The Lucky Numbers
Back in June 2016, Bo_Emp, the former webmaster and prolific writer of TOTV, forwarded me this unfinished tale. He was unsure of how to end it plus wanted some feedback. Since December 2016 Bo has not contacted anyone despite repeated emails sent to his account. Since we know that he was in ill health, we fear the worst though hope that those fears prove ungrounded.
But if Bo is not to contact us again, it would be a shame if this tale were to lie hidden in my Inbox. Despite being unfinished and a little untidy around the edges, it is still an excellent tale. Thus it is that I shall be posting it here in installments, partially as a tribute to its author but also in the hope that, once you have read, you can finish it off for him.
This story is inspired by The Reformist Saga by Nick Lucas
In the year 2069 The Christian Democratic Party has played a major role in British society for more than fifty years and two generations have grown up with them setting the political and social agenda in a way that many of their ideals have filtered into society to be seen as normal values and customs
An Ordinary Sunday
Jude loves Paula and he is almost absolutely sure it is mutual he reflects while turning away from the small town main street. The small doubt comes from that they live quite separate lives and don’t talk much, not even when home together alone, because this is the norm in the era of Christian Renaissance. But this norm of piety, decency and modesty also in some situations brings them together more than would have occurred at the beginning of the twenty-first century, as is the impression Jude has got from hearing his granddad tell about his life with grandma in their first years of marriage at a time before anyone had heard of the Reformist Movement.
Now the ideal woman is a trophy wife living in idleness and modestly hidden to at most be a clothes display, and to ordinary lower class people she is a housewife only leaving the house to do local shopping for the daily needs and see female neighbours or female family living nearby. Any other activities, such as shopping for consumer durables or going out for entertainment, or even for a walk with nature, has to be done in the company of a proper male. Both Paula and Jude have lost their parents. Jude is an only child and Paula’s only close family is a sister, so when they need something new e.g. for the house which Paula wishes to have her say on Jude has to accompany her. This he doesn’t mind, in fact he likes it, because in public he can walk physically close to Paula, in fact he has to do it to ensure she is ‘protected’, physically closer than it is customary for spouses to be at home, except for the night. To Jude, Paula has many qualities and most would say living according to the ruling norms is a quality as well, but often he thinks this sex segregation and modesty is taken too far and unnecessary when a husband and wife are home alone.
Being close in public of course doesn’t mean they are caressing each other, flirting or just holding hands or chatting because Paula, like the large majority of women in the UK, in public is somewhat more covered no matter the weather, and in addition mute. Being close just means walking close shoulder to shoulder and Jude occasionally putting an arm around Paula in a way where it could be seen as he is guiding her. At home during the day their faces are rarely closer than when sitting opposite across a table, but in public when Paula looks left and Jude looks right their faces almost touch, and if in strong light, such as from the sun, falls on her face Jude can follow the changing expressions on her face in quite a bit of detail. The reservation comes from that she, like most lower class women in town, wears a large piece of black tulle covering all of her head and neck and thus veiling her face. In low light or at a distance of more than ten feet the features of her face are totally obscured, but close up and with the right lighting Jude can see that she enjoys walking in public following the life going on around them, although during one of their short conversations at home they talk about a public trip Paula never mentions a situation from street life because customary modesty also means women abstain from glaring around, especially at men. Paula walks like all women, which is mostly looking forward at nothing specific, when turning her head not doing it abruptly and when men passing close modestly facing down.
She doesn’t look around to enjoy the scenery, the architecture or what people do in general, but only to watch the women’s clothing. The lower and middle class women she watches professionally due to her job. Watching the high class women, who have their bodies completely covered in thick velvet cloaks and their heads hidden under fully veiling velvet mantles, makes her dream. Dream of a life as an ideal Reformist woman spending lots of time praying and unable to do much else but showing the wealth of her husband by being the perfect impersonal dress form for exquisite fabrics so thick and opaque all men have to think there is a dream wife inside all this.
Paula is not even the perfect lower class housewife. She keeps the house impeccably; the flaw is Jude. His job as receptionist and secretary in a small company is not enough to support the two of them. Paula has to work outside the house for money and works the maximum twenty hours a week the law permits for women. She is a shop assistant at a local low budget women’s clothing store. In addition to her salary it means she can buy all of her clothing at cost price and can get her clothing without Jude having to accompany her. Despite their low income they own a small terrace house. Jude has inherited it from his father who inherited it from his father. They were both lower class men like himself, but when in his thirties Jude’s grandfather won a great prize in the lottery, just enough to buy the house, furniture and for a week in Blackpool with his wife. He had bought a lottery ticket every week since leaving his parents home, and his son, Jude’s father, and Jude have done so as well, both living in the proof that a grand prize is real. So far Jude has won a couple of times each year but only between £10 and £100 each time; the equivalent of a day’s work or four to five months of lottery tickets.
