Walk Along The Shore 




We started small. We wanted to live in a place with a view, but we weren't picky if that view was over the ocean, the city skyline, or into a bakery outside of Chinatown. We wanted a window next to our bed, so we could always hear what was going on outside. 

After dating for four years, we found the perfect duplex. Moved in. The first night, we slept on a mattress on the floor since we were too tired to unpack the bed frame. We looked out at a lake.

"There used to be ducks," the real estate agent had told us during the tour. "But they aren't there anymore."

Their absence had nothing to do with the power plant, with the temperature swings, or the glow off the water at dawn, she assured us. The ducks just moved. 

"Everyone in this neighbourhood eventually does," she said. "It's part of progress. Start small, end large."

We didn't think we would progress. This was our end goal: together, with a view. 

But then the waters rose. 

*

 The rising water hit the edges of the province before it hit us. We heard scattered stories on a crackled radio of Prince Edward Island going under entirely. Rescue efforts had been sent. People were pulled from the water with blue lips and cold hands, but all of them lived. 

"It's a miracle," one of the broadcasters said. He named the population of PEI before going under and the new population of people now searching for a home that wasn't underwater. The numbers were exactly the same, plus one. 

"A pregnant woman gave birth on the rescue boat over," the newscaster explained. "Mother and baby are doing fine. They are looking for a home with their family in Toronto. The baby's name? Drake Caspian, after the ship's captain."

"None of this seems right," Adelaide said, turning to me on our bed. "One person should have died. The numbers are too large. Statistically, death is inevitable."


I could only nod. When we met at university, I taught history and she was enrolled in economics. I remembered a study from war survivors I had read from the week we met. In London, during WWII, those who had been bombed but lived remained in the same area. They never moved, not even when officials told them another attack was imminent, because they never needed to. How could a bomb be so bad? They had lived through it once, they would again. The air raid sounds may as well have been silence.

We stared at the radio instead of our view. Days, weeks, and months passed as we slipped under water. 

But no one died. 

"As our water levels rise, we still report the death count as zero. The Atavists, a spiritual group from the North, have started to stage demonstrations at the rising flood waters. We have the leader, Absalom Curt, here to tell us more."

"We have found the cure," he stated. "The water is the cure."

"For what?"

"Death. Decay. It saves us from the future by no longer giving us fear. Once we slip underneath, we are invincible," he said. "It is our small miracle."

"None of this seems right," she said again.

But I couldn't turn off the radio. By the end of the broadcast, even I had started to believe Absalom. The water was our cure, our saviour stoking back fear.

"We will have a meeting at the shoreline," Absalom said. "A week come Sunday. We hope to see everyone there."

*

"How did you two meet?" a woman asked. She wore a red kerchief over her head, tied tightly at the back by the nape of her neck. Her swimsuit looked like something out of the 1920s, with long navy stripes that ended at her knee. She held hands with someone who looked to be her granddaughter given the difference in age between them. The daughter held onto her grandmother's hand, but seemed utterly bored by the crowd around us. 

Adelaide looked at me as I looked at her. We both shrugged. 

"He was teaching a class and I thought he was an idiot," she said. "So I argued with him."

"And did you win?" the woman asked. "Is that why you're married now?"


We weren't wearing rings. But no one in the line-up had on much jewelry, so it was possible we had squared our valuables away in preparation for the shoreline. Adelaide didn't fight the assumption that she was my wife, so I secretly felt joy. 

"You know, I can't remember," I said. "But I don't think I won."

The woman smiled, but soon turned away when our story was no longer interesting. The line had gone on for days and days and days. We could see the shoreline now. A group of fifteen people were in front of us. Each one, as guided by the Absalom, ran to the waves as they touched the sand. The pavement we stood on had grown gritty with particles and constant relentless feet moving back and forth. 

