Last week one of my Clarion submission stories was published in Weird Fiction Review. The journey of this story has been long. The seeds for it were planted nearly two years ago. One (shorter) version in Spanish was published in weird fiction mag Presencia Humana. There are many reasons why I’m fond of this story. It marked a turning point in my fiction. It also deals with issues of great importance to me.
There are few things more painful that the recurrent problems faced nowadays by people from my generation who want to have children. Most of my friends, myself included, have suffered from at least one miscarriage in our attempts to get pregnant. Most of them also needed to try and keep trying, even to get some help from the National Health Service (thankfully, still free in Spain, at least for now). The stress provoked by our need to work mercilessly hard and our knowledge that we do so with no security and no protection is added to the realization that ‘we had left it too late’. As if this was our fault. Rather, a particular harsh combination of social and economic issues has made us rethink pregnancy over and over (and here I am referring to the ones who like me had no doubt about the matter). But there are other factors as well. It is clear that we breathe, eat, drink, a huge amount of chemicals and toxins in our daily lives, perhaps greater than the human race has ever experienced, and not properly accounted to any organization. They are simply a part of our existence, whether we want it or not. It is too late to banish them. We would not even know where to start.
Two years ago we were spending Christmas in Cambridge. We are very strict about this, alternating between Cambridge, where my English family lives, and Andalusia, where my Spanish family lives. So this year we will be back in Cambridge again. Two years ago it rained mercilessly, and my father-in-law was telling me stories from East Anglia and Norfolk and Cambridge: the last high water marks; the greatest floods. The villages so covered by the water that, when one of the neighbours died, the funeral director had to push the coffin over the water like a little boat to get it to the deceased’s house. I have always been very respectful of water. I grew up in a small fishing port on the Atlantic coast of Andalusia, and I know that water is powerful and dangerous.
Two years ago my child was nearly two years old. It had been an incredibly painful process to have him. Not the delivery itself, but the year and a half that took us to achieve a successful pregnancy. It was easier to distance myself from the pain if I took someone else’s perspective, but I will not claim that this was the only reason for writing this story from a man’s perspective. I simply didn’t feel capable of getting into the mind-set of the woman about to give birth, of her feelings of failure and inadequacy, on the dark thoughts that a miscarriage conveys.
A world devastated by constant flooding gave me my entry point. It also allowed me to explore how will we manage when that is our daily life, when that is what we have to deal with every day. The map at the beginning of this post is not an artist’s impression: it is an actual scientific prediction of how Great Britain may look for the future generations. The rise and fall of the water levels is one of the problems of the story; the other is how the characters articulate the situations of their lives around the impending birth.
Without giving any spoilers, I hope… I have been interested in nature and our ways of changing it for a long time. I still have in one of my scrapbooks a representation of the ‘future-Cambridge’ by an artist published in The Observer at least a dozen years ago. The artist’s rendition is beautiful, weird, unexpected: the canals and the colleges are surrounded by jungle-like flora, parrots, parakeets… that vision found its way into the story. Again, this was a real prediction, rendered by an artist after gathering information from experts in climate change. For the insects, the heart and soul of the story, you have to blame the Berlin Natural History Museum, the Naturkundemuseum, and our addiction to Natural History Museums in general. Reading the panels about venomous butterflies something caught my eye: “Sie warnen vor Giftigkeit”. They give warning that they are poisonous. Through their incredible colours. I hope I’ve managed to successfully combine these elements in a story that I really feel I needed to try my hand at: the pain, the fear, the lack of control, of certainties, that surrounds procreation for my generation, and the belief that it will only get worse, that we will make it worse. Perhaps there is still time to stop this process, but that is hard to tell now.