Stillicide by Cynan Jones

However many little watercourses they find and reopen. Like the one they’ve found that runs beneath the Dock site.

Think of it. The city was full of streams and rivers, centuries ago. But they covered them with tunnels and built houses over them.

And now we have this. An iceberg!

People are astonishing.

My father used to say, ‘We fear the worst and do our best.’

We have the imagination and the science to tow an iceberg into the centre of a city.

Hillie comes quietly through and climbs onto the bed, as she does every morning, like a little person-clock.

I pretend to be asleep. Sense she puts her finger on her mother’s bird tattoo.

Then, from the street there is a sudden cheer. A hiss. A pile of voices. A crisp shatter against the window glass.

The little one looks up, as startled as I am, and I make a shush with my finger and mouth. Then I lift her off the bed, Nita uncurling.

I make a funny face to Hillie, squeeze it up at the risk of waking her mother, the little one wide-eyed with wonder; and carry her the few steps to the window, shift the curtain to one side.

Kids have hacked the old water main – I just catch sight of them, running, their bright clothes flashing like deers’ tails – and for a moment the leftover pressure pushes out the residual water, in a spray like a fountain. Catching rainbows of early morning light.

Hillie is a contained squeal of delight.

Laughter in the alley.

The dirt at the side of the street so dry it pushes the water away.

The pressure abating. Runnels of water thickly down the glass. ‘Stillicide’.

And the little one watches.

The street has changed colour. Birds have come to drink already. Sparrows and pigeons, as if from nowhere.

Hillie winds her hand in my hair, the way she does, teasing it into stiff clumps. In her other hand, the soft toy she is currently in love with that her mother made from scraps. She watches the street, mesmerised.

Winding my hair like my own children did.

Enjoying how different my hair is from Nita’s.

Even with the extra water tokens that we have as part of our pay, us workers, it’s impossible to wash our hair properly.

We let the dust thicken in it and make joke hairstyles. Mad, crazy hairstyles that we can tell each other by. With the eyeguards and the work clothes and blankets of dust we otherwise all look the same.

‘When we’re done with the polishers, we’ll shave our heads,’ we say. A thing that makes the little one wriggle happily with horror.

‘We’ll have some party,’ we say. ‘We’ll swim in the stillicide channels.’ In the meantime, let’s look like pirates.

All the ways the world has changed and pirates still are pirates!

Nita joins us at the window. I did not hear her rise and that makes me feel that for a moment I’ve been absent.

I’ve been thinking about swimming. My whole body in deep water.

I should take them to the beach . . .

Hillie points to the street and sways slightly as she’s kissed. I think of my own children, home, the scent of their crowns. Before I travelled here for work. The dream that they would join me. How fast the years have passed.


Nita puts her arm around me; pigeons clatter from the street. One seems more a dove amongst them. Seems to carry a coppery metallic sheen, like a beetle’s wing.

A scruffy dog trots up and puts its nose in the water. A boy, just as scruffy, trots behind.

‘Would you like tea?’ I ask Nita. Feel her nod. As if she gives permission for the day to begin.

‘What will you do today?’ I ask. And she says, ‘We’ll ride the train to the dried-up river. Like we do every day.’

And every time she says it, I remember how we met. Sailing on a make-believe liner around a make-believe world.

They will make flowers, then go to the bridge.

And while I stand there, white-faced, in the beating heat of concrete, my arms rattling in their sockets with the work, I will imagine them. My Naiads washed up.

I will hear, through the roar of the work, the snip of their scissors.

I will imagine them filling the city with blooms. Dancing over the streets. Planting flowers in the cracks of the kerbs.