Seaside Gothic

Fiction | Poetry | Nonfiction

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Floodwater by Sonia Overall

The woman looked out of the window at the flood, at what the flood had done: took in what used to be her front yard, the grass that was now a slick of mud and sea slime, the detritus picked up in the torrent of the flood, the contents of neighbourhood rubbish bins and pieces of broken cars and tree limbs and small dead creatures.

The woman peered harder at the road that was still several inches deep with ebbing, brackish water and saw fish, floating; hoped they were alive; hoped they would right themselves and cartwheel with a flick and swim back through the streets to find themselves, like spawning salmon after a long reckless journey, back in the sea once more.

The woman knew the fish were dead.

The woman saw ripped sheets of polythene hanging from the branches of the tall pine at the end of the street, tattered and ragged and dripping like Halloween costumes, like exhumed, rain-laundered shrouds, and shuddered.

The woman pulled on her waders and fetched a shovel and bucket.

The woman had lived a long time by the sea and was getting used to this, keeping needful things to hand: thick disposable rubber gloves that reached the length of her forearms; industrial cleaners and sanitising products; a box of goggles and gauze-lined masks; rolls of hazardous waste bags for incineration.

The woman went out into her yard and onto the street and started to clear away what she could of the flood’s leavings, the bloated corpses and tangled fabric, ripped plastic bags, terracotta plant-pot fragments and roof tiles, clumps of seaweed and twists of blue and orange netting.

The woman took most of the morning over this task, stooping, working methodically, until she had cleared a small area in front of her house. The woman knew it was a thankless task, that she would tidy away after this flood and the waters would rise again and the sea would be outside her window; that perhaps one day soon it would not recede as it had this time but settle there, eating away at her territory, expanding its borders, encroaching, eroding, enveloping.

The woman carried on in the afternoon, until it was too dark to see the flood’s proffered objects clearly.

The woman slept soundly that night, after her labours, and when the sea returned in the early hours, lifting her house and carrying it in its wake, taking it apart wave by wave, limb by limb, the woman slept on, dreaming of shoals of fish, and of herself gliding, weightless, buoyed along among them as they swam into an endless horizon of floodwater.