A month ago, after listening to the radio reports day in and out, we'd finally scraped together all our money and bought a ticket for the Atavist's parade. We waited to be baptized on the shore to be given the cure to death and decay. I didn't have to convince Adelaide since she knew numbers by now. There was no use refuting mathematical claims. We didn't have a need for a comical fight like the first time we spoke after class, and she had called me an asinine white man who had no idea about anyone else but himself, who never thought about anyone else's perspective but his own. Instead, she packed both our bags and lunches for several days. 

We ate our last sandwich together as the fifteen people in front of us became nine. 

She tugged on my hand. "Any news?"

"No," I said. No change had been reported ever since PEI went under. There were casualties that sent people to hospitals, but no deaths. Only birth after birth after birth as Canada's edges became smaller and smaller.

"It's going to get crowded very soon," she said.

"I know." She tugged on my hand again, a persistent look to her eyes. I understood she meant we were going to have kids soon, too. As soon as this whole thing was over, and we assured ourselves we could stick around too by submerging ourselves underwater. I squeezed her hand back and tried not to think too far ahead. 

When we were only three people behind, I heard the chanting. 

"I have no mother / I have no father / I merely walked upon the shore."

We hummed the tune while we waited. The people behind us did too. 

"I have no beginning / I have no ending / I live a lifetime of learning again."

As we walked up to the group of men and women calling themselves the Atavists, a man with pale skin and sharp, black hair took our hands. This was Absalom Curt. He was in the water up to his ankles, and somehow shorter than I imagined him to be.


"So lovely to meet you both. A couple?"

We nodded.

"Wonderful. How did the two of you meet?"

I told the story this time. The Atavists surrounded us as they walked us into the water. They dipped our foreheads back like we were being baptized, while our hands never unlinked from one another. We were told to chant the same words as those before us and did so, because we weren't sure what else to say.

After the shore, we were led to a bunch of blue and black tents for us to have space to dry and be checked out by doctors. A tall, black man with a keen doctor's state hit the little hammers on our knees and listened to our hearts. 

"A couple?" he asked me. 

Adelaide nodded. She seemed to confer with the nurse by his side, a small Asian woman whose smile grew as they exchanged whispers. I heard over the roar of the water Adelaide say she was pregnant.

"Wonderful," the doctor said. "How did you two meet?"

We told the same story we had said at least one hundred times that day. When our medical resistance cleared, we realized we would tell it another one hundred times. Over and over. Our chant, our song.

Ad infinitum

*

Not everyone wanted to walk upon the shore. Holly, Adelaide's great, great grandmother stayed in her high rise apartment and refused to take calls. Some of Adelaide's family, now washed with life, found new worries in Holly. Has she died before her time? Does she know she can live forever now? Out of the water, there are no more deaths. She can be like us.

"One, of us, one of us," Adelaide mocked each time her family called. But even her brows fixated with worry each time she hung up the phone.

Since we were the closest to Holly, we went to visit her. Her apartment had become a shrine of dead spider plants with dried leaves. Books with worn spines faced her window, the sunlight bleaching what was already white. Spices that had lost their bright colours stacked up on her shelves, along with canned food whose shelf life now seemed pitiful. A song played from her stereo with a perpetual skip that made it go back to the beginning before ever finishing. Dread filled my stomach and I thought the worst. 

But Holly was alive, sitting in the centre of it all. Her dark curly hair was cut close to her scalp, her blue night dress clean and immaculate. It was clear, from the state of her own body and dress, that she knew how to take care of herself. Even at ninety-eight years old. Everything else around her was a choice.


"You're different," Holly said to Adelaide. 

"I'm pregnant."

"That, sure. But you're like all the others."

Adelaide shot me a look. I sat down with her on the couch. 

"Would you like to come with us?" I said. "We can take you to the shoreline. The prices have been slashed. They will see anyone now. I'm pretty sure, given another couple of months, the government will pay us to walk through the water and out the other side."

"No."

"Are you--"

"No." She said it again with a nod of her head. Sharp, persistent. "I do not want to live forever."

