Toby. Year Twenty-five, the Year of the Flood.
In the early morning Toby climbs up to the rooftop to watch the
sunrise. She uses a mop handle for balance: the elevator stopped
working some time ago and the back stairs are slick with damp, so
if she slips and topples there won't be anyone to pick her
As the first heat hits, mist rises from among the swathe of trees
between her and the derelict city. The air smells faintly of
burning, a smell of caramel and tar and rancid barbecues, and the
ashy but greasy smell of a garbage-dump fire after it's been
raining. The abandoned towers in the distance are like the coral of
an ancient reef--bleached and colourless, devoid of life.
There still is life, however. Birds chirp; sparrows, they must be.
Their small voices are clear and sharp, nails on glass: there's no
longer any sound of traffic to drown them out. Do they notice that
quietness, the absence of motors? If so, are they happier? Toby has
no idea. Unlike some of the other Gardeners--the more wild-eyed or
possibly overdosed ones--she has never been under the illusion that
she can converse with birds.
The sun brightens in the east, reddening the blue-grey haze that
marks the distant ocean. The vultures roosting on hydro poles fan
out their wings to dry them, opening themselves like black
umbrellas. One and then another lifts off on the thermals and
spirals upwards. If they plummet suddenly, it means they've spotted
Vultures are our friends, the Gardeners used to teach. They purify
the earth. They are God's necessary dark Angels of bodily
dissolution. Imagine how terrible it would be if there were no
Do I still believe this? Toby wonders.
Everything is different up close.
The rooftop has some planters, their ornamental running wild; it
has a few fake-wood benches. It used to have a sun canopy for
cocktail hour, but that's been blown away. Toby sits on one of the
benches to survey the grounds. She lifts her binoculars, scanning
from left to right. The driveway, with its lumirose borders, untidy
now as as frayed hairbrushes, their purple glow fading in the
strengthening light. The western entrance, done in pink adobe-style
solarskin, the snarl of tangled cars outside the gate.
The flowerbeds, choked with sow thistle and burdock, enormous aqua
kudzu moths fluttering above them. The fountains, their
scallop-shell basins filled with stagnant rainwater. The parking
lot with a pink golf cart and two pink AnooYoo minibuses, each with
its winking-eye logo. There's a fourth minibus further along the
drive, crashed into a tree: there used to be an arm hanging out of
the window, but it's gone now.
The wide lawns have grown up, tall weeds. There are low irregular
mounds beneath the milkweed and fleabane and sorrel, with here and
there a swatch of fabric, a glint of bone. That's where the people
fell, the ones who'd been running or staggering across the lawn.
Toby had watched from the roof, crouched behind one of the
planters, but she hadn't watched for long. Some of those people had
called for help, as if they'd known she was there. But how could
she have helped?
The swimming pool has a mottled blanket of algae. Already there are
frogs. The herons and the egrets and the peagrets hunt them, at the
shallow end. For a while Toby tried to scoop out the small animals
that had blundered in and drowned. The luminous green rabbits, the
rats, the rakunks, with their striped tails and racoon bandit
masks. But now she leaves them alone. Maybe they'll attract fish,
Is she thinking of eating these future fish? Surely not.
Surely not yet.
She turns to the dark encircling wall of trees and vines and fronds
and shrubby undergrowth, probing it with her binoculars. It's
surely from there that any danger might come. But what kind of
danger? She can't imagine.
In the night there are the usual noises: the faraway barking of
dogs, the tittering of mice, the water-pipe notes of the crickets,
the occasional grumph of a frog. The blood rushing in her ears:
katoush, katoush, katoush. A heavy broom sweeping dry leaves.
"Go to sleep," she says out loud. But she never sleeps well, not
since she's been alone in this building. Sometimes she hears
voices--human voices, calling to her in pain. Or the voices of
women, the women who used to work here, the anxious women who used
to come, for rest and rejuvenation. Splashing in the pool,
strolling on the lawns. All the pink voices, soothed and
Or the voices of the Gardeners, murmuring or singing; or the
children laughing together, up on the Edencliff Garden. Adam One,
and Nuala, and Burt. Old Pilar, surrounded by her bees. And Zeb. If
any one of them is still alive, it must be Zeb. Surely is he on his
way, any day now he'll come walking along the roadway or appear
from among the trees.
But he must be dead by now. It's better to think so. Not to waste
There must be someone else left, though; she can't be the only one
on the planet. There must be others. But friends or foes? If she
sees one, how to tell?
