Day 372. Alone at sea.
Except I’m not at sea. I am encircled by water but I am on dry land, in the island of my tower block, on the 39th floor. My feet are not wet. As long as I stay here, enveloped in my apartment, I will be safe from harm.
Hunger is not a problem. I am a year into a five-year supply of daily nutrition blocks. As I eat, I watch the water from my window: unfixed and uncontrolled, a breathing and inviting thing. The nutrition blocks are grey and gelatinous. They contain all of my nutritional needs for the day, perfectly calculated for my age and my weight. They taste like nothing. As long as I eat these, and take the required amount of steps around my apartment each day, I will live forever.
There is no coffee on my island. The act of boiling water is not energy efficient, so I drink only bottled water which is strictly rationed. The apartment is kept at the ideal temperature with a state-of-the-art cooling system so there is never any need to open a window. The air outside is punishing, or so I’ve heard.
Before, I dressed with care. Silk and lace, conflicting colours, neat leather boots: I was awash with self-expression. Now, I pull functional underwear from the drawer, a smock-like dress from the wardrobe. There are seven of these dresses, all dark to hide stains, worn on rotation. On the eighth day, I wear my pyjamas and I clean the dresses with water from a spray bottle, three sprays per dress. My pixelated image will only be seen on a webcam anyway so, providing that I’m not naked, what I wear is not particularly important.
Time to work. I work in exchange for this apartment, for the nutrition blocks, for safety. There are signs along the roof of the building, precarious along the perimeter, warning others to keep out, and keeping us in. Out there, on the water, survival is savage, as the have-nots fight the rising sea. I play with numbers on a spreadsheet at my government-issued desk, then talk about those numbers on video calls with my colleagues who are scattered across the island-city. I know them by first name only. Most are single people living single lives, indistinguishable in square blocks. We are the last of our nation.
The helicopters bisected the wild waters when they came to collect the foreigners and take them to safety. My new husband went with them. He wasn’t from here and he didn’t want to risk this enclosed life with water on all sides. He left me his wedding ring and a curling roll of banknotes, useless in this country without a free or black market. I have hidden them away. I take the ring out on masochistic days and let it hang off my finger while I shuffle around the apartment. My own ring is lost. My husband is in Italy, where the land is still above the water, and he is not waiting for me.
When the working day is over, I drag a chair to the window and watch the water like television. It swirls, black and endless, climbing the sides of the building like a cat burglar. It will not rise past the tenth floor, at least not in my lifetime.
I used to love the sea. My father would hoist me onto his shoulders and run off the manmade beach into the water. We played, adrift in a pool filled with tankers and cargo ships. My mother stayed ashore, proudly snapping photos to upload later. In the circle of my father’s arms, I was protected, just as the sea wall around the island kept us safe from the punishing ocean. We had no idea.
Today will be another yesterday and tomorrow will be more of the same. The only sounds: the hum of the electronics, the ticking of the clock, my steps and my breath. Even the waves outside are muted, the noise trapped outside of my apartment’s thick windows. I smooth down my smock and tie on some shoes and suddenly I have left my four walls and I am in the stairwell, wishing for the anaesthetic lull of wine. There is nothing left. I climb higher. My body fights me, not used to this exertion, and I am panting by the time I reach the roof. For once I have not been a dutiful citizen. I have ignored the signs: ‘Danger’ and ’No Entry’.
The air outside is congested with heat. It takes a few minutes to calm myself and to learn how to breathe again. I feel like I am underwater. The waves slap against the side of the apartment block and I look down at them, the chaos beckoning me, the unpredictability alive. With the sigh of a lover, I step from the edge. There is nothing left.