Salty Tales From Seaview Terrace

Submitted into Contest #60 in response to: Write a post-apocalyptic story triggered by climate change.... view prompt

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Drama

On the first floor landing, Sammy and G.G. pull on the hoist ropes while Pops pushes the canoe up the stairs from below. A paraffin lamp in the stairwell casts flickering shadows of three figures on the flyblown plaster walls. The rising waters have compromised the coastal flood defence across the road. A furious storm and high tides have caused a surge of water during the late afternoon. It’s a perfect storm or, as Pops would say, “an imperfect storm” depending on which way you look at it.

In the morning, Pops had told Sammy that they were going to play a game. He told her that when he was in the Navy, they used to see how many socks of sand they could fill in an hour. The winner would get a hot chocolate and a piece of Granny’s homemade fruitcake. Sammy’s lit up with a cheeky grin. Pops knew Sammy only too well. It was always her favourite treat when she stayed at her grandparents’ house. 

Granny Geraldine, or G.G. for short, had been busy baking all afternoon. Weighing and measuring the ingredients with Sammy was great therapy. It diverted her attention from the non-stop weather bulletins and the reports of incoming high winds. They were advised by the local council to vacate their house last Wednesday; that was a week ago. 

Yesterday, the waves started pouring across the road and invading the herbaceous borders. She suspected there was a much bigger issue when the salty brine failed to retreat at low tide. G.G. turned a blind eye mid-morning when it lapped up the incline of the garden path. She distracted herself when the water tiptoed up the three outer steps and then trickled past the front door’s improvised fortification. 

At the time G.G. had alerted Pops, who was playing snap with Sammy at the card table. They both told G.G. not to worry and ambled over to the doorway to examine the imminent threat. Pops had played down the jeopardy and told them he’d seen entire villages submerged in the Bangladeshi Delta during his National Service days. He recounted seeing families packing rafts of possessions and paddling for shore as their homes were washed away. 

“Yes, yes, yes, Pops,” says G.G. She’s heard it all before. “So, this isn’t much different is it?” 

He suggests that they have a refreshing cup of tea and says, “In no time the water will be gone, just like magic.” 

Pops was an expert at distracting Sammy. He pulls out a pack of cards from his trouser pocket and asks Sammy to choose one. He made a routine out of hiding it in the pack, getting Sammy to name the card and then plucking it out of mid-air. Sammy loved Pops’ tricks, and she laughed for joy when he retrieved the correct card from behind her ear. 

G.G. had seen all Pops charming stunts for over fifty years and knew his patter off by heart. She knew him well enough to know that this was her cue to get a mop and bucket. Pops was going nowhere for now, but at least Sammy was unperturbed.

G.G. had a supply of builders’ sand in the shed to the rear. She had her routine in place now and set about preparing further defences. She’d seen the sea levels rise year after year; for twelve successive years. The sea change had spooked all ten of the original residents of Seaview Terrace. They’d all had their own ways of coping with the impending threat. Each resident had their own strategy and their own personal line in the sand. 

For years and years, all the neighbours had enjoyed an amicable relationship. At one time, they were all what you might call “good friends”. The beach-facing terrace comprised Victorian Era houses that dated back to the 1870s. They all had a small garden at the front and they were just a stone’s throw away from the sandy beach across the road. The houses benefitted from being elevated, with three steps up to the front door and a fine view up and down the coastline. 

G.G. and Pops had lived at number eight for most of their married life and considered this house to be their only home. They’d never regretted moving here; the immediate community was caring and supportive. However, over the last ten years there had been an imperceptible change. It was a glacial movement, so slight that when the motion was detected for certain, the massif was already looming down upon them. There had been warnings at first and then stark evidence of the changes. The talk in the local store had always included speculation about the weather. Here in the U.K., we live on an island with an ever changing outlook, therefore it’s a national preoccupation. However, the tides and the storm patterns had never been given much consideration before. There was now concern about using recyclable shopping bags, and gossip about melting icebergs and climate change too.

Pops had always seen far worse in the Navy, when he was on the high seas. He poo-pooed the very notion of leaving the terrace. It was their home and nobody was going to tell them to leave, no one at all. 

Their immediate neighbours weren’t so sure. Seaview Terrace took on a distinct character, a new persona. There was a nervous tension between the residents. It was reminiscent of late night gamblers at a smoky poker table. Each player had a big stake with everything to lose, except there’d be no winners. The last man standing here would be the last man afloat. The only turned tables in Seaview Terrace would be makeshift rafts caught up in a mighty deluge.

