Harbingers—A Fireside Chat

“Harbingers” is an ongoing series of articles, stories, and reflections by Bhante Sujato on living in the age of global climate crisis.

“Come closer, my sweet. It’s getting chilly,” said Sharon. “Here, the tea’s ready.”

“Mmm, ta. Funny, I don’t feel the cold so much these days,” said Leslie, but snuggled closer anyway. The fire was warm and crackling, clean of coal and flame.

“Remember that time by the beach, was it last year?”

“What time?”

“The tide had gone out such a long way, and the seaweed was piled up in clumps.”

“Oh yes,” Leslie said, laughing as she shifted position. “That was fun. How much did we get?”

“Enough that Katy dropped half of it on the way home.”

“Yeah, that was … a moment.”

“And a half. My god, she’s always so cool and collected, that one.”

“You know I’m right here,” mumbled Katy, half-asleep. “Like literally a meter away.”

“A metre away yet worlds apart,” laughed Sharon.

“Bitch,” came the half-hearted riposte. “Anyway, how can youse lot stay awake after a day like today?”

“I’m okay, a bit tired but not too bad,” said Leslie.

“Yes, I suppose it was only the end part that was really exhausting. The middle was merely enervating.”

“It’s all relative, my dear,” said Sharon. “Some of us are used to hard work.”

“Right. ’Cos standing around giving orders is hard work?” said Katy. That was it: Sharon pulled the covers off Katy and turned her out giggling on the floor.

The three of them had been together a long time now. The give and take was how they did things. Though they were very different people—Sharon, the leader, Leslie the supporter, Katy the cynic—they worked well as a team. And they knew it. They had figured out strategies for coping, even thriving in impossible situations.

“Okay so, in all seriousness,” said Sharon as they settled down again, “what about tomorrow? What exactly are we going to do?”

“Ohh, please,” groaned the chorus, “no way, not gonna happen.”

“We’ve got to talk about it some time. The proverbial chickens will, I suspect, come home to roost.”

“I for one vote bugger it,” said Katy. “We’re doing fine without ’em.”

“But don’t you sometimes, you know, miss it?” said Leslie.

“Only in my dreams. Then I wake up screaming and give thanks to whatever gods have survived this crapshoot.”

“So this is assuming we have a choice,” pointed out Sharon. “Which may turn out to be wishful thinking. I mean, it’s not like we’re in our twenties, amirite ladies?”

“Since when did negative thinking get anyone anywhere?” said Leslie. “I mean, if the worst happens, that’s that. But what other hope do we have? I mean, otherwise what’s it all for?”

“For this,” said Sharon. “For us. If we live for each other, getting by the best we can, taking each day at a time, isn’t that a lot already? Is it not enough? Do we have some kind of divine responsibility to make up for their mistakes, too?”

“Well,” said Leslie, “we can’t say it was their mistake, can we? We were all there.”

“Phhgg,” snorted Katy. “Of course it’s bloody their mistake. They were in control, they made the decisions. And here we are, living in their world.”

“But not these actual guys,” said Leslie, “is it?”

“Umm, yeah it is, who else? The tooth fairy?”

They fell silent. Their usual easy familiarity had edged into something a little more caustic, and they knew, from long experience, when to cool it. The men could wait until tomorrow. And they could decide whether to couple up and continue the human race, or just let it slide. After all, it was true that they hadn’t seen any other people for a decade; but who was to say what was happening in the rest of the world? Maybe there was an actual society still existing somewhere. So far they had survived okay, maybe others had too.

They stayed on the third floor of a ruined tower complex. Stripped bare, it was scoured of walls, windows, coverings or furniture, just bare concrete floors and pillars. On the hottest days, there was a bit of wind; and during the biggest storms, the sea never rose this far. At least not yet. Each year it was still getting hotter and the water was still rising.

But they worked hard, looked out for each other, and taught themselves whatever new skills they needed. The brackish water yielded few fish, but there was seaweed and algae, sometimes some yams, and roaches for protein. You got used to it.

It had been a long time since they had envisaged anything other than just this, and they had come to a place of acceptance. It wasn’t much of a life, but it was theirs. There was no urgency about it, no real need to look for a change; so far, any change they’d known had been for the worse. Anyway, it’s not like the possession of a uterus makes you personally responsible for fixing someone else’s Armageddon.