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Authors: Diane Awerbuck

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Cabin Fever (19 page)

BOOK: Cabin Fever
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Brittany came up for air and the two of them grinned at each other, treading water. With their hair wet they didn’t look very different.

‘It’s really cold!’ she gasped. It wasn’t an accusation. Alice splashed a little seawater at her and swam out of reach.

‘Don’t be a baby.’

Brittany was waving her arms like tentacles and craning her neck from side to side.

‘Look!’

Alice obeyed. The water around them had a greenish cast to it. When Brittany moved her limbs the little lights moved with her: she was trailing phosphorescence from every fingertip.

‘What is it?’

‘Plankton,’ said Alice. ‘Like fireflies.’ She didn’t add that dinoflagellates occurred in concentration when raw sewage was present in the water. Let Brittany have something that wasn’t spoiled. The two of them fell quiet. Above them the moon was swollen orange and fully risen, the rabbit scrabbling his paws to prevent his fall into mortality as the earth and sun lined up.

At first Alice thought that the massive flood of light was natural. She was about to remark on the moon’s brightness when they heard the engines start. Then the men’s voices carried to them in bass notes over the walkway. Brittany made sense of it first.

‘Gran! It’s the bulldozers!’

The men from the municipality hadn’t forgotten. They were just waiting for spring tide: the highest high tide that had washed over the promenade this morning – and the lowest low tide at nine p.m. that would leave Graaf’s Pool dry enough to demolish. They would have the full moon to see by even without the enormous generators and the blinding stadium-strength lights. Their artificial beams lit up the pool and the two women in it in a parody of daylight. She hasn’t called me Gran since she was little, Alice thought obscurely.

The men’s shouts took on a different timbre, and she began to be afraid.

‘Gran! What are we going to do?’

Alice considered the options. Brittany at least could get dressed here, but her own costume was long gone, a gift given back to the sea. She would have to walk back naked and then stumble around, trying to find her towel on the rocks.

‘We’ll have to go back.’ She could feel herself shrinking, osteoporotic with shame.

‘Gran, no.’ The idea horrified Brittany, but Alice had no others.

The voices were coming closer. Alice thought she could hear the sound of the men’s shoes on the walkway, but that was impossible. It was solid concrete. It must be the bulldozers, starting up. The vibrations made her teeth click lightly together with the same insectile hum transmitted by the men with the edge-trimmers. Suddenly she was exasperated.

‘Well, what do you want me to do?’

She instantly regretted snapping at Brittany. Her granddaughter’s eyes were enormous, her hair plastered to her head like one of those Japanese cartoon girls Alice saw everywhere. What were they called?

The two of them were silent.

‘What if we did it in stretches?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘If you got out now, quickly, and then I did too, and if we were both very quiet—’

It made a certain sense, Alice supposed. Especially for someone who was used to being under the radar.

‘Gran, we have to go now. The longer we wait …’

Alice nodded, considering. They might as well. ‘But how do we cross the road?’ It sounded like a joke.

‘There’s another way.’

‘What other way?’

‘Come. I’ll show you.’

By degrees they hauled themselves out of the pool, the phosphorescence slipping off them like scales. While Brittany dressed as fast as she could, Alice crept and hid, crept and hid in the shadows of the rocks, keeping parallel with the walkway as much as she could. She slipped once on the candle wax, lacerating her palms. She wondered if her bloody handprints would still be there in the morning.

The men had reached the pool and were setting up more lights, angling the first bulldozer. Were they just going to push the rubble into the sea? The two women didn’t stay to watch. In increments they got to the beach without using the walkway, terrified and exhilarated.

On the flat sand of the beach, Brittany tried to take her grandmother’s hand, but the slashes hurt too much. Oh God, thought Alice, I’m smearing blood all over her. By the time they reached the flat they would look like the last demented refugees from
Lord of the Flies
. She gritted her teeth, shivering, and surrendered to Brittany’s guidance.

The door was small, built flush with the retaining wall of the promenade, invisible at high tide. Even now it receded into the shadow thrown by the overhanging lip of the boardwalk above it.

‘What’s this, Brit?’

‘A door. A tunnel, I think. Maybe it goes over the road. Under, I mean. We can cross.’

‘Brittany,’ Alice enunciated, ‘we don’t know for certain where it goes.’

‘Gran, we don’t really have a choice.’

If Alice was honest with herself she would recognise her pride surfacing, flailing like a small transparent octopus. How was it possible that she had been coming to this place for half a century, and never noticed the door? Or had she seen it and cast it off as a storeroom, a boat shed, somewhere the municipality kept its spades? And how had her granddaughter – her stick-thin, dyed-fringe, suicidal granddaughter – seen it at once for what it was?

‘How did you know about the tunnel?’

‘While you were swimming, I went for a walk. It was just here.’

It was just here.

Alice sighed. ‘All right. Let’s try. But if there’s anything funny in there – anything at all – I’ll walk naked across Beach Road like Lady Godiva!’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

The boards of the door were weathered grey and splintering. When Brittany tugged at the rusted padlock, the chain came off and lay in her hands like a medal. They peered into the dark mustiness. At the far end, over the road, was a dimly illuminated rectangle. Alice thought sharply of the Cango Caves and how she was stuck there once in the Chimney, thirty years ago, when they were on a caravan tour of the country. (‘How do you remember which ones are stalactites and which ones are stalagmites?’ Sidney had sung out. ‘Tits hang down!’ The lights were going off in the Caves too, now, because algae was growing in response to the false warmth, the determined renewal of cells carpeting the stalactites like plaque.

Alice coughed. She could feel the spores settling in her lungs.

‘Let’s go, then.’

The two women – one naked, one fully clothed – ducked under the lintel and made their way into the darkness, aiming for the light. Behind them the earth shook as the bulldozers ate away at the dry boundaries of Graaf’s Pool. The cement walls crumbled and then turned to powder, and the candle wax was washed out with them. The phosphorescence was gone, sucked back out to sea, clinging to a black costume that caught on the kelp and washed up at Three Anchor Bay in the morning.

Inside the tunnel the two women were dumb with the smell of crypts and limestone. Their feet were wet with the puddles they splashed through, numb at the extremities. For some of the way, they held hands.

BOOK: Cabin Fever
3.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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