Sitting agitatedly in a rickety chair by a cracked window in a dilapidated, crumbling flat, ex-Party member and current-honorary-prole Winston Smith was waiting to become a father.
Metres away, concealed only by a frayed paisley curtain that served as a wall, Julia was in the callous, unrelenting thick of childbirth. Her periodic moans melded with the spry encouragement of the midwife who was presiding over the birth. Each time Julia let forth a despairing bellow or an obscene word as a means of aggressive catharsis—always countered with a supportive quip from the midwife—the reality of the situation became clearer in Winston's mind.
He was still adjusting to life in the prole community. It wasn't the people—they had accepted him and Julia with open arms. He found that they were not quite as naive as he had assumed; they had a rather articulate idea of what the Party was, what it stood for, how it operated. They shared in his derision of its values and perpetuated messages. It was true that the Party perceived the proletariat as sub-human, but that was both irrelevant and of no consequence. So long as you did not show significant resistance if the patrols were to confront you, you could live perfectly content as a prole, happy, even. Happiness came in many forms when you lived among the proles. The food was real (it tasted real in any case), the music from the minds of living people with no versificator interference, the films depicted humanity, rather than a perverted, man-made construction of it. Sex had suddenly become all the more primal, as now, it could be stretched out, savoured, drunk in, instead of the furtive placations of carnal urges they had pursued under the reign of the Party. Here, there was not a telescreen in sight, and scant chance of hidden microphones.
No, it wasn't the people at all. Winston and Julia were overcome with the idea of just how normal it was to be free, to be a singular human being rather than a carbon psychological copy of your work colleague, your neighbour, even the Thought Police. That individuality was accepted and encouraged. That love was commonplace.
He would instil all of this into this child, he thought. He decided he would make a point of letting the little one know that if he or she were ever to have the misfortune of encountering a scornful Party member, or be persecuted by the patrols in any manner, at any degree; that such gross violation of human affinities should not be seen as acceptable. He would make it clear that even though some seemingly impeccable people with neatly creased overalls and shiny briefcases might insist that proles were animals, it was not, and never would be the case. That even though it might seem like they had nothing; that there were Party members who surely had more appealing houses, better food, warmer blankets (he would make certain to explain from experience that they in fact had grey houses, tasteless food and thin blankets), they did have something, and that that something was much more precious than any material thing: free thought, individuality, and love. Pure, unadulterated love.
Winston looked up, snapped out of his thoughts—his blissfully private thoughts—by a third muffled voice, a strident sweet siren, filling the room. He waited patiently for an agonising five minutes or thereabouts, until the midwife swatted the curtain aside to stick her face in the gap.
"You can come in now, love."
Winston scrambled to his feet, almost stumbling in his eagerness to see his child. She shepherded him into the room, where a rumpled queen-sized mattress dominated the floor—they had yet to purchase a new bed frame to take the place of the battered predecessor with its broken slats and general precariousness. Julia lay drained but smiling in the centre, her hair matted with sweat and splayed partly across the pillow. The ends brushed her shoulders now, in fact, both of them had unconsciously done away with their Party-sanctioned hair styles. Julia's girlish bob was long gone, and Winston's clumsily hacked undercut had grown into a tawny mop that was akin to that which he had seen on a number of prole men in the mid to late 'seventies.
In the crook of Julia's arm, a tiny squirming bundle let out a sudden shriek. Winston jumped, having been too mesmerised by the circumstances before him to have fully registered the presence of the one thing that would set it into motion: his daughter. He sat down on the edge of the mattress, kicking his boots off and swinging his legs up beside Julia's. Thankfully, the midwife had busied herself by cleaning and gathering her things, and was going about it with her back turned to the newly-compiled family. Winston tipped his brow to Julia's and kissed her. He suddenly felt lost, and almost intimidated by the tiny, tiny girl. It occurred to him that this was the first time he had ever encountered a newborn. Of course, he had had been around seven when his sister was born, but the memory was hazy to non-existent, and he had been incapable of interest in other people then. Winston disregarded all of this when the baby opened her eyes. He hadn't seen such an astonishingly beautiful pair of eyes for... he wasn't sure if he ever had, upon further contemplation. They were a deep shade of brown, and were fixed on his with a strangely premature sense of curiosity.
