Art Pact 28
"And you think that's a good idea, do you?"
"I don't know," I said. "I suppose so."
"But what will the - your neighbours think?"
"What do I care? There's no law against it." I frowned. "There's no law against it, is there?"
"There's no law against it." She confirmed. "It's just... well, I suppose there's no law against it. You're going to go ahead then? You don't want to wait for her?"
"What's she going to say? No, she burnt her bridges."
"Fine. Fine." She peered over the blueprints again, tracing the outline of the work with her finger. When she reached the north-east edge, the most complicated part of the structure, the finger lingered, rolling around in quizzical little circles. "What about this bit? Isn't it a bit..."
"A bit what?"
"A bit.. baroque? Rococo? I'm not sure what I mean," she admitted. "I didn't pay attention to those bits. Look, what's that? That spire? Is that bit really necessary?"
"Ok, ok. It's really necessary. Does it do something, though? At least tell me that it does something. Tell me it's not just another art thing."
"It's another art thing," I said, leaning forwards to obscure the calculations on my notepad. She sighed, shaking her head, then let her finger slide on to the south-east corner. That I knew she could understand, the vanes and rods and the flat mounting plates on which the solar collectors would finally be fixed. Sure enough:
"So this for powering the whole wing, I take it. And then the collectors go here, and down in the basement you have all the batteries. I suppose at least I should commend you for making it zero emission. Look, have you ever thought about consulting?"
"I have, of course," I said. Not for them, though.
"It's just you could make a-"
"-fortune, yes, in the-"
"-green industrial complex area," she finished.
"Not what I want to do. No point making more industrial estates, more malls, more office blocks. They can be as green as they want, but they're still - still Capital. Do you understand? They need growth, they need sales, and the only way they can do that is by consuming and selling, consuming and selling. Better not to do any of that, then you save on all the energy for the whole rotten cycle."
She's tried to convince me otherwise before, pointing out that the industrial estates and shopping centres of this world will get built with or without me, and that all I'm doing by denying them my services is to guarantee that they will be built in the most energy-inefficient way possible. I remain unconvinced - not least by my conviction that there is a great difference between allowing an injustice to continue and actively contributing to it. I let my right hand slide back, pushing the notepad (along with the pile of permission notes on which it rested) to topple onto the floor.
"Butterfingers. Here, let me get that."
"No, no! I can do it."
"Nonsense," she said. I held her back, though, a firm hand on her shoulder, then stretched out my crippled leg behind me to act as a counterbalance, pivoting around my hip on the other leg so that, like a tower crane, I could reach down with my right hand and scoop up the papers, putting them back on the table upside-down so that she would not be able to see the tower notes. She'll see them eventually, Marie's voice sounded in my head. Always reasonable. But eventually is not now, I told her. "You'll not heal that way, you know. You'll end up with a broken back as well as a gammy leg."
"That's your highly-trained medical opinion, is it?"
"Oh, whatever. You do what you want, build what you want, sprain every joint in your body and get lynched by the villagers. I won't stop you!"
"Good, that's settled then."
Her patronising smile turned to a grimace for a moment, then back to the smile.
"Well I mustn't keep you. I'm sure there's a lot of work you have to take care of to get all this dealt with."
"I'm sure you'll do what's best for yourself, as you always do."
She scooped up her bag from the chair, strolled out into the hallway. One hand on the doorknob, she turned back to me.
"Marie says hello, by the way. I forgot to tell you, she said she'd drop in tomorrow."
Then she left. I stared at the door for a full minute, slack-jawed.