pjf: Well-being = creative education + freedom
Education for Life: self-empowerment; Creative, productive freedom; organic food, farming > biodiversity, ecology


Skyelights


Wherewithal, funny, homeless, satire, family, poverty, class







Funny Short Stories

Skyelights



Outside Tesco's supermarket in Wherewithal, a young American teenager is talking with the local homeless. She exudes confidence, education and, above all, money. She has introduced herself to the locals as Skye.



'We've built several computers from scratch. Finally we can email money home, or receive medical advice by email or pdf, but we need £100 for each licence and lots more for their 'business partners,' said a young be-dreadlocked urchin in size 12 black hobnailed boots.


'Yeah, that's right,' added Nervy.


'I see,' said Skye. 'How do you send the emails if you've nowhere to live? By mobile?'


'Too dear for regular use,' said Drainpipe. 'We can use the library for emails - it's free.'


'We use a mobile sometimes,' added a timid young woman.


'Yeah, that's right,' added Nervy.



Skye nodded, and moved imperceptibly to her right - upwind of Drainpipe, who was in need of a shower. She took in the scenery, such as it was, while the locals were silently weighing her up. The pavement immediately outside the supermarket was of concrete paving slabs, then tarmac up to the large stone steps that led up to a pedestrian walkway. The steps seemed to be the location of choice for her new acquaintances. Just across the road was the main market - a comparatively bright spot amid the concrete and huge rectangular shop windows, owing to the coloured canvas sheets that kept out the rain and sun.



'Anyway, we tried Linux,' Urchin continued. 'But instead of £100 for Windows we need £0 for the Linux licence, £500 for a second computer to get online with Windoze or £500 to hire a tame geek for a week...'


'How do you mean?'


'The dial up modem is a nightmare to install on Linux, the explanations of how to do things are written for people who already understand!'


'Yeah, that's right,' added Nervy.


'It says, ''To configure your modem, visit this webpage''. But how?!' raved Drainpipe.




'Could you remind me again, please, what you wanted to do online? Your main goal?' asked Skye.


'A support group for the homeless.'


'If we can contact each other, then we can help - swap info about where it's safe to stay. The travellers set up schools, sometimes, but we have a job to find them.'


'Legal and housing advice,' added one.


'Sounds, like,' said Drainpipe.


'Sounds like what?' asked Skye.


'He means music - mp3s,' Urchin explained.


'Moral support,' said the timid lass. 'When you're first made homeless and know no-one.' She shuddered. 'My name's Meredith,' she added.


'Yeah, that's right,' added Nervy, and it was.


This is important, thought Skye. It took an immense effort for her to seriously imagine being homeless, but she did her best. The cold, lack of privacy and ever-present danger were obvious enough, but what about the lack of a mailing address, a phone, a place where people knew you'd be?


'It's your connection and lifeline, isn't it?' she said, and Meredith nodded, nervously chewed her lips and revealed her mobile phone, which was pocketed conspicuously close to her heart, alongside, Skye noticed, a small teddy bear.


'Wherever I go, if I lose track of this crowd,' she blushed at her pals, 'I feel I've taken home along with me, sort of.'


'About Linux. Can't you use broadband?' Skye asked.


'We don't have a permanent phone line,' said Urchin.


'Fair enough.'


'Or the money,' added Drainpipe.



A Rolls Royce pulled into the side of the road between Tescos and the market and one tinted electric window wound open a few inches. A woman revealed one finger to the outside world and moved it slightly.



'What the hell is that rich bitch doing, giving us the finger?' asked Drainpipe.


'I think she wants you, Pipe. It must be the Queen! You're going to be knighted, I expect.'


'Worse than that,' said Skye. 'Sadly, I have to inform you that the creature in the car is mother. I'm being summoned;' and she stood up to leave, apparently both fed up and angry.


'Did she say summoned or summonsed?' asked Drainpipe.



'A bit of each,' interrupted Skye, looking back. 'By the way. Where's your electricity supply?' The idea of homeless people with PCs was still playing on her logistically astute mind.


