Almost too late
(The Glasgow Climate Summit 2020)
By Juggy Pandit
Friendly Thames our friend no more
Now spreads a mile from shore to shore.
Angry waves lap ancient domes
And modern towers of rusting bones.
The dark and viscous oil we burnt
The trees we felled, the earth we hurt.
We knew there’d be a price to pay,
But not in my lifetime we’d say.
We watched as gum trees turned to ash.
The crimson flames, the creatures dash.
We watched as islands swept away
Where just last year we went to play.
They came to Paris once to act
Save the planet, make a pact
We must do more, oh yes indeed,
But not right now, they all agreed
As Amazonia’s mighty trees
Reduced to stumps by loggers greed
And Greenland turned to barren rock
We watched as if immune to shock.
Year after year they came and met
We’ll save the planet, but just not yet.
By growing GDP we live.
Stopping that they won’t forgive.
We watched as Greta’s motley crew
Our future matters too.
Give up your shopping, cars and flights
Your lavish lifestyle.
See nature’s plight.
We carried on without a thought.
Austerity’s not what we sought.
We’ll trim a bit, just here and there
But not if it’s too much to bear.
And tell me how will all my pain
Be to anybody’s gain?
Clouds of smoke will still rise
From China’s stacks and India’s skies.
In Glasgow now to agree
A climate pact we hope to see.
Almost too late the experts say
Act now or face the reckoning day.
When we face what we bequeath
The boiling seas, the burning heath
Will we act, or will we say
Our children, they will have to pay.
Almost too late
By Vicki Butcher
Slipping into the empty seat at the end of the row, Imogen felt surprisingly calm. The bus had been late, she’d ran the last few yards to make it in time. The ushers were shutting the doors as she arrived. Almost too late, she thought.
Inhaling deeply, she closed her eyes. When was the last time she’d seen Frank? Imogen remembered last summer while the vicar read out the eulogy. Good old Frank, she mused, always a laugh and a randy old sod to boot. She could see his widow ahead, straight backed, her two teenage sons stone pinnacles by her side.
Imogen’s back felt wet from unaccustomed exertion and the extra weight she was carrying. The air was stifling, the scent of lilies cloying. She shifted position on the hard pew and refocussed her attention. A tall grey- haired man stood up, a brother maybe? Similar large boned hands, chiselled features, but without Frank’s broad smile. Still it was a funeral. He read a poem
“When it’s almost too late I value,
The swirling of leaves in the wind
The sun on my skin
And the warmth of a loved one’s touch.”
‘A loved one’s touch.’ She shivered at the memory.
Twenty minutes later and the mourners were congregating outside. Frank’s widow, what had her name been? Shelia, Suzy? Sandra? Was thanking people for coming, shaking their hands as they processed along the garden of remembrance. Imogen joined the queue.
“Hello, how very kind of you to come,” breathed Frank’s widow, ‘Have we met before?”
“No, we haven’t,” replied Imogen. “I used to work with Frank.”
“Oh? And who’s this little chap?” She reached out to touch the cheek of the baby in Imogen’s arms.
“This is Frank Junior.” She smiled. “We were almost too late.”
Almost Too Late
By Alison Targett
He ran with as much strength as his legs would muster. He ran till his lungs ached. Jimmy Cartwright had to be on time. Clutching his tweed cap to his head with his left hand, a battered holdall in his right, he could see crowds, and a band, silhouetted by the iron hulk of the packet ship.
Only that morning Jimmy had married his sweetheart Molly Simmons. Just 18, and he three years older. They had sealed their future at the town’s new registry office with one delicious embrace before parting to collect belongings and leave letters trying to explain.
And here was Jimmy, just moments from meeting Molly – never to be parted again. He had heard his mother use the word ‘elopement’, always whispered, always something dishonourable, shameful even. But Jimmy had never felt more honoured or more joyful about anything. His life and their future were now their own to create.
His brothers would fill his place on the farm, and Molly, beautiful Molly, would be saved from a life in the service of others.
Driving his slender shoulders through the crowd, Jimmy waves his steerage ticket in the air. Above his head a cry: “Last call for passengers to Boston!” Then, a blast from the ship’s horn.
A docker unhitches the gangway as Jimmy’s feet hit the first rung. “Oy!” shouts the docker. “Almost too late!”
Jimmy scours the passengers’ heads on deck. There! The back of her head: fresh blue cornflowers adorn a little straw hat as she promised. “Molly!” She turns. The face isn’t hers.
