I live in a town full of rain, a liquid city. We’ve got water up to our gills and I’m having trouble breathing. The bilge-pumps are struggling and the overflows are overflowing -- hell, even the air is wet. Before today it rained for thirty-three consecutive days and the water level went up eight inches. The Stilt was cramped enough already, and now the water’s pushing up and we’re pushing out. The Fixers are getting ready to build another level and move us all upstairs again.
All this water, and we can’t drink any of it. We’re down to two cups of clean a day. It’s probably a good thing. Sal joked the other day that one misplaced piss and we might all be swimming. The clean pipe which runs from the purifiers up to the kitchen is beginning to taste no different to the rest of it. The water in the showers is thick and coloured and you feel cleaner without it. After the rain, everything stinks. The purifiers can only do so much. The food situation though is just about stable. There are seaweed crops. Some days we eat fish and some days we eat fish substitute.
As of last week, downstairs became submarine. It’s like someone drowned my youth, because we were brought up down there. That was back when there were still children allowed on the Stilt, before all of that was taken over to the Dries. I was eleven then. A big transport arrived and mothers and children made a mass exodus. Except for me, because my mother was dead and I was sick and didn’t qualify. They left me to see if I’d make it. I tell myself that maybe now that I have, someone will come back. They never do, though. Soon after that the travel permits came in, and no one goes now who isn’t taken. People arrive, and are put to work. But they never leave, no one gets permits now.
Once when the water was lower, before the Overboards were even built, I sat on a step and watched the last swan anyone here ever saw, floating in the water like a long-necked lily, an opening fist of a flower. Then the thunderous snap of its wings in take-off. The immense clean span of its flight. Maybe it’s gotten bigger as I remember it, but it was huge. Even then it looked like a creature from myth. No one dared kill it, not for food.
But now the Overboards are built, everyone else I knew then is gone, no one’s seen any kind of a bird except seagulls for years, and even they’ve finally learnt to stay away from the rigged netting we set. From time to time a helicopter flies over, going this way or that. Out to the west the line that looks like the horizon is actually the start of the Dries -- a great levee keeping the water at bay. Though with the weather lately, I don’t want to think about the kind of trouble they’re having over there.
There is Upstream and Downstream. The main currents run right past town, and lately there’s something dark in the Wide Channel, like a slip of oil spooned into the river and threading along it. They’ve cut off the inflow for a couple days while someone works out who’s dumping what, but in the meantime everything is progressively stagnating, and after all the rain there are traces of black even in the water downstairs. There are rumours it’s infiltrated the seaweed crop, though I haven’t been to see. Can’t stand the smell there, is the thing. And no one knows what the dark stuff is. A couple of people have grown sick.
But I’ve been sick a long time, since the beginning. Since I remember, which is always. I get chills which come and go and I natter my teeth with nausea for a day. All I can do is give the doctor a call, then curl up and wait for someone to bring pills. They bring pills.
Those days I stay in my bunk. We’re berthed in a raised railway carriage, the insides torn out and the bunks built in, just the blue of the upholstery remaining. Most days I’m the only person in. Everyone else works. It sways on stilts in the wind. And with the noise of the bilge-pumps churning away on the lower decks below you might just think you’re moving, if you take your pills and close your eyes.
I could ride all day in my cool blue train
If my cool blue train would just stay in lane
I’ve been writing lately but it hasn’t been going well. No one likes the stories I’ve finished, and I can’t seem to get them out. For a few days now I’ve been trying to write a story I’ve called ‘Trash’. It’s about a world ruined by a Major Climate Event so that everyone who can has left the world. The firefighters and geriatrics have gone off to live on the sun. Anyone who can afford it has relocated to cooler planets out in the solar system. There’s just an underclass left on the world living in these tiny cells which are part of one great machine, which gives energy and cools the temperature to bearable by recycling waste. Air and water are strictly rationed. Nothing is thrown away. There’s terrible overcrowding, but strict individual segregation has been established by some unknown controlling body, to quell trouble and prevent breeding. So there are these tiny cells full of the inhabitants’ own waste and rubbish, and in one of these cells there’s a desperate man who feels he does not belong there, who is forming a plan to get up out of the cells, and thinks that he could survive it all if only this one girl were there with him. If you were with me, he thinks, I could survive it all. But she’s not, and I can’t work out how to end it. I’m really not good at science-fiction. Still, I think it’s a pretty funny story, considering. One they’ll appreciate.
But even with the pills I can’t get it done. I just curl up and get as warm as I can, and still I keep shaking. Then before everyone else gets back, I fall asleep, riding all night in my cool blue train. You can get travel sick staying in the bunks too long.
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