'Our mate's dad's garden shed! He's got a generator,' said Urchin. He attempted to shuffle his feet and dissipate some nervous energy, but the size 12 boots seemed unwilling to co-operate. He redoubled his efforts and they moved a little. 'We can use his phone line for dial up now and then, also.'


'Is that a new dance?' asked Meredith, as the Rolls Royce cruised away.


Urchin shrugged and grinned - a synchronised combination that surely deserves a word of its own. Urchin shrinned, or possibly grugged …



That evening, Skye and her parents were preparing for the dinner and dance to celebrate her dad's company's acquisition of Consolidated Amalgamated Diversified Industries International (Europe) Ltd.


Skye didn't know what they manufactured or what services they provided. She'd admitted her ignorance to her dad and soon got the impression he didn't know either, but he could recite their profit and loss account by heart and knew the annual rate of growth of their fixed assets, most of which were saleable.


What a weird life, thought Skye. Thank God for denim...




'You'll never get a respectable man, looking like that,' Mrs. Rich complained as she entered Skye's room without knocking.


'There's always an up-side,' mumbled Skye. 'Well, number 1,' she yelled, 'I never said I wanted to get, i.e. possess, a man, bespectacled or otherwise; and number 2, what you really mean is, I'll have to change my dress to land someone obscenely rich that I can milk for dollars using 'feminine wiles'; i.e. prostitution.' Skye looked her mother up and down, arched an eyebrow and shrugged. 'Any other 'respectable' advice mummy?'


Mrs. Rich left the room and slammed the door. The door hinges, dampers and latch were so well engineered that it hardly made a sound, and she was so bloody furious that she resolved to complain to the management of the hotel.


Mr. Rich entered, after knocking and waiting, ready to duck.


'Look, just humor your mother, will you? You'll be going away to college soon, then you can do what you like.'


Skye shrugged, 'Sure.'




Dressed to kill, she thought, looking in the full-length mirror. It only took the slightest effort and she could practically fool herself. The beaming smile like a capital D that's rolled over onto its belly. A few inches of bare tanned shoulder, perfectly matching eyebrows - exact mirror images of each other. Full set of teeth; she snarled to prove it. Hostess persona, indeed.


I can maintain this salesperson expression for minutes at a time, she thought. And it only takes this slightest raising of one eyebrow and this bulging of the eyes to make me look completely insane. This should be fun!



I'll use the variant expression on every fifth person (and all young rich males, of course) and make a point of dancing with grandma and her pals ...



Skye's mum made every conceivable effort to waylay her daughter once she realised what was going on, but Skye was far too busy to be caught without making a scene.


'She's a cow!' Mrs. Rich muttered to her aunt.


'She's wonderful!' declared the aunt, who hadn't had such fun for a long time, and had only experienced hostess mode.



Eligible young men from all four corners of the apparently spherical globe attempted to secure a dance with her, but they hadn't a chance. Eventually they decided she was lesbian, bonkers or both, and declared their complete lack of interest, volubly, for an hour or two.


'And what about her bizarre attachment to grannies?' asked a tall young Chinese man. He sported a Prince Harry clone hairstyle and suit, a smart tie and was currently mid way through a master's degree in business studies at Harvard.


'Seems like latent necrophilia to me,' commented a tall young Brazilian man. He was presently half way through an exchange studentship to Harvard where he was doing business studies. He wore a Prince Harry clone suit with compatible hairstyle and a very smart tie.


'You mean necrophilium,' interjected a tall young Indian man in a Prince Harry clone suit and appropriate hair. He'd once done a semester on biology, or read the list of contents displayed on the pot of yogurt he favoured for breakfast. He sported a very smart tie which he'd been given by his business studies (MSc) tutor at Harvard.


'Isn't that a constituent of yogurt?' he added.


'No. that's acidophilus you're thinking of,' said a young Portuguese who was half way through his business studies degree. His suit and hairstyle were very similar to the Brazilian's. He studied at Harvard. 'Acidophilus lacticus, probably,' he added. He checked his tie in the mirror behind the barman, easily able to see over the heads of the comparative midgets cluttered around the bar.



