Digital Ischemia


Eye of the Storm: part 4 of 4

Series starts at part 1

After an unusually dry winter and a warm spring, the usual May heatwave has finished preparing the tinder. I don’t have time to swither over whether fire-fighting is a good idea for Jamie right now. The residual dampness in his freshly decontaminated clothes may be a blessing. I push a pair of heavy duty gardening gloves on his worn hands and lead him through the rocks to the moor. I only insist that he doesn’t let fire come between his back and the sea.

The sight of the machair is less frightening than I expect: a layer of smoke hugs the ground but most is fanned inland by the wind from the sea. We walk cautiously through this murk. The ground here is still springy. Ahead, a neighbour waves a greeting. Heading toward them, we hear the crackle, see the smoking glow: lines of flame. Unbelievable but terrifying. How can salty, calciferous bog be on fire?

Our disparate community is remarkably coordinated. We hand pump sea water through an unbelievably long hose to soak the ground at the natural fire breaks. It’s a relatively small affair, thankfully, for two dozen folk to tackle – mostly about maintaining a decent buffer to our cultivated strips of kitchen garden. We’re not stupid enough to try to beat out flames. Jamie lugs buckets with heart-warming gusto.

Once we’ve done all we can, we agree a watch rota and disperse again. Jamie stops before we reach the house. He seems to be shaking again and folds up against a rock. I wonder if it’s the intense activity or…
“I don’t know what to do next.”
Apparently activity isn’t just a distraction for him; he processes stuff that way.
“That’s OK.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know either.” I’m determined not to push him.

I lie beside him among tufts of lightly smoked wildflowers. Not standing. Not too close. This is my magic mantra now. The cool breeze is welcome. He waits before asking.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Whatever makes you happy. You’re always concerned with everyone else. It’s your turn.”
“What are you thinking though?”
“I’m wondering… Are you just with me to keep me happy?”
Could’ve sweetened that a bit. He laughs dismissively. He doesn’t say anything, but from the corner of my eye he looks very tense; too much emotion bubbling up again. I decide to try a little comforting.
“We will figure this out. After all, after the wind and the water and the fire, there’s still earthquakes to come.” I mean the humour to be cathartic.

The heat becomes appropriately humid for battering through some personal issues. When the rain finally comes, it’s spectacular. Jamie is rooted to the rock with this fantastic brooding expression. I get some great shots of him, of his curious allure. I get plenty of time to look at those.

One morning I wake up to that too deep quiet again: no storm, no shouting neighbour, no Jamie. His turn to leave. His turn.

Through the summer I share chores with another member of the community: a guy with a simple rationale, particularly about an unattended woman. He’s skilled and committed, but not… We get along so far but… Unattended but not unattached. Still infatuated. The one who cares.

The impending harvest brings thick air again. The plants are almost ready, drying and browning, and I’m impatient for something else. Eventually I give in to the urge to wander pointlessly along the cliff. The heat haze above the machair is magnificent. Perfectly ready for… Mechanically I scan the hemicircle from south around east to north. And back.

There it is: the artefact in the shimmer that could be… A vertical smudge rippling. I sit down on his rock to wait and watch.

Apparently I missed the earthquake. I missed the news. I missed any informative neighbours. Or perhaps that was what agitated me. Jamie says that’s pretty desperate clawing for a link. Campaigners always said fracking beside a nuclear power plant was Russian roulette. Guess what? He says he was close to the epicentre in Cumbria. I jump back, feigning repulsion at his likely radiation levels. He smirks. My first tremor.

He can’t remember if the earthquake was magnitude 3.4 or 4.3; small anyway, not harmful, but significant. I plunge into attitudey teen.
“Why are you not still there then, if it’s all safe, and anyway aren’t you exactly what they need?”
He raises the eyebrows. I’ve missed that most of all.
“What am I exactly?”
“Gaffer-taping a ruptured nuclear reactor is one of your top skills, after, you know, building a shelter and miraculously finding a piano to show off at. Post-apocalyptic man?” I tense up: hardly a welcoming— I stop. The self-conscious teen can rest. I could give him much worse for vanishing into the steaming wilderness while still unhinged, not to mention the clichéd over-worked mid-life meltdown phase. None of that is how we work.

He guffaws reassuringly, reaffirmingly. “You’re the food finder? I can’t wait to live on your last packet of mints.”
Tears of laughter, of relief, fill my eyes. He’s back.

He doesn’t miss a thing. When I can see again, he touches my hand, entreatingly, “did you like my post-apocalyptic smouldering across the plain effort?”
In his glinting eyes, I see little earthquakes on the beach. He cares whether I care. Can’t ask more than that.

1 Comment »

  1. […] …concludes at part 4 […]

    Pingback by Eye of the Storm: part 3 of 4 | Digital Ischemia — 07/08/2018 @ 07:21

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