'The Path of Least Resistance' by Rachael Dunlop
Under the lightless twilight sky, the street glowed, its luminescence stolen from the sun in the heat of the day that had passed.
He sat very still on the bench, hands tucked under his legs, back curled to make himself small. People hurried by, glanced, carried on. Earlier, they might have stopped, checked to see if he was okay, asked if he had been in that building, the one with the fire. But now they just wanted to get home while they still could.
He should go home too. Water was lapping around his feet. No, not lapping – there was no push-pull, in-out, just a creeping roll, rising bit by tiny bit. How long before all of downtown was flooded?
He could still smell the smoke, taste it too. Water from the first sea-surge had got into the basement of his office building, shorted the electrics. Strange how water could make fire.
Water will always find a way, his father had told him when he was a boy. Water always takes the path of least resistance, he had said as the two of them stared up at the water dripping through the light fitting in the kitchen ceiling. Water sweetened with perfumed bubbles, overflowing from the bath upstairs. His father had called the ambulance and then broken down the bathroom door. No need to rush.
The fire this afternoon in the office had caught fast. The emergency services, busy with sandbags and pumps down at the waterfront, were slow to arrive, the roar of their engines and wail of their sirens drowned out by the slow roiling rumble of incipient collapse. The building crumpled and folded into itself. Not everyone got out alive.
He thought about his father, old now, waiting for him to come home, waiting like he did every night, cold ham, warm mayonnaise, bread not buttered to the edges and a pot of tea waiting on the kitchen table, the ceiling above still water-stained. He thought about the bodies in the building, the bodies that weren’t bodies any more, obliterated, unidentifiable. No remains remaining.
He unfolded himself from the bench, stood, pulled his work ID card from his top pocket, and dropped it into the rising water. He started to walk. He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew he would find his way. Like the water, following the path of least resistance.