For All Nails #306: Domestic Scene FN1
By Jonathan Edelstein
11 May 1985
The woman on the vitavision screen was fifty, black and ridiculously overdressed. She sat at a breakfast table in a suburban kitchen, with one uniformed flunky at attention behind her and another bending down to section an orange. She pursed her lips, raised a white-gloved hand, and motioned to yet a third attendant.
"Do you think my tiara needs a little polish?"
The minion made a great show of inspecting the coronet, checking the nooks and crannies of gold amid the garish assortment of jewels. "It looks absolutely fine, ma'am."
"All the same, maybe you'd better give it a polish anyway. We have to keep up appearances, you know."
The flunky reached into his jacket pocket with an air of resignation and removed a cloth and polish. "Yes, ma'am."
The vitavision erupted with canned laughter.
On screen, the black woman motioned to an advisor who had crept in unnoticed through a side entrance. "Is my summer palace almost done yet?"
"That's what I wanted to discuss with you, ma'am," he answered hesitantly. "The cost overruns have been astonishing, and we've had to transfer money from the schools budget. Are you sure it's in the best interests of the nation to continue?"
"The best interests of Victoria? Certainly. I'm Victoria, aren't I?"
"Damn it, Ian, do we have to watch this nonsense?" The woman on the couch was also black, and also fifty; she was clearly the person who the woman on screen was intended to portray. She was somewhat overdressed - compensation, possibly, for the days when she didn't dare outshine the white women - but not comically so; from all appearances, she had simply not bothered to change after coming home from the office.
"It would hardly be courteous not to," said her husband, "after they've gone to so much trouble writing a show about you." Ian Douglas, still hale at seventy-five, sat on another sofa across the room with their seven-year-old daughter Letitia. "But if you can't take it, I suppose we could change the channel."
“Trouble, hah! You could do better without half trying. And Dorothy could do better than you.”
Their adopted daughter, sprawled on the floor with a chemistry textbook, stirred at the mention of her name. “You always say that people should develop their talents, don’t you, Mum?”
The woman raised her hand in surrender. “I could wish you’d put more time into developing some of your others. But yes. And if you’re all quite finished, do I have your permission to watch the news?”
Ian smiled wickedly. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, and got up to switch the channel.
“... remembering the tenth anniversary of the Privy Council’s decision in Estate of Ntimana versus Dominion of Victoria,” recited the talking head on the screen. The channel was a foreign one, from the Buganda kingdom judging by the newsreader’s accent. “That was the ruling that declared Donald Allen’s State of Emergency illegitimate, triggering massive street uprisings and clearing the way for the United Empire garrison to intervene in the unrest. But celebrations of the change to multi-racial rule are clouded by obstruction from racialist die-hards and continued dissension among the factions that brought about the revolution...”
“I said news, not platitudes.” The channel switched again.
“... Madame Prime Minister? A moment?”
The vita showed a street scene in early evening, the entrance to an Underground station in central Nairobi. The woman being accosted by a reporter was the one on the sofa, in the same clothes; she had obviously been caught coming home from work.
“How do you respond to the Opposition Leader’s criticism that your government is not proceeding quickly enough with land reform and economic equality?”
“With all respect to Mr. Saitoti, and I have a great deal, economic equality will happen much faster if we don’t rip out the foundations of the economy while we’re at it. And I don’t think the Government has anything to be ashamed of in this regard; in this term alone, we’ve brought electricity and running water to two million people, the family grants have lifted a million or more out of poverty, every Victorian has access to a clinic; our industry is continuing to grow through United Empire trade connections...”
“But the polls show majority support for Mr. Saitoti’s proposal to nationalize the coffee and tea sector, and they show the Government losing ground to both the Democrats and the VNC in the upcoming election.”
“Keep in mind that these polls are for an election that hasn’t been called yet, and a campaign that hasn’t started. I’m confident that when the polls close, the voters will return the Citizens’ United Party to power with an increased majority. And Mr. Saitoti is welcome to join me in a unity government, as he always has been, and help plan our future together.”
“Do you think your marriage to Ian Douglas will still be an issue?”
“I’d hope that we’re mature enough to leave the personal out of politics. And after I’ve been tried in front of Ian and plotted insurrection with him, I don’t see that marriage is such a big step...”
Another click, and the image on the screen disappeared.
“Well, that might as well have been a Yes, Ma’am episode all by itself, mightn’t it?” asked the woman on the couch.
“Hardly that, Victoria...”
“But still too fast?”
“Too fast, yes.” After all this time, Victoria Madoka-Douglas was still used to the slower cadences of the courtroom and of print journalism, and she tended to rattle off her points too quickly when caught on camera. The vita was becoming more and more a part of politics, and unlike some of her contemporaries – Saitoti, for instance – she hadn’t entirely adapted.
“I can't seem to shed the awkwardness," she admitted. "I'll have to hope the rules haven't changed as much as everyone says they have. Or otherwise, that it really is time for a change."
“I know someone more awkward still," Ian answered. The image reappeared on screen, as if by magic.
“Is everything ready for my coronation?”
“That’s inauguration,” came the advisor’s voice from under the table. “And you have to win the election first.”
“Oh, elections,” said the woman on screen with a wave of her hand. The flunky to her left ducked as the hand narrowly missed his head. “One man, one vote. I’ll pick the man and make sure he votes for me. But at my deification...”
“Will I get to wear a crown?”
“No, ma’am, it’s only a swearing-in.”
“Well, there’ll be some swearing in here if I don’t get to put one on...”
The canned laughter erupted on cue. “Yes, ma’am...”
“If it bothers you that much, you can always reinstate the Sedition Act,” said Ian.
“Don’t even say that as a joke. This is what we fought for, both of us, and I’ve been called a great deal worse.” She paused and looked down for a moment. “It’s a shame Letitia – old Letitia, I mean – couldn’t have seen it. Forget about little things like freedom – she’d be throwing Yes, Ma’am jokes at me most of the day.”
“There are many people who should have seen this and didn’t. But her son and daughter are here, and her namesake as well.”
“Speaking of which, it’s about time to put her to bed, isn’t it? And if you say ‘yes, ma’am,’ you’re in for a night of abstinence.”
“I wouldn’t dare.” Laughing, Ian got up from the sofa and scooped up the yawning Letitia, who put her arms around his neck and closed her eyes. He passed by where his wife was sitting, leaned over to kiss her on the head, and walked off toward the bedroom.
A moment later, the vitavision was silent. On the floor, the Prime Minister of Victoria helped Letitia Ntimana’s daughter with her homework.
(Proceed to In the Country of the Bland.)
(Return to For All Nails.)