Today is a Sunday like most where they have passed the window displays of the main street just to see the selection and check what is on sale. It is not even once a month that they buy something other than food, but Jude likes to be up-to-date despite rarely buying and Paula likes to walk where most other people walk to look at the women.
Almost all women they see dress like Paula in an ankle length, long sleeved dress in plain cotton with the same print all over and non-radiant colours copied from the style of the pioneers of America in the nineteenth century. In addition most wear opaque black knee length cotton stockings, plain black lace-up shoes and opaque black cotton gloves overlapping the cuffs of the dress. The hair is completely hidden by a plain cotton scarf in any subdued colour and mostly single coloured tied across the forehead and knotted behind the head usually with the long ends hanging down the back. The only remaining skin visible is covered by winding a large piece of semi-transparent black tulle around the entire head and neck so one layer covers the face and the neck. This outfit is worn by the low and middle class women of the town both inside and outside the house all year round, only to be supplemented by a long cloak when it becomes too cold to wear a dress alone. At home the tulle veil is removed, the shoes replaced with slippers and the gloves removed as well, but most women always wear a pair of thinner gloves going inside the dress sleeves beneath. Also most women working outside the home wear a rather thin tulle veil for work not hiding their faces much but giving an almost unaffected view. The tulle veil worn outside is far denser for the face to be totally obscured at just a short distance but close up still visible, although darker, and the view is somewhat blurred. Sacrificing vision for modesty when possible is evident in all women, and it works double for modesty because a darker blurred vision also reduces the feeling of wanting to stare.
This early in the afternoon in the main street they only see three women not wearing this type of outfit. One is an upper class Reformist woman in a green velvet cloak and mantle. For some years the upper class women here have all worn a mantle almost covering the entire head leaving only the top of the bonnet holding it visible. Thus covering the eyes this type of mantle has two circular cut-outs for vision but the vision of an upper class woman is far from clear. The bonnet and mantle are always topped by a veil of black silk tulle which can be anything from half-see-through to totally opaque.
The other two women seen are nuns. Jude assumes these black nuns are nurses returning to the convent after the morning shift at the local hospital. Seeing nuns always reminds Jude of Paula’s sister Rachel, who is a white nun. Earlier on it was a sad memory because the life of white nuns is hard, much harder than black nuns, living a secluded and restricted life most of the time not even allowed to speak with fellow sisters and only leaving the convent each day for a few hours of hard work, mostly cleaning of public places, during which in general they do not meet other people. For more than a decade every day all year round it is like this for the white nuns with the result that both they and their families, even convinced Reformists, tried to get in contact with each other in any possible way including the illegal ones. A little contact with the outside had to be permitted and so the regulations were changed to allow the white nuns to spend one full day plus travel four times a year with close family for certain days of celebration plus one day at Christmas and Easter. Rachel came to be the sixth guest at the small celebration of their two year wedding day about six weeks ago, so since then seeing nuns has made Jude recall this wonderful day. But Rachel was just there in full public habit the entire day and when both sexes were in the same room she remained standing in the doorway neither eating nor drinking. All Jude saw was a figure in layers of white cotton without showing legs, feet, arms or hands. The only non-white was the blue lower edge of her face veil, indicating her rank in the convent in some way, and then two oval cut-outs for vision which appeared to be almost black because of a dense black mesh. Paula had told him she had only communicated a little with her in the kitchen through notes, and turned away from the other women for them not seeing even her hands either both when writing, eating or drinking.
Jude and Paula usually take a walk around the park before returning home. Paula has never said to Jude why she enjoys walking here, but he guesses a major reason is it’s the best place for watching the upper class women of the town and Sunday afternoon is the best time. Of course they go to church every Sunday morning, a large majority of the population do, but the upper class Reformist families almost always go to the cathedral in the nearby city, which is not that long a trip if you own a car.
The town has about twelve to fourteen women covered in velvet from seven or eight different families. One can overview the entire park from almost anywhere inside, and when Paula and Jude enter this afternoon he sees three upper class families with five women in total wearing velvet walking the longest path around the small lake at the centre that most take and which is a little longer than half a mile. For a moment, as is usual Paula takes the lead to ensure they walk anti-clockwise round unlike most which ensures they pass these families face to face. If not being accompanied by men, the women in velvet would, at least in the eyes of people like Jude, who would not remember to which family a particular cloak or dress of a guardian belonged, be totally anonymous. Jude visually recognises the four men and one boy in his late teens, but he doesn’t know either their first names or the family name of any of them. His interest in women’s clothing is so little that he can’t even tell if he has seen a particular cloak before because, although they are in different colours, they look very much the same in single coloured velvet and with only very subtle decorations and trimming. The mantle is always very close in colour to the cloak and hardly with any decoration as well. To him the upper class Reformist women rationally seen are just decorative moving velvet cones, but this sight nonetheless somehow makes his mind produce an image of the woman inside being a young extremely pretty wife able to please her husband sexually to his full satisfaction whenever he wants; an earthly houri so to say.
