When The Water Came
Author: Darragh Clayton
New York City, 2064
I was 12 when it first happened, so this time it doesn’t scare me as much. It’s the same, every couple of years, just as they said it would be. As the wind rumbles outside and rain slams against the windows, I gather with the rest of the residents on the empty top floor. The flimsy plastic table set up along the wall is piled with emergency supplies: canned food, boxes of crackers, flashlights, first aid kits, thin blankets, and plastic water bottles. A battery powered radio crackles in a corner, muttering warnings that are much too late and projections on how much of Manhattan will be submerged by the morning. Somehow, our government can provide these supplies regularly but cannot solve the climate crisis. As if a cheap foldable table with staticky blankets and granola bars will save us all.
Glancing around the room, I see people who are panicking and people who are relaxed like myself. Some of us understand it, while others can’t comprehend how this could happen. They’re in denial, acting like we haven’t had years to change what we have been doing, years to save the planet and ourselves. It’s not fate or an evil force beyond our control — it’s us. The decisions we’ve collectively made over the past century have put us underwater. It was the first flood that made the decision for me, that I would spend the rest of my life learning and working to protect our home. It was an easy decision, because the way I see it, there’s nothing else. Why would I study for a job I may never get the opportunity to have? What is the point of planning for a future that isn’t guaranteed? To me, the only way to spend my life is fighting to ensure I can have one. Maybe it is a lot of responsibility for environmentalists and activists, but that’s what it has come to. Our leaders have passed us the weight of the world and I am not going to drop it.
“It’s time to go, Mom,” he tells me firmly. Just like last time. Before we leave, I stand in my living room and try to take in every last detail so I remember it all. The family photos framed on the mantle, the China tea set passed down to me from my mother, the finger paintings made by my grandchildren strung up on the wall. I memorize it all — each colour and pattern — because I know this might be the last time I see my home. Rob tucks his arm under mine, grabs our bags, then leads me carefully across the street. It’s raining enough to soak our jackets, but luckily the wind hasn’t started yet. I live in a little bungalow, so every time the water comes we walk over to the apartment building next door and ride the elevator to the highest floor.
As we settle in together for the next few hours or days, I talk to my son. I go back inside my mind to the good place. My memories are fading, but I still remember when the world was healthy. Before we broke it, before the forests disappeared and the air filled with smog. Before I had to watch the green fade and the grey set in. Before we abandoned our world and everything it has given us, only to weep when its death also hurt us. Back then, it’s true that we could have changed. But how could we have known that this would be our future? It was unimaginable, and the people in power would not listen to the people who knew. I try not to think about it, but when the water comes, it haunts me. If I had done more in my youth, would my son have been able to grow up in a world without disasters like this?
The water came again today. I was playing in the driveway when Mama came to scoop me up and take me inside. I can’t even bring my toys, she says; we have to go in right now. She tells me there is going to be another storm and that we will have to hide in the house for a bit. She holds me in one arm while she rushes around the house, grabbing all she can carry. Snacks, sweaters, a blanket from the couch, and a bottle of water from the fridge. Then she turns off all the lights so it’s dark. I get scared and ask where we’re going; she says we have to hide in her bedroom upstairs so the water can’t reach us. We sit down in a corner with blankets tucked around us. I cry a little bit, so she holds me close. I hear howling outside, but she tells me it’s just the wind. I ask how long we’ll stay here, but she says she doesn’t know. “Tell me a story, Mama?” I look at her and she nods. I like her stories. They’re always happy and make me forget about scary things, like loud noises and big water. My favourites are when she tells me about the magical world. There were animals everywhere, walking around in the wild and not just at the zoo. You could play anywhere you wanted, there was grass to roll in and trees to play in. When I ask her where all the grass and animals and trees went, she says we didn’t take good enough care of them. And when I ask her if we can bring them back, she says it’s too late. So I close my eyes, hug Mama tight, and listen to her stories instead of the storm.
They warned us it was coming, but there was nothing we could do. They leave us out, forget about us every time we need help. Every time it’s inconvenient for them. Our neighborhood has always been forgotten. They say it’s because of our location near the water, but we all know it’s because of the colour of our skin. When the water comes again, I balance the babies on my hips and call the other children upstairs. “Stay here,” my husband orders. I try to soothe the little ones as he rushes around our tiny home, collecting anything valuable or anything to help us get through the next couple of days. The thin blankets from our bed, any food left in the cupboards, a few jugs of water from the tap, candles and matches. When he joins us, he’s brought the Martinezes from next door, the two of them with their three kids. Our home isn’t big, but it’s still bigger than theirs because we have a second floor. They’re already drenched just from the short walk over, and I can hear the wind and rain picking up outside. Last time the water came, Ana Martinez’s mother was too weak to make it through a week in waist-deep water. She wasn’t the only one; every time this happens, we lose beloved members of our neighbourhood. In other parts of Nueva York, the floods are an inconvenience. Here, they are a fight for survival.
I move over into the corner, cuddling the babies into me and lifting the blanket so all the children can fit under it. It’s moments like these when I wish I didn’t have children, but only because I shouldn’t have brought them into a world like this. A world so fogged with pollution and hatred that it barely acknowledges our existence. If the contaminated water, smoky air, and scarce food weren’t enough, we find ourselves crammed in the corner as water drowns our village.