Geoff Ryman

Air (or Have Not Have)

Dedicated to Doris McPherson and what is left of (the original) Meadowvale, Ontario, Canada


Mae lived in the last village in the world to go online.

After that, everyone else went on Air.

Mae was the village's fashion expert. She advised on makeup, sold cosmetics, and provided good dresses. Every farmer's wife needed at least one good dress.

Mae would sketch what was being worn in the capital. She would always add a special touch: a lime-green scarf with sequins; or a lacy ruffle with colourful embroidery. A good dress was for display. 'We are a happier people and we can wear these gay colours,' Mae would advise.

'Yes, that is true,' her customer might reply, entranced that fashion expressed their happy culture. 'In the photographs, the Japanese women all look so solemn.'

'So full of themselves,' said Mae, and lowered her head and scowled, and she and her customer would laugh, feeling as sophisticated as anyone in the world.

Mae got her ideas as well as her mascara and lipsticks from her trips to the town. It was a long way and she needed to be driven. When Sunni Haseem offered to drive her down in exchange for a fashion expedition, Mae had to agree. Apart from anything else, Mae had a wedding dress to collect.

Sunni herself was from an old village family, but her husband was a beefy brute from farther down the hill. He puffed on cigarettes and his tanned fingers were as thick and weathered as the necks of turtles. In the backseat with Mae, Sunni giggled and prodded and gleamed with the thought of visiting town with her friend and confidante who was going to unleash her beauty secrets.

Mae smiled and whispered, promising much. 'I hope my source will be present today,' she said. 'She brings me my special colours, you cannot get them anywhere else. I don't ask where she gets them.' Mae lowered her eyes and her voice. 'I think her husband…'

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