Writer in Residence · 08/20/2013

Deucalion

Like the mythological Greek figure to whom the title of this story alludes, Anthony Grooms’s character here hovers above the ruins of our most famous city after the eco-disaster that brought the deluge. Certainly more Atlantans ought to think about all the driving they do. Unfortunately, while this story’s science fiction, my understanding of the predictions of climate scientists is that this fiction is likely to be our future reality.

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At first the city looked no different than what he expected. From the hovercraft at 600 meters, the skyscrapers seemed normal enough. On the horizon, Jonathon Rabinovich recognized the Empire State Building and his favorite, the Chrysler Building with its gleaming imperial eagles. Both were monuments to the age of corporations, but no less so than the glass towers of the World Trade Center, one with its pyramidal sides and saucer and spike on top, another with its slanted, diamond shaped roof quartered into the shapes of smaller diamonds. But closer examination made his skin chill and goose bumps rise. One of his eleven companions, a fellow laborer in the Monuments Restoration Project, pointed below. The Brooklyn Bridge made an oblique arch out of the water near what had been FDR Drive, a bridge from nowhere to nowhere, rising out of and bending back into water. The streets around the buildings shimmered in the sun.

He understood that people still lived in the upper floors of some of the flooded sky scrapers, but the government was slowly relocating them. North of Wall Street, straight up Broadway, past Union Square and on up Fifth Avenue, past Central Park—the highland—remained dry. But north of Central Park, on the East and West sides, and Lower Manhattan, the water had reshaped the island into a sliver of its former self. The Brooklyn waterfront—Redhook to the Navy Yard—was gone. Most of Queens was gone. Over on the Jersey side, Hoboken and Bayonne were gone. There was high ground along Kennedy Boulevard that saved parts of Jersey City, but on the other side of the Newark Bay the waters had claimed the Newark Airport. In fact, the metropolitan area, such as it was, had no airports. Kennedy gone. LaGuardia gone.

Jonathon twisted around in his seat, straining to see across the aisles, out of the windows where his companions sat with their faces to the glass. He was trying to figure out where Brighton Beach, his old neighborhood, had been. He couldn’t find it. Where he thought it should have been was only the sea, the lowrise buildings far beneath water. The sea was bluer than he remembered it, clearer and cleaner. He ought to be able to see something beneath, he thought. Perhaps if he were in a boat, he could. He thought he ought to be sad, but he turned away, resignedly, facing ahead toward his destination and the new work set out for him, the dismantling of the Statue of Liberty. He had come from people who had seen hardship as Jews in Russia, and now seeing that “Little Odessa” was no more, was—in an awful way—just to be expected. Shit happens. Shit keeps happening. It was the way of this world of shit.

At thirty, he was strong and healthy, just the kind of person the government wanted for its Works Recovery Administration. He could learn new skills, both physical and intellectual, could sleep on a foam cot or even on the floor for months at a time without complaint, would eat whatever goulash or salmagundi the cooks threw at him, and with no dependents, would work for cheap. Since the government provided the necessities for every citizen—shelter, medical, education, energy—he was happy for the work just to have something to do.

The waters had taken the city much quicker than anyone anticipated. For decades the scientists, like modern day Noahs, warned that climate change was melting the glaciers and the ice caps, and for decades the politicians squabbled about it, and the people resisted the austere conservation that was called for. The corporations claimed to have been developing solutions—electric cars and such—but everyone worked against everyone else, and in the end people kept on with their comfortable habits. At first, the warmer days seemed like Indian summers and they were welcomed. Autumn in New York was tee shirt weather far into November. Even when the big chunks of the Arctic broke up, the alarm was general, but not effecting. It all seemed to happen slowly, until an unexpected tipping point was reached and the ice melted and the seas rose exponentially—a half meter in a month, then half a meter in a week, then a meter in a week.

The City Council lobbied for a dyke, but the Federal government reasoned that relocation was more practical than a sea wall which would be expensive to build and uncertain to hold. New York State sent its own engineers to build a dyke, but it was already too late. Ironically, they began a sea wall along length of Wall Street where the city’s first defensive wall stood. But the water overwhelmed the city, the airports, and the low lying boroughs. When the subway tunnels flooded, the dyke building was abandoned. Long before then, Jonathon had driven to Miami to rescue his grandparents from the flooding there. With the feeling of the sea chasing them down, they raced up Interstate Seventy-five like one of Pharaoh’s fleeing chariots. They settled near Macon at what had been a Muslim security camp. The cabins were small but comfortable. The razor wire fence had been removed.

The hovercraft spun slowly as it descended toward the spar platform. The panorama of the ruined city moved outside of his window. Now the golden flame of the great torch came into view, and then the statue’s hand and forearm, and the rays of her crown and her hollowed-eyed, impassive profile.

The hovercraft settled on the floating platform anchored next to the pedestal of the statue. The engine went quiet and the doors hissed and opened. None of the twelve men moved. Jonathon felt as if he were not yet awake from a vivid dream. He could see beneath the water the third of the base of the statue, nearly 15 meters below the surface.

As the sunset came on, Jonathon and two of his new companions shared a package of smokeless and looked out at the unlit buildings of the skyline. “It’s not as bad as I thought,” one of them said. “Lots of buildings didn’t go under.”

But to Jonathon, the city was dead. No lights. No sound.

“Bad enough,” the other said.

“Yeah, but not as bad as Norfolk or Charleston. They’re gone. D.C.’s gone. New Orleans gone, too. And half of Houston. Parts of LA. Funny thing, I heard that San Francisco got off light, but the water went inland and Sacramento is gone.”

“We brought it on ourselves,” the first man said.

“The hell if I did,” the second one said, “I never owned a fucking car.”

Jonathon didn’t want to hear them talk. He walked a few meters down the platform rail. The sunset was coloring the sky. The water lapped below. A light breeze whistled around the statue. We all did it, he thought. Every last one of us. Is anyone, anywhere in the world innocent? Maybe a bushman or an Amazonian. But they’ll suffer, too. The sunset reflected in the glass of the World Trade Center towers. For a while, Jonathon imagined the city was full of life, a stream of automobile traffic, the terrific rumble and screech of the trains across the bridges, and then the sun went below the horizon and the light on the buildings faded. They became dark, looming behemoths. A hiccup, like a bubble, rose in his chest and he let out a sob. It surprised him. His nose burned and he wanted to cry. He looked up at the statue. The points of the crown were silhouetted against the darkening sky. “There’s work to do,” he said to himself. There had been disasters before. He was strong. And he would dismantle and rebuild the statue in the new capital. There was plenty of work, now. Plenty of hard work to do.

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Anthony Grooms is the author of Trouble No More: Stories and Bombingham: a Novel, both winners of the Lillian Smith and other prizes. Lately his interest has turned from social realistic historical fiction to social realistic science fiction. For more information, explore www.anthonygrooms.com.

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posted by Jamie Iredell