“8th of March, 2027. In the mornings when I check my phone, I still expect a message. Today I don’t even have a signal. Four days after the flood, and there’s no news of her. I want to deny what’s happened: – to look away, and then turn back, gaze out of the window, and see the familiar view restored. Just like everyone after a natural disaster. Although this disaster wasn’t natural. And it’s pretty ironic that I should be so affected. Me. Through her. When we’ve both been campaigning for years, shouting to anyone that disasters like this would happen. That they will happen more and more. Though neither of us expected that it would be London. And we didn’t imagine… Well, you don’t.
Huh. It may be the fourth or fifth time I’ve diarised this, but the picture won’t fade. The helicopter shot of the Thames barrier, everything covered apart from the silver tops of the pontoons, like the bows of sinking boats beneath the storm surge. I knew when I saw what it could mean. I didn’t panic. I don’t panic. But I was afraid for her, even then. The bird’s eye view, looking down on hooded curves jutting through the foam, like metal teeth on an enormous mouth. Yes. I was scared then.
Yesterday I slipped under a police line and got into the flood zone. I wish I hadn’t. Near the theatre, where she was supposed to make a meeting about drama in prisons. Almost everywhere has drained now. Like on the news, there are piles of splintered rubbish, silt-covered cars, and the occasional handbag or shoe. Everything stinks of sewage. And there are the remains of people. Things. I saw two, in an alley by a doorway, before I turned back. There was no point me being there, after all; I was just going to get arrested. The corpses – man up, that’s what they were – were bloated and stinking. The police or army will take them to Smithfield meat market to be held in the fridges, before what I guess is a cursory examination. To work out who they are, that’s all. Who cares about cause of death? At the moment they’re just racking the figures up on the tally, feeding the press, the TV ticker tape. And she’s there – somewhere. Halfway to becoming a statistic.
I have to go to the police station. Again. I think that’s why I’m running through this, to put together a timeline, to explain to myself, as though I had the capacity of a five-year-old, that she’s not coming back. Or I could keep waiting for a knock on the front door. How long will it take them? When I look at this photo, the one of us on holiday in Liguria, I think I’ll wait. As though I could hop on a train to northern Italy and she’d still be there, in that turquoise dress, sitting in a square with an affogato, flirting politely with the waiters. I feel like she’s still out there. If I scream long and hard enough I can go back to that time, find her there – I can shift out of the present like a man who dives into the sea, and then never comes up for air. The wall to the past should be flimsy; an insubstantial, oily film that you can slip through.
This is whimsical shit. I have to go to the police station. Maybe this time they’ll actually be letting people in. Microphone off.”