This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.
Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors
She wasn’t there when it happened; she didn’t have to be. She could see it as clearly as she had in her child mind when, as a girl, her grandparents painted the picture for her, as their grandparents had done for them. The waters would advance, overtaking the beaches, the resorts, the high rises and bungalows, until the palm fronds of the last coconut tree, undulating like sea grass atop the waves, were all that remained on the surface. And so, when it happened, she was not surprised. She had carried the image of those last palm fronds in her mind for so long that she had already come to think of her homeland as submerged. Almost out of obligation, she had raised a mourning yowl to the empty universe, a pointless screech of rage, and then was done.
The news reports indicated that the archipelago was almost devoid of human life, at that point. Anyone who could get out, did, of course. Few were as fortunate as she, who had gotten out before it was necessary to obtain refugee status, before exceptions had to be made. She had come to America from Malé on a scholarship to study international relations, with a minor in geology, back when the threat of submersion was still just an idea, a terrifying future world no one dared contemplate for too long. Until they had to.
But there was that word almost, sometimes substituted with virtually. Words that suggested that not everyone had escaped, that at least one person was still there. At least one person sank with the wreckage.
But she couldn’t bear to think of that. One single life, or five, or ten, was inconceivable when every day brought news of deaths in the thousands. She could only think of the place, because the people had flung out in every imaginable direction, living and dead. The place, now, was lost.
Once, she’d had a professor who graduated from an academic program which had since lost its accreditation when his alma mater went bankrupt. He had done all of the work, earned his degree, played the tenure-track game and won, and suddenly had no academic credentials whatsoever. The foundation on which he had built his entire professional life was instantly, and through no fault of his own, undone. This was like that, amplified ten thousand times.
Her grammar school. Her pediatrician’s office. The minarets of the nearby mosque, which amplified the muezzin’s call to the Fajr. Her neighborhood. Her mother’s neighborhood, her father’s neighborhood, and so on back for thousands of years. The house of the cute boy, who sometimes rode his bike past her house after school and did tricks in her driveway, knowing she was watching from behind a corner of the drapes. The betel leaves and areca nuts. The airport hotel on Hulhule where she had her first job, as a front-desk receptionist, smiling in the faces of eco-tourists and practicing her accent. All of the places that held all of the same miniscule memories for everyone she had ever known. All of it gone. It was unthinkable, so huge was the loss. And yet, here on the other side of the world, there was not so much as a gust of wind to mark the change. Not the beating of the wings of a single Karner blue. It was entirely within her. It may as well have been a dream.
What, then, could something as frivolous, as petulant, as another person’s love be to her?
Michelle J. Fernandez is a public librarian from New York. Having spent the majority of her life at sea level, she is preoccupied with, and fascinated by, the implications climate change has for the future of humanity and the places it inhabits. Her poetry has appeared in the disability journal Wordgathering, on Albanypoets.com, and in Tonguas, the literary journal of the University of Puerto Rico. Her 2014 novella, The Pedestrians, was published in serial format by Novella-T. This passage is an excerpt from her full-length, as-yet-unpublished CliFi novel, Eminent Domain.