When your mother and I got together, well… I had known her for a while, I had seen her around, at the church, you know. We always got along fine, we were nodding acquaintances you might say, we had had a couple of conversations, nothing too heavy. But then I stopped going to the church and I didn’t see her for a while. Then one day, I believe it was a Saturday afternoon, I bumped into her outside the off license. It was embarrassing at first, but then we really hit it off. We got talking and I invited her back to my flat for some coffee. It was snowing out you see, it was very cold, and I had an espresso machine. We drank the coffee, she told me that it was good coffee and we talked some more. I showed her my plastic fiver from Northern Ireland but she wasn’t all that impressed, so I just came out with it: do you fancy a shag, I said. I’ve always kind of liked you, I said. I was hoping you’d say that she said, I kind of like you too. And then we went into the bedroom.
When we got in there I explained that the sheets on the bed might not be all that clean, and she said oh I don’t mind, just so long as your cock is. She took off her top and she had hundreds of little white scars all the way up and down both arms and across the front of her tits. I told her that I had had a wank the night before and that I hadn’t showered yet that day, but that I had had a long bath the night before too, a couple of hours prior to the wank. She said oh, I see, well I suppose that this calls for the taste test then.
I came all over her belly and her tits but she must have got some of it on her hand, because she had a wank afterwards while I was having a dump and that’s how you were made. Then we had some more coffee and a couple of cigarettes, you could get cigarettes easily back then. Her tits were bigger than I had expected, despite the scars, it was like she had been cutting away at them to make herself look more anorexic but they hadn’t wanted to die. She told me that while my cock wasn’t the biggest she had seen, it was pretty good, and we both lay there satisfied, just breathing. After that I didn’t see her for more than three years, and when I did it was outside the off license again and she had a toddler with her and that was you. I was interested to see more of you once I had worked out what had gone on, but everything was changing by then, and we lost contact again.
The birds were the first to go. ‘The real bird flu’, they called it. Scarlet macaws were sneezing. Canaries were coughing. Chaffinches had chest infections. Nightingales had pneumonia. Soon it was all over. And no birds do sing. Everyone thought it would be the fish first but no, it was the birds. People used to say that the seas were overfished, that soon there would be no more cod.
That’s one of the last things that I remember of the civil society. People about to panic but not quite there yet. It’s amazing what people will put up with if it’s inflicted on them by degrees. It’s like that old story of how to boil a frog. First you put a pan of water onto the stove on a very low heat. After a few moments you test the temperature with your little finger. I suppose you could test it with your elbow, but that would be bothersome, akin to a series of unnecessary contortions, getting your elbow into a pot of water that’s simmering on the top of a stove. Or perhaps not. It would depend upon the height of the stove. Or upon the type of stove. I was thinking of a kitchen stove, a proper cooker. Anyway, I digress.
When the water is lukewarm, tepid shall we say, then you introduce the frog to the water – now, frogs like water… it’s a habitat you see! Now the frog thinks that it’s getting a bath. Or perhaps a jacuzzi! But the frog isn’t getting a bath. Oh, no! Oh, no no no. No it isn’t. Because gradually you increase the heat. Just a little bit …a little bit at a time. Electric or gas, it makes no difference. Just a notch every few minutes or so. Now the frog thinks that it’s getting a really nice bath, or even a jacuzzi. But it isn’t, and before the frog knows it, his goose is cooked. And that’s what happened. Metaphorically, I mean. I could eat a frog now.
People used to say that soon there would be no more cod. But they went too, after the birds. I’m not sure about the frogs. Maybe there are still frogs. It’s funny when you think of all the millennia of interspecies struggle between the birds and the fish, and now all of them gone. The birds, direct descendants of the dinosaurs; and the fish, surely even older. Usually it was bird on fish. But not always. I once saw a characin eat a hummingbird: it leapt straight out of the water and got it in one gulp. Straight down… just like that! In Brazil, this was. You don’t often see hummingbirds above salt water, but around the outlets of the Amazon you sometimes do. Did. A piranha is a characin but not all characins are piranhas. And of course, penguins were often eaten by killer whales. I don’t like to think about that. Yes, I know that killer whales are mammals and not fish, there’s no need for pedantry. And there were sharks too. Sharks are fish. The point is seafaring and skyfaring. Seafaring and skyfaring is my point. That and the fact that they are all gone now. We were once seafaring and skyfaring too. Not any more.
Next it was the grass. Did you ever read that book that not many people have read, ‘the death of grass’? It was an English science fiction novel from the 1950s. John Christopher. The author, John Christopher. In it, all of the grass dies off – just like that! I think it was just like that. Pretty quickly anyway. Some sort of a virus it was, a pathogen, or perhaps a blight, a global blight. Yes, a pan-global blight! And civilisation crashes, just like that. Because wheat is a grass, and rice is a grass as well. So the grass went too, as in the book, it was like life imitating art. But humanity adjusted. Like you do. Like we do. Did. Incrementally. Like the frog being boiled alive, thinking that it’s in the Jacuzzi and that the party is about to begin when the party is all but over, that the waitresses in their glittery bikinis and their chunky plastic heels will be bringing the cocktails across at any moment. We really believed that life on this earth was all about the cocktails.
Really, how bad do things have to get?