earth. Lack was a thing of the past.
However abundant and accessible it was, the food and drink all around still needed to be harvested and prepared. In the Previous Age Fran just needed to go to the shops, something she did every few days, taking time to catch all the latest gossip from the various shopkeepers and acquaintances she’d see out and about on the local high street. But here on the New Earth, there was something irksome for Fran in having to go and gather what she needed. She associated this with a primal and therefore unrefined way to live.
Fran peeked through the net curtains. Her view took in the village green and several of the other cottages on the other side. Just as on other mornings she noted the twitching curtains in the window of the cottage directly opposite. Irritated that someone else was observing the neighbourhood, Fran tutted and went to the kitchen.
“Damn it,” she cursed under her breath, realising that the fire in the wood burner had gone out, meaning her kettle held only tepid water. She put some twigs onto the embers and encouraged them to catch.
“Oh for crying out loud!” she wailed, realising that they were never going to light. Glancing through her kitchen window she was infuriated to see Imelda’s gloating face looking at her over the hedge.
Fran marched forcibly through the back door and up to the hedge-line.
“Morning Fran,” oiled Imelda. “How’s things?”
“Fine, thank you,” snapped Fran defiantly. “But my fire has gone cold.”
“Oh poor love,” Imelda said with paper-thin sincerity. “Want a splint from mine?”
Fran was initially surprised enough by the offer that she didn’t hear the sarcasm simmering in Imelda’s voice.
“That would be…, thank you,” she said briskly.
“Come around the front,” invited Imelda.
Fran went through her house, past the short row of shrubs and up to Imelda’s door. As she approached the door was opened and Fran’s breath was taken away by the sight of a beautiful long coat. Made of sumptuous purple cloth, it had bright golden buttons and hung proudly on the banister at the bottom of the stairs. Imelda was extremely pleased to see Fran register the coat. She held out the splint, keeping her elbow at her hip, forcing Fran to come closer. Fran tried not to look at the coat, but it was just like the ones she saw rich women wear about town when she was a teenager.
“Thank you, Imelda,” she said, forcing a miniature smile. She turned and hurried back to her cottage, trying not to let Imelda see her fury.
Delighted with the encounter, Imelda closed her door with her bottom and rubbed her hands together, her nose scrunched with satisfaction.
Fran was so flustered at the sight of the coat that it took four attempts to catch her kindling from the splint. She trembled with anger as she stood and watched the flames spread in the wood burner.
“How the hell did she get that?” she whispered to herself. She leant against the kitchen wall as she waited for the kettle to boil, stewing in jealousy.
Next door, Imelda gazed lovingly at the coat. She had drawn the design and explained it to Dawn, and Dawn had been excited to show off her skills to Imelda over the creation of the garment.
Dawn’s fingers were stinging from another pin prick.
“Oh poor you,” Imelda said disingenuously as Dawn hurried to her bathroom to wash the blood off her hands.
Imelda’s eyes were almost glowing with a sickly pleasure as she cast them over a gorgeous silk dress.
Dawn took her seat again and continued to sew the hem she was working on.
“I’d like this dress finished in the next hour, is that possible do you think?”
“Forgive me, Imelda,” said Dawn meekly, “I’m so clumsy when I am working this fast.”
Imelda raised her eyebrows. “Don’t worry yourself silly,” she said 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 masterpiece.
“You know, maybe some of the other girls would like some new clothes?” suggested Dawn, trying not to sound too pushy, as she wanted to remain in Imelda’s good books.
“Yes, all in good time; we will make a lot of…” Imelda stopped. “Hang on, what do we make here, if we can’t make money?”
“Well, back in my time, we didn’t always exchange for money. In my father’s business we often traded things with other merchant families.”
Imelda left a long enough gap as not to seem inspired by Dawn’s comment.
“I think we could do some swaps.”
Dawn sighed quietly.
“Yes, good idea,” she murmured, trying to mask her exasperation. “So how do we split things?”
“We will decide that nearer the time,” she said sweetly, dodging the issue. “Now come on, I want to be trying this on in a few minutes so you can make adjustments before I go. Then you can start on this blowse design I’ve come up with. Another beautiful vision I think you’ll agree.”
“Yes, Imelda,” said Dawn and continued her furious sewing.
Fran tried desperately not to look at Imelda’s dress as she stepped into her cottage. Imelda took the bunch of herbs Fran had brought with her from her garden.
“These will do I suppose,” she said with thinly veiled disdain.
Fran hardly heard her, as she tried to look anywhere but at Imelda.