She's prepared. The doors are locked, the windows barred. But even
such barriers are no guarantee: every hollow space invites
Even when she sleeps, she's listening, as animals do--for a break
in the pattern, for an unknown sound, for a silence opening like a
crack in rock.
When the small creatures hush their singing, said Adam One, it's
because they're afraid. You must listen for the sound of their
Ren. Year Twenty-five, the year of the Flood.
Beware of words. Be careful what you write. Leave no trails.
This is what the Gardeners taught us, when I was a child among
them. They taught us to depend on memory, because nothing written
down could be relied on. The Spirit travels from mouth to mouth,
not from thing to thing: books could be burnt, paper crumble away,
computers could be destroyed.
Only the Spirit lives forever, and the Spirit isn't a thing.
As for writing, it was dangerous, said the Adams and the Eves,
because your enemies could trace you through it, and hunt you down,
and use your words to condemn you.
But now that the Waterless Flood has swept over us, any writing I
might do is safe enough, because those who might have used it
against me are surely dead. So I can write down anything I
What I write is my name, Ren, with an eyebrow pencil, on the wall
beside the mirror. I've written it a lot of times. Renrenren, like
a song. You can forget who you are if you're alone too much. Amanda
told me that.
I can't see out the window, it's glass brick. I can't get out the
door, it's locked on the outside. I still have air though, and
water, as long as the solar doesn't quit. I still have food.
I'm lucky. I'm really very lucky. Count your luck, Amanda used to
say. So I do. First, I was lucky to be working here at Scales when
the Flood hit. Second, it was even luckier that I was shut up this
way in the Sticky Zone, because it kept me safe. I got a rip in my
Biofilm Bodyglove--a client got carried away and bit me, right
through the green sequins and I was waiting for my test results. It
wasn't a wet rip with secretions and membranes involved, it was a
dry rip near the elbow, so I wasn't that worried. Still, they
checked everything, here at Scales. They had a reputation to keep
up: we were known as the cleanest dirty girls in town.
Scales took care of you, they really did. If you were talent, that
is. Good food, a doctor if you needed one, and the tips were great,
because the men from the top Corps came here. It was well run,
though it was in a seedy area--all the clubs were. That was a
matter of image, Mordis would say: seedy was good for business,
because unless there's an edge--something lurid or tawdry, a whiff
of sleaze--what separated our brand from the run-of-the-mill
product the guy could get at home, with the face cream and the
white cotton panties?
Mordis believed in plain speaking. He'd been in the business ever
since he was a kid, and when they outlawed the pimps and the street
trade--for public health and the safety of women, they said--and
rolled everything into SeksMart under CorpSeCorps control, Mordis
made the jump, because of his experience. "It's who you know," he
used to say. "And what you know about them." Then he'd grin, and
pat you on the bum--just a friendly pat though, he never took
freebies from us. He had ethics.
He was a wiry guy with a shaved head and black, shiny, alert eyes
like the heads of ants, and he was easy as long as everything was
cool. But he'd stand up for us if the clients got violent. "Nobody
hurts my best girls," he'd say. It was a point of honour with
Also he didn't like waste: we were a valuable asset, he'd say. The
cream of the crop. After the SeksMart roll-in, anyone left outside
the system was not only illegal but pathetic. A few wrecked,
diseased old women wandering the alleyways, practically begging. No
man with even a fraction of his brain left would go anywhere near
them. "Hazardous waste," we Scales girls used to call them. We
shouldn't have been so scornful; we should have had compassion. But
compassion takes work, and we were young.
That night when the Waterless Flood began, I was waiting for my
test results: they kept you locked in the Sticky Zone for weeks, in
case you had something contagious. The food came in through the
safety-sealed hatchway, plus there was the mini-fridge with snacks,
and the water was filtered, coming in and out both. You had
everything you needed, but it got boring in there. You could
exercise on the machines, and I did a lot of that, because a
trapeze dancer needs to keep in practice.
You could watch TV or old movies, play your music, talk on the
phone. Or you could visit the other rooms in Scales on the intercom
video. Sometimes when we doing plank work we'd wink at the cameras
in mid-moan for the benefit of whoever was stuck in the Sticky
Zone. We knew where the cameras were hidden, in the snakeskin or
featherwork on the ceilings. It was one big family, at Scales, so
even when you were in the Sticky Zone, Mordis liked you to feel you
were still participating.
Mordis made me feel so secure. I knew if I was in big trouble I
could go to him. There were only a few people in my life like that.
