The young woman standing at the bus stop in the centre of this quiet English country town is seemingly in her early twenties: a pretty brunette with shoulder-length wavy hair, while under her blouse and skirt (she is wearing no coat as the afternoon is warm) can be discerned a full-breasted, shapely figure. The blouse is white cotton, short-sleeved; the full navy skirt reaches just to her knees. Below the skirt are dark seamed nylons which end in shiny black high-heeled shoes. Skirt and blouse are set off by a broad shiny red plastic belt. She has placed a shopping bag on the ground beside her and has a black leather bag hanging from one shoulder.
Not far along the street another woman shopper comes out of the greengrocer’s; she is dressed in the same manner as the young woman at the bus stop. And across the square is a third young woman similarly dressed, although both of these have a navy-blue belt rather than a red one. It would seem to be some sort of uniform that these young women are wearing…
Closer inspection of the one waiting for the bus shows that she has a metallic badge pinned to her blouse above her left breast. It says: Elaine Robbins. Housewife. 6940032. Close up one can also observe something else: Elaine Robbins — this is presumably her name — is not wearing anything under her blouse. Her full, firm breasts can be seen through the thin cotton, with clearly no benefit of bra or anything else. The full breasts with their dark red nipples pushing against the partially transparent fabric. If we were to look close up at those other two similarly dressed young women we would see the same. The absence of a bra or other underclothing above the waist, and the badge. The badge worn by the girls with the blue belt, though, does not say Housewife but Category 2.
Elaine Robbins, at the bus stop, is glancing up the street in the direction that the bus will come from, impatient perhaps to get home, not happy to be waiting here even though it is a very pleasant day. There is no bus in sight at the moment. One or two cars enter and leave the square and a number more are parked over to one side, but it is generally very quiet on this July afternoon. A few other people are about in addition to the three similarly dressed young women. Two older women who are not in any sort of uniform, and one or two men also normally dressed. One of these is now walking towards the bus stop. He stops next to the waiting young woman. Whose badge proclaims: Elaine Robbins.
She meets his eye and quickly looks away with a flicker of her eyelashes. She seems nervous. The man is middle-aged, in a brown suit and tie. His eyes are taking in this attractive young woman whose breasts are clearly visible as she stands with her arms at her sides. She is aware of his scrutiny and looks as if she would like to lift her arms and cover herself, or turn away. But she doesn’t.
‘Elaine Robbins,’ he reads out finally. ‘What are you: out shopping?’
Her eyes briefly, nervously, meet his. ‘Yes.’
‘Hmmm… Housewife. How old are you, Mrs Robbins?’
‘Twenty four? Good Heavens. Why haven’t you got a job?’
She shifts her feet on the high heels. ‘I… I’m not… really qualified. For anything really.’
This does not seem to satisfy this rather aggressive man. ‘Not qualified? But there are plenty of jobs where high-grade qualifications are not needed. Shop assistant for instance. And also…’ he gives a little laugh ‘for a good-looking young woman like yourself, why not social counselling?’
Elaine flushes. The term ‘social counselling’ is nowadays used as a euphemism for prostitution. And a young woman who is not gainfully employed can in certain circumstances be directed by the authorities to perform as a prostitute. It is after all a most useful social function, relieving male tension and aggression; reducing the incidence of rape.
The man is staring at Elaine’s ripe tits, at those big red nipples. ‘Have you thought of trying that, Mrs Robbins? Appointments in the afternoon, say, rather than wandering round the streets with nothing to do?’
Elaine Robbins nervously moistens her lips. Where is that bus? ‘I… I’m shopping. I’ve got my shopping to do. And… and my housework when I’m at home.’
The man makes an incredulous sound. ‘Shopping! Housework! That can’t possibly occupy a woman’s whole day, her whole week.’ He is standing close and his hand comes up… and takes hold of one of the lightly-clad breasts. His fingers squeezing. ‘You’ve probably got a boyfriend, Mrs Robbins. That’s what takes up most of your day. An illicit liaison. I was only listening to something on the radio the other day. A survey of that sort of thing. It’s very widespread. The authorities are acting, though. Extra inspectors.’
‘I don’t… l don’t do that…’ she whimpers. The hand is still squeezing and jiggling the ripe breast but Elaine Robbins does not push it away.
‘I don’t believe you. I think what I’ll do is report you, Mrs Robbins, number 6940032. I have reason to believe that this married woman who is not gainfully employed is engaging in illicit sexual activity. I therefore recommend that she is put on the list of approved female social counsellors.’
‘No!’ Elaine gasps. Looking up the street her frantic eyes see the bus approaching. At last! ‘Please… here’s my bus…’
‘I don’t care what it is, I’m still talking to you so you can’t leave. Don’t think you can get out of it like that, young woman.’
He takes his hand away from her boob as the bus draws up. Elaine gives it a desperate look. ‘Don’t you dare move,’ the man tells her. A couple of people get off… and the bus pulls away. Elaine is almost in tears.
It is the man who has got off the bus, turning and now recognising the man who has been harassing Elaine.
The newcomer, Arnold, is of a similar age to George, another middle-aged man in a suit and tie. ‘Who’s your pretty friend?’ he asks. And then reads out, as George has done, ‘Elaine Robbins eh?’
