Runner-up: A Bucketful of Venice

By Richard Bradshaw

I tell myself, It’s just like lockdown, so stop worrying and whining.

Familiarity and all that, you know. What I mean to say is, lockdown went on for a long, long time, well over a year and a half and I came through that alright. A bit ragged at times, but still, I made it. So, what’s the problem? This has only been four days, for crying out loud, though it already seems longer.

I suppose it’s been a week all in all, but four days since it got truly dramatic, like it is now. I’m still coming to terms, though there’s nobody else here to come to any terms with. I’m on my own. 

From my upstairs window, it even looks quite romantic. The water has cleared up a bit, which is to say that awful smell’s gone. Either that, or maybe I’ve got used to it; same thing in effect. It’s a long way from limpid, but the blissful sunlight reflects beautifully upon the water. During lockdown, I went out whenever I had to or felt the need, all I had to do was stay away from people, easy enough. This is different. I look out at the street, the lampposts sticking up out of the water like the tips of extremely unsubtle periscopes. 

The rain came and came and came. It was quite entertaining to watch, but it just went on, completely outlandish. There’s a pun in there somewhere, but I can’t quite get a grip of it. That’s the trouble, you see, I just can’t get a grip. I saw somebody sunbathing on a rooftop on the other side of the . . . er . . . street, I was going to say, though it looks more like a canal. I watched a leaf this morning, watched it for an age till it disappeared, swirling in the flow. 

I stood on the banks of the river Ebro once, in Spain; a dark, brooding, rolling river, I swear I could hear its deep and deepening breath passing by, I could certainly see it, feel it. It struck me in awe with its unquestioning, rumbling power. It felt like the wheel of history was sliding past me, soulful, mighty and all conquering. I did not feel myself to be the same, nothing like it. Humbled.

But here the water is everywhere. Let’s go back. Just a couple of facts. Maybe they’ll help. Me, I mean. I could do with it. I live in a town on the river Mersey, and often it looks not so much like a river as a tide pool, all sandbanks and sluggish movement. You sometimes have to watch carefully to detect any motion at all.  

The rain was out of this world and falling back in, seemingly endless, a seamless curtain pummelling everything in, and out of, sight. Banks can only hold a river for so long; circumstance, for as long as it pertains, is all. Then it is nothing at all. There was lightning, too, thunderous. 

I don’t know how deep the water is exactly, but inside it’s halfway up the stairs. Outside is a picture of serenity now, the storm an echoing memory. Some things float by, fragments of other people’s lives and I weigh up the possibility of using them as a craft; a door, some kind of wooden chest, a couple of planks. A means of escape? No, I think not. Anyway, escape to where? 

Everything, in every direction, is under water; the world is underwater. If I had a stone, I would skim it, just to count the bounces, then pick up another. I’m trying my best to be calm, reasonable and knowing, so far it’s none out of three. Someone will come, surely. Best to just stay here, not that I’ve got much choice in the matter. Then I hear shouting. Someone is giving orders in a clipped voice, rattling them out like drumbeats. I lean out of the window and scan around. There they are. I burst out laughing. Is it possible to be just slightly maniacal? I don’t believe it, three men in a boat. I feel like shouting, ‘Where’s the dog, Jerome?’

 What I do, though, is what I’ve been doing for days. I watch and wait, watch and wait. They are getting closer, painfully slowly. These are the first people I’ve seen, one sunbather apart, since the heavens fell in. That was a Tuesday, I think. Now it’s a different day, that much I know for sure. 

Two men are paddling, using what could be ladles or kitchen spoons, absurdly small for the job in hand, but even so, they are moving. The third stands tall, short as he is, he could be doing his party impression of Lord Nelson, staring ahead, but with two eyes, his spectacles glinting in the sun. 

“Keep looking,” he says to his companions, repeating the same instruction at intervals. He is the graceful head and neck of the gliding swan, the other two the frantically paddling, unseen webbed feet. I keep looking. No dog. 

When he sees me, he actually says, “Ahoy, there.” I say simply, “Hello,” which I felt to be more than adequate as a greeting. Where do these people come from?

“We are the forward search party,” he elaborates. I felt like suggesting they try the local football stadium or the rugby ground, if it was forwards they were searching for, but said nothing, probably the wisest course.

“How many are you?’ he asks.

“Just one,” I answer, slightly bewildered by the question. “Just me,” looking down on them as they arrive below, somewhere above the top of my submerged front door. The ‘boat’ was low and flat, shaped a bit like a barge, the size of a large bed base, though I couldn’t really say what it had been in civilian life before Horatio pressganged it into his makeshift navy. 

The two deckhands looked well knackered and glad of the pause. I suddenly wanted all the news I could gather. My questions were tripping each other up on the way out of my mouth. He answered not one of them. 

“We’ll soon have you out of there,” he announces, clearly trying to come across as capable, assured and comforting. Something like that. He emanates a certain brand of nitpicking, self-designated authority to which I take immediate, notable offence. This could well be just my imagination running free, but I detect a lingering disappointment in his voice, like he still hadn’t quite got over the fact that they hadn’t put him in a helicopter, or at least a powerful launch. Let’s just be grateful that he doesn’t have a megaphone.

“Be careful,” I warn. “There are turds in the water. I saw some earlier. There may be more.”

I’m not sure why my sudden dislike of this man is so total and venomous. If this was the brave new world, I’d rather take the old one back and give it another chance. I’ve no idea what made me say it, but I do. “I had a budgerigar, but it flew away,” I say, scanning the horizon, rather as he had done previously from the deck of HMS Bedbase. This is a straightforward lie. I’ve never had a budgie in my life. I’m not sure what came over me. Telling lies to strangers is not a usual hobby of mine. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter, so I add ruefully, “And a goldfish, but he’s gone, too. Left.” Another lie. I waited, fully expecting him to correct my Left to Port. The rowers looked grateful for the prolongation of the pause in proceedings.

Country churches were often built on hilltops, they served as landmarks for travellers, terrestrial lighthouses for the storm-ridden wanderer. Our local church is well above the waterline. That’s where they take me, in the larger rowboat which arrives in the wake of Horatio Nelson and his crew.

The scene inside the church is like a badly-rehearsed stage production of Dad’s Army, put on by the local Women’s Institute. I tell you what, though, all kidding aside, that’s a lovely cup of tea. Thanks for that.