The fourth part of J.S. Adams compelling eco-apocalyptic drama, in which climate change brings an iceberg to the south coast and a polar bear to Southsea, encountering some of Portsmouth’s most memorable residents along the way.
The Rose Garden in Southsea was not always so rosy. Gatling guns, anti-tank air cannons, sand bags and barbed wire once adorned its parapets where only roses now remain. During the last Great War, it was home to the Royal Marine Boom detachment, who trained there for secret missions involving kayak raids on warships in Europe; namely, an ill-conceived plan to blow up ships parked up in the Nazi-occupied port of Bordeaux. With little intelligence of the rough high seas around the port, it was essentially a suicide mission with little chance of success or escape and the brave men who attempted this near impossible feat are remembered in roses as The Cockleshell Heroes. Imagine it: ten English chaps, young and spirited, deployed by submarine off the coast of France and paddling 70 miles up the Gironde estuary in canoes they called cockles, paddling at night and holding up by day, they braced tidal waves and harsh winds and hypothermia, losing four of their six cockles on the way. The surviving commandos attached limpet mines to whatever boats looked essentially dangerous and succeeded in sinking one ship and damaging four others, disrupting operations at the port long enough perhaps to tilt the balance of the war a little further towards democracy and the evolution of the world we live in today.
Now a garden of peace and tranquillity, the Rose Garden is a place where old folk, families and couples enjoy over forty varieties of roses, entangled among old wooden pergolas forming a long, rounded walkway along the garden perimeter. Where a circular gun placement once held a large anti-aircraft gun, now sits an old, round, wooden beach hut with a pointy tinned hat of a roof, offering seating and refuge for young couples such as Ted Botham and Greta Davis, escaping from the impenetrable fog.
Both were slightly worse for wear, following Trevor’s awful party the night before, where he and Greta had first met, and subsequently agreed to meet again today. The plan was simple: a double-date with Ted’s mate Trevor and Greta’s co-worker Stacey, in search of icebergs. The others however were lost in the fog, leaving Ted and Greta to find the Rose Gardens. But Ted had other things on his mind aside from icebergs.
‘Here,’ Ted offered Greta a spliff. ‘Have some.’
‘No!’ Greta said in a firm and low Austrian voice, folding her arms. ‘I don’t want.’ She closed her eyes and shook her head, almost whipping her face with her ponytail. She was perhaps twenty-five, Ted guessed, Austrian, blond hair, athletic, right down to the Nike sportswear.
‘Why you no want?’ mimicked Ted. English as fish and chips and pushing forty. ‘Go on,’ he said impatiently, ‘take some.’
‘No!’ Greta whined, drawing out the word and grimacing at the strong aroma. ‘It smell like shhhhit!’
She gave a loud laugh. She was always laughing or smiling. Her laugh reverberated around the small hut, rattling its low ceiling and escaping through the open front, facing out into the misty garden. It would be ideal as a small band stand, Ted thought, as well as accommodating lost stoners.
‘Just a little?’ pleaded Ted.
‘No, I don’t want – it make me… how do you say…with the fears’
‘You mean paranoid?’
‘Yah – paran-noid’ she nodded and laughed. Ted shrugged and changed the subject, picking up the thread of their drunken conversation the night before at Trevor’s party.
‘So… you working tonight?’
‘Uh huh’ nodded Greta.
‘In the factory?’
‘Yep…all night,’ she moaned, stretching out her words again and nestling her head into her shoulder.
‘Yep …we make cakes from 9 o’clock at night until 7 o’clock in the morning.’
‘And you? You said last night something about recycling plant?’
‘Yeah,’ nodded Ted sheepishly. ‘I work mornings, very boring, messy work’
‘No. Is good for the environment.’
‘Yeah I guess.’ He offered her the spliff again. ‘Sure you don’t want some?’
‘Oh come on!’ he moaned. ‘You’ll be fine, look it’s not even that strong anyway, just try a little bit – it won’t do anything – I promise. Look. I’ll show you.’
He lit the joint and took a long drag. He paused for what seemed a small forever, trying to hold it in.
‘See?’ He croaked and suddenly coughed and spluttered. Greta laughed loudly.
‘No!’ She said ‘You are doing it wrong!’ She snatched the spliff and brought it to her lips, drawing it deep into her lungs and illuminating her face in a radiant, amber glow. She closed her eyes and let the smoke seep from the corner of her mouth in a long slow breath. Ted smiled and watched as the smoke drifted in all directions, mixing with the fog.
‘I wonder where the fuck the others are.’ Ted stared out into the misty gloom.
‘Lost in fog, no?’
‘I guess so’
‘Why you no call them?’