‘I was just questioning her,’ says George. ‘On her apparent lack of social conscience. An able-bodied young woman not gainfully employed: the state can do without parasites. I was suggesting that the authorities might like to put her on the social counselling list.’
‘My word! She’d be an attraction, though, wouldn’t she? Eh Elaine? You’d have a list of clients as long as my arm. And I’d be the first on the list. I bet you’re really something on your back.’
Elaine is blinking away tears now. Two of them is just too much. She shakes her head. ‘Please… I want to go home…’
George takes hold of one of the ripe breasts again. ‘All in good time, young lady. Arnold and myself are not satisfied. We are concerned citizens and we are not happy with your behaviour. Are we, Arnold?’
‘Where’s the Employment Office?’ asks Arnold. ‘There must be one round here. We could take her there. They’ll have a room… where we could have a private discussion with her.’
Elaine squeals ‘No!’ George tells her to shut up. ‘Yes it’s just round the corner. That’s a very good idea, Arnold. Excellent. Come along, Mrs Robbins.’
Elaine looks frantically round but there is nothing she can do; no one is going to want to listen to any protests she makes. Two well-dressed, mature male citizens — and a young housewife who in the eyes of the state will be considered something of a parasite. She is marched along between the two men, each holding an arm. George is carrying her shopping bag.
The man at the desk in the Employment Office looks up as they enter. ‘Excuse me,’ George says. ‘I wonder if you have a room we might use for a little while. We want to have a word with this young woman.’
The man looks at the three of them and smiles. ‘Been misbehaving, has she? Yes, I should think so.’ Arnold adds, ‘And you wouldn’t by any chance have… a cane?’
The man’s smile broadens. ‘Yes I think I could find that too. She looks like she could use a taste of it. These good-looking ones, they can get very uppity.’
Elaine is saying, ‘No… no please…’ but of course to no avail. The man shows them to a small room which contains a desk and chairs. ‘This do?’ he asks. George says ‘Lovely.’ The official has already found a cane which Arnold now has. The door is closed behind them.
‘No!’ squeals Elaine again, somewhat hysterical now.
‘Behave yourself,’ George says. ‘Now get your skirt off. And your knickers. This needn’t take long if you co-operate.’
This is absolutely terrible but there is nothing Elaine can do. These dreadful men are going to cane her bare bottom — and there is no knowing what they’ll do after that. But there is nothing she can do, Elaine is helpless. Things have got worse recently, there has been this campaign in the government-controlled media against what the state considers to be idlers. In recent weeks it has come to be directed especially against unemployed young married women — those without children and who are not pregnant. The two zeros in Elaine’s number indicate that she has no children, and she is clearly not pregnant; but this as well is indicated in her state number. As soon as a young woman is pregnant her number is revised, clear for all to see. So these two men, self-styled ‘concerned citizens’, know the essential facts about Elaine. They know that ‘concerned’ as they are they’ve got someone — a pretty and shapely young woman — whom they can enjoy themselves with.
‘Come on,’ George repeats. ‘Don’t hang about or it’ll be a double dose.’ Arnold meanwhile has taken Elaine’s bag and is rifling through it, looking for her ID card which will contain further personal information: Elaine’s address and phone number, details of her husband’s employment, etc. In amongst the lipstick and cosmetic items and other bits and pieces is a packet of contraceptives. This is not an extraordinary find in a young woman’s handbag nowadays because women of sexually active age are required by law to carry them, as a health measure. Arnold, though, takes out the packet as if he has uncovered damning evidence.
‘How many of these have you used today, Mrs Robbins? Since your husband went off to work?’
Two or three at the least I should imagine,’ says George. ‘That warrants an extra six of the best in my opinion.’
Elaine doesn’t respond, she is now in a state when things are not registering too well. Except the fact that she is in an awful, awful spot and can do nothing about it. She has stepped out of the navy skirt and a white waist petticoat. She has a white suspender belt fastening her dark nylons and brief knickers, white with a pale blue flower pattern. These knickers must now of course come off as well.
‘You’re late,’ her husband says when finally Elaine gets home. ‘I was beginning to wonder. Were you round at your mother’s?’
It is six o’clock. Elaine should have been back at four, to prepare the supper. Instead…
‘No… no, I wasn’t at mother’s. I was…’ but Elaine gets no further. She bursts into tears. The memory of that horrendous time spent in the little room in the Employment Office is simply too much. She is sobbing uncontrollably into Kevin’s shirt front. Eventually, though, strangled words do come out. Words which haltingly talk of what has taken place: at the bus stop and then, much worse, in that room.
Kevin tries to comfort her, but there is nothing he can do just as there was nothing Elaine could do. He feels sick but there is nothing he can do. ‘It’s over at least,’ he tells her. ‘And you’d better stay at home… unless you can find some sort of job and get reclassified.’
Sobs are still coming at regular intervals. Kevin says it is over but is it? Elaine hasn’t told him about that threat to get her put on the register of social counsellors. Get Elaine listed as a state prostitute, that means. If they do that… but there is something else to worry about. Tomorrow she had better go for a medical check-up. Every woman is required by law to have a medical after having sexual intercourse without a contraceptive with anyone except her husband. Neither of them, George or Arnold, in spite of styling themselves ‘concerned citizens,’ used a contraceptive. Elaine hasn’t told Kevin that either.