The wind was howling through the streets of Sydney, which were shrouded in an eerie twilight, as Cathy was walking fast, almost running, and carrying a box under her arm. The box was heavy and she wanted to get home and out of this cold, biting wind. Despite all the discomfort she felt elated.
She had found a typewriter in the attic of her late parents’ home. Not much was left of the house or its former contents. She had been rummaging in the half ruin of the home were she had grown up. Her parents had not survived the upheaval and its aftermath. Dad had been murdered by looters and Mum died shortly after of a broken heart. Times were not good as a nuclear winter descended upon Earth that brought to an end the much hated coming climate change with the threat of an unbearable rise in temperatures. Mankind experienced two climate changes within fifty years. Catastrophe upon catastrophe!
“What did you find today,” asked Dan, her partner, when Cathy arrived home and shut the door with a loud bang giving it a good kick with her foot, making sure the outside world did not enter their warm home. He had got used to her disappearing and coming home with useful things. He noticed that she cradled something in her arms.
“I think it is Granddad’s old typewriter!”
“That could come useful,’ said Dan and continued, “would love to write something.”
“Let’s see whether it is still working.” She took the cover off and inside was a great looking orange travel typewriter. It had German keys, but this did not matter one bit.
“Look here!’ he even had a couple of new ribbons taped to the inside of the cover. How thoughtful!”
“He must have anticipated our bleak future,” Dan said.
“Dad never threw anything away. ‘Could be useful one day,’ he used to say. He learned that lesson from Granddad who lived through WW II.” She added after a while, “ We could be on a winner here.”
Dan was putting some wood on the fire in the stove that was used for cooking and heating. Plenty of wood could be found in the neighbourhood from the destroyed and deserted houses that used to be family homes. On top of this all trees had died off and could supply wood for a long time to come. Electricity was only supplied for one hour a day and that mostly during the night.
“Paper could be a problem,’ he said as he stocked the fire and added a piece of wood that used to be part of a beautiful crafted banister in a terrace house , “all the post offices and supermarkets ran out of paper long time ago.”
“You remember the old printing shop in Newtown?” Cathy asked. “They used to sell old stocks of paper. Nobody has a printer any more and we could be lucky.”
For a while Cathy was busy with the typewriter. She gave it and and the cover a good clean and exchanged the old ribbon with a new one. She found a piece of scribble paper and hammered out a few words. “Today is a beautiful day,” she wrote and the clicking of the keys and the ringing bell at the end of a line could be heard. She was proud that she was still able to use the typewriter. As a child she had amused herself with it. She actually had no use for it as she grew up with all the modern electronic gear that was available at the time.
From all her activities and the fire in the stove she got quite warm and took her jumper off.
“Dad is helping us from the grave – sending us a message!”
“We could sell or swap it, Darling,” said Dan, “and get something useful.”
“Like what? This is useful! I could write letters with it.”
“When are you writing letters?”
“Not for myself, Dummy. For others. Like writing to the ‘Disaster Agency’, making claims etc. People will come when they hear about this. And when the weather gets a bit better I take this thing onto the road, like they did during the Dark Ages. I’ll become an official letter writer and earn a bit of money. My Granddad always said everybody should learn to touch-type.”
“Clever girl. I knew you would be good for something when I saw you the first time,” said Dan and pulled a funny face.
Next morning she took the bike and rode to Newtown to see the old printer. It was an arduous journey. People walked everywhere unless they were lucky, like Cathy, and owned a bike. There where no cars on the road. It was cold again and this in November – minus 5° C. The position of the sun could only be guessed behind the thick, yellowish clouds.
When she arrived at the former printers she found the large wooden doors shut. People used to walk straight into the shop from the street through the open, welcoming doors. The printer used to earn a bit of money, supplementing his pension by printing small editions of books for mostly self publishers or invitations for weddings and other occasions. But since there wasn’t any more electricity for the general population he could not use his printing machines.
