And the Cities they will Drown

Else Fitzgerald

No more streetlights. The water oily-slick and black down Canning Street. Wade from the raft to the staircase and climb up to the second floor, tide lines spidery on the wall like veins. Still night air thick with smell of damp and the funk of the kero lamps. The condensation beading on the walls, bright trails in the lamplight. Her thin back framed against the dusky sky, fishing line disappearing off the balcony, down into that murky flood. Terraces across the water, dark scrapes against the dim sky, so few windows lit now.

You wonder if she might be watching for you. A bright fizz rocketing across the dark sky, like a forgotten satellite. If she’d still think of you after all this time. In the city it could be raining, the sea surge lapping at the sides of the old skyscrapers. So much sunk in those grey ceaseless waters, churning over the tarmac, the tram tracks, the cemetery with the graves in crooked rows like old teeth. When the coordinates are right, the station clearing the edge of the shield for those few hours, letting you glimpse Earth through the scopes, you imagine your eye following a beam of light down into the mess of concrete and water, right there to the windowsill where you used to hang your washing.

The water is there all the time now, lapping at the base of your staircase, no longer tidal. The cloud seeding failed. At the institute they still had access to the net and you’d read that the solar radiation levels weren’t affected by the cloud blanket. All that poison in the sky for nothing. Sun piercing through. The Greenland ice sheet collapsing into the sea.

After the bees, the bears, the birds, that loss. All those bonfires burning in backyards we stood around, bottle necks wrapped in our hands, back before the electricity went out and the beers were still cool against our fingers. Love used to make you feel like you were drowning and it was glorious, back before you knew what drowning really felt like. A small sound in the back of your throat, a noise like waking.  A memory of her saying quietly ‘everybody wants to fall in love’.

You can see the storms from up here sometimes, when the light is right and the arc of the flight path allows. Sometimes you want to go back. Punch through the sleet of leftover metal whirling and fizzing in the atmosphere. Down to that city which combs the water like whale teeth, the sea straining between the skyscrapers, threads of life lingering like hair in a drain. Melbourne heaving in your memory like a wet lung, refusing to go under.