Julia stroked the matted dark hair with her index finger, a single tear bursting upon impact with Winston's shoulder.
"She's gorgeous." They looked up at one another, surprised at having spoken in unison.
There was a pause, a blissful pause that was spent in complete awe of the child between them. The fact that she existed with the interference of no one but the two of them, save assistance from the midwife, was almost incomprehensible.
"Poppy," Julia murmured. She lifted her eyes to Winston's. "That was our final choice for a girl, wasn't it?"
Without thinking and not necessarily needing to, Winston tickled the baby's palm with the tip of his finger. "Hello, Poppy!" he murmured with a quiet, giddy gusto. He felt inclined to hold Julia and Poppy tight. They belonged to him, in the least oppressive way possible. He was completely and immaculately happy, the profundity of it all bringing him very near to tears.
"Well, I'd bes' be off." The midwife's voice was something of a minor shock, husky and riddled with not-quite-formed diction, though perfectly amiable. Julia smiled up at her.
"Thank you for everything."
The midwife began to gather her things. "I'll see you in five days for the check-up, then, an' see 'ow the two of you 're farin', alright?"
At times, the midwife's crude manipulation of words was difficult to make sense of, but neither of the pair doubted her professionalism or expertise.
"Certainly. I'll see you to the door." Winston, all gallantry and politeness, rose from the mattress to see her off. But at the threshold, he found himself unable to move. It occurred to him that he was now besotted with yet another dark-haired girl.
When he returned—he felt as though he couldn't get back quickly enough—he was greeted by an image he had to consciously refrain from gaping at.
He broke away from the door, coming closer almost tentatively.
"You're breastfeeding," he said stupidly.
"Of course!" she said, her eyes still fixed on her ravenous little girl. Why..." Julia's demeanour swung from calm to practically livid. "They rewrote it, didn't they?"
Suddenly, a memory engulfed Winston's mind. Indeed, they had rewritten it. Years ago, there was a woman who worked at the station across from his in the Records Department. He remembered seeing a thick stack of books on her desk, and when he passed her, he had glimpsed pictures of fresh-faced women on the covers. They were clad in the regulation blue Party overalls, only with tremendous bulges at the stomach, which partly hid their garish red Anti-Sex League sashes. The covers of these books also featured test-tubes and syringes, the favoured symbols of Artsem, a movement that advocated artificial insemination in place of natural procreation. And of course, Big Brother's face and the Ingsoc logo made appearances too. Winston remembered hearing snippets of what the woman was murmuring into the speakwrite, which had been baffling when heard out of context.
"Natural methods of feeding advocated doubleplusungood, substitute 'natural feeding methods plusdetrimental to child's formative years, use of infant formula doubleplusgood for stimulation of mental and physical growth.'"
He remembered how her words had come out on an ever so slight sigh. He could tell that her heart wasn't in what she was doing. He was almost certain that at some point, she would be vaporised, if she hadn't been already.
"It's all that Artsem bollocks that they're drilling into everyone," Julia muttered. "I'm so glad I never have to be a part of all that fucking codswallop again. It's disgusting, the family unit isn't something you can just abolish. I can see why they wouldn't want us to nurse—it's just another way to get closer to your children, always a red flag for ownlife." She paused for a moment, realising that she was growing unnecessarily excited. She took a deep breath, made sure Poppy was not choking, and looked up at Winston again. "Oh, well. It's no concern of ours anymore, is it, dear?"
"Definitely not." He smiled and wiggled his toes, completely at peace with the notion that all was right with the world—their world.