He scans the tiny faces on the dockside, sees the gap grow between ship and quay. There is Molly, the cornflowers and the little straw hat, straining to push through to the ship.
Too late. It is already heading West.
Avenue des Néréides
‘In Memoriam Guy de Maupassant’
By David Butler
When my grandfather died his papers were handed over to me. Among them I found a touching memento. He was in Paris in 1918, working on the peace treaty. At a dinner organised by the French military he sat next to a beautiful young Frenchwoman named Elise. His French was far from perfect. Elise spoke only fragmentary English. But through the barrier of language they spoke, they smiled, they laughed. By the time coffee was served they had fallen in love. Among my grandfather’s papers I found a page torn from a diary. It bore an address: Avenue des Néréides 4,12. My mother knew the story. Outside the restaurant Elise gripped my grandfather’s hand, gazed into his eyes and gave him that slip of paper with her address. Next day he set out to find her.
The Avenue des Néréides is a quiet street in the Batignolles area. He found number 4. It was an apartment block. But the door of apartment number 12 was opened by an irritable Frenchman who insisted no one by the name of Elise had ever lived there. Grandfather concluded that Elise had given him a false address, unwilling to take the relationship any further. ‘No. He went to the wrong address,’ I told my mother. ‘In France the apartment number comes first. He should have gone to number 12, apartment 4.’
A few months later I was in Paris on business. I wondered whether by chance the people who now lived at Avenue des Néréides 4,12 knew what had become of Elise. I found the correct address. The door was opened by a nurse. Behind her was an extremely old lady in a wheelchair. ‘I always knew you would come,’ she said.
Almost too late
By Harriet McGann
First Mark laughed and, a second later, cringed as he realised his role here. Him arriving at the station just as her train pulled out. He looked at the station clock to confirm what he already knew. One minute late. Sixty seconds, maybe forty. Whatever. He would be heading home alone.
He stood still, head down, gathering his thoughts. It had come to this. Brief Encounter lite. Except it hadn’t. He hadn’t raced to the platform – it was crowded and he was out of shape. He had a phone, charged and ready to blast out messages or panicked, pleading calls. It sat in his pocket.
Some commuters jostled past him, trying to keep their distance. He wondered if he should worry. Everyone was in a hurry. A lockdown was imminent. People trying to get home, get lost, get away. Before it was too late. He wondered what it would really mean, lockdown.
“You didn’t come.”
Mark looked up, didn’t miss a beat. “I just missed you – well, I thought,” he said. “But here you are.”
Alison stood in front of him, flushed, expectant. He wasn’t even sure what he felt – relief? Excitement? No, resignation.
“Sorry might be a good place to start.” He noticed her breathing was shallow as his own chest clenched.
“We don’t know how long this might be for,” he explained. “I felt you’d rather be with your parents. A proper house with a big garden.”
Looking down at her side, he added, “That you both would.” Bailey looked up at him. Triumphant.
People stood around them – waiting for platform information. Or listening in. He tried not to care. A small boy looked at Bailey, with a mixture of curiosity and fear. Me too, mate.
The dog stood up, sauntered over to Mark and raised his leg.
Almost too Late
By Gillian Davey
He sat huddled on a high ledge. Out of sight of the people above who streamed across the bridge – each with a purpose, a destination, home, work, to a theatre, a restaurant with family and friends – he remained gazing down, transfixed by the movement of the water below.
He considered the building whose reflections hovered over the river’s surface. Government offices, churches, banks, galleries that stretched along the river side – buildings that represented security, permanence. But what lay beyond that surface, down on the river bed? He wondered. Flotsam and jetsam of the past, sodden papers, discarded dreams – all disintegrating into nothing. And, oh! How cold it must be there when the day’s sun shone its last, when shadow, darkness enveloped everything. He shivered at the thought.
He took a loose piece of stone that lay alongside, balanced it in his hand, feeling its roughness. Then, letting it fall, watched its descent. As it reached the water, rings of ripples formed, spread. What if he were that stone? Would those who once encircled him know, care? Those circles had dissolved long ago for him, the slipping away of once embracing family bonds had led to this shrunken few feet of ledge.
Yes, he thought, it was time. Simply ease himself a little closer to the edge, then let go his hands and float into oblivion……… He’d just wait for that shadow to lengthen, until that man walking on the river bank had reached that moored boat, until that child had finished its ice-cream.
A screech of brakes above as a car skidded to a halt, a figure agilely jumping over the parapet, a gentle hand, a re-assuring voice. Someone had seen, cared, acted. Almost too late.
