The Unilever Series: Dominique Gonzales Foerster - TH.2058


The Last Ship

By Sue McHugh

The term fugue originates in the 16th Century. It is a fusion of both fugere (‘to flee’) and fugare, (‘to chase’).

The Last Ship.

‘Not left behind.’ Vela rejoiced as the rain hit her face. Cradled in her basket of ropes she swung beneath the pulpit of The Fugue, the last ship leaving the city. The chimney of the old power station poked through the water high above the drowned turbine hall.

Vela’s skin burned in the freezing rain. The air hurt her lungs. ‘The last ship,’ she thought. ‘The last ship.’ Her heart beat.

Slowly the three-master slipped beyond landing stage that had once been the Tate’s upper terrace. On it hundreds of desperate people wailed and screamed.

Already her fingers were stiff. With the last of their feeling she crushed her immersion suit’s chemical pack and slowly warmth crawled over her skin. She set her watch and pulled the hood over her face. She had six hours. Vela waited for the tide to turn.

The water was moving faster now and the diesels of The Fugue made slow headway. It inched past the high terraces, already awash with saltwater. The figures stood in silence. Vela watched as at first in ones, then twos and threes, then
in bunches the figures were swept into the freezing water.

Soon the water relented and The Fugue surged against the weakening tide. Vela turned her face to see the curving tops of the Thames Barrier at the same level as her eyes and soon they were out and sailing over the towns and villages of Kent,
now a vast grey silent flood plain.

Vela folded her arms about her and thought about her future.
The engines slowed. There were shouts above her and soon she heard the slapping
of the wind in the sails and again The Fugue leapt, tacking with the wind as she turned in to The Channel. Vela slept dreaming of sun. She dreamed of sky. Hope had collapsed to this thin point. Awake she thought of it and asleep she dreamed of it. It was as if the cold had opened a crack and she’d slipped into a virtual world.

The fugue sailed past The Needles, past The Lizzard and turned south. The days lengthened and became light. Now and then she glimpsed the sun. After four days she called out, ‘Somebody help me’.

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