These are lives lived on display Out on limbs, ledges and high tension wires
In between nothing and everything
Personal darkness the places we hide and let slip the dogs of war
That rage inside us
This is the pain we bury
In shallow graves
Just to get through the day to day
Inescapable compromise of integrity versus a life that doesn’t even come close
To the way we planned it
Telling stories of who we are and how we see this world
Surrounding us that we are part of but never quite fit into
These wounds we carry still the scars we bear as
Proof of survival
We believe in everything we believe in nothing at all, not even
Only this: Necessary acts of creation
Confrontation, exorcism reparation for the mistakes
We cannot forgive in ourselves
Or even ask to be forgiven for
Negotiating with fate Or God or Something
For any answers at all
Hoping yet, terrified that anyone is listening
When these masks and glamours slip away into smoke
And the only thing left is
17 April 2058
I’m still a poet. It’s just different. I breathe the poetry of survival now. The next breath, the next meal, the next cache of fresh water – these are the verses inscribed. Thoughts composed in language that will never be pretty. Pretty never interested me. Pretty covers up a multitude of sins.
This world contains no margin for lies. Not anymore. Emma has a fever.
22 April 2058
The physicality of my days is simple: wake, wash with the chemicals that never leave me feeling clean, take nourishment, work, wash again and sleep. I rarely speak, except to the children. They don’t remember the world before, so I tell them stories. The adults can’t seem to bear remembering.
It isn’t that I don’t mourn, it’s that I only mourn in voiceless words that won’t be seen until I’m dead. For all the failings of this body: Old bones in old skin disintegrating around me, old injuries giving me a crippled gait; my mind hasn’t abandoned me. Sometimes it’s the closest I think I’ll ever come to heaven and sometimes, it’s the next best thing to hell.
Memory is a blade that cuts any hand that grasps it. Memories of everything swept away in the floods. Memories of everything burnt to dust by an unflinching sun.
The things I miss the most: chocolate, Gerbera daisies, coffee, black and blue steaks, books. Real books, pages printed and bound. By 2021, paper media was a thing of the past. I miss writing. Holding a pen, letting thoughts flow to my fingertips and onto a page. My husband. My children. They died in the global famine, along with 4 billion other people. No graves. No markers. Just ashes. My grief is as much a part of me as the colour of my eyes. Why should I explain it?
The hall is home, for now. All of us orphans of a sort. We’ve only got a few weeks here, before we head further inland. Jamie’s calling me.
I try not to feel. I care for them. I try not to care. I can’t afford to love them. Not in a way that implies permanence. I haven’t got enough time for permanence.
The older ones remember just enough to ache for the past, and the youngest will never know anything but this strange existence.
Emma is dead.
She was 12 when I found her. Nothing but the sticks and knobs of bones, a tangle of filthy blonde hair, and wide, feral green eyes. She latched onto me like a kitten, clawing to keep me close.
For fifteen years, she was the nearest thing I had to family.
28 May 2058
I will stay here, when the pack leaves. Maybe I can feel clean again, just once before I die. My thoughts are becoming scattered. It’s not madness, merely the entirety of experience crowding in once more.
8 June 2058
It’s quiet. Even at night. The heat is starting again, after a solid week of rain. Rain seems such a miraculous thing this time of year. The tomato and lettuce seeds have sprouted. Jamie left me a bit of extra water, but the collection barrels on the roof and around the perimeter are full.
Every day, I stood naked on the roof in the rain. Warm rain, like stepping into a proper shower. We were such a profligate species when I was young.
Tabula Rasa. The juxtaposition of present and past. It began in the late ‘20’s. When the full fury of nature fell upon us in ways the scientists hadn’t predicted, the tenuous illusion of civilisation was held up to the bright light of day. Power shifted. As death and destruction became part of the normal rhythms of our existence, survival meant forgetting the life before.
We learnt to have faith in ourselves and in each other. We learnt to deal in reality, rather than myths. We drifted into packs like the social animals we are. Finding safety and comfort in numbers.
I’m not an historian, only one human being who has outlived everyone I love.
15 June 2058
Nanotech meant that with a simple injection, we became a sort of archive of human existence. Eventually, all of our memories will rest in a databank. Over three billion people turned into ghosts in the machine. Catalogued, cross-referenced, tagged, analysed and archived.
12 July 2058
The images of my husband and children. My childhood. My life. I don’t know if it matters that I remember the taste of champagne, or pizza.
What value can the memory of the sweet burn of an aged single-malt or the strange delight of chocolate-covered bacon have? I walk in the Turbine Hall and wonder if any of this will matter.
History is always suspect.
I found raspberries, a wild patch in St. James Park. There is still so much that is beautiful in this world. In this city. Things are coming into balance. The wildness encroaches on civilisation and we cannot object. Coexistence by default.
27 August 2058
There was an electrical storm to the south that looked like fireworks. I watched from the roof. The respirator filter was done in after twenty minutes. I retreated into the hall, counted the cracks in the paint on my bunk leg. My fingers itch. I want a pen. I want paper. I want to remember for myself.
17 September 2058
The rains have come. The only benefit of the implacable torrent is the muddy stream sluicing into the drains. The grit and dust that make it impossible to breathe outside will be gone for another season. I’ve brought the plants indoors. Tomorrow, I’ll venture out with the net. Staying in one place means no access to bartering, no additional rations from the aid stations, no proper foraging.
Random cravings for a cheeseburger, chips, and an ice-cold beer today. It’ll be a memory feast tonight.
Sitting on the floor, I remember: A wide, toasted roll. Crisp lettuce and juicy ripe tomato. Pickles. Onion. Fresh beef, grilled to a perfect char on the outside of the patty. Still moist inside. Hot and salty chips. The first sip of a summer ale. Citrusy tang on the palate, that light and brisk effervescence on the tongue. Sitting in the sun with my mates, laughing.
I didn’t realise I was weeping until I stopped. Bloody hell, I hate fish. It’s better than processed molecules of synthetic beef, but only just.
23 September 2058
I dreamed of my husband last night. The way he was when we met. Standing on the pier with his hands in the pockets of that battered, ridiculous leather jacket, ratty trainers on his feet.
We band together in packs because it’s emotionally safer than being paired with one person. We need each other, but not too much. Practical needs: tasks to be done, safety, resources pooled together. Even within the pack, we’re emotionally isolated.
I’ve grown weary over the last few months. I can’t seem to lose the habit of survival. Even when survival is tedious.
30 September 2058
I’ve done what I can. I’ve been keeping the kit since before we came back to London in the spring. At my age, no one tries very hard to talk you out of suicide. It’s done.
The things I loved are an endless list. I loved life. I loved the endless expression of human consciousness in art, music, literature. There is so much beauty, such a capacity for grace in all of us.
There’s nothing left to say, is there? Well, maybe just this: I hope we survive. I hope we learn to expect better of ourselves. I hope we learn to love each other again.
It’s what sustained me through all of it. Even now.