'No. you're both wrong,' drawled a Texan. 'Acidophilus was a Greek philosopher - the inventor of Disputation by Sarcasm.' His suit and hairstyle were modelled on the latest news photo of a young British monarch, but his tie was half undone on account of the humidity. The Texan was young and above average height. He studied Business Law at Yale.


'He always was a contrary cuss,' complained his dad to Skye's father.


You think you've got problems, thought Mr. Rich.



One of the many benefits of executing her high-energy plan was that Skye went to bed (late) totally exhausted and was therefore anticipating a very deep sleep. Aggravation from mother could be forgotten until the morning.


'I could do with a break from the weird dreams, too,' she said. And in fact she didn't dream until it was time to get up.



A sea of mercury washes my feet, a serpent emerges and a skylight appears in my bedroom ceiling. The serpent has wings.


'Cheese for supper,' complained Skye, rubbing her weary head.



Certain in the knowledge that the dream meant nothing, Skye got dressed, exactly as usual. She went downstairs for breakfast, as usual, and chose exactly the same food and drink as she did every day. Then she informed her parents of her intention to stay in the UK - Wherewithal, in fact - to do some voluntary work. She licked her lips, wondering how they'd suddenly acquired a life of their own; likewise her vocal cords.



For once, her mother was rendered speechless.


'Er, right. Why?' asked her dad.


'To help me decide what to major in,' Skye's vocal apparatus replied, apparently without consulting her conscious mind.




'This flat will do,' agreed Skye.


'Excellent madam! I couldn't help noticing the American accent. Is there a story behind that?' asked the managing director / teaboy of Piranha & Frenzi, Estate Agents (established 2006).


'Yes. There's two.'


'Ah! What are they?' smarmed the salesdude.


'No.1 Personal; No.2 Private. So what's the address?'


'Number 11, Wit's End,' said the dude, deflating in mid-grovel.


'Top that!' said Skye. 'Synchronicity!'


Imagine, she thought, the texting possibilities to my pals:



'Come visit!'


'Where are you?'


'At my Wit's End!'


'Oh sweetest, what's wrong?'


'Absolutely nothing!'


As soon as Skye had moved her belongings from the taxi to the flat she planned a shopping trip and meeting her new cyber-homeless pals. She'd refused a lift to the flat in the Roller, and her ma had felt both offended and relieved; this produced a previously untried configuration of her facial muscles and shattered her carefully applied makeup.


Skye changed into her most streetwise clobber (designer dungarees - $1400, and designer faded denim jacket - $600) and headed for Tescos via the Oxfam shop (3rd hand dungarees - £3 and 2nd hand donkey jacket - £2.50) and the public toilet (one changing cubicle - free).



'G.Zuss,' screamed Drainpipe. 'you shopped at Oxfam and you didn't haggle?! How are we supposed to bargain after you've been there?' His long arms flailed about as he snarled his irritation, causing alarm to the passing shoppers.



'Calm down, you overly vocal tit,' said Skye, in her most upper crust, West Coast accent.


Unaccustomed as he was to be addressed thus, he did calm down. He also shut his mouth while he figured out what 'overly vocal' might mean.


Then he opened it again.


'And you need a bath,' Skye added. 'Homeless doesn't equate with shower-less. I found a good one in the john.'


He shut it again.


'She means the bogs,' explained Urchin, who was beginning to feel manic and was leaning first this way, then that, his size twelve boots secured to the spot by nought but gravity and their immense weight.



'Precisely,' agreed Skye. 'By tomorrow, my poncy dungarees will be on the plane to my pal Helen in New York. She'll sell them and mail us the money. This will kit us out with some internet gear.


'Us?!' chorused Meredith and Urchin.



'Yes. I'm going to improve your hardware, software etc.'



Drainpipe opened his mouth, simultaneously wagging an accusing finger and Meredith kneed him in the testicles. He put the offending finger in his mouth and bit it until his eyes stopped watering.


'If you'd like?' asked Skye.


'Sure. Why not?' said Urchin.


'Yeah, that's right,' added Nervy.


Skye pondered for a while, gauging the mood of the group and if she was being too rushed - a familiar feeling for her.



