A sandpiper scurried up from the ocean. It nipped at the hunk of bread dangling from Malcolm’s hand. Malcolm had fallen asleep in his beach chair.
“Hey!” Malcolm said to the sandpiper. The tiny bird scurried back toward the water with a chunk of Malcolm’s baguette in its beak.
“You OK?” TK said.
“Yeah. Damn bird.”
Tatiana Karenina handed her husband, Malcolm P. Sharpe, a glass bottle of homemade seltzer. The cool bottle beaded with condensation. Malcolm up nodded, turned the cap, listened for the fizz, and took a swig. He curled his toes in the red sand.
“You know what song makes absolutely no sense?”
“No,” TK said, not looking up from her Agatha Christie novel, The ABC Murders.
“The George Jones song?”
“Glen Campbell. It’s a Glen Campbell song,” Malcolm said.
“Oh, yeah. That’s the one with that pretty line, ‘And I want you for all time.’” TK paused. “I don’t know. Makes sense to me. I like it.”
“Do you see any telephone wires here on the beach? None. Also, there’s no snow anymore and ‘down south’ is underwater now.”
“But that song is so, I don’t know, Americana. You know, before the Meltdown.”
“Sure, WE know what it means. But kids nowadays—like that kid over there with the pint sized pail and shovel—they ain’t ever really gonna know what snow is.”
Ten yards away, a little boy played in the silt loam. Kansas sand was red. He was building a sandcastle.
“I miss the way things were,” TK said.
“Really? Not at all?”
“Not at all,” Malcolm said.
“You don’t miss New York? I loved the museums and the lights in Times Square.”
“I don’t miss the stupidity, TK. What kind of morons think they can burn fossil fuels like that for that long and not end up underwater.”
“It’s a little more complicated than that, Malcolm. The dependence on fossil fuels wasn’t as simple as a single, binary choice.”
“An entire economic system depended on oil—with imperfect information, changing to sustainable energy would have been inefficient and unpredictable.”
“Imperfect information? Everybody knew cars and factories were killing the ozone layer and causing rapid temperature rises,” Malcolm said.
TK paused. “Well, regardless, I really miss the way things were. Shit, we haven’t had a decent new movie since the Meltdown. Music sucks, too.”
“I don’t miss the racism.”
TK paused again. Having been married to Malcolm, a black man, for 40 years, she knew that race was a subject to handle with kid gloves.
“I understand, Malcolm.”
“Look, it’s a shame that most of the hateful, racist people in America just happened to live in the sub-thousand. But I don’t think it’s a shame that most of them died by their own arrogant, know-it-all hands. And, it’s not like all of them are gone.”
“Appalachia?” TK said
“What about Europe, though? They got it the worst and that’s where the green movement came from.”
“The whole thing’s a shame, TK. I guess if there’s a silver lining in any of it, a lot of the people responsible for the problem ain’t around no more.”
“You know what’s a word we didn’t have before the Meltdown?”
“What?” Malcolm asked.
“Sub-thousand. Well, it was a word, but it didn’t mean what it means now.”
“I’m sorry, TK. It’s just that . . . talking about the Meltdown is tough for me.”
“It’s tough for everyone,” TK said.
“I wonder if scientists knew. Did they know that sea level would rise 1,000 feet?”
“I don’t know. Probably. A lot of environmentalists lived in Colorado and Asheville already, though.”
“I guess I do miss my car,” Malcolm said.
“What? Hi, my name is Kettle and it’s nice to meet you, Pot.”
“Hey, it was hybrid!”
“Oh, sorry, it only partially contributed to the Meltdown,” TK said.
“C’mon. These electric go-carts don’t have the pick-up of even a hybrid engine.”
“I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to say, Malcolm. I miss the creature comforts we had in the old world, but I recognize their cost was way too high.”
“7 billion people died, TK.”
“Like I said, the cost was way too high.”
Malcolm paused. “I agree. I guess I don’t miss the bad stuff, but some things I do miss. We never got to see Hamilton and I’m still kicking myself for that.”
The little boy who was building a sandcastle nearby let out a blood-curdling scream. The boy’s mother sprung into action to see what had happened. The little boy darted from the shore as fast as he could. His mother scanned the ground near the sandcastle and picked up a human skull that had washed ashore. She looked at it for a moment, kissed it on the forehead, and threw it back in the ocean.
“I guess one got through,” Malcolm said.
“What do you think is down there, Malcolm? Under the sea.”
“It’s a giant tomb, probably.”
“How weird would it be to go down there?”
“Very weird. I imagine decending upon an city that’s been submerged underwater for 20 years would be, well, interesting in ways I can’t even imagine.”
“You’d be violating the Bejing Accord,” TK said.
“Like anyone can enforce it.”
“Do you think people go down there anyway?”
“I’m sure there are ocean looters. But the problem with ocean looting is that there’s nothing of value down there,” Malcolm said.
“What about the Hope Diamond?”
“What would you trade for it? We’re a barter economy now. The Hope Diamond is just a shiny rock, now.”
“Could you pass me the SPF 1,000? My ‘noma is flairing up.”
TK slathered her arms and chest with sunscreen. She rubbed her hands together and sat back in her beach chair. She reached out for Malcolm’s hand. Malcolm gave his hand to her. They sat and watched the tide roll out, staring at the new horizon, looking out over the ocean, remembering New York, waiting for repose.