Mort-i-fied

I feel like an outsider.

In my own skin

As if I tugged it on over my organs this morning

Fresh and new.

I don’t recognise the face?

It is peaceful and calm

But there are parts that are not mine,

The nose perhaps.

Perhaps I will own the nose

But the rest cannot be mine.

I look at the wrinkled hands

They should be red from years of washing up

The water was always too hot

Red from detergent overuse

Flaky from hanging out wet washing

Yet they look pale and unyielding

The hands I decry as not mine.

The legs, more stumpy,

not long and elegant as I remember.

The toenails,

a variety of yellow and greens,

browns and grey.

Those are not the colours of a rainbow

the colour of toes worn down

years of shoes that never fitted,

shoes that were damp and fusty.

Before trainers were de rigueur.

I want to look at my breasts

They are covered by the dress

but I can see they are sagging

down and to the side.

These flaps of skin that once affronted me,

both literally and in metaphor,

they were so often in the way when I was young,

These saggy heaps of flesh are not mine.

I wonder at my ability to look so calm.

People mill around.

They are looking at me,

but not really seeing me.

I can hear them talking.

they are all talking about me.

Nice words.

None of it is about how I look.

I wonder what crazed event this is.

Is it a dream?

A place where everyone talks of how much they like you.

This is definitely not the internet.

Then someone hands me a program

I look carefully at the words.

‘Oh, I see,’

I say loudly but no one hears.

This is my funeral.

Legacy: the plastic avalanche

Someone hands me soup. Even in the darkness I can see the plastic shiny on the surface of it. I sip it anyway. This place is going to kill me. The belly will get me the way it gets all of them. I have to leave…read more 

I am standing here on the shore, looking out over the ocean. I don’t know why this is taking me so long. I am here. I need to be there. The timing is right. I have stayed because she has needed it. I have done nothing. I used to sit with the old woman for the day but she is gone.

She works the plastic mountain, looking for useful rubbish. Rubbish that can be sold to travellers. Boats have been coming in, people are crossing, further east than I want to go but crossing nonetheless. Now is when the winter of working the mountain pays off. Only it doesn’t because money is useless and the boats don’t ever bring food. I think mostly it is just something to do. A way of feeling useful, of having an occupation. Maybe its hope. Maybe that is all it is.

I look out across the sea- why the reluctance to take to the water? This is Europe, was Europe, was home, isn’t home. It’s all so very complicated. Maybe when I touch that continent, I will be on the same continent as her. Surely I will know that as soon as I land. I will sense it someone deep inside of me. That is all useless superstition. I don’t think I sense anything anymore. It is all rational thought. I would not recognise her, she would not know me. It has simply been too long.

I hear a rumble in the distance. I think nothing of it. Then someone. Someone I don’t know comes rushing up and calls me. Not my name, just ‘hey, you have to come.’ To the mountain. There has been an avalanche. The piles of plastic are notoriously unstable. She is there buried underneath it. Apparently. They think. It could be her. It could be someone else. They have sent for me as I am the only relative she has. I am not a relative. No one needs to know. They know I am a passer-by. Just one who stayed, one who went and came back and then did it again. They must know the chance of a passer-by being a relative is slim.

I run towards it. Following them More slowly than I should. I am thinking. This might not be good, not just for her. Is that mean? Selfish? How do you think I got this far?  I lose sight of the person in front of me. I am half way there before I turn back. I must focus. I run to the shack where we live. I look around me, there is nothing of use for me, except the shovel. I pick up my pack, grab my sleeping bag, the shovel and head for the plastic mountain. I am packed, I am always packed.

When I get there, I keep hold of my bag but leave the sleeping bag. I have another somewhere if I need it. That is greedy. Two. When I know they are short of everything here.

People are digging with their hands but they are wasting their time. The plastic underneath this layer is all broken into tiny pieces. It’s like sand has slid down a mountain, anybody underneath will be drowned, suffocated, whatever you call it. I dig with the shovel but I know it is useless. There is screaming and wailing behind me, though not from within the pile. The pile of plastic fragments is colourful, beautiful, but silent.  I work hard. I move plastic aside. But it is pointless. They are gone. With every shovel I move out of the way another pile of plastic slides into its place. The whole thing is unstable and it towers above us. The scale of the thing. Where did it all come from? It came from us. I know it came from us. But this is only part of it. The oceans are still full of it. It litters the ground and still there are mountains of it here. How many mountains, I have never counted. They are here all in a row. They are like a wall between the coast and inland. There are roads between them but the stretch on in a line. Why? What was the point of piling it all here. It is a mining operation I guess. A huge pile of plastic rubbish to be sorted through for fragments that can be used or sold. For fragments of food that might be edible. With other debris amongst it, that is what makes it worth mining. It goes who knows how deep underground. There is no chance of getting anyone out really and it could collapse further and take us all at any moment.

 I work until it is dark. My shoulders ache. I am hungry.It’s really dark now. We are still digging. I am not working anywhere near as hard. I have achieved nothing for the effort. I have wasted energy. I should have just left straight away.

In the darkness I can hear soft whimpering, perhaps under there was someone’s husband or brother or wife or child under there. It’s nice that death still means something somewhere. I sneak off into the darkness. I leave them. I am leaving. I can see the fires of the settlement in the distance. I head towards it. I find the little shack. I don’t know why? That’s not rational. One last look around. They have been quick. All the food is gone. I feel I should wait. Someone will retrieve the body. But then what? They will want to keep it. It’s like I said before, best not to eat the meat from around here. Maybe tomorrow or the day after I will no longer be in Europe.

I had been inclined to leave the shovel but they have taken my food so I take it with me. It is petty I know. I have a long walk ahead in the darkness. I don’t really fancy it but I am out of choices. Someone will want the shack and I don’t want trouble. I make the tree line near dawn. The trees are relatively young and there isn’t much cover. There is plastic rubbish even here. They chopped the old trees down, of course they did. They are growing these ones for firewood but people get lazy and greedy and I would be astonished if they are here when I return. If I return. Maybe there is no return. I am close to where the boat is hidden and some of my belongings including the clock, the watch, whatever it was called. I don’t worry too much about being followed. The place was in chaos the night before and I am confident I can win a fight no matter how hungry.