'Urchin. Have you got any spare gear - PC and monitor - that I can make a start with? Any old junk will do,' asked Skye.


'Yep!'


'Sorry about the knee,' blushed Meredith, and Drainpipe executed yet another imitation of a goldfish as he wondered what she was blathering about.


He's already forgotten, thought Meredith, as she studied Drainpipe glaring at Skye. This must be love. Or possibly hate. It's hard to tell the difference sometimes ...


'I'm whistling while I work,' Skye declared, looking away from the monitor, rearranging her cramped shoulder muscles and feeling mildly alarmed.


Her own flat, utterly lacking in 'proper' furniture, decoration, clutter and mothers, was a real treat. The rent had been patently obscene, so she'd collected all the dress allowances her barmy parents had given her and bought it. Piranha & Frenzi, Estate Agents (established 2006), had seemed very willing to take £3,000 commission from the sellers for doing nothing. This was after they'd said they couldn't sell it since the owners were contracted to let it through Piranha & Frenzi. It's amazing the facility with which some people can change their tune. . .


It was good to be happy but whistling at work seemed way too close to 1950s movie land or maybe imitation of one's grandparents in Skye's opinion.


What the heck, no one was around to witness it, so she'd whistle at work. She thought of her mother and decided, apropos of nothing much, to whistle 'Bat out of Hell'. She briefly wondered how many laws she'd broken by airmailing money and designer clothes to and fro across the Atlantic. Briefly.


She added another note to her list of jobs, then headed towards the library for her free half-hour online session.


The phone would soon be connected to her flat, but she'd see at first hand what her buddies had been relying on. And she'd suss the dial up modem for Linux via the forum.


Skye marched home at a brisk 4 m.p.h. from the library feeling pretty darned pleased. She called at the Oxfam shop for a 2nd 'outfit' and then the grocer's shop for some laundry powder.


'What type of machine do you have, miss?' asked the grocer, a rather well built, genial, middle-aged gentleman in a spotless though rather tight-fitting white coat.


Skye did a double take. Is it Intel? she wondered, then she realised he was looking at the box of soap and caught on.


'These,' she smiled, displaying her hands.


'Good Lord,' he exclaimed. 'Well you may be better off with liquid. And some rubber gloves to protect your skin.'


'Good idea,' she said.


The shop keeper was surprised to see a Californian bank's name on the credit card, but the accent seemed to fit, and his machine accepted the card without fuss.


'On holiday?' he asked.


A nearly automatic rant, along the lines of 'Personal' and 'Private' was on the tip of her tongue, but Skye felt too cheerful, and the dear man did seem genuinely interested.


'Sort of,' she conceded. 'Working holiday.'


♥ ℑ ♥


I hope she's up, thought Urchin, as he marched along the pavement towards Wits End. His enormous boots acquired such momentum, once he'd got them moving, that he could march for hours – provided there weren't too many sharp corners. . .


The pavements were dusty and even the leaves of the plane trees were becoming dull after weeks of hot, dry weather. Urchin planned to arrive at Skye's flat by 7.30 a.m. before the day became unbearably clammy.


This must be the one, thought Urchin, and knocked.


'Come in!' was the instant response.


'Listen up Urchin,' Skye burbled, as soon as he opened the door.


'Yeah, right,' he improvised as she leapt from her seat, skipped across the room and grabbed his arm.


'Also a new very simple O/S that ignores the pornucopia of M.B.C. and thus downloads a whole educational plain text book in two minutes on dial-up,' she burbled, propelling him towards the PC monitor.


'You began with ''also'',' he said. 'Is that American, or did I miss something?'



'It converts pdfs on coloured backgrounds to plain text so they can be printed without taking out a mortgage for ink supplies. It'll dual boot with Linux for all their programs that do graphics and audio.'


'Good,' replied a wild eyed Urchin. 'I was okay up till 'simple', I think. What's an O/S?'


'Operating system,' gabbled Skye. 'I'm calling it Skyelights!'


'Bloody hell!' ventured Urchin, by way of encouragement. 'Er, what was M.B.C.?'


'meaninglessbollox.com.'


