Oh, Roy

August 22, 2012

Oh, Roy

(or: the Alternative Life of Roy Hodgson, version 3)

by DW

Roy twisted round in his seat and gestured at the client to fasten himself in, miming a pull of the belt across the shoulder and the clipping action into the lock, all of which he did wordlessly. It was not that he doubted his passenger’s ability with the language – “the Chinese can do anything they put their minds to,” he had found himself telling Barry Quinn recently, adding that you only had to look at the Great Wall – but he was simply not in the mood for conversation. As he prepared to pull out into the inevitable traffic surrounding Terminal 5, he took one last look in the rearview mirror and allowed himself a moment to adjust the angle of his cap’s peak. ‘Been at this limousine game a while now,’ he thought.

He still remembers that first morning, how he had descended the stairs gingerly, his steps lighter, quieter; that feeling of uncertainty as he lead himself into the kitchen, where Beverley had stationed herself to prepare his favourite breakfast of soft-boiled eggs with the buttery toast soldiers. Beverley… marvellous Beverley. She always knew just what to say; always knew how to put the spring back in his step. “Well. Oh my,” she had started – then, pausing as if to catch her breath, laying down the spatula and allowing her eyes to take measure from shoes to cap – “I always did like a man in uniform.” And so that very first wait at Heathrow had not been nearly as tedious as he’d feared, for it had simply presented a fillet of time in which he could indulge the daydream of his return to the marital home; to the warmth of their bed and the welcome of an ample, eager bosom.

With another glance in the mirror, Roy noted that his client was busy chatting away into one of those wireless headsets – doubtless this new bluetooth technology he’d been hearing about – and there was a fancy looking laptop computer on his knee, too. Barry hadn’t been wrong.

“What you’ve got to remember about the Chinese, Roy –” Barry had recently purchased a new kind of TV setup which allowed him to record programmes at any hour of the day, and late night panel debates had become a daily staple “– is that they’re all middle class now. It happened practically overnight, when the world was busy looking the other way. So now they’re after what we’ve got. And it’s not just your phones, your computers, that kind of thing – they’re after the lot: fridges, televisions, microwaves… you name it, they want it. And they aren’t taking no for an answer.”  There was only ever going to be one outcome of a situation like that, Barry said: “higher cost of living for everyone, east and west. Any minute now, prices on your average high street –” he pointed the index finger on one hand and drove it slowly upward toward the ceiling, accompanying the action with a rising-pitch whistle.

On the night of that conversation Roy had returned home and, going against the grain of a truce unbroken in more than four years, a truce that had served their marriage so well, he had shaken Beverley from her sleep, careful not to let the whisky-tint of his breath betray the wrong idea.

“Hiya love. Alright? It’s me. I do know how late it is, yes. But listen – no, it’s not that, I promise – I just wanted to say: that new fridge-freezer you’ve had your eye on? We’ll go out and get it tomorrow. Tomorrow, aye. You’ve waited long enough.”

*

Roy reached onto the passenger seat and turned the switch on the old portable radio he kept there, always pleased by the warm crackling sound it made as it buzzed into life. He wasn’t one for the new digital radios, let alone these ‘satellite navigation systems’ with their flashing lights and their talking computers. Mind you, it was all computers now. And not just computers – if Barry Quinn was to be believed, it was only a matter of time (“five years, Roy, tops”) before we’d be dealing with walking and talking robots on a daily basis. Apparently they already existed, out in Japan, where they’d spent the last dozen years or so being trained in various housework tasks. But housework, Barry said, was only the tip of the iceberg. Soon they’d be able to do pretty much anything a person could, “better than we can do it ourselves. And guess who’s demanding this new cyber-workforce, who’s bankrolling it all? That’s right – our old friends, the Chinese.”

Ever since that conversation, Roy hadn’t been sleeping so well. He’d lain awake through the night, listening to Barry’s words as they echoed around in his head. The Chinese were sweeping in from one side, the Japanese and their robots from the other – a classic pincer movement. “It’ll be life, Roy, but not as we know it.”

The phone that Beverley had stationed by the bedside in case of some emergency now taunted him as he lay on his side, afraid to let it out of sight. How long before it rang them awake in the early hours, with the controller saying that Roy wouldn’t be needed that day after all? How long before they called to invite Roy in for a little chat with the boss, about the company’s plans for the future…

***

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