I use the shovel to dig up my buried belongings. It is a handy thing to have. I drag out the boat from its hiding place. I feel the smoothness of its boards. I take a moment. I love that smoothness. I am a days walk from the coast. I eat whatever I can find. I will need supplies. I set myself two days to walk and gather food as I go. Again that is longer than I need. More delay. I want to leave the coastline, get in my boat and go away at some distant point. It must be away from the settlement and somewhere before the next one. I am going back, not home, just back. Home is out there somewhere. Home is dust. I walk and try not to think. I should have retrieved her body, she was kind to me. I should have left the shovel. I should think more clearly. I should have left days ago.  If I had left days ago I would not have these feelings

Legacy-she died in the night

Coffee cut with dirt or sand or embers. I think I can see an ember glowing in the bottom of it. Ember coffee. Tastes like-well, charcoal…read more

She died in the night, the old lady. I had learned to sleep through the moaning and perhaps that was callous. The younger one woke me. She must have been sitting there with her when it happened. I knew what had to be done. There is no ritual around burial.  There isn’t the time, the resources. One gone is one less mouth to feed. Still that will be scant consolation here, they only had each other. I think it had been that way for a long time. And now the dreaded ‘there is only me’. I have gotten used to it, been like that for too long to worry about the sentiment.

I groaned my way out of bed, which was wrong because I understood the urgency. The moaning had been endless and now there is no moaning and maybe someone is listening and maybe someone will come. And whoever comes here will be better fed than the people at the rubbish tip. I have had the spade in the corner for days and a second hand knife I have been sharpening. I went to bed dressed, we all do.

Between the two of us we heft the body downstairs, carrying it between us. Into the slush and mud that was the ground floor. I don’t think the flood is ever receding and we will need to move inland. It is just a fact. Hundreds, thousands, millions, billions have faced this dilemma everyday for what must be half a century now. Maybe, maybe not that long. It is ten years since I abandoned England the first time, no I think -it can’t be that long. It would make her so much older now, so long without her. So much I can’t remember. I am alone. I tell myself that. It does not bear thinking about. No one will carry my body like this. There is no point in sentiment.

When did the water start coming in? Who knows? I don’t think there was a specific date. There probably was for some cities. I vaguely remember a headline about Miami sinking into the sea, but maybe it was Shanghai or Denmark. I don’t think Denmark was a city, it all eludes me now. The facts are irrelevant. It’s all just gone.

We carry the body between us. Sloshing through the mud in the darkness. The road –well the water that is flowing between the houses where the road once was, is only lit by fires from inside open buildings, buildings with no walls, or only a back wall or side walls but not enclosed. They aren’t proper buildings. They open onto the street. Mostly they are built just a foot off the ground, this allows them to stay open when the floods aren’t too bad. It keeps money or its equivalent flowing in whatever the weather. They call themselves ‘cafes’ but they are nothing like the cafes I remember. Some of them have fire all night. These light our way. But it is still dim and dark. We move quickly and quietly.

I take the old woman’s body now. She is bent over with grief. The reality is sinking in. I have the old woman over my shoulder. I look around, wary, aware. I try to make the thing I am carrying look less human, more small. The ‘cafes’, they never close, they are a refuge. They are dotted along the main road.  People sleep there, live there, eat there. It isn’t like before. People are looking out, walking past us, seeing what we have and looking the other way. No one cares. There are no rules here.  They know we must hurry.

We take the main road even though its where we are most likely to be noticed. Its also where its most likely for someone to intervene if we need them. Even now people baulk at the idea. They don’t like it and sometimes they will come to your aid. Plus if I have to fight myself I’d always rather there were witnesses. I don’t like doing death in dark alley ways, I always feel it is dishonest. Deceitful. It feels like a crime, death out here in defence of a human body would feel justified, reasonable. Even though it is only hunger that will drive our attackers.

We are taking the body to the end of town, there is a rubbish tip there, which is constantly burning. It is not mined the way the plastic mountains are. It simply smoulders and smokes all day. It burns endlessly, who knows when it was set alight. When I say burns, there are no open flames, just constant trails of smoke into the sky and lumps of embers on the ground. Its alight but only in the summer does its flames streak out into the sky.  Its on slightly higher ground, or its made the slightly higher ground, who knows which. It smoulders even in the rain, its long peel of smoke drifting into the air on even the worst of days. It burns underground somewhere, away from the weather, there are glowing coals on top, its like a volcano only made of rubbish. Its immense, its hard to get across to anyone the size of the thing. They have slid into towns before, these burning ember trash mountains. I remember hearing about one once. There is the rubbish of a whole civilisation there smouldering away in a pit that was once landfill. It’s delightful aroma covers the town some days, but I think we are all used to it. Smoke inhalation is a better way to die than the belly.

We are going to burn the body. It is better than the alternative. We could sell it. But there is some semblance of humanity left here. My advice is don’t buy from the local butcher, and certainly don’t buy from someone who offers you meat in the street. It might be dog, it might be rat, it might be something else.

It is no secret what we are going to do. We are going to dig her a hole and put her in and hope she is burned to a crisp and inedible by morning. I have a shovel, it is unlikely the people by the tip will have one so I have to dig deep enough so that it is hot enough that they will not be able to retrieve her. I will guard it for the night. It is the least I can do. She will need to go and mine the plastic mountains tomorrow anyway.

I can see the smoke in night sky, its just darker than anywhere else. There are no stars shining through it. The tip has tracks running through it. We walk on through it and stop randomly. There were footsteps behind us. I could hear them but I didn’t turn to look. There seemed to be only one set or two at the most. She sits. I put the corpse of the old lady on her lap. She is crying softly. I guess this was her mother, maybe her aunt. I’ve no idea, I never asked. Can’t even remember how we came to be friends. Details don’t matter, survival does.

 I dig, not as quietly as I’d like but I dig. In the greyness beyond I can see one or two people, sitting, watching. That is why I will stand guard. I dig slowly at first to give her more time. Then I realise that soon that there will be too many people off in the greyness and there will be no chance of defending her. I look at the hole, just off the side of the track. I can see glowing embers at the bottom. Not enough oxygen for flames. I take the body myself and push her away as she grabs out at it. I shove it in to the hole I have dug and start to pile ash and dirt on top. I do it quickly. Its at this point that we are most vulnerable. I am watching them out of the corner of my eye. At least I am watching the darkness, shapes in the darkness and the shapes in the darkness are not moving. Its hard work in hot conditions.

