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The Year of the Flood
T H E G A R D E N
Who is it tends the Garden,
The Garden oh so green?
Twas once the finest Garden
That ever has been seen.
And in it Gods dear Creatures
Did swim and fly and play;
But then came greedy Spoilers,
And killed them all away.
And all the Trees that flourished
And gave us wholesome fruit,
By waves of sand are buried,
Both leaf and branch and root.
And all the shining Water
Is turned to slime and mire,
And all the feathered Birds so bright
Have ceased their joyful choir.
Oh Garden, oh my Garden,
Ill mourn forevermore
Until the Gardeners arise,
And you to Life restore.
From The Gods Gardeners Oral Hymnbook
YEAR TWENTY- FIVE, THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD
In the early morning Toby climbs up to the rooftop to watch the sunrise. She uses a mop handle for balance: the elevator stopped working some time ago and the back stairs are slick with damp, so if she slips and topples there wont be anyone to pick her up.
As the first heat hits, mist rises from among the swath of trees between her and the derelict city. The air smells faintly of burning, a smell of caramel and tar and rancid barbecues, and the ashy but greasy smell of a garbage-dump fire after its been raining. The abandoned towers in the distance are like the coral of an ancient reef — bleached and colourless, devoid of life.
There still is life, however. Birds chirp; sparrows, they must be. Their small voices are clear and sharp, nails on glass: theres no longer any sound of traffic to drown them out. Do they notice that quietness, the absence of motors? If so, are they happier? Toby has no idea. Unlike some of the other Gardeners — the more wild-eyed or possibly overdosed ones — she has never been under the illusion that she can converse with birds.
The sun brightens in the east, reddening the blue-grey haze that marks the distant ocean. The vultures roosting on hydro poles fan out their wings to dry them, opening themselves like black umbrellas. One and then another lifts off on the thermals and spirals upwards. If they plummet suddenly, it means theyve spotted carrion.
Vultures are our friends, the Gardeners used to teach. They purify the earth. They are Gods necessary dark Angels of bodily dissolution. Imagine how terrible it would be if there were no death!
Do I still believe this? Toby wonders.
Everything is different up close.
The rooftop has some planters, their ornamentals running wild; it has a few fake-wood benches. It used to have a sun canopy for cocktail hour, but thats been blown away. Toby sits on one of the benches to survey the grounds. She lifts her binoculars, scanning from left to right. The driveway, with its lumirose borders, untidy now as frayed hair-brushes, their purple glow fading in the strengthening light. The western entrance, done in pink adobe-style solarskin, the snarl of tangled cars outside the gate.
The flower beds, choked with sow thistle and burdock, enormous aqua kudzu moths fluttering above them. The fountains, their scallop-shell basins filled with stagnant rainwater. The parking lot with a pink golf cart and two pink AnooYoo Spa minivans, each with its winking-eye logo. Theres a fourth minivan farther along the drive, crashed into a tree: there used to be an arm hanging out of the window, but its gone now.
The wide lawns have grown up, tall weeds. There are low irregular mounds beneath the milkweed and fleabane and sorrel, with here and there a swatch of fabric, a glint of bone. Thats where the people fell, the ones whod been running or staggering across the lawn. Toby had watched from the roof, crouched behind one of the planters, but she hadnt watched for long. Some of those people had called for help, as if theyd known she was there. But how could she have helped?
The swimming pool has a mottled blanket of algae. Already there are frogs. The herons and the egrets and the peagrets hunt them, at the shallow end. For a while Toby tried to scoop out the small animals that had blundered in and drowned. The luminous green rabbits, the rats, the rakunks, with their striped tails and racoon bandit masks. But now she leaves them alone. Maybe theyll generate fish, somehow. When the pool is more like a swamp.
Is she thinking of eating these theoretical future fish? Surely not.
Surely not yet.
She turns to the dark encircling wall of trees and vines and fronds and shrubby undergrowth, probing it with her binoculars. Its from there that any danger might come. But what kind of danger? She cant imagine.
In the night there are the usual noises: the faraway barking of dogs, the tittering of mice, the water-pipe notes of the crickets, the occasional grumph of a frog. The blood rushing in her ears: katoush, katoush, katoush. A heavy broom sweeping dry leaves.
“Go to sleep,” she says out loud. But she never sleeps well, not since shes been alone in this building. Sometimes she hears voices — human voices, calling to her in pain. Or the voices of women, the women who used to work here, the anxious women who used to come, for rest and rejuvenation. Splashing in the pool, strolling on the lawns. All the pink voices, soothed and soothing.
Or the voices of the Gardeners, murmuring or singing; or the children laughing together, up on the Edencliff Garden. Adam One, and Nuala, and Burt. Old Pilar, surrounded by her bees. And Zeb. If any one of them is still alive, it must be Zeb: any day now hell come walking along the roadway or appear from among the trees.
