Written by Lucy Munday
Illustrated by Erika Mendoza
Audrey could never have a hot drink without sugar in it. It had been that way since Dot and Audrey were at school together. In those days sugar hadn’t been so easy to get hold of. With rationing still in force Audrey’s sweet tooth could never quite be satisfied.
“Can I have a squirt of vanilla syrup in my latte please? What do you want, Dot?”.
For Dot syrup conjured up images of slow-winding, viscous rivers, like lava. As a child, Dot’s mother had sometimes used carrots to sweeten food when they couldn’t get enough sugar. As a result, Dot did not approve of overindulgence.
“I’ll just have a black coffee please”, Dot replied, looking at the row of flavoured syrups standing tall next to the coffee machine. They found a table and sat down.
“All these syrups they have today, Aud”, failing to keep the tone of annoyance out of her voice. “Remember when we were kids and all we had was rhubarb dipped in sugar?” she asked.
“Oh, that WAS a treat!” enthused Audrey, “nothing like today”.
The waitress arrived and set down their coffees, smiled “here you go!” and sauntered away.
Nodding thanks at the waitress, Dot said, “You’ll never guess what my Nicky’s called her youngest”.
“What’s that?” asked Dot, lifting her coffee to her mouth.
“Mable”, replied Audrey, stirring the drink and taking a sip.
“Mable? Dot repeated incredulous, placing the cup down. “That was older than the ark when we were young!”
“Well, it’s all coming back now isn’t it, all these old-fashioned names”, Audrey mused with not a small eye roll.
“I don’t know why she needs so many kids anyway”, Dot sniffed. But on seeing the look Audrey gave her she followed with, “oh you know what I mean, children are lovely, but she’s got five already. And in that small house”.
“We grew up similar to that though, Dot”, reasoned Audrey.
“But that was in the ‘50s Aud, we didn’t have as much then. And kids cost so much money these days! Nick, well she just had to buy Kerry a new what you call it, a padlet. Cost an arm and a leg!”, said Dot, tidying her hair.
“Oh, how is he?” inquired Audrey.
“Getting ever so big, comes up to here on me”, Dot said, indicating her chin.
“No!” Audrey exclaimed.
“Oh yeah”, Dot said, nodding. “I had to help her with her geography homework the other night. She had to learn about why”, she paused briefly for thought, “flooding around the world is getting worse.”
“Hard not to notice I s’pose,” mused Audrey picking at her nails.
“Well, it was quite eye opening”, said Dot, “it’s all linked! The floods are increasing, and the polar ice that’s melting and all those islands disappearing in the Pacific.”
There are islands disappearing?” asked Audrey.
“And all those poor people need to find new homes”, Dot nodded sagely. “Do you fancy sharing a scone?” she picked up the menu and flipped it over.
“I'm not bothered but you order one if you like”, said Audrey.
With a creak in her knee, Dot got up to order at the counter. Moving images played in her mind, of islanders trying to stem the threatening tide of a rising watery mass with sandbags and sea walls. They reminded her of the children her parents had taken in during the war. Two small figures, Max and Ingrid, arrived off the train seemingly lost, sans parents and given over to the kindness of strangers. Though they had seemed odd at first and barely understood one another, the children had become great friends with Dot and her sisters.
As a child, Dot’s impression of the war had been simply that games of tag or swimming were more fun because they had more children to play with. It had never occurred to her at the time that Max and Ingrid were refugees. She never knew if they had found their parents again. And what of the people now forced to leave their homes because they had become too wet, or too dry, or too empty of food. Now it was indifference that was causing people to flee, rather than a wall of bullies. Perhaps, she wondered, there might not be much difference in the two.
“That’s £3.50 please” said the waitress in a thick accent.
Waving her card over the reader, Dot asked “Where are you from then?”
With her eyebrows raised she replied, “Portugal”.
“Oh, it’s lovely there, what brings you here?”
“The weather” smiled the waitress, handing Dot her scone.
Dot smiled back and returned to Audrey.
Placing herself back down Dot announced, “so Kerry said the flooding’s because we use Amazon to much".
Audrey had been looking at a picture on the wall, she turned her head to Dot and asked, “Did you order?”
“Yes”, said Dot raising the plate containing the cheese scone. Undeterred she continued, “‘Overconsumption is what’s causing more floods, Nanny’ is what she said”. She went to spread some butter on her treat, but it was fresh from the fridge and still hard, creating lumps and gouges across the scone’s surface.
“How old is she?” Audrey asked.
“11” said Dot through a mouthful. The irony of being ‘told’ about the world by her pre-pubescent granddaughter was not lost on her.
“Blimey, that’s a bit much for an 11-year-old. Where’s she getting this from?”
“Well, I think her teacher’s a bit of a hippy, you know” reasoned Dot.
I’m surprised she even knows what it means! When we were that age geography was about maps”, replied Audrey.
“They don’t learn any of that anymore -
“Course it’s all electric now, they don’t need to” interjected Audrey, assuredly.
Dot chewed. The photos she’d seen while helping Kerry with her homework flared in her mind’s eye. A skinny polar bear balancing on a shrinking iceberg. Roads cracked and bent with the force of flood water. Survivors in small boats holding umbrellas that seemed pitiful against bombarding rain. Neat rows of palm trees stretched out for miles across previously wild rainforests, in places that had once felt too far away to know or feel. With Kerry's homework revelations these places felt so much closer. What was the world going to be like in future when Kerry was older like Dot?
They will one day”, said Dot.
“Hmm, I suppose nothing can last forever”, said Audrey, adding with a smile, “but we don’t know that!”
Dot looked at her with an expression that suggested scepticism about something that would remain unsaid.
After a moment Audrey said with an exhale, “I’ve got back into knitting!”.
“Oh, great!” said Dot with renewed vigour. “It’s all coming back into fashion now hey. Nik knits too.”
“I’m not sure I’ll do it for long mind, wool’s so expensive now”.
“Oh, that’s a shame”, said Dot.
“Yes, but it’s cheaper to buy a new jumper than make it! Never used to be like that”, exclaimed Audrey.
“Mother made all our clothes when we were young. It’s good youngsters are learning crafts like we used to, we’ll need it again soon enough. Nicky certainly will with all those kids she’s got to look after”, Dot mused.
“Aren’t those kids your grandchildren, Dot” asked Audrey losing patience.
“Well, there are a lot of them!” Dot replied on auto pilot. “Oh, we wouldn’t be without them for the world! I enjoy being a grandma. But who needs five these days?”
“Hmm” exhaled Audrey with a hint of unconvinced acid.
There was an awkward pause, Dot knew she’d hit a nerve, unwitting as it was, but she couldn’t stop herself.
Audrey had never been able to have children; her husband Peter had been dead set against it and Audrey went along with his wishes out of fear of not meeting anyone else. She had been an honorary aunt and grandma to many children that she loved over the years. But there were times when a certain bitterness escaped through the careful veneer and hinted at a sadness over a loss for something she’d never had.
“I’m not the only one who thinks this. There’s young women now choosing not to have kids cos there’s too many of us clogging the planet” defended Audrey.
“With five grandchildren, isn’t it a bit late for that Dot?” asked Audrey sardonically.
For the first time, Dot looked at Audrey with some fear, “All this climate change and melting ice... all the forests that have been chopped down for farming. All the extra mouths to feed, it can’t be good”, said Dot.
Audrey couldn’t keep the anger out of her voice, incensed as she was at Dot’s upset over an environment she couldn’t have cared about while she was making her own children. “Well, at least we know I did my bit”.
“Can I take these?” the waitress asked, her palms spread towards the crockery.