She had packed the little clock in her bag, hidden it, so it didn’t get wet. What had that woman said, ‘If the screen stops working, find London and hang a left-France is across the water somewhere and the worst you can do is hit Spain. If you start drifting north you might be lucky and hit Norway-maybe not, there’s a lot of ice between here and there. If you see ice, go away from it.’ That was the extent of her navigation advice, that and the device-the machine, which still looked fine. But she had seen machines before; there was no line between working and not working. They didn’t slowly fade like people did, growing old and decrepit. Not that anyone much had the luxury of old age now, that woman living with the machine on the outskirts of the village had been the oldest person she’d seen in a long time. She would have liked to take longer to stop and look. She wanted to grow old, older but there was little chance now. She was nearly 50 but 60 was a pipe dream no one had anymore.
She looked at the device. It still showed London as if it still existed as a thriving metropolis. It still had all of the British coast on the map. It had got her to the land mass but the land mass did not resemble the map. It was a device that had outlived its time. A device that would just stop and when it stopped, it wouldn’t start again. No slow human fade, just a bright screen, then nothing.
She faced a choice, find London whilst she could or follow the screen whilst she could. She opted for London, as much out of curiosity as anything. She envisaged it how it had been once. Its grandeur, its beautiful oldness and its cutting edge, squared off brutal 70s newness blended with the sensual curves of the early 90s and 2000s. She wondered if the tide lapped at the shore anywhere in London or if it remained as she remembered it the last time she had seen it, largely under water.
She was heading due south, now, down the coast, hoping for London. The screen told her it was still there, still bright and alive. She let the early afternoon drift, without rowing to hard. She wanted to see it and she didn’t. She planned to stay in London overnight and regroup a bit, well fed before she set off for France the next day. The screen said she should be on the outskirts of it soon but for all she knew that hadn’t been Essex, that might have been Suffolk or Norfolk or even Cambridge. Who knew how much of Britain the sea had taken.
It was late in the afternoon when she started to see the roof tops peaking up through the water. This was London, at least what was left of it. She looked out on a sea of rooftops poking up above the water. She wanted one she could land on. A risk she knew, how many of them would be structurally sound after standing in salt water for this long. She just had to hope that London had been sturdier than she thought. She passed one that had almost a whole floor poking up out of the water. She could have got out and walked on the outside area. There had once been glass doors opening onto a deck. The deck so aptly named was now under water.
She was undecided, should she or shouldn’t she. She rowed back, pulled alongside and tethered the boat to the railing which was just poking out of the water. She got out and walked in ankle deep water into the building. There was soggy carpet sagging in waves under her feet. There were still ornaments on shelves, old books floating here and there. Debris of a life. She went in further hoping the building would hold. She forced open a door, no mean feat still in ankle deep water. There was a duvet floating there. Water logged but useful if she could dry it. It was extraordinarily heavy. She wasn’t sure. Pulled it out and placed it over a doorway outside, water ran out of it like a torrent. She found the kitchen. The cupboards were empty except for a tin of sweet corn which she took, then there was a soggy bag of cat food floating under the sink. She took that too. It wasn’t open so maybe it would be edible. She found the bathroom and used it. Pointless in the extreme. She flushed the toilet expecting it all to come back up again. It didn’t. Goodness knows where it went. The cistern didn’t refill.
This place didn’t look as deserted as some she’d seen on her travels. If she’d remembered rightly when London had begun to sink beneath the waves some of the people who lived high up decided to stay and try and live a sort of boating lifestyle. These people looked like they had tried that and then left in a hurry. There was still a torrent of water coming out of the duvet and she wrung it out for a good half an hour before it was light enough to put in the boat and take with her. She looked around her in the late afternoon sun. There was the top of buildings poking out of the water way off into the distance. She had forgotten how big London was. It was no longer possible to get an aerial view of a city and she had no idea how London compared with the size of cities that still stood. She had never wandered end to end in London and she didn’t fancy rowing it in this light.
This was only the remnants of London, the rest beneath the waves, hidden and lost forever. It was getting dark and she needed to overnight here before going on. She picked a building that looked like it had a flat roof protruding out of the water. She rowed to it. It looked dry, and like it had been dry for a long time. That was the critical thing. This place was tidal and what protruded here now might not in a few hours time. She thought the tide was almost in but she wasn’t sure. She made herself comfortable on the roof in her sleeping bag. She ate the tin of sweet corn and tried the cat food. The sweet corn was mouldy and the cat food inedible.
She took out the little clock and wound it. She found the ticking soothing, peaceful. Seconds of her life being marked by a tiny little noise, tick, tick, tick. She watched the sun set over London, perhaps the last person to do it for a long time. She looked out into the half light hoping to see a light go on, a fire burn but as the dark settled in, there was only that, the dark. This was London and she was alone in it. There was no one else here. There never would be again, it was gone into the sea.
The little clock ticked on. Her heart beating almost in time. This was London and it was gone forever into the sea. London, the greatest and mightiest of cities, gone into the sea. She wrapped up the clock and put it inside her pack. She put her pack in the boat just in case the tide came in. She got back in the sleeping bag, laid down, looked at the stars. This was London. She was the only human here. London was gone. All the grief, all the tears. London was never coming back. She thought of all the great art that floated beneath her, the minute parts of people’s lives that must reside on the bottom of the sea. The people of London, those who had stayed, died here rather than leave. Those who in the last days of a terrestrial London had believed the government when they said the flood defences would hold. She looked at the stars once so muted by the electric lights that blazed here. Lights that no one could ever conceive of as going out. Leaving. Gone. Here she was, the only person in London and there were no lights, only stars. She tried to sleep.
She awoke early. Alert, in case someone had spotted her. Ridiculous no one had, there was no one here. She thought about lighting a fire but she had no fuel. The duvet she had rescued was drier but not useful yet. She decided t take it anyway. It wasn’t likely to fully dry in the boat but enough of it might keep her warm. She had a slice of breakfast, took her bearings from the device. Still working, but for how much longer. She got into the boat and began to row. At about 11am, she saw it. Blood. Seeping down her upper leg. She hated this more than anything. There was nothing she could do. Women have periods, whether they were rowing across the ocean or not. This would be a pair of trousers that would need some washing but there was nothing she could do.