‘Erm, my phone’s out of battery’ he lied. ‘Anyway, they’re not far away, probably stumbling about on the beach somewhere’ He put his arm around her. ‘Looks like it’s just you and me’
‘Good’ she said. ‘That Trevor, always talking he is – Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah!’
‘You mean he never stops talking’
‘Yah! No stop talking that guy is.’
Ted laughed and shook his head.
‘What are you? Yoda?’
‘Yoda? Woss Dat?’
‘You know –Yoda? Star Wars? Little green guy? Always speaking backwards?’
‘Wah?’ she said, perplexed.
‘Star. Wars? The. Force? Yoda!’ Ted carefully pronounced each word.
Greta smiled and shook her head. It was obvious some theatrics were required, so Ted crouched on the floor and making large ears with his hands, he attempted his best Yoda voice and clearing his throat he said:
‘Hrrrmmmm! Speak like this, he does! Hrrmmm? Use the force, I does. Hrrrrrmmmmm?’
Greta laughed in disbelief.
‘What da fuck! You crazy English’
They stopped giggling at a noise, something growling in the foggy distance.
‘Dunno – werewolf?’ They giggled again. At least she understood most of what he said.
‘No werewolf.’ she said. Ted put his finger up to his lips.
‘Shhhhh.’ He tilted his head to one side.
They both paused and held their breaths, waiting for the noise to sound again. It didn’t.
‘Must have been a dog or sumink,’ suggested Ted, drawing in the cold air and taking back the spliff from Greta’s outstretched hand. He sat on the floor of the hut, cross-legged.
‘Fuckin’ ‘ell!’ sighed Greta, staring into the mist. ‘This fog is crazy! I can’t see a fuckin’ thing out here.’
‘Yeah’ shrugged Ted. ‘Climate change, I guess.’
‘Too bad we can’t see the icebergs today, there’s s’posed to be a whopper down the beach there.’ He gestured towards the seafront as Greta looked confused.
‘What’s woppa? Wos dat?’
‘Large,’ explained Ted, holding out his arms.
‘Oh right. Wop-pah.’
Something heavy landed with a crash on the tinned roof above them and began to move about, as if scratching and scrambling to find a foothold.
‘Wos dat?’ gasped Greta, startled eyes looked towards the ceiling.
‘Hey, sounds big,’ she said.
‘Maybe it’s a pussycat’ grinned Ted, stoned and vaguely amused by the distraction. ‘Go and take a look.’
‘What? No way! I’m not going out there! You look!’
‘Me? No! NO! You go!’
‘No,’ Greta said defiantly, folding her arms. ‘You go look.’
The noise continued, loud scratching on the rusted tin roofing.
‘Shhhhh.’ Ted got up and motioned nearer to Greta.
The two of them sat closer together in silence, looking above them. The noise varied from scratching on metal, to what sounded like several loud thuds which made the hut shudder. It seemed to stop and start, getting louder and more intense.
‘Actually,’ whispered Ted, getting to his feet, ‘That doesn’t sound much like a cat at all.’
‘Must be kids or sommink, muckin’ about, trying to scare us.’
They both jumped at the sound of metal buckling, as if the rusty tin roof was being torn from the very rivets holding it all together.
‘Sounds like they’re trying to get inside the bloody roof!’ exclaimed Ted, staring up at the flat wooden panels above them, upon which the pointy tinned roof suddenly felt precariously balanced.
‘Maybe it want inside roof to get?’ said Greta, staring upwards.
‘Yeah – must be a dossers squat up there or summink.’
Ted got up off the bench, eyeing the low ceiling.
‘OY!’ he barked, banging on the panels above him. ‘FUCK OFF!’
Greta jumped at his sudden outburst, but abruptly, the noise ceased.
Taking a deep breath, and emboldened by his success, Ted began to creep outside the hut. Greta’s stark voice suddenly made him jolt.
‘Ted!’ she half-whispered, ‘What da fuck are you going?’ her voice was filled with anxiety and stoned excitement.
‘I’m just going to take a look, okay?’
‘No! Don’t be stupid, might be crazies out dere.’
‘Look, it’s fine’ he said in a calming voice. ‘Now – chill.’
He stepped outside and was soon engulfed in the thick fog as he began to creep around the edges of the hut.
‘Oi! Up there!’ he yelled, ‘You better clear off or I’m calling the police!’
‘What see you?’ whispered Greta, still cowering inside the hut.
‘Nuffink’ said his disembodied voice. ‘Too much mist, can’t see a fucking thing.’ His voice trailed off, echoing slightly round the parapet walls.