But he must be dead by now. Its better to think so. Not to waste hope.
There must be someone else left, though; she cant be the only one on the planet. There must be others. But friends or foes? If she sees one, how to tell?
Shes prepared. The doors are locked, the windows barred. But even such barriers are no guarantee: every hollow space invites invasion.
Even when she sleeps, shes listening, as animals do — for a break in the pattern, for an unknown sound, for a silence opening like a crack in rock.
When the small creatures hush their singing, said Adam One, its because theyre afraid. You must listen for the sound of their fear.
YEAR TWENTY- FIVE, THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD
Beware of words. Be careful what you write. Leave no trails.
This is what the Gardeners taught us, when I was a child among them. They told us to depend on memory, because nothing written down could be relied on. The Spirit travels from mouth to mouth, not from thing to thing: books could be burnt, paper crumble away, computers could be destroyed. Only the Spirit lives forever, and the Spirit isnt a thing.
As for writing, it was dangerous, said the Adams and the Eves, because your enemies could trace you through it, and hunt you down, and use your words to condemn you.
But now that the Waterless Flood has swept over us, any writing I might do is safe enough, because those who would have used it against me are most likely dead. So I can write down anything I want.
What I write is my name, Ren, with an eyebrow pencil, on the wall beside the mirror. Ive written it a lot of times. Renrenren, like a song. You can forget who you are if youre alone too much. Amanda told me that.
I cant see out the window, its glass brick. I cant get out the door, its locked on the outside. I still have air though, and water, as long as the solar doesnt quit. I still have food.
Im lucky. Im really very lucky. Count your luck, Amanda used to say. So I do. First, I was lucky to be working here at Scales when the Flood hit. Second, it was even luckier that I was shut up this way in the Sticky Zone, because it kept me safe. I got a rip in my Biofilm Bodyglove — a client got carried away and bit me, right through the green sequins — and I was waiting for my test results. It wasnt a wet rip with secretions and membranes involved, it was a dry rip near the elbow, so I wasnt that worried. Still, they checked everything, here at Scales. They had a reputation to keep up: we were known as the cleanest dirty girls in town.
Scales and Tails took care of you, they really did. If you were talent, that is. Good food, a doctor if you needed one, and the tips were great, because the men from the top Corps came here. It was well run, though it was in a seedy area — all the clubs were. That was a matter of image, Mordis would say: seedy was good for business, because unless theres an edge — something lurid or tawdry, a whiff of sleaze — what separated our brand from the run-of-the-mill product the guy could get at home, with the face cream and the white cotton panties?
Mordis believed in plain speaking. Hed been in the business ever since he was a kid, and when they outlawed the pimps and the street trade — for public health and the safety of women, they said — and rolled everything into SeksMart under CorpSeCorps control, Mordis made the jump, because of his experience. “Its who you know,” he used to say. “And what you know about them.” Then hed grin and pat you on the bum — just a friendly pat though, he never took freebies from us. He had ethics.
He was a wiry guy with a shaved head and black, shiny, alert eyes like the heads of ants, and he was easy as long as everything was cool. But hed stand up for us if the clients got violent. “Nobody hurts my best girls,” hed say. It was a point of honour with him.
Also he didnt like waste: we were a valuable asset, hed say. The cream of the crop. After the SeksMart roll-in, anyone left outside the system was not only illegal but pathetic. A few wrecked, diseased old women wandering the alleyways, practically begging. No man with even a fraction of his brain left would go anywhere near them. “Hazardous waste,” we Scales girls used to call them. We shouldnt have been so scornful; we should have had compassion. But compassion takes work, and we were young.
That night when the Waterless Flood began, I was waiting for my test results: they kept you locked in the Sticky Zone for weeks, in case you had something contagious. The food came in through the safety-sealed hatchway, plus there was the minifridge with snacks, and the water was filtered, coming in and out both. You had everything you needed, but it got boring in there. You could exercise on the machines, and I did a lot of that, because a trapeze dancer needs to keep in practice.
You could watch TV or old movies, play your music, talk on the phone. Or you could visit the other rooms in Scales on the intercom videoscreens. Sometimes when we were doing plank work wed wink at the cameras in mid-moan for the benefit of whoever was stuck in the Sticky Zone. We knew where the cameras were hidden, in the snakeskin or featherwork on the ceilings. It was one big family, at Scales, so even when you were in the Sticky Zone, Mordis liked you to pretend you were still participating.
Mordis made me feel so secure. I knew if I was in big trouble I could go to him. There were only a few people in my life like that. Amanda, most of the time. Zeb, sometimes. And Toby. You wouldnt think it would be Toby — she was so tough and hard — but if youre drowning, a soft squashy thing is no good to hold on to. You need something more solid.
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