Almost Too Late
By Pat Temple
Molly was a stout muscular woman with a frank demeanour and as she drummed her fingers on my desk there was no mistaking her frustration.
“Well, Mr Mitchell?” she asked, and with it came that unspoken, Where’s my farewell speech with everyone watching me accept the card that’s been signed secretly, and the gift that show the high regard you’ve held me in as Payroll Clerk these past two years?
Beyond the door, the Accounts team were hastily throwing on their coats. A few had put their name to the card but the collection wasn’t enough to buy a decent round of drinks so I’d buried the envelope beneath my pending files and hoped she’d exit quietly.
Molly’s voice rose an octave, “Okay, so I misread the odd tax code and who hasn’t put a decimal point in the wrong place?” She thumped the desk, “But God damn it, if I was going to steal money I’d have made sure I wasn’t caught.” She shook her head,
“I should have stood my ground, told them to prove it.”
Unable to endure another agonising minute of her bullying I pushed the envelope and its paltry contents into her hand. “It seems bad now, but when the truth comes out you’ll be properly compensated.”
She stared at the envelope, “You think it’s too late to get the police involved?”
I paused, after all, the company had treated her badly, “Almost”, I said, “but still worth a try.”
When the door closed I called my wife, “It’s happening.”
We met in the Departures lounge and with the missing money safely deposited in a
Swiss bank account, boarded our flight to Panama.
“Any regrets?” my wife asked.
I sipped my champagne, “That Molly didn’t get her send-off.”
Almost Too Late
By Alison Targett
Bob’s first thought that morning was the lease renewal on his apartment. Documents had to be signed. He had been away for three months and today he was heading home. There would be no putting it off.
His second was Linnie. Almost two years together and the relationship was poised for permanence. Linnie’s friends gave them that knowing look which said, ‘Soon you’ll be settled. Just like us.’
In bed one morning before he left, Linnie whispered: “We were almost too late,” as if some invisible clock were mapping out their future.
He looked out of his porthole and saw the sun starting its glorious ascent over the Earth. In 92 minutes it would disappear again.
A voice from the radio interrupted his thoughts. “Bob – tricky situation here. There’s a virus knocking people out everywhere. The US is locking down. We’ll have to isolate you on re-entry – could be months.”
Bob gazed at the celestial lightshow blazing through an inky infinity. He never tired of it. Way below, the Sierra Nevada was revealing its jagged, snowy peaks.
Once he had spent nine months alone in Antarctica. When the ‘plane arrived to take him home, he had cried. It was only back in the city, in his rented apartment, that he felt truly isolated.
That’s when he met Linnie – and for a while, she had helped.
The lease. Linnie. The fact was he had little talent for intimacy. Or for what others regarded as normal. As a child, his head was ‘in the clouds’. As an adult, he was happiest above them.
“Bob?” This was what life meant for him. He muted the radio and watched the sun set. Occasionally, he stared at the button which would close down the engines, his oxygen supply.
Then: “Understood, Rich. Preparing for re-entry.”
ALMOST TOO LATE
By Jackie Naffah
At first Dave wouldn’t entertain the idea of my getting a unicorn. He said it was ridiculous. No, ludicrous was the word he actually used. I can picture his jowls juddering as he said it. ‘Ludicrous!’
I left him harrumphing in the cobalt blue light of his screen, looking at God knows what. It wasn’t as weird as it sounded, the unicorn thing. I first found out about them at The Rare Breeds Centre where I volunteered. Dave thought the llamas were odd, to begin with.
I wanted an animal. A dog was vetoed. It would pester and cajole, need walking and loving. Cats were aloof. No birds either. Absolutely no birds. Though I wouldn’t have wanted anything in a cage. I could see myself identifying with it all too readily. So sponsorship seemed like the logical path. I hand-picked a species, the llamas being the first, and Dave reached into his bottomless pockets.
‘Unicorns aren’t real, Jen. You do know that, don’t you?’
‘And Dave,’ I’d have said, given the courage, or proof, ‘you do know that what you watch isn’t real either, don’t you?’ Except that wasn’t a conversation we ever had. He’d slam the laptop shut when I walked into the room, almost too late to see.
But he hadn’t seen what I had. I’d been in the barn, cleaned out the straw, rubbed their white rumps with a pale pink e-cloth. He hadn’t seen them bow their beautiful heads and lower their bashful lashes in graceful, grateful acknowledgment of sugar proffered in a human palm. He hadn’t seen the bright winter light catch the iridescence of a single shining horn. He hadn’t felt the tingle of that glimpse into what was possible. He didn’t believe in magic, did Dave.