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
‘Our parents didn’t work all their lives to leave us with a shrinking landmass, rampant inflation, no job prospects and utter inequality.’ George slammed his china jug down on the table, forcing the brown liquid to leap for freedom. ‘Something has to change and I can’t do it from here.’
I frowned. It had taken me days to source strawberry-pink china beer mugs and George’s revolutionary zeal was putting them at risk already. He was talking nonsense anyway. ‘Our parents didn’t work all their lives. They had nice long retirements. We’re the ones who have to work until we’re seventy-five.’
George tutted at me. ‘At least your folks left you something.’ He gestured at the Victorian bar. ‘You’ve got a pub on a hill with a large garden. You’ve got a job for life now there are so few pubs left and no more licences. You’re sitting pretty, you are.’
‘Look around you, George. I’ve got an empty pub it took a small fortune to make habitable. I’m only three miles from the sea and it’s getting closer by the hour. The Moon Under Water’s not the only water-logged thing. The village where my customers used to live is submerged. There’s no one left round here. The whole thing is doomed.’
He bent his head to one side and his huge brown eyes reminded me of my childhood Labrador, who used to sit exactly where George was now. ‘So why did you do it Elaine? Why have you given up a city career to come to the back of beyond. What’s all this fantasy George Orwell pub stuff? No music, no live sports, liver-sausage sandwiches for god’s sake. ‘
‘It’s not the back of beyond. We’re only thirty-five miles from London. We’re in the London area.’
‘I know that was one of Orwell’s bizarre criteria but you’ve stretched it a bit too far. We’re not in the London area. We’re not even in the Southend area now it’s gone under. It may have escaped your notice but there’s no large town left here now Leigh’s drowned too.’
The expression on George’s face when he knows he’s right is just so unattractive. He must know I’m worried I’ve made a terrible choice. Why is he rubbing it in? I want him gone. I had imagined us getting stuck in together, making a little utopia on what’s now the end of the earth, building something solid together. Sadly what George is good at is picking holes in what’s been done rather than doing anything himself. What George is good at is making himself feel better by trashing me.
‘Fine.’ I pick his jug up and pour it down the sink behind the bar. It’s a waste but such a little thing in comparison with a desolated country, a planet with a precarious future. ‘I think you should go back to London.’
‘Fine.’ He slides off the bar stool so quickly I know that was what he hoped I’d say. He’s been prodding me to push him away. Five minutes later he’s back downstairs with his bags. ‘Could you give me a lift to the station?’
I hesitate. It’s lunch-time there could be customers. A guy came through yesterday. He seemed to like it here. I can’t really leave the pub but I know it isn’t safe to be out there on your own. Certainly not on foot when you can’t get away from whatever’s roaming near you. Can I really care so little for someone I’ve spent five years with? ‘OK but let’s be quick.’ I find an old chalkboard and write back in twenty minutes before propping it against the door.
George looks relieved. We get in the van in silence but he’s watching me as I drive. ‘Tell me why you really came here, Elaine.’
It can’t hurt now. I don’t have to protect myself against his scorn anymore. ‘I thought I could save a bit of the old world, you know, the one where people looked out for each other. I mean I know any property near water is a nightmare now but I can’t shake off how looking at water makes me feel better.’
He snorts and shakes his head. ‘And the Moon Under Water was your childhood home.’
I nod. ‘Yes but I don’t have a romantic notion of it. I know only too well how hard it was running a pub even back when they were profitable. You had to put up with other people’s vices as much as their warmth. Mum and Dad ran it like a club, they had their rules and it didn’t matter what you did or were outside. You stuck to the rules you were part of the place.’
‘Vices yes. Remember the smoking? But why all this George Orwell stuff?’
‘The Moon Under Water was his vision of the perfect pub. Old-fashioned yes but there was something about his set of rules made me feel I could create that kind of place. I had this silly idea that people would come on daytrips for the charm of it.’
‘But we only get five litres of petrol a week. It’s not like the blokes could come on their own now it’s one car between two families.’
That rule is very precious to George. His job is coordinating the car shares. So many people had to be rehomed that he was forever recalculating who could be matched. He was right though, I hadn’t factored that in. I was running at a breath-taking loss forever coming up with silly promotions that were as much good as Canute raving at the tide. The freezer was packed with the meals I’d made but hadn’t sold.
I stop the car in the station car park. It’s almost empty. ‘Bye then. I guess you won’t be coming down for the weekend again’ I get out of the car as he does and hold out my hand. He clutches me to him, his bag swinging into my leg. We stand there, wavering in each other’s arms. I’m tempted to hold on, to undo the last hour, maybe even the last six months. He kisses the top of my head and lets me go.
‘Good luck to you Elaine. You’re an idiot but I admire you, I really do. I just can’t make myself believe it’s going to be OK.’
It isn’t going to be OK. I know that. I drive back to the pub trying to accept that nothing I do – wasting beer or trying to make a sanctuary – will make the slightest difference. There’s something bigger than us we’ve tormented too long. Now it wants to get rid of us irritants, it wants its world back.
I’m going to keep on fighting back, plant vegetables and get chickens. I can’t go back to my old lifestyle, head buried in the sand of submerged beaches. I pull into the stupidly large car park scattering a group of people huddled around the door. I tense until I recognise my only customer yesterday.
‘Are you open? Are you doing food? I brought my friends.’
As penance for her marketing career, Jacquie Wyatt now writes flash fiction and novels in deepest, darkest Kent, UK. Her poems have been published in Poetry South, Sentinel and Clear amongst many others and nominated for the Forward Prize by Structo. She is an enthusiastic contributor to Hour of Writes, always grateful for a prompt.