Nobody seems to notice that we’re balanced on a knife-edge here. Maybe we’re used to death now, or perhaps we can’t help our denial, and after all this we’re still looking the other way until forced to personally confront the dangers. It was brought home to me when a truck screeched into the ambulance bay with half a dozen injured militia fighters from the Kensington barricade. There’d been a skirmish with a group that’s been seen raiding empty houses in the Wavertree area for a couple of weeks. They tried to get over the barricade to the central food stores, and they came armed. The militia saw them off over a couple of hours, and came in with stab wounds, bruising, some minor fractures. An abdominal gunshot wound.
Anybody with medical training is a doctor now, there’s no distinction of rank or qualification. The qualified doctors here were mostly GPs, and some specialist consultants in cardiovascular or neurological conditions. As an A&E nurse I have the most experience of serious injury, and it made sense that I was called to take charge. I see that now. At the time, when an urgent call for me to come to surgery echoed through the corridors, there was only one reason for it that I could imagine. I don’t remember how I reached the trauma centre, only the colour draining from the world and the ringing of blood in my ears. We did all we could, but none of us are surgeons. The bullet had punctured her stomach, and the acid had affected the surrounding tissues. She died of multiple organ failure an hour after she was brought in. She was an old hand, her friends told me, one of their best, a veteran of the quarantine liberations. She was twenty-two. I gave a small group of her closest comrades the explanations and condolences, shared their tears and listened to their grief and praise, but all I could feel was the relief that flooded through me when I saw her face. It’s not Sarah was all I could think.
There were supposed to be elections yesterday, but the committee decided to call them off for the funeral and the cleanup operation: a political decision. There are at least four committee members who believe they have claims on being the Mayor or Chair or People’s Representative of Liverpool, and as far as I can make out there have been no less than twelve elections since the committee was formed, all of which have been contested until declared invalid. People have election fatigue. The militia are thinking of calling for the dissolution of the committee, for general meetings to be the only decision-making body, with the chair to be decided each meeting, by lottery if necessary, between delegates from each workplace and neighbourhood.
“It’d be a physical version of the non-hierarchical student forums,” Sarah told me when she returned from the militia meeting yesterday. I built up the fire while she orated at me.
“We have to have direct democracy on every decision that affects us. Any successful election would consolidate too much power with a single faction and prompt internal conflicts. The committee are wasting everybody’s time on their egos when we need to be talking defence tactics. We can’t fight party political battles with raiders on our doorstep.
“What do you think, dad?” she asked, with a sideways glance at Sue, sitting at the table under the one bright lamp in the house. Sue set her jaw and concentrated on the solar charger she was repairing. Clearly this conversation had a history I was not privy to.
“I’m not sure,” I said carefully, watching the flames take hold of the fresh logs. “I see your point of view, but I see and speak to a lot more people who have little to do with the militia, and to most of them a proposal to dissolve the committee… It might look like a military coup. People will think you’re trying to get rid of the committee to take power for yourselves.”
Sue smiled grimly. Sarah’s yells of denial were aimed at her, but she kept her eyes on her soldering and I answered instead.
“Nobody’s doubting your motives,” I said reasonably, “but by the very nature of your organisational structure you – and those who feel as you do – don’t represent everybody. The militia is also a faction, a powerful one, not immune from political manoeuvring, from within and without. It could end up as a takeover, regardless of intention.”
She rolled her eyes and sat by the fire with me.
“If we wanted to take over, it’d be easier to do it like everyone else, going on about how important we are and how much more we could do if we had more powers. They say we’re the ones after power, but we do all the work and we’re the only ones not putting ourselves on a bloody ballot!”
I understand how she feels. The majority of survivors are middle-aged or older and, rightly or wrongly, there’s a strong impulse to trust well-spoken politicians explaining what they can do for us over an armed youth movement saying we should do things for ourselves. Sue and I may like to feel we know better, but we have a more urgent interest to defend than our own politics. The committee may be a dangerously volatile collection of self-promoting bureaucrats, but they’re not the ones training our daughter to risk her life for their cause.
Sue put down her soldering iron.
“Sarah, for all their faults,” she said softly, “the committee aren’t the raiders. They have good intentions.”
“Yeah, and we know where those lead.”
“Well,” I put in, “all roads can lead two ways, depending on how you walk them.”
I sounded just like the placatory liberals I used to hate, and was inwardly proud of Sarah for responding with a disgusted tut. We might have laughed, then, and changed the subject, if Sue hadn’t said what I’d lacked the courage to.
“And the road you want to go down, Sarah, the road to revolution and a better world, you know what that road’s paved with? Beautiful, brave, dead children.”
In the silence, she pushed back her chair and headed up the stairs. Sarah went to the door and shouted after her, “We’re not children!”
She looked as if she might cry, but when I went to her she turned away. She sat back down and poked the fire fiercely.
“Of course you are,” I said. “Even the ones over forty. Anybody who still has the heart left to fight is driven by a powerful innocence.”
She scowled at that. I tried to explain to her: it isn’t an insult, we’re not even saying she’s wrong. But for those of us who’ve seen the battles lost too many times before, the cost is too much to bear.
She sees only the cost of doing nothing. She says she won’t spend her life watching her friends die because they never took the opportunity to win when they had the chance. She’ll make a world where we don’t have to fight anymore, or she’ll die trying.
She said, “I didn’t escape from Chester to sit and watch everywhere go that way. We lost everything, and all we’ve got out of it is being here, now, being where we can make it different. If we throw that away, we got nothing, and we might as well have died back in London. Do you understand me, Dad?”
I do. But I still feel as Sue does. I’m terrified by her certainty, her resolve, and I want nothing more than to keep her home and safe. But how long will this home be safe? I see my mother shining out of her eyes, and I can’t tell her that she’s wrong, or naïve, or incapable, because she is none of those things. She is idealistic, and innocent, and courageous. And if the rest of the militia were truly like her, there might even be hope for them, for all of us. But I can’t quite bring myself to believe it.