A week had passed, and Julia was going stir-crazy. She was savouring these first days with her daughter, but as soon as her lying-in was over she was itching to do something. The allure of the new-found liberation that life among the proles had given her still hadn't worn off. She was just shy of climbing the walls—the walls that weren't comprised only of fabric. In an ideal world, the three of them would embark upon an outing as a family, but the cacophony of the streets would be too much for Poppy, and Winston was exhausted. He couldn't fathom how Julia had so much energy and he so little, when she was upright in bed, nursing every two hours round the clock, and the only disruption this presented to Winston was the occasional stir. The age disparity between them did not cross his mind.
Finally, Julia checked the cupboard and found that they were out of tea. When she told Winston, he gaped at her. The flippancy with which she said it, it made it sound as though they were actually in a position to just pop out to buy more.
"Trust me, darling, there's a black-market vendor a few doors down, he's got a whole wall lined with hessian sacks of it." She pulled on an oversized grey dress—she had spent the majority of the last seven days bare from the waist upwards, and she winced as the fabric settled over her tender, swollen flesh. It felt as though it was made of lead, but she'd survive. She fossicked through the rusty tobacco tin that served as a money box and tucked a pound note into the pocket of the dress.
"You'll be alright with Poppy while I'm gone, won't you? I'll be ten minutes at the very most."
She pulled on a pair of boots and pinned back a few compromising locks of hair.
"She shouldn't want to feed until later on. Honestly, she'll just sleep. She won't even know I'm gone." she smiled and shrugged into the first coat she saw—Winston's. She tiptoed closer to give him a reassuring peck on the lips.
"'Bye, love." she whispered, and crept back out into the world again.
Lies. Lies and deceit.
Winston cringed as Poppy assailed his ears. He dodged her pink, flailing arms and tried to remember how long it had been since she was last fed, but he realised that the sound she produced was a plea for relief from something that her mother nor Winston could provide. Feeling as though he was being torn asunder, he was helplessly flailing on the inside. Since she was born, silencing her cries had simply been a matter of putting her to the breast, but not only was Julia not present to do so, Winston sensed that no amount of coddling would soothe her. After a moment's hesitation, Winston picked her up and held the squalling bundle against his chest. He wasn't adept on the baby-talk front, so he decided to speak to her as he would to anyone else.
"It's alright, love," he murmured, patting her arched back. "I know, it's not as comfortable as Mummy's chest, is it? She'll be home soon, don't worry."
New possibilities occurred to him, but they could quickly be dismissed. He was certain that she didn't need to be changed, but was she sick? She'd been kept indoors, on the mattress between her parents her whole life so far, so the chances seemed incredibly slim. He felt her forehead and chest regardless—slightly warm from the effort that crying demanded, but not alarmingly so. She didn't display any other signs of immediate illness. Winston began to wonder whether she was in any pain. He checked her fingers and toes, still so tiny and soft—nothing was caught on the blanket or unnaturally bent. It seemed as though her cries were growing even more insatiable. Winston paced the floor, broke into a gentle waltz, but nothing came of it. He speculated whether she was suffering from internal pain, possibly the kind that preceded serious disease—the thought made his stomach twist, but it was a plausible one. He teetered on the brink of panic, but decided that he wouldn't call a doctor until he had consulted Julia. She had to be in some kind of pain, there was no other explanation for the inconsolable screaming. Finally, after accepting the fact that he was, for now, utterly useless, he did what he'd wanted to do since Julia left the flat. He held the baby and began to wail at a volume that very nearly rivalled that of his daughter.
"Thanks, love." Georgie, the vendor, tipped his worn bowler to Julia.
