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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

Carolyn Hughes

‘Oh, Kelly, come and look!’ cried Rose, turning the volume up.
Kelly drifted in from the kitchen and stared at the television.
‘Omigod,’ she said, ‘Where’s that?’
‘France,’ said Rose.

‘Isn’t that where your Sarah’s gone?’ said Kelly, but Rose, mesmerised by what was on the screen, didn’t hear.

Sirens were blaring, red and orange and yellow flames soared into the sky, and thick black smoke was turning day into dusk. Bulldozers were demolishing trees in the path of the fire; helicopters were vainly attempting to douse the flames. People were running, crying, carrying screaming babies, dragging bewildered children, their faces blackened and sweating.

A news reporter was speaking:
"The fires here on the Spanish border are now out of control. Hundreds of residents and holidaymakers have been forced to flee the flames with nothing but the clothes they are wearing."
‘Makes our little heat wave look a bit pathetic!’ said Kelly, turning back to the kitchen.
Rose wiped her perspiring face with her scarf. ‘Oh, I don’t know about that,’ she said. ‘It’s dreadfully hot in here.’
Kelly came back shortly with Rose’s tray and dumped it unceremoniously on her lap. Rose eyed the food with suspicion: the girl didn’t have a clue about cooking.
‘Thanks, dear,’ she said, ‘I’ll have it in a moment.’
‘I’ll get off then,’ said Kelly, quickly picking up her bag and escaping through the front door.
Rose put the tray on the table. Sausage and mash! A little salad and some ice cream would have been more suitable! Though, in this heat, Rose didn’t really want to eat at all.

Another news reporter was speaking.
"Here, we are just outside Bordeaux. The news is grim. Nearly seventy holidaymakers have died here, as the worst ever forest fires have swept through dozens of camp sites. Hundreds are missing. Many of the dead and missing are British."

Then suddenly there in the camera frame was a family, a slim young woman, a bearded man, a dark curly-haired boy, a girl with brown plaits, all disorientated and weeping. Rose leaned forward, stared hard, trying to see clearly. It looked like them! Sarah. Matthew, Josh and Tilly. But it was a fleeting glimpse; the camera moved on and she didn’t know if it was really them. A small sob rose in her throat.

The news moved on from fires to floods. Where, Rose didn’t hear. All she knew was that every day there were reports of fires and floods, storms and droughts. Every day, and everywhere, people were driven out of their homes, or were running for their lives. Farmers complained of devastated crops and dead livestock. Hundreds of people were burned, drowned, starving, homeless. What was the world coming to?
When did it all start? Rose couldn’t remember...

She dozed, exhausted by the heat and the struggle to remember. When she awoke the room was an oven. Her face was burning. She lifted a shaky hand to touch it: it was dry now; no perspiration.
"And now, the weather. It’s been the hottest July day since records began. The Meteorological Office at Bracknell recorded a high of 45° at 2pm. Now, at 6pm, temperatures are 34° in Edinburgh, 37° in Manchester and 40° in Southampton. Tonight temperatures will not fall below 27° in southern England..."
Rose didn’t really understand the centigrade numbers but she thought 45° was what they usually have in Africa, not England. Anyway, it felt like 100° in here! She had meant to get Kelly to open the skylights. Of course it wouldn’t have occurred to the girl herself to let in some air; she never did more than she had to.

Rose needed the loo. She grabbed at her zimmer and pulled herself to her feet, swaying as her head reeled. Steadying herself, she tottered slowly to the bathroom. There she splashed her face with water and felt a little better. But by the time she had taken the few steps back to her chair, she was hot again, and queasy. She badly wanted to sit back down but her throat was parched. She stumbled on into the kitchen, desperate for a drink of water.
Her hand shook as she filled the glass, and it clinked against the tap. She drank greedily, slopping water down her chin. But the cold water made her dizzy and she had to rest against the worktop, her heart beating fast, nausea rising in her throat. Her eyes fell on a postcard, propped up against the kettle. Kelly must have picked it up from the mat but not given it to her. Drat the girl for her thoughtlessness! Rose turned it over.

"Dear Mum/Granny,
It’s great here in Bordeaux. Camp site is lovely. Lots and lots of trees, so plenty of shade, thank goodness! But it’s terribly hot ~ 45° every day. We all spend most of the day in the swimming pool. Hope everything’s OK with you.
See you soon!"

Rose gasped with dismay: Bordeaux! Sudden dread for her family and mounting giddiness overwhelmed her. She needed air, but had no way to get it, as she couldn’t open the windows and couldn’t possibly make the long walk to the garden. All she could do was sit down and hope the dizziness would pass.

Rose awoke with a start. She could hear ringing, quite close. She tried to focus her eyes on the television, but it was football, so the ringing wasn’t there. She realised it was a telephone, her telephone. Maybe it was Sarah! Rose desperately wanted to get up and find out, but her body seemed lifeless. The ringing stopped, and then started again. Frantic, she grabbed at her zimmer, but she was too weak to pull herself up and fell back, exhausted.
The ringing seemed to recede, vanishing down a long dark tunnel.

Was it Sarah saying they were fine, or someone else telling her that her grandchildren were dead? Tears ran down Rose’s cheeks, as she realised that she would never know.
© Carolyn Hughes November 2007

Carolyn is studying for her Masters in Creative Writing at Portsmouth University

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