Taking soggy steps through his living room felt like a dream. Though now more of a dead room, thought Hugh, a mausoleum. Hugh had grown up in this house. His parents had died here, long ago. And now, a line of filth at eye-level on the walls marked the height of the floodwaters. The line severed a family photo; decapitating mom and dad, drowning Hugh and his brother.
The devastation wrought by the storm was immense. Not a single one of his neighbours’ houses had escaped. Field upon field of farmland was ruined. Roads were washed away. The scale of the flood did little to ease the sting of his own loss.
Hugh heard a gasp behind him. He turned, coming face to trembling face with his wife.
“Oh my God, Hugh. Your home.”
“It’s just bricks, Shan”, he lied.
“Insurance should have us covered, yeah?”
He stooped to pick up a shattered piece of Mom’s old china. The saucer’s intricate colourings had been dulled by submersion. It looked like something fit to be hauled out of a bog. Or dredged from a river. An echo from a long-gone time.
“I’m not sure, to be honest.” he said knowing full well they wouldn’t. This was the second flood this year, and storm season was only getting underway. He was seriously considering moving inland, to a city. One or two of his neighbours already had. While his own house escaped the waters this time around, he was sure it wasn’t long before his house mirrored his family home.
“I’ve seen which way the wind is blowing, Hugh” one had told him a few weeks previous, after the last Superstorm. He was packing what was left of his worldly possessions into his two-door car and setting off for Dublin. “This isn’t going to stop. It isn’t going to get any better. We’re screwed, Hugh. All of us.”
Even now, looking out through the dead room’s window, Hugh and Shan watched Mike Fitzgerald and his family. `They sweated and swatted through the mass of flies on this most humid of November days. Curious, Hugh opened the window and shouted, questioning Mike on his destination. The answer came back: higher ground.
Hugh plugged in the kettle he brought from his and Shan’s house and they drank tea at the still-damp kitchen table. They spoke about how thigs had changed since they moved away. The shops that had closed and opened, the people who had died. The bog road leading into the village was now permanently flooded; there were plans to build a bridge. The sea had crept in, inch by inch, and had pushed back the sand dunes much like the years had pushed back Hugh’s hairline.
“My grandfather used to always tell me“, Hugh said between sips, “about this church that used to be out in the bay. It used be the way that you could see the waves breaking over the steeple, apparently. But I suppose the sea took it back.”
That reminiscence stirred one in Shan: “I’ll always remember something my grandmother told me. It was something her mother told her – ‘One day the River Barrow and Ballyheigue Bay will meet’, she said.”
“Sure the River Barrow is what, fifteen miles out? I doubt it, not in our lifetime.”
“I looked it up, Hugh. There’s this website… It lets you see predicted sea levels for the next couple of decades. She was right, Hugh. Where we are right now will be underwater in about seventy years. The mountain will be an island. “
“Ah but Shan, half the Netherlands would be submerged now if they never built all those dykes.”
“Ah sure Hugh, they were going to dredge the Shannon, but they made a hames of that, didn’t they?”
The more he thought about it, the more it seemed that Shan’s great-grandmother was right. Looking ahead, things were bleak. Looking behind, things were sad and painful. If the future was under water, was their much point in Shan and he having a child? He daren’t raise the question with her. Not yet, at least. For now, as he finished his tea, there were preparations to be made.
The next storm was only a couple of days away.