Mr Rosedhu awoke at some point in the middle of the morning, in a state of almost stunning clarity. His mind seemed to be oddly unpolluted by all the cares of the previous day. He had just experienced an incredibly vivid dream and it was as if he had passed through a velvet curtain which was waiting at the end, to step straight back out into the world. The dream was still ringing in his brain and he knew that he must act immediately.
His dream had gone something like this:
He was working on the floor at his pub, the Green Man, supervising the waitresses. When he had emerged from his office, the chef had fished for his arm and led him to one side. They were introducing a radical new menu that evening. The steak and ale pie and beef casserole had been given the boot and there was now sushi in their place. Not the conventional Japanese sushi, the chef insisted, with its little parcels of rice like owl pellets and dabs of octopus, but sushi constructed from local ingredients. Mr Rosedhu was eager to see what was being served to his customers and so he pushed past the chef and out on to the floor.
He approached the nearest table and hovered before it spellbound. Two elderly ladies were dining on the new sushi; they each had a plank of wood set before them, on which the sushi was laid out in neat patterns. There was the beautifully gleaming body of a gutted minnow; the arm of a frog, delicately pan-fried; curried water boatmen; and a toasted and lavishly buttered newt. Munching away, the ladies would stop from time to time to marvel at their good fortune.
No time for breakfast or to get dressed. His energy would dissipate; the creative spark might suddenly dwindle. Mr Rosedhu marched straight across the room to his laptop and waited impatiently for it to come to life. However ludicrous his vision of pan-fried pond life, there was something monumental to the idea of local sushi. It was simultaneously traditional and innovative, combining locally-sourced fish with a modern, ambitious agenda. Mr Rosedhu began to type queries into Google. The colours were already washing out of the dream and if he stopped for a moment his brainwave might shrivel away forever. Abandoning his laptop, Mr Rosedhu grabbed for paper and a pencil and he began to scribble out a rough menu. His mind was racing along like an orchestra.
He started when the phone rang.
“George?” It was his waitress Mary. “Are you awake?”
“Just woken up,” Mr Rosedhu grunted.
There was a pause and then nothing came. Mary seemed to be waiting for him to speak.
“Is something wrong?” he probed gently, expecting for her to admit that she could not come into work that evening.
“Go downstairs,” she hissed.
Mr Rosedhu gazed at the phone. She had hung up.
Still with the phone in his hand, Mr Rosedhu pulled a dressing gown around him and padded out of the bedroom in his slippers.
Everything became immediately clear half way down the stairs.
He did not yet have a full view over the living room, but there were spots of slender rippling light cast wondrously on the wall overhead.
He looked down and took in the black water which was waiting at the bottom of the stairs.
He peered over the banister. Everything was still. An armchair hung upended in the water; smaller items of furniture had disappeared or they protruded forlornly. Although it remained completely still, the water seemed to be prowling within Mr Rosedhu’s home, skulking restlessly amongst his things. Mr Rosedhu glanced at a photograph of his children which hung cheerfully unaltered above the devastation. It now seemed like a souvenir from a more innocent time.
Mr Rosedhu sat down on the stairs and realised that he did not know what to do.
He had gone out drinking with his friends last night and had got in late. He had been aware that they might have to fortify the pub against the rising river, but the river, when he had last seen it, had appeared low. It then occurred to Mr Rosedhu that he could not remember the last time that he had actually seen the river.
There was a list of numbers in the cubby upstairs. Mr Rosedhu retrieved it and returned to his place on the stairs, overlooking the water.
“Good morning, is that the Environment Agency?”
It was. Mr Rosedhu explained his circumstances several times and he was eventually put through to a lady with an Oxbridge accent who sounded either girlish or drunk.
“I’m inquiring about my pub, the Green Man…”
The lady sounded massively relieved and then very jolly. “Oh yes, I can tell you that your pub is unaffected.”
“My goodness. Really?”
“Yes, some farmers went there and put sandbags all around it. The water didn’t reach it in any case.”
“But this is incredible. My pub is facing the river…”
“Gosh, whoops!” the lady chuckled anxiously. “You said the Green Man?”
There was some frantic rustling down the phone.
The lady was back. “I’m sorry, the last person stuck all of these post-it notes to the computer screen and I was looking at the wrong one. I’m afraid that the riverbank collapsed and your pub slid down on to the river’s bed. We couldn’t save it, I’m sorry.”
