He wanted to be happy to see it again: to see the swing set he spent his childhood on, and the welcome mat that lay before the pink walls he grew up in.
Bill had once wanted to show his children, and even their children.
He stumbled to steady his feet on the cracked soil beneath him. The now faded pink walls were visible from the edge of the valley. His eyes scanned along the road and recalled the times he played cricket there with his late brother.
When Bill’s eyes began to fog, he cast them further into the village and saw the church his late mother loved taking them to. He and his brother used to say she was only there for the hymns; she always looked her happiest singing with them while pointing out each line of the song.
From the valley he could also see his secondary school, although he did not have the fondest memories of that place.
“I thought I’d find you here”, his son John’s voice said from behind him.
Easing himself slowly with his stick, he drew his eyes away from the village and turned to face him.
John had his father’s coat in his arms. His wrinkled brow gave Bill a look as though to say he shouldn’t have come out here.
“No one needs a coat these days, John. I haven’t worn that in years-” Bill said harshly, then corrected his attitude; “-But thank you anyway.”
“Dad, why did you come here?”
“Maureen at the post office said that it was fully drained, that you could now see the whole village.”
“That you can,” John said, as he looked out to the village he had only seen on outdated maps of Wales.
Bill sensed that John wanted to ask which house was once his, so he said, “It’s the pink bungalow near the church.”
They stood there for a while, staring silently into the village.
John took Bill eastwards towards his home. Bill imagined the grandkids that could have been welcoming them there if times were different or if they were in another life. Instead Bill’s daughter-in-law Georgia greeted them with the offer of a cuppa tea or a glass of water. Bill asked for both; iced.
When she handed them to Bill, she remarked, “That’s over half our water allowance for the week”, without looking Bill in the eye. It was only Wednesday.
John looked at Bill and then put his hand on the small of Georgia’s back and said to her, “I’ll skip my wash day tomorrow.”
That night Bill dreamt of the lake. He dreamt of the last day he swam in it. He saw himself with his brother. They were carefree and oblivious to all that was going on in the village that day. When he woke, he could taste the metallic dryness in his mouth and looked forward to a glass of water that Georgia would have boiled up and chilled by now.
Bill lifted the bedsheet from his body and, with the aching bones in his left arm behind him, he sluggishly pushed himself up. He tried to ignore his palm that felt the dampness that clung to the mattress below his bare body. He carefully moved his heavy legs, guiding them with his hands, over the edge of the bed.
After dressing, Bill plodded his way down stairs, with each step wishing he had treasured the moments of youth when he could run down any steps; in one gulp he consumed his ration which was a third of the morning water allowance.
As he stood there feeling the metallic taste slowly dissolve away, his thoughts returned to the lake. It had been so clear in his dreams, yet he could not recall seeing it yesterday.
“Oh, sorry son, I didn’t see you there.”
“Clearly,” he said.
“You thinking about the village?”
“It’s not a pleasant sight for anyone you know…” John said, trying to be comforting.
“I am aware of that! Do you think that I’m not worried about the water as well? I know what this all means!”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I always wanted to show you that house. I was born there you know? I wanted you to know my roots. But not like this, never under these circumstances. I grew up wishing the water away, but not like this.”
After a long pause where they averted their gaze and shuffled their feet John said softly; “Do you want to see it again?”
“Doesn’t it scare you?”
“Do you want me to come with you?”
Bill paused and considered. Since his house was swallowed up because of the eco-water plan he wanted to see it again, he yearned for it.
“Yes.” Bill said.
Bill could tell Georgia wasn’t happy about the decision. Her face betrayed concern for John as she hugged him goodbye. Bill didn’t blame her; deep down he knew they shouldn’t be going there but it wasn’t as though they could steal the reservoir’s water.
When the day began to cool in the late afternoon they left, with only a half empty 500 ml water bottle between them. They passed no one on their journey westward.
When they arrived, Bill looked hard for the lake. He remembered it being beyond the farmer’s field. All he could see was dusty land littered with the occasional dead fish or bit of waste. Bill took John beyond what was once the fields, but they could not find it, Bill considered that he may have remembered it wrongly. His mind wasn’t as sharp as it once was. He continued looking. Not so much as a puddle was in sight.
“What are we looking for?” John said, now wearing a similar face to the one his wife had shown him before they left. Bill noticed the sweat beading on his forehead and the damp armpits on his already yellow stained top.
Bill slowly parted his lips that were tacked together by his dried saliva and fought his parched mouth to sheepishly say, “The Lake.”
John pierced his lips together, his eyebrows curved towards one another, his eyes softened with sympathy.
Once again John guided Bill back to his home in silence. They were both thinking what they shouldn’t; what one was not supposed to discuss.
The all-consuming silence continued at home. The three of them delicately sipped on their glasses of water pretending that they weren’t all thinking about it.
After Bill went to bed, he heard Georgia question John on what happened at the reservoir. He heard him say he was worried about him. John told her that he seemed as if he had expected the village to have been uncovered and remain the same as it was when he was a boy.
