The Flood, by Corinne Fowler

The back garden was in uproar, but he drifted on at the edge of consciousness. He’d been out at sea all night. Now, in the relative peace of dawn, he turned at the faintest ripple. There were magpies outside his window, shrieking. He sat up in bed for a moment then sank back under the duvet. But it was impossible to sleep. He half-listened, trying to work out how many birds it took to make such a racket: one for sorrow, two for joy… But when he got up he saw it was crows, not magpies. No other bird could sound so harsh, nor so mocking.

Downstairs he sat in a dazed silence while the radio sulked in the corner. He glanced at the river through the French windows and noticed it seemed more sluggish than usual. He took a sip of coffee and smoothed his hand over his hair. It was still good and thick, but when he looked down there were grey hairs between his fingers. He went back upstairs to the bathroom, letting his bath robe drop to the pine floor, the embroidered dragon swirling like water down a plughole. In the mirror his eyes glittered with an energy he didn’t feel. He turned on the bathroom radio. Thames FM. It was just about all he could take at this time in the morning. And it always pleased him to listen to the local station, despite its parochialism. Because of it perhaps. Today it was regatta gossip, followed by a short documentary about this year’s Oxford and Cambridge boat race. A far cry from the council estates of his teenage years. But it wasn’t just that; he was sick of Iraqi body counts, exhausted by all the environmental doom and gloom. As he peered into the mirror to part his hair, which he did with great precision, a local councillor was justifying a new £100 penalty for allowing your dog to foul the pavement. And quite right too, she was saying. He was glad he didn’t have a dog. They always managed to lower the tone. He walked into the bedroom. Taking a crisp, Italian shirt from the wardrobe, he dressed with all his usual care.

Outside the day was suspended in an uncertain light, as though deliberating between morning and night. The air seemed peppered with soot. His briefcase kept slipping from under his arm as he navigated the narrow passageways of the cottage, his keys dangling from his mouth. The crows were hunched together on the wall. Seven of them. Vulture-like and menacing, their beaks jutting in defiance, their claws hooked around the wall as if in readiness to wrench it from its bed of soil…ridiculous. He drove off, one hand fiddling with the radio dial, and the nameless flock wheeled away unseen into the thick air overhead. Here was the hysteria again. Had the whole country gone mad? They were interviewing people about pegging the cliffs somewhere up North to stop coastal erosion. It’s totally unfair, an old man was whining, they get the cliffs pegged in Upper Vennel, and now our houses are falling into the sea! And we have to pay for the fallen bricks to be cleared from the beach! And some commentator droning on about controlled retreat from coastal regions. And now he was snarled in traffic. He sat back and let the fuming clouds engulf him.

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Jane Williams