Mr Rosedhu thanked the lady.
The day was passing. What was Mr Rosedhu going to do? He couldn’t sit on the stairs all afternoon in his pyjamas.
Mr Rosedhu sat listening to the noises outside the house, but aside from the occasional hum of a faraway aircraft, there was a deathly silence.
Later in the afternoon, Mr Rosedhu would transfer himself from the stairs to the branch of an elm tree which hung within reach of his bedroom window. The surrounding houses were planted gloomily in the wandering water. There was not a soul in sight.
His wife phoned after three. Michael, she was sobbing. Michael!
She had left their youngest, Michael, with her mother for the week. News had just reached her that the row of cottages in which the mother lived was flooded. Michael was five and the mother was eighty-three. They could have been trapped inside the house all day.
It did not occur to Mr Rosedhu’s wife that he could be similarly trapped. He decided not to acquaint her with this side of the story. His mother-in-law’s cottage was less than a mile away but at present his only option was to wade there. Mr Rosedhu looked down at the water and it looked cold.
When the little boat appeared from behind Mr Rosedhu’s house, he was taken aback. For a moment he sat stupidly in his tree and watched it. Finally, he called to attract the boatman’s attention.
A pleasant looking man with tousled grey hair, perhaps a few years younger than Mr Rosedhu. He must have been a local farmer as he was dressed for a flood, with waterproofs, layers of tweed and wool, and wellington boots. There was a computer and some electrical equipment in the boat.
“Are you from the Environment Agency?” Mr Rosedhu asked.
“Just monitoring the water around these properties,” the man reported. He gave Mr Rosedhu a kindly, conspiratorial smile. Suddenly the boat was drifting away and it seemed to be leaving without Mr Rosedhu. Startled, Mr Rosedhu raised his voice.
“Can you help me down?”
The man smiled again. “Don’t panic. We’ve noted that you’re here and somebody will come to collect you.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but you EA people seem to be a bit thin on the ground.”
A man was now wading up to the boat with both of his arms wrapped around a television. Mr Rosedhu was interested to observe that the television looked somewhat like his own. Then, in a great rush, he recognised his own laptop and his own hi-fi piled up in the boat as well.
“Is this guy being a wanker?” the wading man asked, frowning at the tree.
All expression had dropped from the first man’s face and he looked stealthy and sinister.
Mr Rosedhu launched himself at the boat. He did not expect to land in it and he was unsurprised as a vast coldness plunged over his face and head. Both men swore and the wading man stepped back as water swiped like a greedy arm over the electrical equipment. The wading man swore again and he threw the television into the water with a vicious yelp. When the first man realised that Mr Rosedhu was ready to fight for the boat, he abandoned it, slipping into the water and gesturing to his crony to follow him.
Mr Rosedhu sat in the boat, wringing the water out of his dressing gown. Miraculously, both slippers were still attached to his feet, although they were now blackened and mangled. With his teeth chattering in the cold, he began to row to get the warmth back into his body. Neither an able nor a practiced rower, he was dismayed to see that after ten minutes of desperate effort, the end of the street was not even remotely nearer.
Eventually Mr Rosedhu’s boat got snagged on a current and this gave it a bit of help. Mr Rosedhu was suddenly terrified of being sucked into the river and washed out to sea.
Mr Rosedhu passed a burly lady who was wading along looking absolutely incandescent and clutching a fat white cat. “Here!” she snapped at Mr Rosedhu. “Take the cat!”
The cat mewed piteously once it found itself in Mr Rosedhu’s boat.
“Don’t you want to get in too?” Mr Rosedhu asked.
The lady turned on him in disbelief. “I have to look for the other one!”
The lady began to wade towards what was evidently her home. With a great sense of sadness, Mr Rosedhu went on his way.
Several times his boat became caught in hedgerows and he had to battle furiously to dislodge it. On one occasion he gave up and sat in his boat contemplating the cat. It struck him that he had not eaten a morsel of food since the previous evening. Come to think of it, he had not even eaten anything in his sushi dream.
He lost count of the hours that it took him to blunder around the flooded streets towards his mother-in-law’s cottage. He finally arrived at nightfall. As with nearly all of the houses that he had seen today, the water had almost reached the front windows.
Mr Rosedhu stood upright in the boat. “MICHAEL!”
It was disconcerting. Mr Rosedhu had the impression that he had roared so loudly that the cat had jumped overboard in fright and vanished. No, it must have leapt on to a passing wall and slunk away unnoticed at some earlier point in his journey.