'Yeah. Of course. Silly me!'



Skye beamed and giggled for once. Indeed she biggled – a rare occurrence in one so rich who'd been educated to talk in code. 'What code?' you may wonder. Or even 'which code?'


Skye's architect uncle, Dick, was an expert at 'the code'. He had the habit of saying 'it's aaabsolutely imperrrative' whilst conducting imaginary (or invisible) minions with his finger. When she was very young Skye had thought aaabsolutely imperrrative was a drink taken before dinner, because Dick imbibed freely at the table whilst practising his conducting.


Nowadays she realised he'd meant 'Perhaps this is a good idea', and she formed the hypothesis that some people adopted such non-standard usage of the English language to give the impression that they, themselves, weren't standard. They were richer, or something . . .


By the time the hypothesis had formed, Skye was already using the code – the ''patois de fairly gross'' she thought. Finishing school, indeed . . .


Skye shook herself to dispel the memories.


'I could draw you a diagram,' she suggested. And she did.


'Your eyes look a bit tired,' observed Urchin. I'm a fine one to talk, he thought.


'Yeah, they are.'


At one with nature, thought Meredith. Bang in the middle of Wherewithal, but the sky is blue, it's practically quiet, and there's 200 allotments between me and the street. Or is it 400? I can't remember.


Even the birds seemed inclined to siesta since the weary, dried out feeling of late summer had insinuated itself into every crook and nanny.


Meredith, working under the shelter of a her huge straw hat, imagined her way into the roots of the plants she was tending.


Into the idyll burst Skye, at about 5 m.p.h., a cloud of dust trailing behind her.


'Listen up, Meredith ... ,' she began, as she turned the corner around the elderly apple tree and saw Meredith. Meredith looked up from planting green things with roots at one end and leaves at the other (such was Skye's perception) and rubbed her back.


'System restore - so any state that works is created as a backup,' Skye continued.


'You what?'


'I've brought a diagram,' said Skye, opening her rucksack. 'Several, in fact.'


'Wow,' said Meredith. She thought Skye's eyes were a shade bloodshot. Maybe one of her organically grown herbs was good for bloodshot eyes. . .



♥ ℑ ♥


Outside Tesco's the dust had puddled into the corners of the concrete steps.


The world feels cosy, quiet and small under its duvet of drizzle, thought Urchin. Peaceful.


Skye marched up the steps at a manic 6 m.p.h. 'Listen up, Urchin,' she said.


'Get your skates on, mate!' said Drainpipe.


'Volunteers to write documentation for non-engineers, rather than forums full of (literally) tens of millions of posts of disorganised ''community support,'' so-called,' Skye ranted.


'Show us the diagram, then,' said Urchin.


'Diagrams,' interjected Meredith.


'Yeah, that's right,' added Nervy. And it was.


'By the way,' said Drainpipe. 'Microsoft have stopped security updates for Windows 98. We only bought our copy eighteen months ago.'


Skye made a note.


'Does her eyelid usually twitch like that?' asked Urchin.



♥ ℑ ♥


It was early Saturday morning, before the traffic had really progressed beyond a gentle grumble, and Skye fairly jogged onto the zebra crossing at 7 m.p.h.


Visibility good, pavement dry - ideal conditions for getting things done, she thought. She turned briefly to her left to mutter ''thieves'' at Piranha & Frenzi, Estate Agents (established 2006).



'That's the sky,' said Skye. 'Who are you?' for there was a face peering down at her. Just below the face Skye detected a vaguely uniformed style of clothing before her eyesight failed.


'I'm an ambulance-man. I'm advising you not to move your legs because it will hurt like hell.'


Well, you can't just take the word of a complete stranger, can you? They could be anyone. They might have a dubious, selfish motive for keeping you immobile.



'Holyshee-ee-ee-eeponahillside,' Skye screamed. 'It's more a case of foot than leg, you know.' She dabbed tears from her eyes, amazed to discover they could spurt forth so rapidly.


'Good observation, madam. If you don't move your legs, your left foot, which is broken, has a better chance of not moving either.'


He gave Skye a couple of seconds to register what he'd said before continuing.