I pile in embers. I would like to see flames but I know that won’t happen. I hope she is watching my back a bit. But I can hear her sobbing, a sign of weakness I’d rather not have. I keep working. I can see them edge closer. Movement. I stop.  Look around me. They are still far enough away. She does not look up, crying into her sleeve. If I shout they will take that as a sign of vulnerability. I pile more embers in on top of her. She will cook slowly and then eventually be burned to all hell. Just a charred skeleton. The odd thing is if you have ever seen a plastic belly victim burned, the plastic just melts into a gooey pile and sticks to the skeleton. You can always tell a belly victim that way. The skeleton usually the spine, the plastic is melded on to it. Sometimes you can even still see a glint of colour. It is not pleasant.

I have covered her now, well and good. I stand beside it. Put my shovel into the ground, stand there, looking formidable. These people are hungry, well you’d have to be wouldn’t you. I don’t begrudge them food, just not this food.

She waits with me. As the dawn nears, I send her home. I know she won’t be there when I return, she will have gone to work. There is no time for mourning here.

I wait and watch the sunrise. I am hungry too. I am thirsty. I would love a coffee. The sun is getting hotter, water and coffee. I stand guard. One of them approaches. Dirty, ragged. Probably that is how I look to. She holds out a cup. I can smell coffee, not real coffee. Coffee cut with dirt or sand or embers. I think I can see an ember glowing in the bottom of it. Ember coffee. Tastes like-well, charcoal. I know what this means. The woman under the ground, her daughter, these people, they took me in. This woman in the ground, roasting, she is my friend. I made a promise. I did not mean for her to be cooked, but to be charred so she had no nutrition left to be taken. Dignity.

I look at the woman offering me coffee. How long since she ate? She isn’t that old, maybe she has children. She reaches out with the coffee. I tell myself I have lines I will not cross. It’s just that I constantly surprise myself as to exactly what they are. They are never where I think they are. She is dead. No one will know but me.  My hand, it moves up. Reaches out. I feel the warmth of the cup. I take the coffee. I stand and drink it, wondering just how much plastic I am ingesting in this one cup. The woman who gave it to me has the belly too. I can see it. I know to them every second counts but for me, another piece is broken. Another taboo overlooked so humanity can survive.

I don’t finish the coffee. I throw it out onto the ground. I can see the look she gives me, aghast at the waste. I am careful to make sure the dead ember stays in the bottom, even as I throw away the rest of its contents. Maybe she can use it again. Maybe its a sentimental ember. I don’t care anymore. I drop the cup. I don’t care enough about anything to hand it back. I grab the spade and walk away.

There was almost nothing left of her anyway. They will be gnawing at bones. I hear the scuffle behind me. Someone is digging. Someone is hungry. She will be cooked nicely I think. I wander home, I wade through water. I wished the world were different. I wished I was different. I wished I could make different choices. None of us is better than another. Tomorrow I will let her have a day off and work the mountain myself. The day after maybe I will think about the Med, about crossing it, about going over the sea, about different choices.  

Legacy: Plastic Belly

Plastic belly -The old woman is in the advanced stages of the ‘belly’ now. There is no comfort to be had, her distended gut is heavy and lies on her lap pulling her downward. There is nothing that can remove the plastic from her system. ..read more

It was as if yesterday just didn’t happen. A woman, an old woman and the rain just falling beside her,  around her. I must have dreamed that. I have lain in bed for most of today. It has not been a good day.  I only got up to eat, to toilet, today. When I say eat-there’s not much to eat. The food is mostly rancid here. It will be a few weeks before it is even safe to cross the Med. I need to cross the Med.

To focus. I try not to remember the north-the hardened snow laced with plastic. No wonder there is nothing left there. Here there are the waves to remind me that all is not well with the world, as if the gnawing constant hunger in my stomach wasn’t enough.  When it was first recognised as a phenomenon,  they called them ‘glitter waves’ or ‘sparkle surf’ because in the azure blue you could see tiny flecks of plastic, they would sometimes glint in the sun – that was before we realised we were drinking it, eating it. Another world away.

The waves make an odd sound now when they crash into the shore. They are heavier too, if one of them lands on you it hurts. Sometimes it even cuts. Surfers, I remember pictures once from before. Surfers coming out of the ocean, their wetsuits shredded from the pieces of plastic that had pounded down on them. Surfing passed from this earth, like all sport. I never tried it but oddly I miss it.

I went to the beach the day before yesterday, walked along its plastic laden multi-coloured shore, lots of pink and blue-dear god we were obsessed with those colours, they made us male and female –what a shame we realised too late that those things weren’t different. Now we strive just to hope, just to survive. I am hungry but I don’t want to beg for food.

I lie down here without purpose, just to exist. Not to sleep. Untired. Not relaxed-tense.

I can hear the rain on the roof and the waves seem closer than ever. Probably because they are. The town is overwhelmed by water again. The waves lap gently at the door, before more often than not, sneaking under it to soak all that we have left down there. Everything I have here fits into a bag and it is tucked at my feet.  We are upstairs although it is more of a platform than a floor above. I can still look over the edge and see the room below. The water and the bits of plastic swilling around coating everything. I am glad none of it is actually mine. Perhaps there was food down there. They both look at me closely. I have no reason to lay in bed. Just what’s in my head.

This morning, when I woke, the water was nipping at my mouth. Perhaps I imagined it. In the night it rained and the tide was high and the combination of the two flooded the town again.  I sat up in my bed.  Her and her mother had gone upstairs and left me there. I understand, I am another mouth to feed. I promise to myself I will help them clean up this time. I looked at the swirling water beneath me. I can see it now still from up here.  I can hear its irregular sloshing against the bits of furniture downstairs. I want to put my hand in it, to feel water again. To feel it slip through my fingers, to sense its power, to push against it. Truthfully I will just end up covered in small pieces of plastic.

I used to swim, a long time ago. I don’t think you can swim in this, there is so much plastic. It is much worse here than the channel I crossed between what used to be England and France. There the water was clean in parts. Here it is filled with small particles of plastic. I don’t even understand how plastic can float. I watch it endlessly and wonder why it all doesn’t just sink. I remember once we were worried about micro plastics because you couldn’t seem them. I know the micro plastics are still there. We still can’t see them. But all these pieces are just in the process of breaking down, of becoming micro plastics. And we can see them. We fear them. Because we have seen everything else die and now they are killing us. These will become micro plastic but we can still see them. A constant reminder of our achievements, of our folly, of our imminent death. Tiny pieces everywhere, no wonder we all have the ‘belly’. I look at it and think dear god what chance do we have.

