With climate change making the future look bleak, a father struggles to understand his teen’s participation in a movement of young people intent on reliving the past.
Breakfast is interrupted by a crash that shakes the house to its foundations. Out the window, the wet coastal view is obscured by a spray of dust and foam. Another house has slid into the sea.
The silence that floods back in its wake is emptier, the gulls have fled. I wait a minute to see if the drama has roused Nyx, but it is 7 a.m. and she is a teenager, it takes more than the decline of empires to get her up this early. Alone, I step out onto the porch to see the damage.
On our side of Caldwell Street, tight fences enclose narrow two-story townhouses. The remaining houses across the street are shells — condemned and then burnt out by vagrants, eroding into the sea below. A fresh gap has opened up in the row, giving us a view of the rain-speckled waves sucking away tile and plasterboard.
A bell tinkles, drawing my attention to a figure cycling through the long shadows of the condemned homes. She’s a delivery girl, with flat-cap and all, and although it has been at least twenty-five years since the news went online, something in me still responds to the arc of her arm and the thud as a newspaper bounces end-over-end into our porch. Flashbacks to smoothing out the front pages in the dappled sunlight of my parent’s kitchen table. The girl cycles away down the coast road. I rotate the cylinder at my feet with a foot until the masthead comes into view. THE PAST TIMES, bracketed by dodos statant.
“Nyx!” I shout. “It’s for you!”
No reply, unsurprisingly. I hold the bundle to my face and take a nostalgic sniff of newsprint, then deposit it in front of Nyx’s bedroom door, where a poster of a glowering James Dean guards against forceful entry. I return to my breakfast and am scrolling through news about power-failures in India when a scream peals out from upstairs.
Parenting instincts kick in, and I’ve burst past James before I’ve fully registered the situation. Nyx is sitting at the edge of her bed with her arms clasped protectively around her torso. “No, no,” she moans. At her feet is the unfolded PAST TIMES. ‘President’s Death Mourned by World’ reads the headline, above a photograph of the square jaw and Ken-Doll haircut.
Nyx is fourteen, hugging has become complicated. I settle for an awkward arm about her shoulders, side by side so we don’t have to make eye contact. Instead I look around the room — this isn’t a place I’m often allowed these days. Last time I was here there was a bedside table photo frame of Nyx, me, and her mum, but it’s gone now, replaced by a rotary dial phone and a stack of yellow paperbacks with crumbling covers.
Nyx grabs a clunky remote from her bedside table and points it at the boxy screen in the corner. A white line cuts horizontally across the glass then expands into monochrome television footage, darkened at the corners like a fishbowl. A newscaster in a narrow tie is fiddling with his heavy-rimmed glasses as he recounts the news. “ … Dead of an assassin’s bullet, in the 46th year of his life, and in the third year of his, uh, administration as President of the United States.”
“I can’t believe it,” Nyx says, hand over her mouth…