'You'll be okay, but the break is complicated and we'll have to stretcher you into the ambulance.'


'Right,' said Skye. I've got a million things to do, she thought. 'Are you going to inject painkiller into my foot, kind sir?' she asked.


'We already have, madam. After it worked, you woke up.'


'Right,' said Skye. 'Thanks.' So it's worked, has it?!


Suddenly, she noticed her pulse racing, she felt decidedly slimmer than, say, three weeks ago, and there was a ringing noise in her ears. She had the awful feeling that she'd probably been like this for ages. Again . . .


'Didn't you see the courier on the bicycle?' asked the ambulanceman.


At one with nature, thought Meredith. Bang in the middle of Wherewithal, but the sky is blue, it's practically quiet, and there's 200 allotments between me and the street. Or is it 400? I can't remember.


Even the birds seemed inclined to siesta since the weary, dried out feeling of late summer had insinuated itself into every crook and nanny.


Meredith, working under the shelter of a her huge straw hat, imagined her way into the roots of the plants she was tending.


Into the idyll burst Skye, at about 5 m.p.h., a cloud of dust trailing behind her.


'Listen up, Meredith ... ,' she began, as she turned the corner around the elderly apple tree and saw Meredith. Meredith looked up from planting green things with roots at one end and leaves at the other (such was Skye's perception) and rubbed her back.


'System restore - so any state that works is created as a backup,' Skye continued.


'You what?'


'I've brought a diagram,' said Skye, opening her rucksack. 'Several, in fact.'


'Wow,' said Meredith. She thought Skye's eyes were a shade bloodshot. Maybe one of her organically grown herbs was good for bloodshot eyes. . .



♥ ℑ ♥


Outside Tesco's the dust had puddled into the corners of the concrete steps.


The world feels cosy, quiet and small under its duvet of drizzle, thought Urchin. Peaceful.


Skye marched up the steps at a manic 6 m.p.h. 'Listen up, Urchin,' she said.


'Get your skates on, mate!' said Drainpipe.


'Volunteers to write documentation for non-engineers, rather than forums full of (literally) tens of millions of posts of disorganised ''community support,'' so-called,' Skye ranted.


'Show us the diagram, then,' said Urchin.


'Diagrams,' interjected Meredith.


'Yeah, that's right,' added Nervy. And it was.


'By the way,' said Drainpipe. 'Microsoft have stopped security updates for Windows 98. We only bought our copy eighteen months ago.'


Skye made a note.


'Does her eyelid usually twitch like that?' asked Urchin.



♥ ℑ ♥


It was early Saturday morning, before the traffic had really progressed beyond a gentle grumble, and Skye fairly jogged onto the zebra crossing at 7 m.p.h.


Visibility good, pavement dry - ideal conditions for getting things done, she thought. She turned briefly to her left to mutter ''thieves'' at Piranha & Frenzi, Estate Agents (established 2006).



'That's the sky,' said Skye. 'Who are you?' for there was a face peering down at her. Just below the face Skye detected a vaguely uniformed style of clothing before her eyesight failed.


'I'm an ambulance-man. I'm advising you not to move your legs because it will hurt like hell.'


Well, you can't just take the word of a complete stranger, can you? They could be anyone. They might have a dubious, selfish motive for keeping you immobile.



'Holyshee-ee-ee-eeponahillside,' Skye screamed. 'It's more a case of foot than leg, you know.' She dabbed tears from her eyes, amazed to discover they could spurt forth so rapidly.


'Good observation, madam. If you don't move your legs, your left foot, which is broken, has a better chance of not moving either.'


He gave Skye a couple of seconds to register what he'd said before continuing.


'You'll be okay, but the break is complicated and we'll have to stretcher you into the ambulance.'


'Right,' said Skye. I've got a million things to do, she thought. 'Are you going to inject painkiller into my foot, kind sir?' she asked.


'We already have, madam. After it worked, you woke up.'


'Right,' said Skye. 'Thanks.' So it's worked, has it?!