This morning I waded through the water and upstairs. But it wasn’t the same as running my hands through it. When I got up here, they both looked at me. I saw a moment of guilt, of sadness that I was still with them but I ignored it. These are the only friends I currently have.

I had plastic all around the bottom of my trousers. It needed to be dealt with. There is a box of not clean, but relatively clean sand in the corner and I scrubbed it off and scrubbed my hands with it. Sand is all we have to keep really clean. The plastic doesn’t seem to leach deep down into the sand so if you can find sand and dig, you can get clean, if you can bear the feeling of it. But that will end soon too. The sand comes from the ocean and well you see the problem.

The old woman is in the advanced stages of the ‘belly’ now. There is no comfort to be had, her distended gut is heavy and lies on her lap pulling her downward. There is nothing that can remove the plastic from her system. She groans quietly. I don’t even think we know how it kills. At some point there is no digesting food, there is a tipping point at which the plastic is just more than the body can dispose of. It just sits there and the agony of slow death follows, malnutrition, a heart attack from the shock. It’s painful, heavy to carry around, like a kind of pregnancy only terminal.

The thing is you have to carry it literally. Your belly is so heavy you have to haul it around. In the early days there were slings, belly slings. It makes me laugh now because somehow we thought we could survive it. Some people did at first. Surgeons opened people up and removed it, you could have a plastic drain procedure. There were so many people. And then of course, there were the charlatans and the home DIY kits and it rarely worked for too long. Once the plastic in your system got to a point there was nothing you could really do, can do. It will likely happen to us all and I guess there is a kind of justice in that. I can’t remember when it overwhelmed us, when it became the most common cause of death. I can’t even pinpoint when the high tides began, the floods, the things I remember, the timing, its all gone awry. I just lie here hoping that I will feel better tomorrow than I did today.

Legacy: An old woman in the rain

It is as if the rain is simply passing her by, as if she is so old rain has simply forgotten her and given up…read more

I have wandered a long way south. Back to here.  Here is a town, a settlement on the coast, the other side of the plastic mountains.  The rest of this tiny world hurries through the rain. I have taken respite in the coffee shop. It’s the middle of the day, but the world is grey and dreary.  I remember coffee shops when they were bright airy things with art and biscuits. This is not like that.

Here the coffee is served in tins, mine – an old baked bean can with the top bent over and smoothed so you don’t cut yourself. A fire burns in an old tin drum in the middle of the ‘room’. It exudes warmth but not very far. The roof is old bits of cardboard and probably asbestos, probably killing us as we sit here. You can hear the rain smattering on it. It reminds me of my childhood. Where I came from that kind of roof had been common. It wasn’t here.

This place has no walls. Just a small group of tables under a roof. With a counter and someone who keeps the coffee warm. I can’t remember their name because I don’t care. This place has just the essence of coffee. Sometimes it’s better than others. It’s mined from the dregs of old coffee pods and half used jars and tins, probably somewhere east, past the plastic mountains. It’s cut with something, probably dirt. The grit gets in your teeth. The coffee isn’t pure. There is no sugar.  No milk. No happy smiling barista by a machine. This is brewed in cold water, stirred with a spoon and heated afterwards in a fire. It is the semblance of coffee. The most it does is keeps my hands warm. Somewhere tucked away in my pocket, is the device, hidden. It has taken me a long time to get here. I have done two seasons in the north. I feel sure whatever my task has been it is long since forgotten by those who sent me.

My body aches with the cold and the fire doesn’t seem to ever warm it no matter how close I hover. I have friends here that I stay with, but friends are only ever the price you can pay for them. I can’t pay much. I paid much more the first time I came here, looking for my daughter. One of my ‘friends’ works out on the plastic mountains all day, making enough to survive. The other is ill, the ‘belly’ I think-but I can’t say it to her.

So it’s raining hard and I have taken shelter here in the coffee ‘shop’. The muddy floor is the same inside and out. Just dirt with flecks of plastic in it. The plastic is everywhere. It is inescapable. I perch with my elbows on a high table and watch everyone hurry by. I am in no hurry, I am looking for passage across the Med, back to the African continent. It’s a bit early in the spring for it. The tides are still wild and high. Half this town it seems has been under water last week and probably will be again this week. No one has enough left to care about. They just get on with it. They could live the other side of the plastic mountains but that has its own dangers. They’d rather clear out the water each week and start again in an endless cycle in winter. In summer it is perpetually dry, endlessly dry and the heat captures the plastic mountains in the sunshine. All that beautiful plastic glimmering in the distance, ever present, slowly killing us and everything else with it.

This place is dull and grey now, like London was sometimes but without the muddy, rich hues of deepest winter that I love and remember. Everyone here is dirty. The water is for drinking and not cleaning. People smell and that is simply eternal. We all smell and after awhile none of us smell. It is an assault on the senses to a newcomer. The water carries disease but worse it carries minute particles of plastic. It needed to be filtered to be used. We all have filters. Wash in it and you could find yourself covered with a fine film of plastic that you can’t see. From there you risk it getting into your food. Wash too often and you have plastic belly- the ‘belly’ from ingesting it.

There is no way around it. Plastic belly is not a nice way to die and I pity all the species we have killed that way. A large protruding bulge where the plastic is accumulating and you can’t digest it or get rid of it, there is simply too much, it clogs everything and you pass slowly and painfully from this world. It is of our own making of course.

There are so many things that don’t exist in this world anymore. On a day like today I think of umbrellas, of how they were banned at some point, on account of the regularity with which they pitched up on sea shores, thousands of miles from where they began. Some, a few, have coats, but not water proof ones, those are long gone. Some kind of chemical on them, it leeched into the water. It wasn’t good so they stopped making them. I can’t remember when. We have gotten used to wetness, to the delights of rain. People cover their heads or are drenched. Mostly the latter because it is a chance to be cleaner, without thinking of the consequences. Water from the sky has less plastic than any other kind of water. There are two kinds of water here now, plastic and non-plastic.

I watch as the world races past in the rain. I am absorbed in the nothingness that seems to occupy my brain these days. A total lack of direction, of motivation. And then I see her. She stands out. She has a coat. It is- her coat is bright blue. She is old. Even from here I can see she is old. Old is rare here, no one lives very long anymore. Her hair is short and neat. But what strikes me, what calls me to my senses, is –she isn’t wet. She is walking along and it isn’t raining on her. It rains around her as if she holds an umbrella none of us can see. I look around to see if anyone else has noticed her. No one seems to. They are all in a hurry, bedraggled but with more purpose than me.

