The Twenty SS20 Issue

An Act of Rebellion

By Brindley Hallam-Dennis

Illustration Angeliki Blessiou

Grandfather says, irony is the way a civilised person rebels. He says, direct action is just another form of intimidation.

            I glance at his helper. You can never tell these days whether they are listening or not, but they are always listening. I tell grandfather, you should be careful what you say out loud.

            He says, what are they going to do to me? He says, they going to put me in a prison? He looks around the little room. The door with its keypad. The single window, ‘not to be opened’. The bed that automatically unfolds when you say ‘time for bed, helper’. The automatic cooker with its choice of three dishes ‘for every meal’. The chair, ‘for your comfort’. The chair for your guest, ‘supplementary seating may be available, please ask your helper’. They mean ‘might be’, grandfather always points out. I wonder if he’s being ironic. The screen, which is always watching you, even when you’re not watching it. I often wonder if grandfather’s going to say something about that. God knows what that might be, ironic or not. The toilet unit, ‘screened for your convenience’, which grandfather says was them being ironic when they designed it, though they’ve forgotten that by now, and which opens when you utter your secret phrase, but not at grandfather’s, ‘helper, I need a shit’, however often he tries to re-programme it. He’s been warned several times about using inappropriate language towards the helper.

He asks, they going to rehabilitate me? I know he’s being ironic.

I say, grandfather, nobody could rehabilitate you. He thinks I’m being ironic.

            To be honest, it’s not what they might do to grandfather that worries me. He’s past the Age of Responsibility now. I say, Grandfather, it’s me who’s going to get into trouble.

            He shrugs and pulls his rueful face.

            You’ve got everything you need here, I say. He looks out of the window.

            Nobody walks in the garden. A robot mower that looks like a stack of dinner plates cuts the grass, precisely, whenever stems poke their heads above an unseen parapet, measured in millimetres. There’s a laser beam, grandfather says, would cut your legs off, you went out and walked on the lawn.

            There’s a robot picker clears fruit off the fruit trees. Drones fly in to destroy invasive insects and deliver liquid nutrients. Look at them, pissing on the grass, grandfather says. He says, we used to have birds did all that stuff.

            That’s why you can’t open the window, because of the drones and the fruit picker. It might interfere with the flight paths. The reflections off the glass might disrupt the guidance systems. One of these days, grandfather says, I‘m going to open that window, and screw up the whole damn system.

            I say, grandfather, that’s not very civilised. Neither of us is sure whether I’m being ironic. Besides, I’m not sure he could really do it. Nobody has opened a window here since the notices went up, and that was before grandfather’s time. Windows aren’t made to open these days. Only people grandfather’s age know how to open a window these days, but something tells me he won’t have forgotten.

            Maybe it’s locked, I say, the window.

            No, he says. He grins. There’s no lock on it. It’s an old fashioned, mechanical lever. He laughs, which unsettles me. They haven’t even bothered to disable it.

            Nobody knows how to use them, I say.

            He says, nobody does what the signs tell them not to, whatever they know. He laughs again. Watch this.

            ‘Helper, open the window.’

            Nothing happens.

            You see, he says, it doesn’t even recognise the request. It’s so far off what it’s programmed to hear it doesn’t even ask you to repeat. 

            Sometimes, I hope I’m here the day grandfather opens the window.

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