Amanda, most of the time. Zeb, sometimes. And Toby. You wouldn't
think it would be Toby--she was so tough and hard--but if you're
drowning, a soft squashy thing is no good to hold onto. You need
something more solid.
Of the Creation, and of the Naming of the Animals.
Spoken by Adam One.
Dear Friends, dear fellow Creatures, dear fellow Mammals:
On Creation Day five years ago, this Edencliff Rooftop Garden of
ours was a sizzling wasteland, hemmed in by festering city slums
and dens of wickedness; but now it has blossomed as the rose.
By covering such barren rooftops with greenery we are doing our
small part in the redemption of God's Creation from the decay and
sterility that lies all around us, and feeding ourselves with
unpolluted food into the bargain. Some would term our efforts
futile, but if all were to follow our example, what a change would
be wrought on our beloved Planet! Much hard work still lies before
us, but fear not, my Friends; for we shall move forward
I am glad we have all remembered our sunhats.
Now let us turn our minds to our annual Creation Day
The Human Words of God speak of the Creation in terms that could be
understood by the men of old. There is no talk of galaxies or
genes, for such terms would have confused them greatly! But must we
therefore take as scientific fact the story that the world was
created in six days, thus making a nonsense of observable data? God
cannot be held to the narrowness of literal and materialistic
interpretations, nor measured by Human measurements, for His days
are eons, and a thousand ages of our time are like an evening to
Him. Unlike some other religions, we have never felt it served a
higher purpose to lie to children about geology.
Remember the first sentences of those Human Words of God: the Earth
is without form, and void, and then God speaks Light into being.
This is the moment that Science terms "The Big Bang," as if it were
a sex orgy. Yet both accounts concur in their essence: Darkness;
then, in an instant, Light. But surely the Creation is ongoing, for
are not new stars being formed at every moment? God's Days are not
consecutive, my Friends; they run concurrently, the first with the
third, the fourth with the sixth. As we are told, "Thou sendeth
forth thy Spirit, they are created; and Thou renewest the face of
We are told that, on the fifth day of God's Creating activities,
the waters brought forth Creatures, and on the sixth day the dry
land was populated with Animals, and with plants and Trees; and all
were blessed, and told to multiply; and finally Adam--that is to
say, Mankind--was created. According to Science, this is the same
order in which the species did in fact appear on the planet, Man
last of all. Or more or less the same order. Or close enough.
What happens next? God brings the Animals before Man, "to see what
he would call them." But why didn't God already know what names
Adam would choose? The answer can only be that God has given Adam
free will, and therefore Adam may do things that God Himself cannot
anticipate in advance. Think of that the next time you are tempted
by meat-eating or material wealth! Even God may not always know
what you are going to do next!
God must have caused the Animals to assemble by speaking to them
directly, but what language did He use? It was not Hebrew, my
Friends. It was not Latin or Greek, or English, or French, or
Spanish, or Arabic, or Chinese. No: He called the Animals in their
own languages. To the Reindeer He spoke Reindeer, to the Spider,
Spider; to the Elephant He spoke Elephant, to the Flea He spoke
Flea, to the Centipede He spoke Centipede, and to the Ant, Ant. So
must it have been.
And for Adam himself, the Names of the Animals were the first words
he spoke--the first moment of Human language. In this cosmic
instant, Adam claims his Human soul. To Name is--we hope--to greet;
to draw another towards one's self. Let us imagine Adam calling out
the Names of the Animals in fondness and joy, as if to say--There
you are, my dearest! Welcome! Adam's first act towards the Animals
was thus one of loving-kindness and kinship, for Man in his
unfallen state was not yet a carnivore. The Animals knew this, and
did not run away. So it must have been on that unrepeatable Day--a
peaceful gathering at which every living entity on the Earth was
embraced by Man.
How much have we lost, dear fellow Mammals and fellow Mortals! How
much have we wilfully destroyed! How much do we need to restore,
The time of the Naming is not over, my Friends. In His sight, we
may still be living in the sixth day. As your Meditation, imagine
yourself rocked in that sheltering moment. Stretch out your hand
towards those gentle eyes that regard you with such trust--a trust
that has not yet been violated by bloodshed and gluttony and pride
Say their Names.
Let us sing.
Excerpted from THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD © Copyright 2011 by
Margaret Atwood. Reprinted with permission by Anchor. All rights
The Year of the Flood
- Genres: Fiction
- paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Anchor
- ISBN-10: 0307455475
- ISBN-13: 9780307455475