She walks quietly. Softly, unobtrusively she moves from one side of my field of vision to the other. Relentlessly dry. Her grey hair sits untouched on her neck. Her shoes are bright and clean as if the mud is afraid to stick to them. It is as if the rain is simply passing her by, as if she is so old rain has simply forgotten her and given up. As if she is invisible to the rain.

I slug down my coffee and go out after her. I follow her. I watch as she walks on and on. Still she doesn’t get wet. Her coat is dry. Mine is drenched. I am walking behind her now, almost on her heels. She doesn’t notice. I can see her really closely. She IS dry. It is not raining on her. It’s like she is the past walking in front of me. I grab her elbow. The kind of thing that if it had been me I’d have turned around and plunged a knife in. She doesn’t. She turns towards me. Effortlessly. Artlessly- as if she’s come really here from a different age. Her eyes meet mine. The ghostly grey of hers meet the brightness, the confusion of mine. She smiles and there are a thousand wrinkles, a thousand lifetimes in that.

I speak, ‘You aren’t wet. Its raining and you aren’t wet?’

She smiles more widely. She reaches down to move my hand from her arm. I look around. I am not even certain anyone else can see her.

She simply answers, ‘You are alive, but not living.’ She brushes me away and is gone. I try to follow but she loses me in the crowd. I stand there, drenched, alert.

I look around me at everyone hurrying past. It was as if the past had stood in front of me. But I look around me and I am still here. The plastic mountains off in the distance, the murky grey monoliths to humanities vanity. My clothes are not tailored, my hair unkempt. My shoes lodged in the mud. The past is not here. I say it out loud. ‘The past is not here’. I look up and away. A man brushes past me. I am not sure, maybe he was trying to steal something. I focus. I must get passage across the Med, I must finish this so I can go on. I am alive but not living

Legacy: The Bramble Patch

How long did I lay in that water. I feel invigorated or I have hypothermia-not sure which. I stand dripping in the darkness trying to get my eyes to adjust, to see more but they are sore-itchy from the salt. I feel stupid. I smell better.

I pull the boat higher up. I can hear it scrunch on the pebbles and I can feel that there was a line of plastic of all kinds at the shore line. The beach is probably littered with it. I still can’t see where the beach ends and the land starts. It could be 10 feet, it could be a mile. I smell the air. Lavender on the wind. Lavender is good-you can eat that. Not much of it but you can eat it.

I am desperate for sleep. My whole body hurts and all that is keeping me focussed is the cold. I listen. I squint into the darkness. The boat is noisy on the sand, the plastic parting as I pull it, noisy as well. This was not how I planned it. The beach ahead seems darker somehow, as if there was something there. I walk into a bramble. Ouch. I think it but I don’t say it. I listen, still again as if something could hear my pain and not just the mild exhalation that followed it

It hurts but here is the line of the land. A bramble. In the darkness then I can see them, skirting the line of the beach. A stroke of luck. In the darkness I bend down and run my hand through the sand. I thought maybe there’d be dirt but the roots of the brambles must be well back. The sand feels- I don’t know, maybe damp, maybe cold. In any event brambles are a stroke of luck.

I take all my belongings out of the boat and stick them on the sand above the water line. I get out my gloves and roll down my sleeves. I stick a scarf around my face and I bend down and push the boat into the brambles. I push as hard as I can, forcing it prow first to make a passage. I can hear the noise of the brambles moving, breaking but I don’t care. I keep shoving it in and then when I can only just see the end of it, I shove the oars in underneath it. It would make a great sleeping spot, to sleep protected underneath, but it would also be the most obvious.

I get my pack and my bag and wrap myself in the duvet. I walk along another 10 metres or so from the boat. I can see the brambles in the darkness now. I don’t want this really but it makes sense. I lay down and put my bag at the head of me. I push it into the brambles and then crawled in wrapped in the duvet after it. I push some more, and then some more until I am well inside the bramble patch. The duvet gives me some protection from the prickles and its true I could be seen if anyone looked but I hoped I look like rubbish, an old duvet trapped in the bushes. I hope the brambles at the front on the shore line will fall to cover me. I lie there in the brambles in the duvet in the darkness and sleep and sleep and sleep.

I wake without knowing if it was night or day. It’s simply dark in the bramble patch and I think I am awake because of the heaviness. Somewhere above me something is on top of the brambles. It’s hard to know what, think what. They shudder above me occasionally. I think maybe it’s an animal but it isn’t regular or noisy and there is no smell wafting down to me. It is more like something has been laid across the top of them.

I have two choices, to go on through the bramble patch or to turn around and go back out the way I came in. It is tempting to go on but who knows how far this bramble patch extends. And the boat is behind me. I don’t know how useful it will be or if I could even carry it any distance but I immediately regret not taking the time to hide it better.

I take a moment to eat the last of my bread. I am going to have to tunnel to the end of the brambles or go back. To go back I have to turn around. There’s a wind, I can feel the wind and whatever is above me is unsettled by it. Perhaps it is waiting for me. I am going back the way I came. Who knows how far the brambles go. I try shuffling backwards with the duvet wrapped around me but my ankles get exposed and scratched. I need to protect my head. I think this was a stupid idea as I try and turn the other way so I am facing forward to get out. All the time every movement I do is letting whatever is above me know I am here. I roll onto my side and curl into a ball trying to turn in the very small space I have. I need to take my bag with me as well. The duvet seems hopelessly caught on the brambles and my turning has made it worse. I give up on it. It has served me will but it isn’t coming with me.

I am facing out now and I can see I haven’t tunnelled as far in as I thought. I am not as safe as I thought and perhaps whatever is weighing above me is simply waiting. I push forward and now it is only my clothes protecting me. Thorns are raking down my back but there is nothing I can do. I look back and in the darkness the dull white of the duvet hangs there-shredded. There is nothing I can do. I have a blanket somewhere and that will have to suffice.

I can smell my own blood which means anything else can as well. I need to come out of the space at the end ready to fight. Only the barbs grip my skins.

I roll painfully onto the beach expecting something to pounce. Then I laugh, snow. It has snowed and the snow lays heavy on the brambles. There is nothing and no one here. I can see the boat and the vast sea and the myriad pieces of plastic on the beach . I can see bright plastic pearls lapping in the waves. I stand up and look around. There is no one here.

