The Money We Make
The ground beneath the orchard is ripe with burnt grass and apples left to sour in the October sun. The air is saccharine with ethanol and burning wood. Below my feet rot the fruits of an unharvested year, and with it the hope of thousands.
He ordered me at first. I remember the way he didn’t even bother to look up from his desk, scrawling in pen on a notepad as he adjusted his cufflink. I was still nothing to him, back then. The Staff. A faceless underling to be commanded at will. I had laughed, a great laugh that echoed high into the heights of his study and left him staring. It surprised me as much as it did him, years of servitude burning up in a few short seconds of realisation.
“Don’t you see, sir?” I had said eventually. “I don’t have to do anything, not now. You don’t own my labour for another minute. I don’t have to do anything for you. Ever. No one does.”
He turned white with rage. “I told you to get my coffee, Charlotte.”
“Make it yourself, sir. I refuse to even boil that kettle.”
“You are my servant!”
“A servant,” I replied, crossing my arms, “gets paid. I am not your slave. Do you really think I’d do anything for you at all if you didn’t pay me? Do you sir?”
The minute They lost their money, the world changed. In a few edits to the algorithms of thousands of accounts, They were pulled down to the scorching burning monotony of starvation, cold and longing with the rest of us. Unpaid staff walked. Servants left in the middle of serving supper. Stores and shops were left abandoned, trams unmanned in the street. Service, as we knew it, was gone. They became mortals, the day the Gods refused to pay.
Now I was Charlotte, free Charlotte, Charlotte who loved to read and dance and walk long into the London sunsets and into the neon nights of Soho and Camden. I was Charlotte, Charlotte with the long loose hair and the smile that meant she was truthfully happy. I was Charlotte, free of the curtseys, the sirs and madams and chains of this world. I was Charlotte, who made love to men she loved and drank wine with friends she cared to hear. I was Charlotte, who woke in the arms of strangers at noon and talked all night. I watched the world fall to chaos with each day They realised that the hack would not be fixed overnight, that the money wasn’t coming back. That we, the people, weren’t coming back.
Then, as with all euphoric anarchy, we noticed the rivets of our nation buckle under the weight of nothing. The lights began to flicker off, the grids grinding to a halt. No matter, we said at first, with a defiance born of years of unyielding labour. We are free. We will find out what comes next, come what may.
They begged us, then. The Gods were helpless without those to run their baths, drive their cars, clothe them, feed them. He had tried to bribe me, when he realised I wasn’t coming back. “What do you want, my dear?” he had said, with the desperation of a man who knows he cannot win. “Do you want Helen’s jewellery? Saturdays off? A new dress?”
“I want,” I leaned in, until his skin grazed mine. “To be free from you, sir.”
And yet, the ship continued to sink for both of us.
Soon, food went unmade for us all, the city creatures hollow on cans of goods they had not drunk in the myriad of parties that scattered our initial freedom. Soon, the dead went unburied and the living went unhealed. The nights grew colder, the days darker. We starved with the rich, we shivered with the poor, we warmed our hands with the bourgeoisie. Eventually, we all left the cities, the last of consumerism packed and crushed into uncollected bins.
I walked through the orchard, hungry in a way that burnt up my body and left my mind wandering. The frost had glazed the ground in the morning light, and I imagined I heard birdsong. A man stood by a dead apple tree, body thin and twisted, mouth toothless and grinning.
“Hungry, lass?” He shouts, gesturing to me with a skeletal hand.
“Is there anything that hasn’t decayed here, sir?”
“Depends,” he says, an unpleasant leer passing over his face. “How much are you worth?”