After just a few minutes of walking they have seated themselves on a bench to watch people passing. With the upper class families Jude may stare all he wants because their velvet women are meant to be a display of the family’s social level, and Paula can also get a better look at them because when their men are not passing her directly face to face she doesn’t need to face down when they are close. At such quiet moments when the passing of a velvet cone makes the image of a houri show in his mind this houri often appears like a perfectly beautiful version of Paula. He knows this vision comes from his love for Paula combined with her dream of being such an upper class woman. In reality Paula is just an above average pretty girl, and Jude is aware of that the women beneath the velvet veiling can be anything from very pretty to ugly and be of any age from a maiden of sixteen to a sixty year old.
When there is a break of some minutes before the next upper class family passes Jude produces his phone. This is his moment of a Sunday walk. He is going to buy this week’s lottery ticket. Doing it just now here is to do as his father and grandfather. Although the lottery drawing is on Tuesday when his grandfather started buying lottery tickets he didn’t use a phone but on the Sunday walks always passed their local grocer’s. At a point the grocer’s closed down to make grandfather switch to using his phone, but he kept doing it on the Sunday walk now while sitting in the park. The big prize that got them their house was bought on a bench in here, although Jude doesn’t know which and if that particular bench still exists. When having got the EuroMillions page on his phone he hands it to Paula. Like his father and grandfather did he lets his wife choose the seven lucky numbers. He has never asked them but he assumes this comes from some centuries-old superstition that women have magical powers and as such are better at choosing lucky numbers. He has never asked Paula if she uses some system and if the answer was ‘yes’, which and if she has learned this from his mother or grandmother. She just hands the phone back for him to see that the numbers she chooses are different each time and then he touches the ‘Play’ button and completes the purchase.
They remain seated on the bench until all three upper class families present in the park when they entered have passed. Then they set out to do the three quarters of the park left to walk around. A fourth upper class family has meanwhile entered who they pass after about five minutes. The velvet cones walk very slowly, so for these families the park round lasts about half an hour. As with two of the other families this one has a female guardian walking with them. This family is just a man and a velvet woman, most likely husband and wife, and the guardian walks on the other side of the husband guiding the velvet woman to suggest her black veil is completely opaque, but cone women not being guided rarely walk any quicker.
There is at least one female guardian in each upper class Reformist home and very often a personal guardian for each of the women of the family, because the women living the true Reformist lifestyle need assistance to do almost everything such as dressing and undressing as they through their clothing they are prevented from controlling almost anything themselves. In principle their legal guardian, usually the husband or father, control them down to the smallest detail, but most of this control is just following Reformist rules, but even when the legal guardian takes control he mostly leaves it to the female guardian to execute his orders. If a man wants to take a walk with his wife it is an implicit order to the guardian to make his wife ready for the walk such as following her to the bathroom and dressing her for being in public and other things upper class men simply don’t do. Because most upper class men, perhaps even more than other men, are away from the home most of the day, the guardians have almost unrestricted power over the women of the family they serve, and it is a major part of their job to ensure that the family women follow the rules of the Reformist lifestyle and especially to teach maidens and young wives to behave correctly. They all have an education in correct Reformist lifestyle and how to make their charges adhere to the rules. Female guardians are mostly bright girls recruited from lower class families where the school suggests them taking the education for guardians, and their fathers in most cases happily accept this offer as being a guardian ensures their daughters a good and respectable life with an income to support their parents although this profession usually means they never marry. The latter of course means Jude is happy Paula didn’t show academic skills at school or he would not have had this lovely wife.
In this town guardians appear clearly different from other non-upper class women so even men are able to identify them on their own. It might be because of their function as teachers that their dress is copied from that of teachers of the Victorian era with a high tight neck and tight cuffs, and them not doing hard physical work allow the dresses to have some bell shape and be almost ground sweeping. Their dresses are very plain in a single colour and with almost no ornamentation and the colour is always a dark hue. Stockings, gloves, shoes and headscarf is the same as other non-upper class women, but except for black shoes the other items are always white, and they wear shoes at ‘home’ as well. Their outdoor gloves are made of thin white leather, they add a bonnet, but not so long as to restrict their sight, and they only veil their face to the eyes with a mantle made of similar black tulle as ordinary women wear when not working, which means their lower face is visible at close range in strong lighting. The details in this not immediately visible to everyone has sunk into Jude’s memory over the years from occasionally picking up Paula from the clothing store on his way from work and her being busy with a customer for him having to wait so he can’t avoid hearing bits of the talking inside the shop.
Paula and Jude leave the park and pass the rest of the day as usual for a Sunday.