There is just a huge pile of brambles to cross, my bleeding back and a lot of snow.

I don’t waste anytime. I remember now. I begin to dismantle the boat, boats are so precious when your planet is flooded. But this will give me firewood as I head south. I am not sure if it is winter or if it is just that I am further north than I thought. I set about dismantling the boat as quickly as I can, keeping all the screws and rivets and all the bits. I will drag them like on a sleigh. I might even use it to build something to cross the brambles, with the snow and the brambles and the boards I might even cross them by nightfall.

Legacy: France

I vow never to remember the past again. In the darkness my arms ache. I can still taste salty tears-although that could be salty splash from the odd slightly bigger wave. I vow never to remember again. I vow silently. Then loudly in the darkness and then- think how foolish that is. I row to what I think is the south. The anger is building inside of me. I would be very angry if I wasn’t rowing. I need to focus.

I can see it in the distance as night is somehow falling. Land. I don’t want to land in the middle of the night. I am sticky. I smell. A good off shore breeze would take my smell to every predator within 100 miles and they might just as well line up to eat me. I am tired, fatigued. Too tired to fight. I want to get there in the morning, creep up a rocky beach, hide the boat, sleep somewhere soft and safe.

I can still make it out in the semi darkness. Land. The machine has faded now, I drew a line on the seat for north and south. I will row hard towards the shore and then creep south down the coast overnight. Hope for a short night. Clamour out of the boat in the early morning, hide the boat, scrabble up the beach. Sleep, soft and safe.  

Except night comes quickly. I can see the stars twinkling overhead now, the darkness engulfing me below and on every side. My only light, a glittering night sky. The shore can’t be far away but I can’t see it now.  The problem is if I don’t land, I could lose the shore in the night and find myself lost and back at sea. This landing will not be how I want it to be-like so much of life. I rage against it but I can hear waves lapping on a shore even if I can’t see it. It’s a risky strategy. Anything could be on that shore. There might be no way off that shore. It might be cliffs above it. I might hole the boat on the way in.

Still I have no option, in the darkness it will be impossible to hug the coast. I wished for moonlight but it is faint at best. Light clouds rake across the sky blotting it out at will. The stars offer nothing, lighting up galaxies humanity will never see. That was a dream once wasn’t it? I will not remember the past again.

I will have to take my chances on the shore. I listen carefully, trying to tell myself that I can guess whether its rocky or not by the sound of the lapping waves. I try and hold the boat still for a moment. I am close. How close? I look into the murky blackness-how deep will it be here? I need to wash. I smell. Even by my very low standards I smell, of blood, urine, faeces. There is no wearing these trousers again. I think about getting out and swimming the boat in. That would be an insane risk to take.

Its not just the rocks I have to worry about, there will be the debris that was once houses buried under the blackness. Maybe there were never houses here, unlikely. For the past few miles I have been travelling over what was once the coast of France before the flooding. That’s makes cliffs unlikely although there are places where half of a hill has sheared off into the sea. Welcome to the brave new world! I know that I have been travelling over what was France because the device was old and it thought that I was navigating roads and towns. I am not. This is water. Its what makes my location uncertain. The landmarks I was following are somewhere below in the murky blackness of the water. The machine is completely gone now. I am tempted to throw it overboard in frustration.

Maybe there is smoke rising from a settlement just a little way off. In the darkness I can’t know that. I sniff. Smoke would travel on the wind. I look to the left and to the right. I could try, hug the coast all night, or I could weigh anchor here and wait until the dawn. I am not sure that I can live with the smell of myself for another night. I want to feel clean. The boat is rocking while I think. For the first time in the murkiness I feel seasick. The way I felt seasick on my first journey across this water. I wonder, did she-I will not think of the past. Focus on the task.

I can hear the waves lapping as I try to keep the boat stable. Risk assessment-how many of those had been done once, paper, pen clipboard-not like this. Sitting in a boat unable to see a thing, to land or to sail on in the blackness. Is the blackness even relevant?

I’m hungry. I smell. My arms ache. Did I make a decision or just drift into shore. I can’t remember. I hear the crunch of small stones under the boat, not the flood of water as its holed by a rock. I let the oars go loose in their-I wished I knew what the hell they were called but I came to rowing quite late and the name escapes me. They clank loudly and splash in the water. I could do without that noise. I can feel the boat as it moves with the ebb and flow of the waves. I listen carefully and hear nothing. I would like to spring out and leap to shore but that would be silly. I have been sitting here for days I didn’t count, didn’t want to count. I will not remember the past.

Instead I ease myself up on wobbly arms. I try to get my legs to support me. I have been sitting for days on end. This is not going to be easy. Its not how I imagine it. I stand there hunched over still, my back wants to stay sitting. I grab the sides of the boat wobbling everywhere. The noise of the oars clanking even more, they ring out in the night. I can’t concern myself with that. I must focus.  Trying to straighten out my back, slowly, endlessly. This seems to take an age-an hour, half an hour. I slowly unfold. I hurt-everywhere.  I am standing. The boat is still going back and forth with the waves. I stand.

Now to get out. This is not going to be graceful. I turn to one side slowly. Stretch a leg, stretch the other one. One of them reaches up and out of its own accord. I can’t be directing that-I am too tired. I am clutching one side of the boat now.

I stretch the other leg out. In the darkness I can’t tell- what went wrong. I am in the water. It is not deep. I still have one hand on the boat-focus- importantly –the boat is still full of my stuff. I sit there with my back to the shore. My whole bottom half is in the water. I try to talk to myself quietly. My throat hurts. My voice is raspy. I should not be making noise. I talk to myself more loudly. I know this is wrong but my own voice telling me what to do is all that is keeping me alive. ‘Hold the boat’ I tell myself.

‘Find the rope.’

‘Its at the front.’

I am completely vulnerable. I am conscious of that. I am tired. Beyond tired. ‘Be quiet’ I say. I say it again. My voice dies in the night. I listen for footsteps, other voices, noise? I wait for the thing that will come from the shore to get me from behind-the vice like grip on my neck as I am pulled into unforgiving jaws or for the thing that will come into the shallows and take my legs. I push the boat back into the water and search for the rope that is at the front.

‘I have found the rope’ –I say it out loud. ‘Grip the rope’ Fingers grip. How does that work. Its like magic. How my body obeys me. For a moment, through the fatigue, I am astounded by my body. Then I just lay down. I know I should not. I let the water wash over me. Heal my aching limbs, clean my body. Somewhere in the darkness, the blood and urine and faeces is swirling away. I am glad I can’t see it. It is taking the scent of me out into the ocean- for the predators to smell. I cannot stay here.

