Richard Derecki: The Day It Finally Came To Pass

Richard Derecki: The Day It Finally Came To Pass

It came in through the air bricks, it seeped under the door. Old towels couldn’t stop it, not the piled-up duvets or hastily found blocks of wood. We’d been warned of course, what with all that heavy rain and the high tide on the way but who can you really believe these days? I mean it wasn’t on Insta, didn’t see nothing on TikTok. Yes, the weather in November had been warmer than July but the seasons have all been mixed up for ages; frost and snow historical wonders, something to tease the kids about, much talked about but never seen, bit like Father Christmas. But this? Really? How could the Thames Barrier have burst?

And then it got worse. It rushed through the gaps in the floorboards and pushed up the drains. We sloshed through dirty water and then the lights went out.  There were banging noises outside and I knew the front door would not hold. I grabbed some bits and pieces; juice, biscuits and tins of beans and dashed up the stairs.  Halfway I felt the drop in pressure. A moment’s silence and then the smash of glass and splintering of wood. Cold and unforgiving. Relentlessly it kept on flowing, with murderous intent. Janet, the neighbour’s cat spun round in an eddy and into the hall. I grabbed it by the tail and shook it dry. It run off up the stairs non-plussed. Still the water kept on building, so we thought it best to squeeze through the side window and clamber onto the flat roof. We saw Nina and Alan from next door who’d had the same idea. They’d brought blankets. Clever them.

We stood and gawped, not knowing what to say. The spread of water was vast. There was no longer “The Thames”, it was now just “The Sea”. The violence of the first waves had passed on towards Hammersmith but still the water came. The houses all skirted in an undulating concrete grey. Some cars were drowned, others were washing slowly, gracefully along, banging into lamp posts, getting stuck against bended trees. Was it rising? It was hard to tell. People in their bedroom windows, arms around one another looked out distraught. One man was waving frantically, but what could we do? He turned and disappeared.

It would recede, wouldn’t it? I mean the sea would breath in and we would have a chance, surely. Grab some clothes, bottle of water, leave the cat? Make a dash for it, look for higher ground; Harrow, Forest, Primrose, Shooter or Crouch Hill which was nearest? The gloom descended, there were shouts for help, where were those who lived in basements, what had happened to those on the Tube? A helicopter spluttered slowly across the horizon, instinctively I jumped up to wave both arms, like in the movies. “Help.” “Help.” I mean they would come to get us, wouldn’t they? That’s what they were doing, wasn’t it? Looking for us, looking for survivors?

This short story was shortlisted for a prize in the London Society’s Love Letters to London competition, which this year asked for ideas about the city’s future. Follow Richard Derecki on X/Twitter. Become a member of the London Society here. Image from TV coverage of the barrier’s opening ceremony.

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