‘Wait-wait, hold on, there’s summink up ‘ere,’ his voice trailed off.
‘What you see Ted?’ Greta waited. There was a long silence.
‘Ted? Ted ! TED!’
Suddenly the roof rumbled again as something slid off it and darted across the front of the shelter. Greta gave out a small shriek.
‘Ted! What da fuck!’
Ted returned, grinning, and hugged her tightly.
‘What da fuck was dat?’
‘Fox I think, big one too. We get a lot of ’em round ‘ere, must have made a nest up there.’
‘Yeah a fox, don’t you get ‘em in Austria?’ he said, pulling Greta closer. Her body was warm and inviting.
‘Yes of course we get foxes, just I, I get the, what is it -’
‘Yes’ she nodded a nervous smile, her blue eyes searching his.
Ted leaned toward Greta as she shifted her weight against him, both preparing to kiss until the sudden bleat-bleat-bleat of Ted’s ringtone shattered the moment.
‘You said it was no battery! You lie!’ She laughed and slapped his shoulder. Embarrassed Ted flipped open the phone.
‘Oh shit- it’s Trevor’ He sighed.
‘Oh no!’ giggled Greta, hands over her mouth. Ted drew breath and pressed answer.
Reception in the Garden was hopeless. Trevor’s voice sounded like it was broadcasting from space.
‘Ted! Ted! Mate …can you…’ere me?’
‘Just about, where are you?’
‘Mate you need to get….’ Trevor’s voice began to cut in and out.
‘…off …streets …police SWAT teams…’
The phone went dead. Ted stared at it in his hand, perplexed and stoned.
‘What he say?’
‘Dunno, couldn’t really hear ‘im, bad line – must be this area, some bollocks about police and polarbears?’
‘Polarbears? Wot da fuck! He more stoned than you!’ she laughed and punched his arm again for good measure. Ted pulled her close and they kissed. Her lips were warm and welcoming. Probably the nicest thing Ted had tasted since the egg and chips he scoffed that very morning.
They pulled apart abruptly at the sound of distant gunshots, Greta laughed nervously and muttered something under her breath that Ted didn’t understand.
‘Fuckin’ hell! What’s dat?’ Greta asked.
‘Oh for fuck’s sake!’ sighed Ted.
‘Sounds like guns’ Greta looked worried.
‘No fireworks – that’s guns. No firework in fog.’
They heard a dog, whimpering, somewhere beyond the shelter.
‘What’s dat?’ Greta span toward the sound.
‘That definitely sounds like a dog, must be lost out there.’
‘Sounds scared, maybe we should go find it.’
‘I’m sure it will be ok’
‘Oh, come on! Go get dog!’ Greta said angrily and pushed him away.
Ted took a deep sigh. He was out of weed anyway. ‘Okay – okay’ he relented and headed out of the shelter whistling. ‘Hey doggy dog, ‘ere boy…’
‘Is no a boy,’ stated Greta, following him into the mist.
‘How do you know that?’
‘I know ok?’
‘Oh really! Ok then. Here girl, come ‘ere…’
The two began to slowly step into the mist, following the sound of the whimpering. It seemed to be getting closer, the tinkle-tinkle of its bell giving them some indication it was not far off. Groping past the rose bushes, they found the path and called for the dog again.
Suddenly, out of the mist it came running, a small furry Chihuahua wearing a tartan rain coat, yapping and whining. Ted got to his knee and welcomed the little dog with open arms.
‘Here girl-boy, come here!’ The little dog trotted towards him. It was followed by a large, white, furry bulk which, through the fog, slowly became a polar bear, lumbering towards them.
At the sight of it, Ted’s smile turned to a grimace of growing terror, while Greta made out a long nervous laugh, that sounded like a glitch on a DVD.
The couple, frozen to the spot, watched helplessly as the small Chihuahua and the huge polar bear came running towards them.
‘Wot. Da. Fuck.’ Greta managed.
The next moments passed so slowly to the couple, they could have been hours, as if time were winding down like an old gramophone. The fog wafted into curling trails around the Polarbear as it continued lumbering forward on powerful limbs that could surely crush a man. The flattened bulk of its head bowed up and down as the bear advanced.
Ted’s still outstretched hand brushed his fingers along white fur, so soft, so very soft against his skin. Then like phantoms, the dog and polar bear were gone, wrapped in the fog as they continued down the path.
For a long moment, the couple stayed motionless, staring into the mist: Ted, still on one knee, arm outstretched and Greta standing behind him, still breathing out a series of almost silent nervous laughs.
‘Greta,’ whispered Ted. ‘I think, I think I just shit myself.’
‘Me too,’ giggled Greta.
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