There was a crack as an upstairs window was forced open. “Hullo Daddy!” a little voice greeted him.
Children are never upset during these sorts of events. They see them as adventures.
“Poorly,” Michael said reflectively. “In bed.”
“Has nobody been here today? No police? No firemen?”
Michael thought this scandalous and all very amusing. “No! Don’t be silly Daddy!”
“Stand back! I’m coming up!”
Mr Rosedhu moored his boat to a drainpipe with the rope from his dressing gown. Next, he clambered up the drainpipe and through the window.
Once inside, Mr Rosedhu was gasping with shock. He had scraped the skin from his hands and there was a stinging dent in his knee. “Granny said I had to do a poo out the window,” Michael was squeaking in an outraged voice. “But when I pulled…”
“You can share that one with teddy, not me. Where is your grandmother?”
Michael led Mr Rosedhu into a back room where an ancient dishevelled figure was lying prostrate under a pile of blankets. There was a bottle of mineral water beside the bed and a packet of mints. Granny eyed Mr Rosedhu without enthusiasm.
“Are you coming with us, Sarah?”
“Take the boy away,” Granny murmured.
“I know that it’s cold outside, but it will be colder in here once the night comes.”
Granny shook her head.
“You really should come. It will be hard for you to begin with, but much worse if you stay.”
She only shook her head more vehemently.
“Sarah, there’s nobody out there. Nobody is coming to help you. And if somebody breaks into the house…” He stopped, not wanting her to worry about what would happen if somebody broke into the house.
Granny thought it sensible to change the subject. “I have a car parked in one of the garages on the hill. A Ford. The keys are in the other room, in the pot.”
Mr Rosedhu crashed back sprawling in his boat when Michael finally detached himself from the windowledge and dropped into his arms. His head grazed the side of the boat and he bit his tongue, flooding his mouth with blood. The boat spun around like a Disneyland teacup. For a while Mr Rosedhu was speechless with pain, and Michael crept back to huddle, subdued, at the other end of the boat.
They set off and the water took them away.
Michael only spoke once. “Look Daddy, a swan!”
Mr Rosedhu shuddered. All day he had seen ruin and grime and sewage, whilst this preposterous creature had remained utterly serene, with not a drop of mud on the weightless marble of its plumage.
They eventually reached a shore which was randomly located in front of a row of shops. Mr Rosedhu lifted Michael from the boat and they then left it for somebody else to use. Perhaps when the shore retreated, this boat would languish in the street and the returning shoppers would fill it with their drinks cans and crisp packets.
Outside the garages a man accosted Mr Rosedhu with a hammer.
“Get the fuck away from these cars or I’ll smash your hand.”
“You’re frightening my son,” Mr Rosedhu pleaded. Michael in fact looked curious rather than frightened. “I’m not a thief – I have the keys to one of these garages and the car inside.”
For a second Mr Rosedhu thought that the man was going to lash at him with the hammer. But he had retired without comment to watch from under a tree, with the hammer still hanging murderously at his side. Mr Rosedhu and Michael reached the safety of the car. When reversing out of the garage, they both waved at the man, but the man ignored them.
They were at last on the road out of town. Mr Rosedhu put on the car radio and he and Michael listened for several minutes as people phoned into the local radio station weeping, lamenting, and howling. It sounded like a broadcast from the bottom of hell.
Granny had a packet of menthol cigarettes in the glove compartment and Mr Rosedhu asked Michael to fish them out for him. Suddenly there was a barrage of flaming lights in the road ahead, as if the night had erupted open. A man in a fluorescent jacket was signalling to Mr Rosedhu to stop the car and Mr Rosedhu pulled up at what turned out to be a police roadblock.
“Thank heaven, the police! Am I glad to see you!”
Yet Mr Rosedhu was bewildered to register that the policeman was glaring at him.
“Sir, smoking in a car with a child is a serious offense. Under the children and families law.”
“Are you the parent of this child, sir?”
“Is this your car, sir? Have you a driving license, sir?”
“How many cigarettes have you consumed over the course of your journey, sir?”
“Have the windows been opened at any point, sir?”
“I’m afraid that I’m going to have to ask you to step out of the car, sir.”
“This way, sir. Mind your footing.”
“Don’t worry about the child. We’ll keep an eye on him.”
“You don’t have to say anything, sir.”