Tristan woke slowly to the knocking and lifted his head. Pain brooded in his skull. There were shapes twisting about in front of his eyes, caused by the darkness. Everything was tangled in his mind. Bizarre half-forgotten dreams, the past, the present.
He laid three facts down in his mind like metal bars. He was on the sitting-room sofa. A blanket was tangled around him. There was light trying to force its way in through the curtains.
Then he pulled himself off the couch and ran to the door.
He undid the bolts, pushed up the plank, unknotted the rope. You had to be careful these days and it was hard to keep things like they had been, security-wise. The door didn't lock normally anymore and they hadn't been able to find anyone to fix it. Tristan had put everything in himself, which had taken several tries.
It was afternoon - white-lit, with a fine, irritating rain falling. He'd been sleeping during the day, he hadn't done that in years.
And. There they were. April and Naomi. April calm and sulky, kicking at a stone, not looking at all worried or contrite. Without thinking Tristan bent down to hug her. She stepped backwards to pull out of his arms.
His little girl. How had they ended up here?
Some of his elation fell away. For a minute he and April stared at each other. Then Tristan stood up and turned towards his sister. He hadn't seen Naomi in about two years. They'd never been close anyway but it made him feel vaguely sad that he had nothing, really, to say to her. He thought her hair might have grown longer, but wasn't sure.
"Hi." She was smiling a little, probably amused at April's pulling away from him. "Haven't seen you in ages."
"I - yeah."
"Uh, working. Sorry, April. It's just, at least one of us had to be at the plant today, there's so much to be done. We're getting... I suppose preferential treatment right now, being hired in front of others in the morning, because they know we're local and reliable. If we miss a day we were supposed to be there, we'll lose-"
"I know. Don't worry." April's tone was very casual, trying to appear adult. She was chewing on a fingernail. Was she hurt by Deborah's absence, underneath her easy pose? Debbie had been crying last night about how only one of them would be available for their daughter when she came back - they'd been alternating days, they hadn't been sure when April and Naomi would arrive.
He wanted to shake April. To hit her. Do you have any idea what you did to us? Disappearing like that? All the fucking danger you were in. I know Naomi probably excused you everything, but she should be pissed off with you. She has your grandfather to look after, and the journey's not all that safe right now, and she had to leave Dublin to drag you back-
He couldn't get angry with her. He hadn't seen her in three months. And she wouldn't accept affection. So what was there to say?
"Come in then, I suppose."
In the kitchen, April dragged out one of the chairs and sat down. "Is Aunt Naomi going to be staying?"
"That depends on her." Tristan glanced at Naomi, who turned to April.
"I've your grandfather to take care of, sweetheart. I'll see you some other time."
There was just a nod from April, any emotion carefully hidden.
Tristan wanted to ask about the journey. He'd been worrying about muggings, dehydration, storms, floods, Naomi and April getting caught in a fight or a riot.
"April, do you want some water?"
It had been boiled several hours ago, and was now cold in the saucepan. The house's running water had stopped soon after their arrival. There was a river nearby, and none of them had ever gotten sick from it. Nearly everyone around here used it by now. There was still electricity - the damn television even worked most of the time - so they boiled it. The water purification plant that Tristan and Deborah worked at served other parts of the country.
He gave her a mugful and she drank fast, then went to get more. At least she was accepting that from him. He didn't offer any to Naomi. Taking it back from the river was hard and there was a limited amount in the saucepan.
The first big flood was in 2030. For Tristan the memory was very sharp, tearing at the rest of his mind whenever it was dredged up. He'd been seventeen and it hadn't made much of an impression on him at the time. Eight people had died. Naomi had been in third year. During Christmas dinner she'd talked about it. He'd expected her to take on an I-told-you-so smugness, the way she so often did, but her tone had been layered with real horror.
By 2040 the next couple of floods had happened. The media took on a more and more frantic tone while reporting on the routine wildfires. Tabloid headlines screamed about human extinction while displaying pictures of skulls half-buried in dusty earth. World hunger, the news warned, was rising again. Heatstroke deaths increased. Sun holidays dropped.