There was a sign at the door, telling people to come around to the back door. Cathy pushed her bike through the lane to the printer’s back yard. A Blue Heeler started to bark like mad announcing her to his master. An old man opened his squeaking back door to see what annoyed his dog so much.
“Don’t worry about him. He is all bark,” he said when he saw it was a young woman only. “He won’t harm you, just alert me!”
“I came for some office paper,” Cathy explained. “I hope you still have some?”
“Nobody has a printer any more. They are useless without electricity,” the old man said and beckoned her inside.
“I found a typewriter and want to make good use of it.”
“Ah – that’s good. I haven’t seen any like that for many, many years.”
“I found it in my parent’s old home. It actually belonged to my Grandfather.”
“Yeah, the old people never throw anything out. Kept it. Used to say, ‘It will come useful one day’.” The old man waved his index finger as he said it.
“That’s what my Dad used to say.” They both laughed. Once inside, he asked her into the old storage room. And led Cathy straight to a pallet with office paper.
“Is that enough for you?” the old man asked, “I bet you can’t cart this away on your push bike.”
“Can I really have it?” Cathy asked, “I can only use it until I run out of ribbon.”
“Ribbon? There must be a box full of them somewhere around here and collecting dust,” he said and limped to the other end of the storage. “Here it is,” he called out, “ ‘will last you for a while and with a bit of luck, there will be electricity one day again.”
“You dear man, what do I owe you?” she asked him.
“Oh…,”he scratched his head and said, “it was pure luck that the fire didn’t get it, but surely the cockroaches will eat it in the fullness of time. So it is free. I like someone having a go and seeing your radiant face is reward enough for me.” She was so happy she planted a kiss on his cheek. His hand went up to his cheek and he smiled a bit taken aback.
“Next time I’ll come I bring you a cooked and preserved rabbit,” she promised and took a couple of packages of the paper and put it and the ribbons in a basket in the front of her bike. She bit him “Good Bye”, swung herself onto the bike and headed for home.
By now the wind had become stronger and snow was falling. She wanted to be home before total darkness set in. The streets were almost empty and when she arrived home Dan said,
“I was worried about you.”
“Ah chucks, the devil gets good people only.” She laughed and gave him a kiss as she dragged in the bike and its precious cargo.
During the next few days she wrote out a few flyers to hand out and putting up on notice boards that had sprung up all around the neighbourhood. She advertised the fact that she was able to write letters for anyone to anyone. A small fee would apply according to the size of the letter.
Her business, that is what they called it, began slowly and over the next few weeks increased. People paid in kind or with the new Emergency Dollar that was issued by the local authorities. Canberra had been wiped out by an atomic bomb and there was no more Federal Government. At least this was a good thing, some people thought.
In the new year the temperatures climbed above freezing point and she decided to take the typewriter on to the street. Dan had prepared a billboard for her. With that she went out and looked for a good spot. She found an abandoned shop and set up store in its doorway. That way she was out of the wind. Because of the bill board people were still able to see her.
“What a good idea,” people encouraged her. And when they understood what she was going to do they promised to use her service. And so it happened. Soon she had people queuing to have letters written. It were mostly claims and statements to the authorities why they had overused water or electricity. Such was life in the new Australia after the Catastrophe.
“What is it you have there and what are you doing?” a girl asked her one morning. The girl, about eleven or twelve, was all wrapped up against the cold. She had her hands in a muff. Her nose was red and dripping. From time to time she wiped her nose with the muff.
Cathy stopped writing and looked up to the shivering girl.
“I’m writing a letter on a typewriter,” Cathy told the girl.
“What is a ‘typewriter’?” the girl asked looking puzzled.
“Well -,” Cathy said and paused a moment, “you remember we used to have computers and wrote on a keyboard? This isn’t a computer, but you can still write on a keyboard and instead of seeing what you write on a screen you see it on the paper. Look here!” She stopped writing and turned the typewriter around so the girl good see what was happening.
“That’s real cool,” the girl said and a smile flashed across her face. “A kind of – manual word-processor,” she said after a moment of thinking.