"Why not?" Adelaide asked. "Do you not want to see your grandkids?"

"I've seen many grandkids. And great, great grandkids. This isn't about you, dear."

"What is it about?"

"Origins."

"What do you mean?" I asked. Adelaide was getting upset; frantic and hormonal. But for once, I knew everything would be fine with her. There was no reason to worry. So I leaned in close and tried to hear every last word Holly said. I was a history teacher still. I needed to know.

"Origin stories are important, but only if they have endings," she said. "I want to tell more people about what I've lived through."

"You still can."

"No, I won't. Everyone now is obsessed with the future. With themselves. They won't care about my history because there is no use for it anymore."

"So tell us. Tell me," I said. "We have time."

After some coaxing, she did. She refused to drink water the entire time, even when her words turned to dust. 

Twelve hours later, she died. 

And we started to lie about everything else. 

*

When Adelaide gave birth, we told the doctors and nurses we were pilots who had met in the air. Then we were doctors without borders. Sometimes, we even put ourselves on that first sunken province everyone soon forgot the name. We found each other in the water and knew, like fate, we had been given everlasting life together. Other times, we were arranged to be married. We were second cousins, childhood friends, former band members on tour, crafting a perpetual love song. 

Everyone always believed us. Everyone started to create their own myths about one another, about themselves, and within ten years, marriage itself petered out and disappeared. With everyone living forever, why tie yourself to one story? You could meet a pilot and fall in love. Then after a couple years, find a doctor overseas. Marry a childhood friend. Then do something else all together, all without lying. 

Adelaide and I never divorced. We started to pretend more and more. We dressed up and waited around in bars, in plant stores, on the shoreline itself as it gradually crept closer to our house. We enacted new meeting stories, bought new clothing, trained for new professions. When we had new children, we gave them different names after different people we had created in our past lives. 

We refused to move, though. Our apartment was small, especially with a son named Absalom and a daughter named Holly, but we were determined to keep our view. Even as the waters rose. Even as all jobs became unsustainable. We wanted to stay in the same building. 

"Everything is crowded," Adelaide said when she looked out the window. 

The waters from lakes and rivers ran underneath us. Like a make-shift Venice, everyone went around in boats instead of cars. The building's foundation was reinforced with steel during a week we had to leave and tell everyone else a different story about our lives. When we came back, our apartment was still there, but a dozen more had been piled on top. Other buildings around us had been turned into vertical farms, greenery running out of windows and onto balconies. The temperature fluctuated more than our stories. And there were so, so many people. 

"We can't keep living like this," Adelaide said again. 

"So who are we today? Carpenters? Adam and Eve, looking and living through paradise?"

She smiled, but shook her head.

"So who are we?"

"A history professor and an economics student, with a flare for statistics. With this many people, we won't be able to see our view soon enough." 

I stood with her by the window. The sun struggled through the clouds as the clouds grew dark, more ominous. Absalom couldn't breathe when he walked outside anymore. He needed seven inhalers to take the air inside his body and somehow breathe with it. Holly never left the house; she stayed and played VR games, the 8-bit soundtrack on a loop. She watched her avatar's health and not her own. No one needed to watch their health anymore. Doctors were addicts and pushers now, dispensing stuff to cure boredom rather than diseases. 

"The water is killing earth," Adelaide said. The word killing was like glass on her tongue, ringing sharply in my ear. "The world is going to die."

"I ... know."

"But does anyone else?"

We turned on the radio and listened to reports. All we heard were the spirituals from the shorelines playing over and over again, in praise of new life. When the clouds grew so black no place had a view, and the centre of the world became too crowded as the only place untouched by water disappeared under people's feet, the radio broadcasts changed.

"A ship known as The Vertical Caspian," the news announcer stated, "has started construction today. Funded by the Atavists and the People's Need for Silence, the ship will allow for people of Earth to board and seek refuge in a new land. Tickets will go on sale soon. Be sure to reserve your seat."

