Have You Met My Aunt? A Biography of Witnesses Compiled by Her Niece – Part Five
The final chapter. It’s beyond anything I could have hoped for. My aunt, Julie Heritage, in her own words.
This letter is not to be opened by any person living within twenty miles of Bristol, in any direction. Also, if it is opened, the reader should keep the contents secret for twenty years. I’ve marked all this clearly on the envelope, but in case the letter should get seperated from it, I repeat all this here. I can’t compel you, but please, don’t read on. This letter contains my life’s work, and it will be ruined if my secrets are made known.
The rest of the first page is blank, and the letter continues on the next sheet.
I suppose my life’s work has happened twice. First I worked hard to build up a reputation for honesty, and then I worked hard to destroy it very quickly. I suppose, my mysterious and kind reader, you’re wondering why I would do that. I’d better start at the beginning.
At the beginning, I was a courier. I used to travel between all the towns and villages. I knew over six thousand people, at least to nod to. I could see all the different marvelous ways people had come up with to get energy. They were burning ethanol, running volunteers’ treadmills, all that. And I could see how people started to settle down to village life. Their parents had travelled half way round the world without blinking, and my lot wouldn’t so much as walk the ten miles to the next town. “What’s the point,” they’d say, “When we’ve got all we want here?” I’m not wanting to be a part of telling anybody how to run their life, so I left it all be, but I thought how something was being lost.
I kept my trap shut when I was sober, but now and again I’d have a drink and end up spouting off about how great it was when people used to be able to talk to each other proper. I was getting in early with practising for being a grouchy old woman talking about how things was in her day. My favourite trick in a lot of towns was to pull out some biscuits and hand them out, and while everyone was munching on them, ask if they could tell me the secret ingredient. I’d say it was Caraway seeds, which it was, and then I’d get all smug when they were surprised, because I happened to know that you could only really get Caraway seeds from a lot further south, down Clevedon way. Well, they thought I was funny, I think, and that was all right. I’ve never been much for laughing, but I like to see it in other people.
It wasn’t until I started to expand my business into Bristol that I heard people talk like me. I kept on saying what I said, and pushing the old ways, and eventually I got introduced to someone who would listen. He talked to me for a bit, and eventually he took me to see the Mayor. People have asked me, since, if I was nervous. I wasn’t. Not really. She had on her gold chain, but she had a nice face and she offered me tea without drawing attention to her sugar bowl, which I thought was decent of her, sugar being by that point the height of luxury and it doesn’t do to brag.
Well, she listened to me talking, and I was fervent and young, and she nodded and agreed and when I look back at it now I’m ashamed but I was proud to be listened to by her, with her gold chain and all this. Once I’d talked myself out, she started on. She talked about the same things, but in older language. She’d call it ‘mass communication’ and ‘centralised government’. All those ideas people had started to forget about. She said some things that weren’t too generous about the people in my neck of the woods, and I agreed with her. Yes, I thought, they were all awfully set in their ways, even if they hadn’t had those ways for long, and yes, it would be the death of civilisation if we didn’t bring back the best of the old ways.
So a few weeks later (and I reckon her lackies spent that time checking I was as good as my word), she asked me to be her agent in the south. I nearly choked on my scone. I was so proud. Makes me sick, now. To tell the truth, it had been getting to me that they all thought I was a crackpot. Now she was behind me, I thought, I bet I can talk them all round at last.
And I did. She talked to me, helped me make my arguments better. Mainly, though, she looked at me and she believed me. Normally that’s something I avoid, that attention, but from her I wanted it. Flattery, really. I can see that now. So I went back, and I asked them all to register and then vote me in as their Regional Representative, and they did it. I said I’d work faithfully and truly for the people I represented.
It wasn’t until six months in that I started to worry. First, the Mayor wanted a census. “We can’t govern effectively if we don’t know our own people, Julie,” she said. It didn’t occur to me to ask their permission, I was so sure she was right. I could do it all from the notes I’d got, so I just handed them over. It was about a week later that I saw all the adults had a letter through the door giving their tax requirements. Tax! But I was all for it, then, and I hadn’t worked out the difference between means-tested and flat rate.
I got more resistant, and because I was used to being always able to take care of myself, I felt safe and I let people know what I was feeling. Eventually the Mayor called me into her office. There was a young bloke in there with her.
She said, “Sit down, Julie. I don’t have much time. This is Harry Reynolds. He doesn’t have much time either.”
I sat down.
“Harry agrees with our campaign,” she said. “He understands that if we are to have a railway line again, the money must come from somewhere. He believes in mass communication. If you do not improve your work for me, Harry will be taking your job.”
You know how sometimes you just get an impression of someone and you feel you know them like an old enemy even when you’ve only just met? Well, it was like that with Harry Reynolds. He looked like the Mayor, you see, the sort of face you just naturally trust, and I’d been hating the way she looked for a while.
Well, this is all getting a bit dramatic so I’ll tell you what happened plainly. She made it clear that if I didn’t do my job, then I’d be replaced with this Harry, who would be a bit more direct in getting what he wanted, not having the insider knowledge that I had.
I left and said thanks, you know, for the warning, and went to the park to think. The trouble was, I was in trouble whatever I did. Everyone trusted me, and they’d tell me anything if I said I’d keep their secret. The Mayor knew this, so I couldn’t very well spin her any stories about them shutting me out. But they were also obedient with me. They’d pay taxes that crippled them because I said it was important. So I thought I’d leave. But I knew if I left, and the Mayor sent in this new boy, they’d think he was one of mine and trust him too. I’d pushed all these ideas under their skin, see, and now they believed. They’d club together what they had for the latest payment, then smile at me knowingly and say, “All be worth it when the railway comes, eh, Julie?”
I sat there and watched the ducks for about an hour and by the end of that time I’d worked out what I had to do. I had to stop them trusting me.
So that’s what I did. It was easy, really. I knew where everyone’s buttons were. They all hate me now. And because they hate me they hate the Rejuvenation Plan, and they hate Harry Reynolds, and they’re careful who they open the door to. I hope it’s enough to keep them a bit safer, for a bit longer.
Twenty years should be long enough. It won’t matter what they thought of me, not then.
That’s it. The end of the story. Funny, I never doubted for a moment that my aunt was as good as believed, but I realise from my surprise that I never thought I would be totally vindicated either. I was right. She was good.
It has been twenty-one years since she wrote that letter. I wish I could tell her that someone still cares.