Story and Graphic by Warrigal Mirryuula
Benny sat down on the crumbling edge of the warm concrete, the water lapping at his flippered feet. It was a beautiful sunny day again and visibility below should be fantastic.
He spat into his visor and rubbed the spit around the glass. Ensuring the strap didn’t twist, he put the visor on and having connected the air supply, took a few deep breaths just to be sure. He checked his watch, 11:30AM, air gauge was hard up on “FULL”, he’d have about two hours.
“Hey “Fish”, ya right, tied off?”, Benny shouted over his shoulder, waiting just long enough to hear “Yeah, off ya go.” before slipping into the water, sorting out his line and then with a pike and a kick, set off down the concrete face of the wall.
Like it’s neighbours on this section of Pittwater Road, The Flight Deck too had been demolished down to the fifth floor when the Greenland and West Antarctic ice had let go and sea level rose several metres in just a few years. Snapped off like old teeth and the rubble dropped over the seaward side to create a breakwater to hold back the worst tidal and storm surges that now came regularly in early spring.
Here on the land side, the lagoon like conditions meant the water was much calmer. Benny figured he might be able to find a way down into the old foyer. He’d heard stories about the now demolished and partially submerged tower. He wanted to salvage the great tiled wings that had greeted tenants and their guests in the main lift lobby.
As he’d suspected the water was clear and visibility was almost unlimited. He could see all the way to the bottom. As he stroked and kicked his way deeper he thought of those lost and wasted years Poppy had told him about. When people had endlessly argued about climate change but never seemed to do anything about it. “Change is what happens in life.” Benny mused. Trying to hold anything in place was a waste of energy. Well it had all changed now and Benny didn’t really mind. It was all he’d ever known and he loved diving on the old beach side apartment blocks. Stripped of all their re-useable materials they had become high-rise concrete reefs, home to dazzling darting fish and the little Bronze Reefers. A pretty little shark that had come in from the open ocean and downsized in response to rising sea temperatures, Benny had tried to befriend a pack on his last dive on the Flight Deck and received a nasty bite for his troubles. They were smaller than their forebears but no less aggressive. A few stitches had put that right and today he had his mesh gloves. They weren’t going to get a second bite.
Benny pulled up a few metres from the bottom. All around him in the dappled half-light swam fish of every conceivable colour, various brachiopods where beginning a tenuous tenancy on any clear piece of concrete and the plant life was a riot of forms and functions. Perhaps this was the beginning of a new speciation as niches were abandoned to those that could make better and more efficient use of the resources they contained. “Precious”, Benny thought as he swam toward the gloom of the old lobby. They were the first of the new wave. It might take another million years before this incipient speciation replaced all the benthic animals and plants that had been lost in the last few decades. Corals were going gangbusters though, as Benny’s dive on the submerged spine of Long Reef had revealed. The Great Barrier Reef, (Benny had only ever seen pictures), was long gone; a bleached skeleton battered and broken by the cyclones of summer. These southerly little isolated coral colonies basking in the warm shallows promised a big future if they could just hang on and sea level didn’t rise or fall too much for a while.
Benny checked his watch. Ten minutes.
He gave his line the double tug that alerted Fish that he was entering the Flight Deck’s lobby. He switched on his lamp and immediately everything was thrown into stark relief by the hard blue white light. Brightly coloured fish danced with their black, hard edged shadows, flitting across the walls of the submerged foyer. Making sure not to snag his line, Benny made his way into the black of the lift lobby, his lamp revealing the chunky sixties ceramic wings he’d come for; a dream of flight, of the freedom of the air, now lost and forgotten to a new watery reality. In the bright lamp light the blue vitreous surface of the tiles showed little wear or corruption for their years under water. As no light penetrated here, the wings were also free of pelagic life excepting a pair of ghostly white sea combs. Benny would leave that tile in place. “Precious” popped like a bubble in Benny’s consciousness again.
Taking out the mallet and chisel he began to prise the tiles from their wall one by one and place them in the bubble bag. It was slow, hard work and required a certain determination given that underwater everything happens as if in slow motion. A blow which might fell an ox on land, impacted with little more than a soft thud in twenty metres of water. Benny soldiered on and, with about ten minutes air left, exited the foyer, fully inflated the bubble bag and watched as it and its cargo ascended through the dancing light to the sparkling surface. Doing his best dolphin impression Benny followed.
As he surfaced he saw Fish hauling the bubble bag in. Two strokes and Benny was against the wall again. He slipped his flippers and slung them up onto the deck. Gripping the end of an exposed piece of rebar he pulled himself up onto the slab that had once been the floor of a luxury apartment on the fifth floor of the iconic building; the ghosts of hostesses past and their guests enjoying the sea view. The floor was now just part of the walk along the top of the breakwater. Getting out of his tanks Benny lay down on the hot concrete, enjoying the sun as it tightened his skin with a thin salt rime.
Having landed the bubble bag and sorted the salvaged tiles out to dry in the sun, Fish came over to Benny with a loaf of rough bread and some cheese for their lunch. Benny was ravenous.
They sat together quietly tearing lumps off the bread and cheese and yaffling it all down with a pull on Fish’s home brewed shine. That ex-military canteen seemed part of Fish and sometimes he resorted to it too often. Fish was older than Benny by many years but they were the best of friends, almost family since Benny’s dad had died fighting the fires up in the mountains. Benny remembered Poppy telling Fish and his dad that this world, the one after global warming, would be a world non-one had ever seen before. Benny was just a little boy then. He didn’t really understand what Poppy meant. Now that Benny was himself a man, that figure of speech seemed to hold a greater truth. Kuhn had said something about scientists that used different paradigms literally living in different worlds; and Benny thought, not for the first time, that these older people, the ones still invested in that old past paradigm, they were the ones for whom this new reality was the hardest to accept. Fish kept faith with that past by collecting examples of all its now pointless, broken and unworkable technologies.
“What for, mate? Benny had asked when Fish had turned up late one afternoon brandishing a disabled leaf blower that had once been the pride of some long gone suburban gardener. “It’s a petrol one. Even if you could get it to turn over, where are ya gonna get the petrol?”
“Ya never know mate. Ya just never know.” was all Fish had said as he rubbed the grime off the Briggs and Stratton logo with something of a wistful and distant smile on his face.
Well Benny wasn’t fussed, and even lent a hand when Fish went out hunting for some piece of early twenty first century kit to add to the huge collection that now filled the rank grass at the rear of Fish’s shack over the back of the lagoon. He had tons of it and he vowed it was to be his retirement project to get it all working again. Benny had to laugh at that. Fish must be sixty if he’s a day. When was this fabled retirement to be? What was “retirement” anyway? People used to retire to do the things that Benny thought of as every day life. Growing a few veggies, keeping chooks, a few pigs and a cow. Fossicking for bits and pieces of useful salvage. Like the wings, which would look great above the new fireplace he had built over the summer.
“Yep, it’s a different world alright.” thought Benny; but he was certain in his heart that this time, his time, was a better time, or at least, could be a better time than either Fish and his Dad, or even Poppy had lived through.
Benny helped Fish load the tiles and the gear onto their cart and then, having harnessed up, they set of together at a trot for the land end of the breakwater. Tonight they’d feast on the fish that Fish had caught while Benny was diving on The Flight Deck.
Digital mischief also by ….. Warrigal Mirryuula
first published by the Pig’s Arms in July 2009, but cellared for your appreciation.