Bill thought about that for a while. He thought about the government flooding his home for what they promised would be for the greater good. He remembered cursing the reservoir and the need for hydroelectric power, but now the pink walls were back; his chest still felt tight.
Bill dreamt of the lake again that night. He could feel the fresh coolness of the water running over his skin and the spray of mini droplets land on his face from his every stroke. He watched the rings of a ripple, from a sparrow’s quick wash, travel to the water’s edge. Bill’s eyes followed the trail to the rising and falling luscious hills behind it.
He was at peace until he heard the screams. At first, Bill thought he was re-living the memory of after that day at the lake; witnessing the despair of the village. Instead, when Bill opened his eyes and felt the metallic taste in his mouth; he saw he was in John’s spare bedroom and heard the despair of his daughter-in-law and his son.
Bill made his way down the stairs, as fast as a man of his age could, to hear of the latest calamity.
“-and before you know it, we’ll be cut off from any water supply just like your Dad was!” Georgia said with red and puffy eyes.
“We won’t be cut off” John said with false optimism. When Bill entered the room John added, “Isn’t that right Dad?”
“What have they said now?” Bill asked.
They weren’t supposed to talk about it. They were supposed to oblige and accept whatever they were told, and be grateful for what they gave them.
“Read this” Georgia said curtly.
Dear Mr and Mrs Bennett,
This is a notice to inform you of the latest changes to your water limits. As of Friday, 10thJune, your water supply will have an obligatory reduction of 62% per week. This is in anticipation of the expected temperature increase over the coming months.
Please note that new charges may apply due to the Heat Tax.
We thank you for your understanding.
“Obligatory reduction my arse,” Bill said.
“Dad,” John warned.
“I’ve had enough of this. They’ve got us on practically no water pretending that it is nothing to trouble us. And they are still being greedy buggers. Outrageous.”
“Exactly.” Georgia said. “Outrageous.”
“We can’t do anything,” John said rather matter-of-factually. “We aren’t even supposed to be having this discussion.”
“What are they going to do?” Bill said
“Cut off our water supply completely. Let us die of dehydration. We have nowhere else to get water from, there wasn’t even a puddle left in that reservoir!” John exclaimed.
Georgia sat down defeated: Bill felt his temper rise. John was right, protest and they wouldn’t get any water relief. It had been happening all over the country, yet the public were all acting oblivious to it, and after all; that was why Bill had to move in with his son in the first place.
“Let’s do the maths.” Bill suggested.
They triple checked that they had calculated it correctly. They really wanted to be wrong. The new limits meant that they now had just a litre a day to survive off.
“What if we just pay a bit more?” Georgia said looking to John.
“We are already far too stretched, let alone for when the Heat Tax comes back. Remember how much that was last summer darling?”
“With the reservoir gone, I doubt they even have the extra water to give us anymore” Bill said and then muttered to himself coarsely; “stupid reservoir was meant to help – misplaced hydroelectric power hopes – I blame the bloody government”.
They had no other family to turn to. Georgia’s last relative died from dehydration last summer. This place and its water access were the last hope that they had for surviving the unforgiving summer heat.
“It’s getting worse every summer” Georgia sobbed. “Imagine next year, or the year after that, the cut will be even bigger and the tax even larger-”
“-What if we get cut off completely? Like you said, the reservoir has gone, where is the supposed water even coming from?” She continued until John embraced her and gently stroked the back of her head. When she eventually sat down, sweating from their contact, she apologised weakly.
“We will just have to go under house arrest. We can have the fans on as often as we need and keep as cool as possible. That’s our only option.”
None of them wanted to do that but if they were to survive the summer it was indeed their only option.
Bill had attempted a similar plan before, in his last home. He had sat still with his wife Doretha until the weeks turned into months, trying not to move their feeble bodies. She was already weak from lung disease, but her death certificate said it was exhaustion that broke her. Bill knew that meant dehydration. When Bill called John to tell him the news of his mother, John tried to get Bill to come live with him and Georgia. He only did so when his water supply was cut off indefinitely two weeks later. Before he left, Bill thought of giving the last bottles of water he had to his neighbour, but it would only prolong what was coming to him. Bill took it with him and gifted it to John and Georgia, not that they knew about it yet. It was bottled up in a jar and hidden away in the basement for emergency relief so that they would not face the same fate as Bill’s sweet Doretha. It pained Bill to think that the time was nearing that he would have to reveal to them its location.
For the next three days Bill pretended he was too fatigued to go downstairs and asked them to bring glasses of water to his room. He delicately poured each precious drop into a jar like the one in the basement.
When he felt that the pretence was no longer false, he faced the stairs for the last time. He placed the new jar in the cupboards of tinned goods and fetched the old jar from the basement. He sat them beside each other. Bill walked through the front door and looked only west.
Happy Sunday!!!! So there you are, that’s the second of the three (this one was my fave to write) I hope you liked it!
Like last time, don’t tell me if there are any errors as it’s too late to edit my Diss – It has already been submitted. If you missed the first short story you can find it here
I hope you are all well and doing okay, it’s a tricky boat we are all in so make sure you are taking care of yourself – DO WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO (even if that’s staying in bed all day!) x