“You could say that,” Cathy said and smiled back at the girl. She kept hammering away and the keys jumped up to the paper and left a string of words. The clatter of the typewriter filled the air, finishing with a ring of the bell announcing the end of the line and Cathy pushed the carriage back to the beginning of the next line. The girl was enthralled. What a wonder, she thought. The keys chasing each other to and from the paper and the carriage, with the paper, moving forward so the next keys could hit the right spot.
“I never saw anything like it in my whole life,” the girl said, “and the sound the letters make when they hit the paper! I just love it. It is music to my ears!”
Cathy and the girl did not notice a bystander, a young man, who had stopped and observed what was going on. Often people stopped, looked on or asked question. So, this wasn’t unusual. But he seemed fidgety, he moved his fingers like they were itchy. Cathy and the girl were not taking any notice of him till he suddenly stepped forward, grabbed the typewriter, lifted it up, and screamed, “Noooo!” while throwing it onto the footpath. He jumped on it with his boots, lifted it up again and threw it with full force, one more time, onto the foot path. After this it did not look like it could ever be used again for writing letters.
Cathy and the girl were stunned. “You bastard!” Cathy screamed at him, “what have you done? This is my livelihood. I was able to help people – what now?” The young man looked at them with bloodshot eyes and his lips started to move. He had trouble forming words.
“You…you..,” he tried very hard, “you want …to…bring back, the old time! Never again. You people are mad. This is how it started! Printing followed and too many words made people crazy. Never, never again!” he screamed and gave the mangled typewriter a kick with his boot and it landed in the gutter. He turned and walked away.
Cathy and the girl were both crying now. Through this shared experience they had instantly bonded. Cathy was sent back to the past and for the girl a hope for the future had been destroyed. Cathy looked at the girl and took her by the shoulders and gave her a gentle squeeze,
“I’m so sorry, darling – what is your name?”
“Cathy,” the girl said and a smile came over the face of the older Cathy as she wiped the tears from her face. “So is mine,” she said and now both girls smiled. The older Cathy walked over to the orange typewriter and picked it up, uncertain what she should do with it. After a few moments of thought she decided to take it home. Dan was very handy repairing things but she doubted that even he could fix it. She gave the younger Cathy her address and said, “If you want come and visit me. Perhaps we could start a new project together. What do you think?”
“I would love that. My Mum is teaching handwriting to me as the schools stopped teaching writing before the ‘Catastrophe’ ”.
“I know, they thought it would not be necessary with every one having the new electronic tablets.” They said, “Good bye,” to each other and Cathy went home with her mangled typewriter.
When she arrived home she found Dan sitting by the emergency radio and turning the handle of its dynamo.
“There is a rumour going around,” he said, “that the government will make an important announcement.” He looked up and noticed that Cathy was carrying the mangled typewriter, “What happened?” he asked as she put it on the table and she dropped into a chair, almost crying.
Cathy told him the story about the fanatic. “Some fundamentalist nut,’ she added. They were both depressed because the little income they had hoped for would not eventuate.
‘I met a young girl, her name is Cathy too,” Cathy said, “she is pretty bright and might come around and visit us.”
“What for?” Dan asked
“What for?” she asked back. “Perhaps she needs companionship or an extended family. And, it will do us good to have contact with a bright child not having any of our own.”
Suddenly the radio came to life. Every day at the same time the government radio station, the only one in the country, broadcast the news and useful information to the public. Five minutes before the broadcast an old alarm clock could be heard ticking and the last ten seconds short pips could be heard ending with a gong telling the listeners that the full hour had arrived.
“It is precisely 1800 hour Australian Eastern Standard Time,” the broadcast began.
“The Chief Minister of the all party National Interim Emergency Government has announced today that it will start immediately with the construction of localised :Geothermal Electricity Power-plants” or GEPs. It is anticipated that within a year the supply of electricity could increase manifold…….”
Cathy and Dan did not hear the rest as they began shouting with excitement. Things would look up from now on and the worst would soon be over.