“So, a new and rather ravishing dress!” Imelda said animatedly, striking a pose and thrusting herself right in front of her neighbour.
Fran contained her angst.
“Oh, yes?” she said with fake nonchalance. “It’s…” she deliberately paused. “It’s something to wear.”
Imelda could sense that Fran was struggling not show her envy, so she kept pushing.
“All silk, don’t you know? Silk in the New Earth feels like… ugh… you wouldn’t believe it! And the fit is just… well… sublime. I feel like I’ve been raised again, again!”
Fran pursed her lips and cocked her head to one side.
“Good for you,” she said, trying to unnerve Imelda with a critical eye.
Imelda wasn’t deterred.
“Well, it is, actually. I am going to be a wealthy woman! I should think it shan’t be long until I can upgrade to a much nicer neighbourhood.”
Fran saw a chance to catch Imelda out.
“Haven’t you heard? That’s not at all how things work here.”
Imelda tried not to crack the veneer of confidence.
“Oh, is it not? And who, pray tell, did you hear that from? Jesus Christ himself?”
Fran was defiant in fighting for the upper hand, and so lied.
“Yes, that’s right. He said so himself when I was raised. He said, ‘there’s no way out of your community’.”
“He never did,” said Imelda crossly. “You’re lying!”
“Am not!” said Fran. “Prove I am?”
Having reached an impasse, Imelda decided to change tactic.
“Anyway, I will be very rich as soon as we open our clothes shop.”
“We?” asked Fran. “Who is ‘We’?”
“Oh, just me and my workforce,” exaggerated Imelda.
“Who though?” pressed Fran, getting agitated.
“All will become clear my dear,” fudged Imelda. “We will soon be open for business. Let’s get those herbs in my dough, and we’ll have herb bread ready for us in no time.”
Fran followed Imelda to her kitchen, smirking inwardly at the preposterousness of Imelda wearing such a fine dress just to bake bread.
“I was more of a miniskirt girl myself,” said Fran, slightly wistfully.
“Oh, yes?” replied Imelda, genuinely interested. “When did you live, again? In the Previous Age?”
“The 1960s,” replied Fran with some fanfare. “Well, that’s when I was a young lady anyway.”
“Oh, well how about that?” said Imelda, “You and I, both.”
“I’m guessing that’s a Liverpudlian accent?” said Fran.
Imelda snorted with laughter, “Yes, well, I’m glad you didn’t say scouser! How’d you know the difference?”
Fran looked back at Imelda with a knowing look.
“Two words,” she said with a cheeky grin.
“THE BEATLES!” the two women said at the same time and laughed loudly together.
“Well, Liverpool was the centre of the universe for a bit, wasn’t it?” said Imelda.
“I was a London girl and all we wanted to do was go up and see the Cavern Club and Penny Lane.”
“I didn’t live far from Penny Lane,” said Imelda. By now all pretence was gone and defences were down. “We’d sometimes see some of the Fabs walking around in the early days.”
“Hey, I wonder where they are now? If they’re raised yet?” said Fran with all the enthusiasm of a teenage fan.
“Good point!” exclaimed Imelda. “I wonder if John still thinks he’s more popular than Jesus?”
Fran laughed nervously, “Oh gosh yeah! That must’ve been an interesting encounter? And what about that song of his, ‘Imagine there’s no heaven… no hell below us’… he wasn’t wrong, was he?”
Imelda looked happily at the dough she was kneading. “You know, Heaven and Hell are sort of redundant concepts now, aren’t they?”
“Peace and love,” smiled Fran, holding up two fingers on each hand.
Imelda caught herself. Not wanting to show any more signs of fragility she began to knead the dough with more force. She remembered how Christians had burned Beatles albums on huge pyres in the United States when John had made an insight into his band’s popularity a little too clumsily.
“Pass me the salt, would you?” she asked, the joy now gone from her face.
Fran was disappointed to see Imelda shut down the conversation and wondered what she had said to make Imelda close off to her. She passed the salt and looked around the kitchen.
“I must be off, I have… I have some other arrangements to keep.”
Fran turned and left the cottage, stepping over the shrubs and back into her side of the boundary. Imelda’s face turned a little pink. She blushed to have shared a moment of joy with Fran. Part of her wanted to run out and apologise and rebuild the connection, but as she considered it, the moment passed, and self-consciousness blocked her benevolent feelings.
Imelda continued kneading the dough, but in her mind she imagined where The Beatles might be on the New Earth, and hoped that they might not be too far from each other.