Five years ago Pops had a row with old Bob Jolly from number one. They’d been pals for years and swapped tales of daring deeds from their military days of yesteryear. Bob wasn’t a panicker, but he had a gravitational disadvantage, being at the lower end of the row of houses. He admitted he was worried about the changes he was experiencing. His basement had been regularly flooded for years whenever there was a high tide. Now it was flooding once a month, and it had barely emptied before the next underground tsunami happened. 

Pops wasn’t for quitting and suggested some make shift remedies; he even offered to help. Bob was grateful for the offer but revealed that his wife, Edith, had suffered from a lung ailment for about twelve months. Pops couldn’t see any relevance. However, when the local doctor visited Bob’s wife, he had enquired about the overpowering smell of damp in Bob’s house. He had suggested there might be a connection with Edith’s complaint. Pops had laughed off the notion and two weeks later Bob’s wife was taken to hospital and died in ICU. The coroner’s report stated that the mouldy brickwork and supporting timbers, at number one, had contributed to her condition. In his opinion, the house had become unfit for habitation. Bob was devastated and remained angry with Pops until he left the terrace. The friendship ended with his silent departure from number one, four years ago.

The second neighbours to leave the terrace lived at number ten. They sold their property for a good price, left the area overnight and never returned. The old couple at number two passed away shortly after, and their empty property started to look forlorn. With both ends of the terrace becoming neglected, the couple at number seven decided to sell too. They had their house on the market for six months and had offers much less than the asking price. After a year they sold for as much as they could get and departed with negative equity on their mortgage. 

   When the remaining occupants of Seaview Terrace heard this news, they accepted purchase packages from the council and considered the various forms of compensation on offer, and then they jumped ship as soon as possible. That left Pops and G.G. to brave it out, and Pops still wasn’t convinced.

G.G. had listened to everyone’s opinion but, when she expressed her fears to Pops, he’d brushed her worries aside. He said he was more afraid of catching the virus in an evacuation centre than braving the storm. 

Today was different. As the afternoon drew on, G.G. busied herself in the kitchen preparing an evening meal and tried to ignore the rising waters outside.

It wasn’t until the water could be seen lapping on the windowsills that Pops got twitchy. He walked over to the window. Pops peered left and right as though he were on a ship’s bridge and drew air through his nostrils, inflating his barrel–like chest. He returned to the card table and asked Sammy to pick another card. 

   “If it’s higher than an eight, you get the spade,” he says. “If it’s lower than an eight, you get the pillow case.”

Sammy had chosen an eight as it happens, but the card she pulled from the pack was irrelevant. Pops got Sammy to help him stuff pillowcases with sand. Sammy and her grandpa worked hard to barricade the front door. All three piled the protective parcels around the potential points of ingress. 

   The water had another plan. It was now pouring through the keyhole and round the door hinges. They now couldn’t see daylight through the windows. Loose debris and garden detritus floated into view and tapped on the glass as though politely requesting entry to the premises.

G.G. had been preparing containers of food and packing boxes of dry clothing. She didn’t discuss what needed doing. Pops and G.G. had been together long enough to know what was required. It was a waste of time discussing the plan. With no time to waste, actions speak louder than words. 

   Sammy helped Pops in the basement as best as she could. The water in the cellar was rising. He loaded the cool box with whatever they could salvage from the fridge and freezer and shifted up to the first floor.

   Pops rigged up a pulley system of ropes, block and tackle and secured it at the top of the stairs. He found the paddles and dragged the old canoe from the basement. 

The upper glazing in the kitchen cracked and shards of glass chinked on the wooden furniture below. Water poured in at head height as Pops tied their boat to the hoist. 

   Sammy and G.G. took up the slack and pulled the ropes. The water was already half way up Pop’s thighs when the canoe started edging up the staircase. As fast as the vessel inched its way upward the waters matched the pace. Pops was a fighter at heart, and between them they reached the horizontal landing space.

Sammy opened the flat-roof doors, and all three propped up the boat on the heavy-duty rubber-roofing surface. Sammy, G.G. and Pops loaded up the craft and waited inside as the waves lapped around the bottom of the hull. The keel scraped on the gritty roof as the waves lifted the vessel, and they paddled clear of number eight. They had become last residents to say goodbye to Seaview Terrace. 

September 26, 2020 02:11

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2 comments

Lynn Penny
15:35 Sep 28, 2020

This was lovely, It held a nice tone and was well-paced.

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Howard Halsall
18:14 Sep 28, 2020

Hey, thanks for reading my story, it’s great to get your positive feedback. I’m glad you enjoyed it. :)

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