My voice is failing me. I look up at the night sky, at the clouds racing across the canvas of stars. I breathe in the air, taste it, smell it. I tell myself, in my head, it smells like France. I almost laugh, smells like France, the subtle hints of abandoned berets and fields of garlic drifting on the breeze- the remnants of used bike tyres and striped shirts tangible in the air. As if somehow the stereotype is captured in the very oxygen I breathe such that France is still here. There is no certainty. I’ve no idea if this was France once. The machine said it should be France but it was well past its best when it told me that. In so far as there is certainty in anything, I am certain this is not England. I lay for a long time until I feel clean, invigorated, hungry. The darkness seems quiet and I lay my head even my ears in the water and listen to my heart beat. To breath going in and out of my body-I remember those words, as long as there is breath in your body, you must go on, you must find a way. You must live. I am exhausted, hungry, tired. I will not remember the past. I let the anger go with the blood and the urine and the faeces. I haul myself up and out of the water. I prepare for the rest of the night and the morning, in my head –a checklist-breath in and out, on and on.

 

 

Legacy: Rowing

Just keep bloody rowing. What the hell do you do when you’re in the middle of the English channel –menstruating. Just keep rowing. The darkness is coming. Night time. I don’t know why I am surprised or taunted by it. Its like its personal. The absence of light, makes things worse. The stars will be beautiful and stunning but I will feel cheated as the light goes down. Keep rowing. The device is still working-just. I am still going the right way. I have factored in about 4-5 days and nights of rowing to get to land. The sea here is much calmer than it used to be, there are no ships to worry about. Nothing to concern me except food and water.

It’s monotonous. It’s tiring. I should have brought someone with me. The past. I should have brought something other than the past. My first thought is a book. As if you can read and row, You can’t. Instead I have the past for company. It is still with me. Inside of me. I think it’s not, it’s gone but at moments like this with the night closing in. Before the heavens glistening with stars, I know it has not left me. I know my heart will beat faster. I know my breath will become shallow. I know I need to focus on my arms, on keeping the rhythm. Row. Aching legs, sore butt, row, row, row. Rhythm and pace. Water and food

I think about the old lady. About her last breath under my hands. I think about all the death I have seen and the parts of it I have caused. Of course we caused most of it. Plastic toothbrushes, why do I always think of plastic toothbrushes.  As if one less plastic toothbrush would have made a difference. It was everything, all consuming, all of us consuming. Our whole life style got me here. Rowing across the channel, between England and France, both of which only exist in a meaningful way in my head. We swapped to bamboo toothbrushes an age ago. Didn’t we? Did we? Back when we had four safe and secure walls, a house, a home-wall paper. Beds. The list is long and pointless because all that stuff got me here.

I remember the Essex floods that took us south, to my mother in laws. I remember her house. Not our four walls anymore after that. Even though we lived on what passed for a hill in Essex, it was barely a mound and it had become an island. We had to row. Its where I first became good at it. As a matter of fact my first really big row was from Essex into Kent (which again was largely underwater and then into East Sussex. Names that haven’t fallen from my tongue or anybody else’s in years. A few days of rowing our belongings or what was left of them between the two houses. I think that is when he really left us. Two boats, lots of possessions-we left her at one end and went in convoy together. Him and me, but he was looking out over that sea.

I’ve no idea where he went, even when he went is a bit vague-a few months after we arrived. Maybe. One day he just didn’t come home. I don’t think I waited. Or cried or even mentioned it. He just never came back. I think maybe he died out there somewhere. Who knows. Lots of people died. I think probably he died. Otherwise why wouldn’t he have taken her. She was his daughter. Young. Valuable. Perhaps he knew the future that was to come and that he couldn’t protect her. I will never know. I still worked then. His mother was wheel chair bound. I had less compassion then. I hadn’t see so much suffering. I thought death was the worst of things and held no blessed relief.

I can’t even remember when we decided to go. Maybe I can. If I want to. I packed our things. She never asked. She knew. Nanny wasn’t coming with us. She couldn’t. Too much of a burden. We left before daylight, one day, one random day. Planned. Unplanned. Planned the time but not where we were going. Is that a plan?  Before the old woman was even awake. I put some fresh bread on the bedside table and a jug of water but we never went back. She died horribly, suffering probably calling out for us. For her probably but not for me. There would have been a point when she realised we were gone. That no one was coming. In hindsight, I should have been compassionate and ended her sleep quietly in the night rather than sneaking away. It was inhumane but I didn’t know that then. I hate to think that dogs found her or birds pecked at her or that god awful cat that hung around gnawed at her as she passed. Memory has no comfort. The stars, where are the bloody stars tonight.  

By the time we left, the lights had gone out. The power had stopped. The place smelled of sewerage. Clean water was hard to come by. Food was near non-existent. I grew things in the garden but it wouldn’t sustain us. Some nights I would get out of bed and flick all the light switches in the house on and then off again-but it was useless. I wanted to believe we’d blown a fuse or needed new bulbs but the truth -the power was gone. It was never coming back. It was matches and candles and things we couldn’t make anymore. There were a lot of empty houses. We took things. Wouldn’t you?

We went to London together, me and my daughter. Along dark tar roads, broken and torn by the weather. Filled with others like us, walking to nowhere. I can still hear cars in my head sometimes. But cars were long gone. Fossil fuels. They were the enemy. We just didn’t know it. London, we were headed for London. Not really London. It was outside the M25. Near Reigate, where we –well I was old and she was young. Not super young. Seventeen–able to take care of herself. It was a joint decision. There was space on one boat. I gave her everything I could. Just words mostly. No matter how bad it gets-live, breath, live I will find you.

Those early journeys into France or Spain weren’t so risky. Lots made it and then onto Africa, more risky but still lots made it. Maybe she did. But Africa had shrunk as well. Even now, when I go there, I can’t tell which bits have survived and which haven’t. It changed. It just changed like everything else. Less water, less land, different land, more people, less people, different people. Its hard to know where she would even have landed. I tell myself she did land and I will see her again. I tell myself I would know inside my head if she was gone. But the truth is I don’t spend a lot of time inside my head. I focus on the things I need to do to survive. I hope she does to. Pain is useless in the face of hunger. It simply weighs you down more. Lessens your chances of survival.

