‘Tan’, the word always evokes an image of my Mother in my head. She was tanned and bronzed for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory of her is her slapping sun cream all over me, then massaging sun tanning oil in to her own golden skin. I remember the contrast of the colour of our skins, mine milky white and hers a rich amber colour.
That was in the days when they said a suntan was healthy for you, before the ozone completely disappeared and before the toxic gases started polluting the skies. The days before the Bubble. My Mother was one of the resisters and when I entered the Bubble with my husband, I kissed her wrinkled, aging brown face and held her hand. She said she was a tough old bird and she didn’t want to live inside a bubble, she couldn’t survive inside a giant plastic orb. I like to think that The Resistors are still out there somewhere, but They don’t want us to believe that’s possible.
Giant TV screens regularly show a clip of an ‘escape.’ A man runs out one of the outer passages, without a transporter. He turns and faces the sun, he smiles for just one second, then he looks straight at the camera and his eyeballs turn milky white, his retinas burned off and he blindly stumbles. His skin starts to peel off and float into the atmosphere. Within thirty seconds, he has totally disintegrated into ash and the dust that he has become floats off towards the blazing orange sun. They use that to frighten us, when someone tries to argue with the regulators, and it works.
I didn’t lose hope the day I first saw that video, nor the day the Scientists said I wasn’t fit for pro-creation. I had my husband, my art, my books and my movies, and there was a chance that my Mother was still out there somewhere. The day I lost hope was the day they came to take the movies and books. Gerard stood by the door, handing everything over without argument. They took my editions of Dracula, Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, The Stand and Jane Eyre. They took my special collector’s versions of Beauty and the Beast, The Devil’s Backbone, The Lion King, Up and Let the Right One in. But when Gerard went to hand over my entire collection of Harry Potter films and books, I lost it. I held on to them, shaking, screaming and crying as Gerard pried them out of my sweaty hands. I lost faith in the world and my marriage in that second. In the next moment, a blow to my head made my entire world spin and turn black.
I woke up in a hospital bed, feeling groggy, thirsty and blinded by fake lighting. Vague memories of the incident raced through my foggy brain. Bland music played though the hospital room, tasteless food came to my room three times a day and the TV showed boring movies. The scientists quizzed me until I gave them the right answers, that I was happy to watch and read what the Regulators allowed. This was a lie, I had grown used to the flavourless food that we ate in the Bubble, but being surrounded by tedious movies, music and books made my heart ache. I prayed that they wouldn’t take away my last salvation – my paints, canvases and easels. My therapist told the Scientists that painting was good therapy for me, so eventually I was released home and allowed to keep my art.
When I returned to our minimally decorated house, it felt stiller than ever. Gerard walked in and told me in a dead pan voice that he was moving in with another woman, Claudia. Claudia could pro-create and they now have two perfect insipid children, one boy and one girl. I feel most sorry for the children, anyone born after 2025 was born inside the bubble. They will never get to feel the warmth of the sun on their faces, they will never get to walk though crunchy Autumn leaves, they will never run into the Atlantic on a warm Summer’s day and feel their toes immediately freeze. They will never experience a giant thunderstorm and see the sky lit up at night, they will never camp outside in the country and see constellations of stars overhead, they will never make a snowman or slip on an icy footpath.
Here in the bubble, everything is ambient, the temperature is mild, never icy or hot, Goldilocks would like it here. Food is neither hot nor cold and everything grown inside the Bubble tastes the same – fake protein and vegetables. Even alcohol is bland in the Bubble, the quota is two glasses per day of 2% fizzy warmish beer or 2% sickly fruity gloop, that they call wine. I stopped drinking, there was no enjoyment in it. This was another way to keep people co-existing boringly. Of course, the odd person breaks the perfect mould and they are ejected to a fate of dust.
I paint and paint and paint. I surround myself with memories of the world before the Bubble existed. Vivid scenes of people watching the sun rising and sipping a cocktail in Ibiza and images of warm red and orange sunsets over the Amalfi coast. There is no sunset or sunrise here in the Bubble. At 7am ‘daylight’ comes on and at 7pm it switches to ‘nightlight.’ They could not even leave us that simple pleasure! I paint husky rides through snowy Lapland, tropical storms in green leafy rainforests, stylish couples sipping espresso outside small cafés in Paris. Travel is uninspiring now, every bubble looks the same, no matter what the country, and the younger people were engineered without melanin, so everyone looks the same. Us older people still have different coloured skins, but there aren’t many of us left. They say I have a wonderful imagination to create such realistic art, but it’s not imagined, every night in my dreams, I travel the old world. And during the long days here, the scenes transport me there! It is the only thing that makes me feel truly alive.
Sometimes the hours drag and I think that I too should escape, that it would be worth it if I could feel the warmth of sun on my face just one more time. Until then, I dream that one day that we will be able to live outside Bubble and be able to tan our skins once more.