She nodded her thanks, whipping around to leave as quickly as was humanly possible. Somewhere in the enormous queue that threatened to snake out the front door, a woman had brought her baby into the crowded warehouse. While Julia paid for the tea, the child had let out a sudden squeal, followed by the escalating wails that had become a common occurrence for Julia over the past few days. In any case, her body had found the noise very familiar indeed, as a rush of warmth spread across her bust, the sudden and uncontrollable function sending a searing wave of embarrassment over her. She rushed out of the building, pulling the threadbare coat over the spreading wet patches on her dress that threatened visibility.
"Oh, shit, shit," she muttered, holding the lapels of her coat together and clutching the fragrant bounty in its little paper bag. As she swung into the creaky, grime-covered foyer of her building, she heard Poppy's unmistakable sobs, and another untimely gush seized her. There was no one around, this time she didn't care. She raced up the stairs, stuffing the bag of tea into the pocket of the coat before wriggling out of it while she climbed. At length, she bounded onto the landing and burst into the flat gasping, leaking and babbling apologies.
"I'm sorry dearest oh what on earth did I do that for come here little one I'm so sorry I left you and Daddy here all on your own..." she gasped. She took Poppy from Winston, dealt him an apologetic kiss, single-handedly unbuttoned the dress and cuddled her daughter until she was quiet enough to latch on.
"And the balance of the world has been restored," Julia sighed, letting her eyes close for a moment.
Winston was incredulous.
"You've got to be joking." he deadpanned above his daughter's noisy suckling. "That was all?"
"Of course that was all, this is all that happens in her life ever. For now. This is it. Eating."
"Julia, she was screaming like she was being torn apart."
"Of course she was. Where have you been this past week? Her life revolves around food."
"Ah. Not much different to ours, then."
Although they were no longer miserable Party members, they weren't being watched and they had a life of their own, they were living in hungry, relentless squalour, something that had managed to escape them over the past week of lazy, blissful stupour. Winston let out a sigh, and Julia gave his hand a 'we'll get through this' squeeze. Laying his head on Julia's shoulder, he snuggled closer.
"You're quite taken by this nursing business, aren't you?" Julia remarked with a giggle. Winston snapped his eyes away, as if it was some kind of illicit ritual he was witnessing.
"I'm sorry, darling. I don't mean to ogle you."
"It's not ogling, my love. I understand completely."
"I don't. How is it that you have all this child-rearing knowledge up your sleeve, and I'm a fumbling idiot in the presence of a screaming baby? There's a whole generation between us."
"You seem to forget that you don't sport a vagina." she told him. He still cringed when he heard taboo words spoken out loud. He wasn't quite used to conversation that was less than orthodox. "They don't teach you men how to parent." Julia continued. "Even though the Party never mentioned intimate things like this, girls have much better access to books that hadn't made it to the Ministry yet. There's a wealth of information out there, bonding, sleeping, that sort of thing."
She narrowed her eyes at him when she realised he probably hadn't heard a word past 'vagina'. He was still fixated on the fact that a method of nourishment that was convenient, abundant and costed nothing actually existed.
"You want to try it, don't you?" she said.
"Only if you want me to." he said, startling when he realised that he'd essentially just admitted it. "I know it's not the most, erm, traditional thing to do, but—"
Julia let out an explosive fit of giggles.
"Traditional!" she cackled. "My dear, dear Winston! In what world am I in favour of anything that's considered traditional?"
Winston grinned. "So... you don't mind?"
She leaned closer and kissed him. "Of course not." she looked down at Poppy, who was through with feeding and on the brink of what would hopefully be a very long nap.
"We should probably put her elsewhere first, though." Julia murmured. Winston concurred and rose in search of a basket.
They sat opposite one another, unsure of how to go about what they intended to do.
Together, they had made a poor man's bassinet for Poppy, enlisting the help of a picnic basket, the tattered curtain and some wooden clothespins. They had lined the basket with a blanket, broke off the flaps that comprised the lid and sealed the hole with the curtain, which acted as a sort of mosquito net and deterrent of general vermin. They formed a close cordon of bricks and other squat, heavy objects around the basket to ensure that it would not topple no matter how much Poppy squirmed. After one last check that she was comfortable and likely to remain asleep until hunger summoned her awake, they crept back into bed.