And so things lumbered on. April was born in 2042, twelve years ago, when things were beginning to turn over. In 2044 there were some food shortages in Ireland and a woman had died. Cue frantic hysteria across the country. It was like a clean, well-made suburban housing estate had devolved back into a construction site. Ripped back to scaffolding and raw chaos. Time was undoing itself.
So this had been April's early world: the climate crisis, or unprecedented times, or a hoax made to sow fear, or a punishment from God. Anything was possible at this point. Whatever it was called, it wasn't possible to forget its impact on April. But now, Tristan thought he might have underestimated it.
She still looked very young. Arms and legs thin, fragile. The delicate architecture of her body. There was another thing he wanted to ask: What'll you do now? Running away to another county could hardly be the end of it. It was too drastic. April had been out of their control even before they'd moved to Wicklow, two years ago. This had been brewing a long time. He was scared for her, even though he didn't know why. Maybe she'd just go back to running wild with the other kids now. But he doubted it.
April turned to Tristan. "Can I go outside?"
She never asked. Never. She always just disappeared. She didn't look at all vulnerable or afraid, but she was asking. Tristan found something to say.
"No. No. Absolutely not. Go upstairs. Just - go upstairs please."
She looked at him with something like curiosity. For a second he thought that he might have to get Naomi to back him up. Then April turned and left the kitchen. He heard her running upstairs.
What had happened was this:
Three months ago, April had disappeared. He and Deborah spent a frantic night searching, questioning April's usual companions. Nothing. She'd been talking, for ages, about going back up to Dublin to see her Aunt Naomi again. So Tristan and Deborah had come to some conclusions.
They couldn't have both left the house. It would've ended up robbed, or taken by someone else. And they were trying to grow food because it was easier than buying it, and both of them couldn't be out of work for so long. So Deborah went to look for April.
Naomi managed to get a letter to their house when April turned up on her doorstep in Dublin. She said she would try to get April home but it wasn't safe to go yet - there had been a disturbance. Deborah met up with them there and they tried to leave together but there were complications. The "disturbance" had been a suspected terrorist attack and they were checking passports to travel. Both April's and Naomi's were out of date. They'd managed to get through, and were here now a week after Deborah.
Naomi was wandering around the kitchen, running fingers lightly and with curiosity over surfaces. After April left they glanced at each other. Naomi half-laughed.
"Well she's strong-willed, anyway."
"She certainly is."
"How are you doing?"
"Fine. I... suppose. Thanks for bringing her up."
"I missed you," said Naomi, without sincerity.
"Yeah, yeah. I missed you too."
More silence. He wanted to ask her about the journey back. Deborah had said April was more open with Naomi than with her.
"You could at least offer me some water," she said in a changed tone, after he'd been silent for a minute or so.
"You say it like I withheld some from you."
"I'm just saying. You gave some to April."
"April's my daughter, for God's sake." And after another few moments:
"Well get some then, if you want it."
Naomi went to the press and got a mug. "Dad's worse."
Ah. So that was why she suddenly wanted a fight.
Tristan and Naomi had been sharing care of their father until a couple of years ago. Dublin was becoming harder and harder to live in. Deborah and Tristan had been worried for April so they'd had some conversations and then Tristan had presented an equation to Naomi. He had a child, she didn't. It made sense that she would take over their father's care. She'd seemed happy enough with it at the time. But that was like Naomi. Always moving the fucking goalposts.
"They're selling water for fifteen euro a bottle in Dublin."
"Take some of that with you."
"Oh, now he's offering."
"Well what else d'you want me to do?"
You could at least mind your kid. What with her being your priority and all."
"Is there something wrong with her being my priority?"
"Not at all. I just don't understand how you let this happen."
He was tired. "Now, you've no fucking idea what it's been like for us."
Knowing Naomi, she probably thought that she could do a better job raising April.
She sighed. "Look, I think you should come up to Dublin with me. Just for a little while."
He was startled. "I'd be leaving Debbie and April."
"I think Dad's dying."
"Well you'll like that then, won't you?"
He said it before he thought, and regretted it less than a second after. There was another beat of silence.
"Naomi, I'm sorry."
Fuck it. He should've just kept the moral high ground. It'd be easier if she could be reasonable-
"I think I'd better go."
"It was just the worry, what with April and all-"
"I think I'd better go."