Derisa looks very smart today, walking along a street in the Uber-Capitalist part of town; an area she would never usually be able to venture into without being stopped by the Capitalist Cops. She’s wearing a dress of fine spun silk, the colour of angry clouds, that touches her old body in all the right places, making her look elegant and ten years younger. She keeps the dress carefully hidden, wrapped in paper, solely for these illicit outings to the Northside. Demeter had given it to her, and it is Demeter she is now on her way to meet.
Any observer who bothers to give her more than a cursory glance would instantly see how self conscious she feels as she smooths the fabric nervously over her belly and thighs. She walks quickly, heart beating fast. She’s getting too old for this, she thinks, remembering how much more difficult it had felt squeezing through the hole in the North-South border fence to avoid the Capitalist Cops. It’s a little chilly to be without a coat, but she doesn’t have one fit to be seen here. She is alert; conscious of the the pulse in her neck, as she simultaneously scans the street for potential danger and consults the map she has memorised, slightly anxious she has missed a turning. But no, there it is, up ahead on the left. Lucrum Street has a large bank on one corner and a jeweller on the other, but it quickly narrows and becomes a residential street with tall, three-storey town houses on either side – the kind with basement kitchens and imposing steps up to the front door. Mature trees stand sentinel along each side of the street, getting larger as Derisa walks further toward the wrought iron gate at the end of the road.
In the park beyond the gate waits Demeter. Like Derisa she is nervous, looking about rather furtively, twisting the beautiful mauve scarf around her neck. She soon sees Derisa and signals to her with a nod of her head and starts walking towards a bench and sits, looking out over the boating lake, waiting for Derisa to join her. Derisa is a little out of breath by the time she reaches the bench so sits without speaking for a moment until Demeter breaks the silence.
‘It’s good to see you, my friend. I’m sorry to make you come to me again, but I just couldn’t leave the Northside. Persephone is very close to having the baby and I want to be where my phone implant works so I can hear her when she calls. I wouldn’t have messaged you if it wasn’t important. I really need your help.’
Not for the first time, Derisa wonders how people bear hearing voices in their heads and shivers a little. ‘How can I help?’
‘Persephone has been ordered to the hospital tomorrow. They say they will be inducing her in the morning and I am petrified. I’ve tried talking to her, but she trusts that doctor implicitly. Honestly, this generation have lost all ability to question. If it’s got an expensive price tag, it must be good.’ With that she sighs and looks down at her hands that lie clasped tightly in her lap. Derisa lays one of her hands over Demeter’s and sighs too. She knows what goes in the Taramco Arcadia and it makes her blood run cold. Technology designed to deal with emergencies, used routinely to justify an enormous bill, is not her idea of facilitating healthy birth.
‘Is that was she really wants, do you think?’ she asks.
‘No, not at all. She told me she wanted it to be gentle and natural. But Walter was so insistent and that doctor made it sound like it was as simple as having a tooth out. Besides, no one questions the Taramco doctors. I am the only quiet voice questioning the need for this. I am nothing against the full force of the hospital and all of Persephone’s friends, most of whom had elective surgical extractions and the rest inductions that usually ended up in theatre. Have we forgotten how to give birth?’
‘Not on the Southside’, replied Derisa. I mean obviously, we have no choice, but the upside is that girls grow up trusting birth and taking it for granted that birth is hard work but generally safe when the mother is healthy and well fed. Our poor outcomes are due to malnutrition, lack of basic healthcare and poor sanitation, plus the odd fluke of nature, when we really could do with the help of the medics. What goes on in that place is beyond the pale. We call it Taramco-Trauma….’ and then, realising she’d forgotten herself, Derisa apologises.
‘I’m so sorry my friend. I know you know all this and thinking of your beautiful Persephone walking alone into that darkness must be so painful. Tell me how I can be helpful to you’.
So Demeter asked Derisa to share her knowledge and over the next hour, Derisa teaches her as much as she can about how to help birth unfold unhindered, even if started artificially. Demeter scribbles with a little silver pencil in a moleskin notebook, which even to Derisa looks bizarrely retro. Demeter asks questions and Derisa answers as clearly as she can, every so often looking around to see if they are being observed. After the hour is up they embrace quickly and part, both hearts heavy with sadness for Persephone.
Walking back to the Southside, Derisa is thoughtful. As well as worried for Persephone, she’s anxious for her friend. Speaking up against the medical establishment is one thing, but betraying knowledge so obviously gained from an underground birthkeeper is grounds for public ridicule and prosecution by the Capitalist Cops. She wonders how she got here, helping a North-Sider, and reflects on how she and Demeter met, years before on the North-South border, before the fence was built. They had both been forgaging in the woods, Derisa for herbs that can help with birth and milk production, Demeter for elderberry flowers to make cordial – yet another of her retro habits. They had struck up conversation easily and naturally and their friendship blossomed, despite the Class Divide. They took to visiting each other, both keeping a set of clothes that allowed them to walk undetected in each other’s worlds. Once the fence was built, things had been more difficult for a while, but the breach in the fence they had eventually found was well hidden and allowed easy passage.
Demeter is a spirit of Spring, Derisa thinks, as an image of her surrounded by elderflowers shimmers in her imagination. How will she be able to help Persephone weather this wintering time?