*

"So how did you two meet?" the woman asked. She wore a red suit and a name tag that said AMY. "We need to know for the mission. We want to keep families together and to preserve your earthly legacy as we move on."

Adelaide looked at me. I looked at her. We had forgotten the first story. 

"Um," Adelaide spoke first. "I'm pretty sure we fought. Maybe he helped me with my homework."

Amy furrowed her brows. "Is that the best story you have?"

"The best one we have is about being second cousins and her fighting a bear at our wedding while being pregnant with our first child," I said. 

"No," Adelaide said. "It's nearly drowning when the province went under and finding one another in the water."

"Ah, yes," Amy said, writing both of those down. "I like these. These will do."

After more paperwork and more questions, she slid us a pamphlet with our tickets. "Congratulations. You will be in the third ship to go out. So give it another eight months."

We took our new literature back to our apartment. Holly was on the computer in the same spot she'd been in when we left. Absalom hacked into a black handkerchief as he tried to play alongside his sister. They fought, but nothing ever amounted to much. Absalom would merely wait his turn.


I stared at the tagline on the pamphlet: The Vertical Caspian--a ship to the sky. New planet, new beginning. Come start over with us! 

"Another eight months," Adelaide said. "Less than two hundred and fifty days. We can wait that long, right?"

"Of course we can," I told her. "But there's no starting over. There's only repeating history."

She said nothing. Black clouds blocked out our window, our view, and our small home. 

*

I stood outside Holly's room. The electric clanging of her virtual reality software made my bones ache for something I'd forgotten a long time ago. Her avatar, a young girl with blue hair and green eyes, walked across the screen. She interacted with a boy avatar, one with the same eyes; her brother. They played on screen. Fought one another. Died.

She started up the video game again.

A notice on our door reminded us that the ship would come tomorrow. The two tickets I used to have were now written out in Absalom’s and Holly's names. I added another note to the tickets, telling them it was a game to play. 

Get on the ship. Get out. Go. Tell us if you win.

"Hey," Adelaide said. "I'm your wife, right?"

I nodded. "And I'm your husband."

She took my hand, and without saying goodbye to our kids, we walked up the many sets of stairs until we got to the roof of our building. Each step became vertigo the building was built so high. She warbled on her feet. I took her arm and gripped her tightly. She smiled at me, a silent thank you on her lips. 

In that moment, she looked as beautiful as the day I met her. And I remembered that day in full colour and surround sound. 

"I can't see anything," she said. "The clouds are so dark."

"I know." Our skin turned to soot. There was nothing beyond or around us but pollution that continuously leaked cancer into our bones, but would never kill us. 

"We should lie down," I said. Each step made me shake now. "Look up."

So we did. She held my hands and turned towards me. Above us was all the same blackness as before, but it was different somehow. This is the trajectory out of the problem, where maybe our kids will have a new start. I considered this for some time before the sound of the water stirred me from my thoughts. The water rushed around us, frothing, foaming...


Rising.

"What do you think it will be like?" Adelaide asked me.

"The trip?"

"No, I know what that will be like. Chances are, they will destroy a new planet. Then they will move on. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ad infinitum."

"What do I think earth will be like, then?"

"Yes. The water made us live forever. But we will drown the earth. So what's next for us? What will it be like?"

"A never ending infomercial. Hosted by the Atavists." 

She pushed me in the side, barely stifling her laughter. She told me to be serious, but I could only hum the tune from the shoreline. "I have no mother / I have no father."

"I merely walked upon the shore," she completed. "Be serious. For once, be serious."

I sighed. "I can't. Being serious means you're mad at me. We fight."

"But then I fall in love with you." 

I nodded. "So you remember how we met? All of it?"

"I still don't know who won that argument."

"Yeah," I said. "Me either."

We nodded, smiled, and kissed again. In the morning, the ship came. Our kids left.

From our view, we finally heard the ducks.






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