And there they sat, bare-bodied in the pools of sheets, sniggering like the youths they scorned and fervently hoped that Poppy would not turn into. At length, Julia reached for Winston and pulled him closer, the contact sending a squirt of milk flying. Winston blinked at the projectile.
"What's all that about, then?" he mumbled. Julia laughed subduedly.
"It's nothing, it's just my body reacting to your presence. You'd be surprised by just how closely sex and parenting are interwoven."
He had never thought that these two concepts would ever correlate, but apparently Julia knew otherwise. She took hold of his shoulders and pushed them gently back, and he shimmied down so that his upper half rested in her lap, his legs bent behind her back. She took a pillow and told him to sit up while she slotted it beneath him. He complied, lying back to find that he was now within striking proximity with her breasts, a position that had been out of the question for months.
As a Party member, sex for him had been a joyless, infrequent release, sated by the prostitutes who frequented the grimy streets he now called home. But after finally meeting with Julia, it had taken on political significance. Among the proles, however, it had an entirely different meaning: its original one. It was an expression of love and care for one's partner, the desire to bring them the same kind of explosive pleasure you wanted them to give you. It was almost an act of selflessness, when love became a facet to intercourse. After securing the flat and sparsely furnishing it, Winston and Julia had thrown themselves headlong into what they believed was referred to as the 'honeymoon phase', sans the actual marriage ceremony. This did not perturb them, the freedom to live together, unhampered by the Party regime, was more than enough. The lovemaking was regular, heated and apparently quite audible, as the neighbours occasionally conveyed with a reprimanding thump on the wall, at which they would laugh giddily and then pick up where they left off, shushing each other and giggling when they found themselves edging closer to orgasm.
"Ex-Party members," they had heard, muffled by the wall.
"Ah, well I can't say I blame 'em, I seen their all bloody Anti-Sex rot all over the place! It's bleedin' ambitious, is what it is! Ye can't just get rid 'f it, iss natural-like, innit?"
When it had been confirmed that they would become a family, they decided with heavy hearts and raging libidos that they would hold off until after the baby was born. Although the midwife had assured them that they could continue until past halfway through the pregnancy, they agreed that they might just be pioneers in the concept of Too Much Sex, and that a few months' respite might even be good for them.
This was the first time they had been truly alone in nine months and eight days.
Julia traced Winston's jaw with her thumb, the rest of her fingers splaying to stroke his hair. He smiled up at her.
"This is a bit odd," he murmured.
"It's alright." she bent down to kiss his forehead. After a moment's awkward hesitation, Winston, eyelids fluttering with anticipation, finally parted his lips. Julia guided her nipple between them, and Winston closed his mouth.
They sighed in perfect unison. With a brief spell of fumbling, Winston had established a steady rhythm of sucking. It struck Julia that he nursed like their daughter: ravenously, and seemingly without a care in the world for whoever was on the giving end of the milk flow. Of course, such relentless absorption with the placation of one's own hunger was to be expected of a newborn who knew no better. But she wasn't disturbed by the fact that Winston, too, seemed to have such a graceless thirst. It was clear that it wasn't conscious, in fact, it was quite sweet. It then occurred to Julia that Winston was probably genuinely hungry—she certainly was. She liked the fact that she could satisfy such an essential need so easily. She listened to his quiet moans of contentment, the occasional smacking of his lips, and an unbidden stir of arousal reared its head. It troubled her a little. She had known it would be a strange and alien pursuit, feeding a much larger, hungrier, teeth-filled mouth, but she hadn't expected it to trigger such a profound wash of wanting.
Especially not one that appeared to be mutual.
She was a tangle of confusion, maternal warmth and combustible desire, all of which needing to be satiated somehow.
Winston released his latch and came up to kiss her, a hand gravitating to her thigh. He clasped her against him and breathed her in.
