Author : Q. B. Fox
At night, when everything’s finally fallen quiet, the terraces sing; or maybe moan, I’m not sure which. The water where it laps over the first floor windowsills seems calm, except when a boat stirs it up. But deep underwater, by the front steps and in the old basement flats, Gary says there are currents that tug at the foundations. The old brickwork complains at the weight above; a choir of fallen, drowning angels.
I try not to listen. I just try to sleep.
It’s still dark when the Big Girl in the Red Dress comes up the stairs from the floor below, heading off across the rooftops. She seems fearless over the loose slates, crossing the most precarious wires between the buildings. But she won’t take a boat.
Gary says that she’s seen what’s in the water. I don’t know.
When the water’s low you can almost make out the front door or the shadows of long abandoned cars, but I’ve never seen the big, moving shapes people say they can see.
I think the Big Girl in the Red Dress is ill; she’s always red-faced these days, feverish maybe; and she never speaks to us anymore either. Gary says she drinks too much. He says he’d drink too much if he’d seen what she’s seen.
It’s still early, barely light, when we take the boat up the Earl’s Court Road. The Hustler’s are already there, trading out of skiffs and rafts. These days they are all big, burly men; sour faced and sombre, eyes darting nervously downward, or to the high ground in the north. I hear one say that when the water’s low you can almost walk on dry land at Nottinghill or Speakers Corner. I smile; even I know there’s nothing that way until you reach Camden.
We look, but there’s no food for sale; everything’s for sale except food and that’s all anyone wants to buy. There are millions of people left in the city and the flat-roof gardens aren’t enough. “Never mind,” says Gary, “maybe tomorrow.”
We head back down towards Redcliffe Gardens, keeping the spire of St. Luke’s on our right. There are currents that pull you out over Brompton Cemetery if you go too far. Boats go missing there; just below the surface are statues and mausoleums; and the colonnades. Some people say there are other things too.
We step out onto the pontoon at Coleherne Court. The men keep their distance; teenagers really, some no older than me. Mostly they wear long leather dusters, despite the heat. It’s sweaty and steamy already and they’re shirtless under their open coats. They’re so skinny, they eat no better than us.
Finally one comes closer. He has monkey on his shoulder. No one smiles, except the monkey who bears its teeth. No one, not even the monkey, looks up; they all keep their eyes on the gaps in the pontoon.
When we get home again, the Post has left a letter for us. It’s from Mum. I don’t know how the post is still running, but it is. Our letter has been sent over the wire from Cumbria, but at one point it must have been typed out again by hand, because it’s full of mistakes. Mum doesn’t make mistakes.
“Christ,” spits Gary, “I’ve told her not bother. I’ve told her we’re alright in the city, that we high above the ground.” He still looks nervously at the water. “We’re not leaving.” We both know that there’s no way to leave anyway and nowhere to go.
“We’re just hanging around,” I grin.