Suddenly, she noticed her pulse racing, she felt decidedly slimmer than, say, three weeks ago, and there was a ringing noise in her ears. She had the awful feeling that she'd probably been like this for ages. Again . . .


'Didn't you see the courier on the bicycle?' asked the ambulanceman.



'Hi Meredith,' said Skye.


'I've brought your mobile,' Meredith handed it to her, and the keys to her flat. And some flowers which caused embarrassment to them both.


'Any new messages?' asked Skye.


'I didn't look!'


A nurse looked in and attempted sign language for ''Is this visitor really a friend of yours?'' Skye gave her The Glare and she went away.


Skye had been using a large black felt-tipped pen sellotaped to a cane to draw on the plaster of her left foot. She put down the cane and smiled.


'I don't suppose you have any felt-tipped pens on you? Coloured ones?'


'Er, no. Sorry,' said Meredith after some deliberation.


'Never mind, let's see the messages.'



The first message was cheering news from Helen in New York.


'In the 3rd world (the homeless in Los Angeles) when the new driver works and they are online with SkyeLights, a box appears on their screen 'Please upload this driver to the database' - so they do!'


'A program evolves and tests new generic drivers in the background whenever the users computer has the screensaver running,' Skye explained.


Meredith nodded dutifully.


The second was partly worrying - a list of replies to Skye's forum post about online users in Wherewithal, and a personal message from the same forum. Agnes, who'd been having problems with her ISP had gone missing from the forum and people were worried.



And the 3rd message was just frustrating -


'There's a new release of Linux - dial up support is even worse.'


Skye began making lists of things to do, felt suddenly bereft of motivation, and just 'filed' everything in a carrier bag. Meredith was relieved to see it was Tescos.


'So how's the allotment, Meredith?' she asked. 'Something to do with growing food, isn't it?'


Meredith smiled, which proved to be even easier than nodding, and more enjoyable.



♥ ℑ ♥


'You never know you've got it 'till it's gone,' croaked Skye. She felt fairly sure this was a Folk song - or even several - but couldn't really recall the words. It was probably a Country song, too.


Talking of Country - she did recall her older cousin Nick, from Oregon, who'd been imprisoned after one of his many environmental protests. He had been sabotaging chainsaws in northern California, or gas guzzlers in Oregon, she couldn't remember which.


He had to be the most vociferous hater of traffic fumes Skye had ever met, yet the day he came out of prison - which had smelled entirely of concrete, steel bars, stale cabbage and smelly socks (not his) he'd walked straight onto the street, been engulfed in diesel fumes from a passing truck, exhaled at enthusiastically by a friendly priest sucking at a pipe the size of a large coffee cup and burst into tears. Tears of joy and poignancy, even.



'A penny for your thoughts,' said a timid voice. 'Or possibly two cents.' Meredith had arrived.


'Hi,' Skye replied, and continued gazing through the nose-to-tail traffic at the market. The colourful, noisy, smelly market. The bloody gorgeous, awesomely unruly market which had nothing in common with hospitals.



'Are you okay?' asked Meredith, rearranging the Sainsbury's carrier bag between her bum and the damp concrete steps by Tescos. She glanced at Tescos and wondered if she'd get into trouble for not using their carrier bags. She made a mental note to carry one of theirs in future.


'Yeah, sure,' said Skye. 'Never better, in fact.' There seemed to be an argument developing on the market - about carrots, apparently.


Skye hoped carrot didn't give way to stick. Then Urchin and Drainpipe arrived.


'You can always talk to us if you're fed up. About the accident and such,' Meredith persevered.


'Thanks. I'm fine. It's just … while I was in hospital I had plenty of time to think. I'm always too keen to 'sort things', and really I don't see the big picture.


Linux is fine offline, but had no system restore or serious data backup to a second disk. It can't undo all the monopolies of dubious business, because they're always inventing new ones. Skyelights will have the same problems.


Only today I got an email from Helen, there's a bill in the House of Representatives sponsored by the big telephone and cable monopolies - they want big business to pay, like medieval toll gates, to allow visitors faster access to their websites than to the competition.


You may work hard to promote your site on Search Engines, but potential visitors will click and be held up, then click on a 'toll payer' site and get straight through.'


