Summer of Eighteen
It was the Summer of Eighteen, the summer we thought would never begin, then never end. Flowers bloomed in a blaze of late glory then withered under the relentless sun; first there was the hosepipe ban, then the pipe ban. The ferryman was out of business, people could walk across the river at low tide. Until they emptied the municipal pool, to send tankers to market gardeners, it had been a duck and swan rescue centre. Everyone became a fisherman till the last gasping fish was scooped off the river bed.
The heath fires never went out, they joined up. After the power cuts people gathered at the edge of the heath to bake the last of the vegetables in the embers, though there was no shortage of venison. When the wild fires started on the cliff top the promenade was put out of bounds. At high tide we made our way down the narrow river channel round to the cove where we trod on burning sand and pebbles.
The leaves dropped from the trees, but autumn never came.
As I surveyed the cracked river bed I noticed him, Ben the Boiler, Evan the Inventor, we’d called him at school. Nobody had wanted his inventions so he went to work for Plumbprompt Services. Now, nobody wanted heating and there was no water to fill the boilers. Benjamin Evans was rolling logs under a stranded boatwreck. He wiped sweat from his brow, more from habit than any chance of relief.
‘How’s the sailing going Ben?’
‘Laura? Green Laura Green from school?’
I picked my way across the baked ruts; a river bed does not look how one imagines.
‘Did you get your degree in environmental science Laura?’
‘Got a first,’ I retorted ‘work for the National River Authorities now.’
He laughed. ‘Made redundant then.’
‘Planning to sail across the world?’
‘Only to the Isle of Wight.’
‘Conditions are no better there, Tennyson’s rolling green downs are the colour of toast and Freshwater Bay has none.’
‘It will soon, I can turn sea water into fresh.’