by Michel Faber

The unmistakable scream of baby Beth in a newly soiled nappy filled the room. At the same moment, there was a knock on the front door. Vicki ran to open it. It was a bright-eyed woman in a cream outfit, collecting for charity.

‘Look, we’re kind of hassled…’ began Vicki, but the woman on the doorstep just smiled. She wasn’t the usual downtrodden charity-collector type. She wasn’t going to mumble apologies and back meekly away.

‘Just a minute of your time,’ she said. ‘This is so important. I’m collecting for the War.’

‘What war?’

‘The War on the Dark Evil People.’

‘I’m trying not to think too much about stuff like that. We’ve just had a baby and –’

‘The War will cost British taxpayers 3.5 billion pounds.’

‘I don’t have 3.5 billion pounds.’

‘Every little bit helps. It all adds up. We’re in this together. You can buy an aircraft carrier for only 1.5 billion pounds, which includes crew. Or, for the same money, five frigates.’

Vicki snorted with laughter despite herself. ‘What are frigates?’

‘Never mind. For only half the money again, you can fund an entire armoured division – three hundred tanks and 40,000 people.’

‘Look, this is ridiculous: I’m a housewife…’

‘So am I. But this is everybody’s fight. We’re defending not only our precious freedoms, but also the freedom of people everywhere to live and raise their children free from fear.’

‘Look, I’d like to help, but…’

‘How about we get down to the really small-scale contributions?’ babbled the charity woman, flipping pages on her clipboard. ‘Joint Direct Action Bombs only cost £17,338 each. They’re fantastically effective. I have photos here of what they can do…’

‘Look,’ said Vicki, gripping the doorjamb. ‘This is pointless. We just don’t have that kind of money to spare. Please, can you just leave us alone.’

The charity woman leaned closer. She was virtually cheek to cheek with Vicki now.

‘Ammunition’s only a pound a round,’ she said. ‘Come on, who can’t afford a pound? You probably spend that on chocolate every day, right?’

‘That’s none of your business,’ said Vicki.

‘A pound,’ persisted the charity woman, cocking her head as if pleading for a glimmer of reason. ‘Just one pound, and our brave lads get to defend our freedom for another couple of seconds.’

‘Fine,’ snapped Vicki, snatching up her purse. ‘Here… here’s two pounds.’