(The narrator is Mercury now 20 years old)
She’s leaning against the obelisk in her blue dress, tracing a circle in the loose sand with a pointed toe. A dancer: that was my first impression of her. I feel my heart race at the sight of her, but not, perhaps, with the same urgency it used to.
She kisses me lightly on the cheek and launches into an explanation of her current problem. She and her family have new neighbours.
‘Mutants,’ she says. ‘Ever so many of them, all packed into one house. They’re really ugly. One man has two heads. Can you believe that? And another one three legs. They sit outside on the doorstep all day long and munch food. It’s disgusting. Thing is they’re always there. Every time we leave the house there they are, staring at us. You’d think we were the mutants the way they gawp. Why can’t they stay inside like everyone else? No one else sits on their doorsteps.’
I take her hand in mine. ‘You’ve got to realise, Lizzy, that on Earth they were shut up in compounds for years because the air outside was polluted. Being outdoors is a treat for them.’
‘I don’t know anything about that. I just know that half the time I’m afraid to go out.’
‘Have they done anything to make you afraid of them – threatened you or anything?’
She sniffs. ‘Not exactly. One of them smiled at me – well, not a smile – a leer. Definitely a leer. I ran back indoors and slammed the door. I was totally wrecked. Couldn’t go out again for days.’
‘Perhaps he was just trying to be friendly.’
‘Well, I don’t want to be friends with him. We had good neighbours before. People like us. But the government got rid of them.’
‘Do you know why?’
‘The usual excuse. Said they were making no effort to find work and couldn’t expect to live off the state for ever.’
I ask where they’ve gone but Lizzy doesn’t know the answer to that and doesn’t seem interested. It strikes me as odd, her lack of interest in the plight of her previous neighbours. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that the same thing could happen to her family. She is so obsessed with the “horrible mutants” next door, she can’t think of anything else.