Row. Keep rowing. I keep rowing. Not seeing her getting into a boat. Not remembering that it was night time and dark and I lost sight of her even at the dock.

I remember her smell and her smile. The colour of her hair. My arms ache. The tears are coming. I focus. The tears will do me no good out here. I have to survive. The way she has to survive.

I look even now when I see a group. Him, the old lady I can barely make out their faces in my head but she is there, golden and shining and waiting. I stop rowing. I must focus.

There is so much blood, its like puberty in reverse. I remember puberty, hers, mine. Not enough food for her to even have a period at the end and here I am positively gushing Row, just row, on and on.

France is waiting. She spoke French, did a year of it at school. Better at Spanish. It would be enough. Would it? How could I know. You hear rumours about the fate of the children of Europe in the camps of Africa. I am fortunate. I came later, when humanity seems to have returned, although for my part I am not sure Africa is a continent it ever left. I think it might have been us, we might have been the ones that turned a blind to humanity and the price we have paid, when I think of it, is perhaps not so undeserved. I sob. I row. I try and focus. It is dark. I am wet. There is blood everywhere and still I have no choice. Breathe is going in and out of my body. I have to live. Survive. Go on.

Legacy: Finding London

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.

Legacy: The Clock

She unwrapped it. Hands shaking. I could tell from when I had come in she was in pain. She lay on the floor. The breathing laboured, malnourished body lying, favouring one side. She looked like she hadn’t eaten for awhile although there was a hunk of bread next to her. That was the bread the machine got yesterday. She hadn’t eaten much. She hadn’t said much.

I knelt beside her, nestled in her hand, under the material was a little gold thing. Not quite beautiful. Delicate. 

‘What is it?’ I asked

‘A clock, or more accurately a watch. But to you a clock’. The voice was hoarse, withered.

‘What does it do?’

‘It tells you the time of day’

‘Ancient magic?’

‘Not magic, mechanics. It needs winding every day to work. There is no battery. Do you know what a battery is?’

I did, it was what ran the tracking device I had brought here. It was solar power, that meant the sun gave it energy. It would work for awhile but we had no means of fixing it. We had lost a lot of knowledge, a lot of skills. When something broke it was generally broken forever. How had that happened. I couldn’t even remember. The things that did work were held on to, doled out to people for missions like this.

The old lady talked on. ‘A battery is just a source of electricity. Complex, well not that complex but beyond us now. He has a battery in him. His source of power, charged by the sun. But you didn’t come for him. His technology is well beyond you.’

I took it in my hand.

‘You have to wind it every day.’ she said.

She made me do it, right there in front of her. She knew it. I knew it. What was coming next. I half smiled.

I could see the old woman’s tears. ‘You will come back for him one day?’

I could see she was attached to the machine. It was a fine looking thing. I would have like to have taken it with me. But this clock was the treasure I had come for. It was somehow important. Somehow more important than the machine.

I nodded. Somehow, someday I would come back for the machine.  It would be fabulous to take a machine like that back. But I had come in a small boat. He would be safe stored here somewhere until someone could come and get him. After all he must have sent the transmission.

‘What’s so special about this clock?’ I was curious, wanted to know. It didn’t seem that special and what was it doing here?

‘It’s the beginning of everything. The clock.  Once we could count time, we could master it all. All those brilliant machines, they started with something like this. A way of counting time, of making sense of something that flowed around us. The power to harness and structure our day. Its complex. There’s a book I’ve written it down. I’ve taken it apart and put it together many times. I would show you how but there isn’t time.’

She was one of them, a memory witch we called them. Someone who remembered how it once was. Someone who knew the course of human history and all it’s folly. Someone who had seen the beginning of the end but not been powerful enough to stop it.

‘How is part of the reason I am here’ I said slowly.

The old woman looked at me.’ Its there in my words. You can try it on your own, some other time or place. Not here. You have to go. I have to go.’ The last words were unsteady, uncertain.

She reached out her hand and folded mine over her little clock.

‘The book’ she said to the machine.

I was transfixed by the machine, a wondrous thing. Gone from our world now. She was right I would like to take it back. Impossible. I would come and get it one day. I needed this bit of technology. That machine had sent a message to somewhere else, who knows where and that had come eventually to us to come and get this piece that was so important. The machine for all its function was useless to us. We no longer had the means or material to make power.

The clock, we could make the clock. Unmake the clock, make it again and learn.

The machine handed me the book. I took it. Opened it. Full of glorious illustrations and writing. Beyond me. I would need to study the pictures.

How old was this old woman. Maybe she was no older than me. Life was difficult out here. I looked at her. I hadn’t really seen my own face in a mirror for years. Perhaps we looked the same, but I was not a memory witch. I suddenly wanted to know her story and her name.

She smiled at me as if she knew what I was thinking. ‘There is no more time.’ she said quietly.

She lay back and closed her eyes. I could see the pain across her face and as she lay right back I could see the hip. It had no structure. It was broken.

I said a quiet ‘Thank you’ . I grabbed her nose between my two fingers and jammed the palm of my hand into her mouth. Her chest rose and fell and I squeezed harder. She did not resist. Life passed from her beneath my hand. She was gone.

I looked at the machine, tears streaming down its face. What to do with it?

It seemed to know. It took a blanket and lifted her body. ‘I will bury her’, it said simply ‘and then I will wait for you to come back, you will find me here somewhere in this house. Take me and lay me in the sun and I will work again.’ Then he picked her up and was gone

I memorised the words.

I left. It was still early in the day. It had been easy in the end, finding her. I had simply followed the signal. The thing had met me at the door. It had known I was close. Getting home would be less easy. I skirted the market avoiding contact. I put my hood on and looked down. I strode purposefully passed the two people I saw.

I didn’t really understand. What was so special about this piece. Why had she had it? Why now?  

I was at the beach before I knew it. I couldn’t resist touching the eucalypt. Reminded me of that place, where once I had a home. Before all of this. Before I abandoned even the concept of all of this.  It was stripped bare of its leaves, such an odd thing to do. I touched it. Felt it. Smelled it. Looked at the leaves around it. The faint smell of eucalypt drifting in the breeze. I took it in. The tree was as naked outside as I was inside. I tried not to think about any of it. To focus on the task at hand. Out here. On my own. In the wrong place without a home. My arms still ached from the previous bout of rowing. I looked out at a becalmed sea. I had brought the old ladies bread with me. There was no sense in waiting. I would get the boat and begin to row.