"What the hell are we doing?" Julia gasped, vaguely aware of the sweetness that had been conveyed to her mouth via Winston. "I didn't want this! No! I mean, I didn't want to, but I'm not adverse to..."
"It's alright, love, I didn't see this coming either." he gave a snuff of laughter, letting his hands slip to her lower back, "But I'm perfectly alright with seeing it through to the end, if you are. Just tell me what to do."
Initially, Julia had been confused as to why he told her to instruct him. But as they went about the business they had relinquished for so many months, she realised that her body wasn't quite as yielding to this sort of thing as it had been. The spots that had been wildly erogenous were now sore and tender. Winston steered clear, but found that he wasn't entirely sure what to do. So she told him.
"Could you... use a bit less pressure?" she winced. He obliged, but she was still in a concerning amount of discomfort. She sighed and stilled his hand with hers. "Um, I think we should do something else."
Winston froze and unconsciously wiped his hand on his shirt. "Really? That's fine, darling, not a problem at all…" he babbled, sitting back on his heels and creeping back up to lie next to her.
"Oh, no, no, I didn't mean stop altogether!" She said, practically shoving him back into position with a smile. "I just meant that maybe we could try another… method?"
This was certainly lost on Winston. For a moment, his mind wandered back to rumours pertaining to the things that the more sexually adventurous prole men did with one another, but he was quite sure that it wasn't what she had in mind. Far too painful.
Julia found his confusion endearing. She leant forward and pinched his cheek.
"Oh, bless!" She squealed. "You, my dearest, have an awful lot of knowledge you've yet to acquire on the pleasure front." She lay on her back and drew up her knees. "Now: go back to where you were and rest your cheek against my thigh. Inner thigh."
His brow furrowed. "What?"
"Sweetheart, please just trust me.."
He matched her anticipatory grin and complied. He glanced up at her for further instruction.
"Now:" she gently waggled her tongue.
Winston squinted at her. "Surely not! Who on earth told you that?"
"That's irrelevant. Just do it."
He raised his brows at her, took a deep breath and did her bidding. He heard a faint moan, a sure indicator that he was somewhat successful thus far.
"Up—up a bit," Julia told him. He moved his attention to a tiny protrusion perhaps a centimetre higher, at which point there was a seismic shift: Julia let out a sharp gasp, her thighs tensed, her fingers grasped shakily at his hair. Winston was now certain that he was on track, as peculiar as this new 'method' felt to him. He'd kept up the repetitive action for barely three minutes when Julia reached her explosive, arched-back release. He finally lifted his head, rolling his neck a few times to get rid of the stiffness, which made Julia laugh.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Hard going, is it?" She giggled.
"I don't know what just happened," he wheezed, before thoughtlessly licking his lip and gagging. "But I'm very glad it did." He managed once he'd recovered.
Julia pounced on him and took care of his arousal in mere minutes, and then there they were once more: two trailblazers pursuing the dizzying highs of carnal pleasure with giddy abandon, spent and sweat-slicked together among the twisted bed sheets. Winston rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow. He looked from Julia's face to her bare chest with more longing than he cared to reveal.
"Of course you can, my sweet." She cooed, cradling him close. Clearly chuffed with this new and intriguing availability, he opened his mouth and drank deeply. She watched on, delighted. "I'll bet it tastes a lot better up this end than the other end, eh?"
Winston let a quiet but hearty guffaw spill out of him, almost biting her in the process.
"Sorry," he murmured before resuming his feed.
"'s alright." She said absently. She closed her eyes, and the familiar feeling of relief that came with an empty breast settled over her. She opened them again when she realised that Winston hadn't stopped suckling. She considered letting him know that it was over, assuming that he was unaware that despite the supply-and-demand system, there are intervals during which a mother can find herself effectively empty. But she looked at his sweet, sleepy face, the drooping eyelids, the slow, lazy sucks, and let him be.