Short Story: Spring Tide ’60 by Dr Richard Milne

Bluebells in the dark. Image by Ian Hayhurst.

The wind starts howling, keeps at it for a few minutes, then dies down. An empty crisp wrapper hurtles along the deserted street.  Above me dark clouds are tumbling past, and beyond the Wall the sea swells still higher. I’m in a bubble of dry, about to be burst.

I always imagined this day with rain, but the paving slabs beneath my feet are bone dry.  I notice their different colours, the ancient chewing-gum stains, and the scattering of little hydrant covers – things I haven’t paid attention to since I was a child.  I’m drifting along the high street of our little town, looking at rows of abandoned shops.  The little notices that used to adorn the windows of the newsagent are gone, and in their place is one simple message:

Goodbye, and good luck

At the end of the street is a flowerbed, still somehow intact.  Bluebells with buds destined never to open.  I wonder if I should rescue one, but I’m carrying too much as it is.  Not in my hands, but in my heart.  The flowers are part of this place, and so they’ll remain.

The meeting hall door hangs open, inviting me in.  Most of the furniture is gone, but old posters still cling to the walls.  Many of them are advertising the “Last Dance”. I wasn’t there for that, it was too soon after Emmie. But three years earlier, she’d stood before the people of our town with fire in her eyes, and told us we should defend our home. “Nothing is inevitable”, she’d said. “Miracles happen. Perhaps they did, once: on one bright day long ago, a beautiful girl in a swirling yellow dress had let a nervous young man dance with her, in this same room. The song was called “Umbrella” and we’d danced to it at our wedding here, too. Five years later. It didn’t rain on that day, either.

 Three years ago, this room had been full again. My Emmie had spoken of technological miracles and re-freezing the ice caps, things she knew nothing about, but that didn’t matter. Her passion won the day.  That, and none of us wanting to leave our homes. She was our figurehead as we built up the Wall, which Andy reckoned would keep our town out of the sea for four more years.  He was almost right.

It’s thirteen years now since we felt the first lappings of the advancing coastline. Six years ago we were a penisular, and three years ago, as the Wall was completed, we became an island.  One populated by mad people, if our neighbours on the mainland were to be believed. They all lived in new towns, these casual judges, and were the types who moved where the work was, so you couldn’t expect them to understand.  The next two years were strangely wonderful, as we all pulled together, our little town. We were almost an autonomous state! Then Emmie got ill, the Autumn spring tide almost breached the Wall, and we knew the game was up. People started to talk about leaving. I think that’s why my sweetheart refused treatment. She wanted to die unbeaten. Some days I understand that, others I don’t. Today I do.

It isn’t even going to be on the news. Another town lost to the sea… so what? It’s just a small town, nothing special, but I lived here, and I loved it. Someone should be here to witness its end.  So there’s no cameras, no reporters, just me and the howling wind. 

I leave the hall, and head across the street to pay my respects to The Sheriff. He and I are the only ones who stayed to the end. He was here before they even started burning coal, and now his branches spread high across our empty town. Other, smaller trees have succumbed to the salt in the groundwater, but somehow The Sheriff keeps going. Beyond the Wall, the skeletons of one or two trees still poke out from the waves, not yet felled by the currents of the sea.  I look up at The Sherriff with tears in my eyes, and thank him for watching over me. 

Today will certainly be the very last for our little town. The March spring tide would probably have breached the Wall anyway, but this evening there’s low pressure and a northerly wind – just to make sure.  Better that way, perhaps; I’m too old for maybes. About half an hour to go now, I reckon.  The little boat I borrowed waits for me by the west Wall.  Beyond it the sun has dipped below the horizon, and when it rises again this place will be gone.  My home, these streets, and the little park where I first learned how lovely it was to simply hold hands, these and all around them will be wiped forever from existence.

My daughter says she can’t manage without me.  Not true.  What she means is that she can’t face losing me, which isn’t the same thing at all.  I understand the difference, after Emmie.  But that isn’t the reason, either.  The reason why I shall go to the boat when the time comes, return to the mainland and join her in those ugly resettlement blocks.  I’ll do it because I have to show her that I haven’t given up.  Because she and her little ones need hope, and it falls on me to provide it.

My wanderings bring me back to our house.  I’ve said goodbye to it already, yet here I am back in the garden, sinking once more into the chair. Only the hardiest flowers remain in the beds, the rest lie in a compost heap waiting like everything else for the sea to come. I don’t see them, now.  I see Emmie sitting opposite me, while Anna and Paul, still children, chase each other around the lawn. 

I never took photographs, never kept a diaryblog, why would I?  My life story was written into the fabric of this place.  Will I remember any of it after today? 

 hear a crash, and the rushing of water.  The sea has broken through.  Within minutes everything will be gone.  Tears blur my eyes, but I can see my little children playing on the grass more clearly than ever.  I should get to the boat now.  I really should. 

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