Sometimes one’s retirement does not go as planned, writes Sarah Dixon in this story*
The bore is coming.
It comes, as it always has, to its peak near the autumn equinox. Experts predict that, after a summer of incessant rainfall on top of already record water levels, it will be catastrophic. Catastrophic. This is not a word that has ever been applied to the Severn Bore in all the thousands of times man has watched water surge and roll along the river’s course.
In years gone by it was a popular tourist attraction; people walked the banks and viewed the bore as it hissed and crashed its way upstream. It’s been years since anyone dared stand on the banks; not that the banks are where they were before the water rose, or we sank, depending on your perspective.
My perspective is a hillside, across the valley from my retirement home. The house was once a pleasant rural retreat; In the sticks, as my wife used to say. In the arse end of nowhere, I would counter. We bought it to retire to. In our late 50’s, good luck and good decisions left us still young enough to have our health, to be in love, and wealthy enough to enjoy our retirement.
At that time the ramshackle property, nestled in woodland several metres from the river bank, seemed an ideal place to spend our days. My wife wanted to set up a small business, growing Bonsai trees, and I was going to write the novel I’d been promising myself all these years. The kids were grown and on their own way. We had been good, responsible citizens for decades and now was the time to reap the rewards.
Then the water rose; not slowly as we’d thought but with alarming quickness. Remote sounding scientists were portending ‘tipping point’, the latest in a long line of terrifying prophecies that had failed to come true; AIDS, the Millennium Bug, Bird Flu, Zika… They shouted loud enough but the media had been using the tactics of hysteria to sell news for years. We were immune.
The Totten Iceberg in East Antarctica had never read the news, and it was indifferent to the reception its inevitable melting would receive; it didn’t do it for attention, it did it because it was ice, and when ice gets warm enough, it melts.
Within weeks the water that had run, benignly brown along the floor of the valley below us swelled with the melt water from a broad strip to a swollen, hungry torrent. A vicious snake that had swallowed something large; distended, struggling, angry.
We sat on the balcony, where we had envisaged enjoying afternoon tea, or pre-dinner drinks in the summer evenings, and watched the water become a steady stream of bloated animal corpses; not all the farmers had higher ground to take their beasts too. The turgid, turbulent water snatched up anything in its path, the weight of it enough to pull trees from the earth or gather up buildings and send them, flotsam and jetsam, on their way. It was as if the Gods were playing poo sticks, my wife noted on the day before she left.
Don’t worry, it isn’t the end of our marriage. It was just the end of our time here; We had the official warning and knew that our house would likely be swept away with the next bore. Our insurance company stated their refusal to pay; we are at fault for not having the prescience to sell before we knew there would be a disaster, it seems. I don’t know if we would have done that, even if we had known. This was our dream. If it is to sink without a trace, then we should watch it do so; the captain and his ship and all that. We couldn’t have slept at night, if we’d sold on inevitable disaster in place of a dream.
We live with my son and his wife now, it’s a squeeze but we get along. There’s no space for Bonsai trees, no quiet for writing, but there is the joy of Grandchildren. You have to make the best of what you’ve got.
My wife didn’t understand why I wanted to come and watch, she called it morbid. Her eyes brimmed with tears that only abated when I made the poor joke, ‘Don’t add to the water level, old girl.’ She’s at home.
I’ve found myself a spot, high and dry, sitting on a tree stump. I have a flask; the bitterly aromatic tea is clouding the air before me. The cup warms the chill in my hands but it doesn’t touch the ice in my guts, or overwhelm the musky dampness of falling leaves and rotting timbers. They seem appropriate for today, not the day of the dead, but the day of dying dreams.
Somewhere, out in the wide ocean, a wave has formed; larger than they ever were, swollen with melt from good old Totten and not just the tip; the whole nine yards. The wave crashes angrily to shore, the force of it loosening cliffs, stealing shale. But there is a weak point, the estuary; here the water finds a place to run.
Imagine a funnel, loyally taking the water you pour in and directing it to a single point. Now imagine throwing a bucket full of water into the funnel; imagine the force that it sprays from the end.
The water throws itself, unknowing, unfeeling, into the Severn. The estuary roils. Near Avonmouth the swell is terrifying but it is just the beginning. The bore itself forms past Sharpness when the weight of the water hits the rocks at Hock Cliff. Now the Bore has its head, and it races towards the narrowing at Langney Sands where even with the risen water level the channel is just a few hundred yards across. Crashing, hissing, vicious and unstoppable, this is nature’s lesson. We are not masters here; we are not even students. We are expendable.
It is catastrophic.
The bore is coming.
Sarah Dixon is a prolific writer of short stories, usually Science Fiction or Fantasy but always with a hint of wonder. After spending her life wanting to write, but never reaching her own lofty standards she read the advice ‘Finish first, edit later’ and finally made it to the end of a chapter. She hasn’t stopped since. A wife and mother of two, it was the desire to write stories that challenged the lure of video games that led her to write her first children’s novel. Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter is an action adventure for 9-12-year-olds, coming late 2016 from SilverWood books. When not writing, Sarah enjoys working with schools to engage children with creative writing including delivering her workshop about social commentary in Sci-Fi titled ‘How Aliens Changed the World.’