'But you're not fed up?' asked Urchin.


'Nope! Independence is the thing. I've completed Skyelights, which is awesomely simple.'


'Well, it would be. You did it!' quipped Drainpipe. His hair was completely unmanageable since he'd had a shower and he gave up trying to pull it out of his eyes and turned to face the breeze.


'Good point, Downspout! And it's fine for most straightforward PC jobs. It does have system restore and incremental backup of everything you've ever done to a second hard disk. Linux volunteers have made generic drivers for all hardware, for people who need fancier software and printers, cameras etc.


Skyelights and Linux can go on the same PC, even on the same hard disk.'


'Right,' said Urchin.


'So can Windows, you've already got one legal copy.


The Windows operating system costs bugger all compared to the endless 'updates' and applications with built-in obsolescence to turn customers into addicts.


Their plans to keep making everything obsolete only work if you go online or buy new gear. We need online communities to develop to undo built in obsolescence - both hardware and software.'



'Yeah, look at Mozilla - Firefox and Thunderpants,' Drainpipe began.


'He means Thunderbird,' Meredith added; forever worried that she'd get the blame for anything anyone said.


'Also we get 10% cheaper dial up with open market competition,' Drainpipe continued, 'But you'll spend half your life on call centres trying to undo cock-ups. And the other half of your life checking they haven't changed the terms of use AGAIN.'


'And it's about £1 million for an ink refill for my 'free' printer, and £2 a minute for ''dedicated customer support'', chipped in Urchin.


'You've really mastered the art of exaggeration, you know,' said Skye. She sounded pleased.



'Think of the environmental savings of communicating by email and webpage and phone rather than having bloody reps going everywhere in their poxy Audis,' said Urchin.


'Yeah, and bill Gates has just been to ask a few questions in Africa by private jet, funnily enough,' added Drainpipe.




'Great! So what's the problem?' asked Urchin.


'The internet. Don't use any of the dodgy bits. Don't use it much at all, except via the library or Pay As You Go dial-up, until it's sorted. It was supposed to be the most democratic, everyone-can-contact-everyone-and-everything medium ever invented. That's what we need. The answer is political, not geekish.'


'What's new!' said Drainpipe. It wasn't really a question.


'Not much!' agreed Urchin.


'I need to sleep now,' said Skye, staggering to her feet and limping towards home.


'See you later, then,' said Urchin.


'Can I tag along?' asked Meredith.


'Sure.'



♥ ℑ ♥


'This is the only planet in the observable universe that is known to harbour life. It is threatened as never before by the arrogance, extraversion and consumerism of one species,' Skye began.


Meredith beamed encouragement.


'So, am I going to spend my life re-inventing Windoze - the only pencil that you have to re-purchase every time the clocks change? Ditto Linux - the only pencil ever invented that will always be free, and needs ten hours maintenance per day in order to work as a desktop (unreliably)? Or am I going to grab any fucking pencil I can lay my hands on and write? she growled.


Meredith pondered for a while. 'Good question. What are you gonna do now, Skye? I mean immediately, like.'


'I think I'll scour the 'internet politics' forums online. Then start writing.'


'Good idea,' Meredith agreed.


'And you could start a forum or blog to promote the boycotting of any company that attempts to re-invent monopolies online. The Windows 98 Preservation Society & Blog! Every other damned thing reeks of monopolies already.' Skye treated her to a challenging stare.


'We couldn't do that,' wailed Meredith.


'Yes! You can!' said Skye. 'And it's free!'


'Ooer,' moaned Meredith. 'So what are you going to write about?'


'Well, I'm going to try to paint a picture of a serpent, first. Don't even think about asking me why,' Skye replied, seemingly hesitant to give a straight answer.


She smiled, rather unpleasantly. In the absence of any handy technical distractions it is probably time to write about mother, she thought. Or even to her . . .




Copyright Peter Fairbrother


previous Fiction / Short Stories


Short Stories: funny, satire, meaningful, comedy; psychology, sociology, corporations


Tags: Skyelights : Wherewithal, funny, homeless, satire, family, poverty, class
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