What a truly enchanting story this was from Alexis Hall. Read Mark’s review to find out why he is waxing lyrical about it. Alexis is also here at Sinfully HQ with a guest post about Write What You Fear and don’t forget the giveaway.
Write What You Fear
There’s lots of received wisdom about writing: writing what you know, write what you love, write hanging upside down with your toes in marmite. But now that I’ve got a back catalogue to look, well, back over (which is an odd feeling, in all honesty) I’ve can’t help but notice that – while I’m not engaging in a weirdly extensive public-private therapy – I’m kind of writing about things that scare the crap out of me. In Glitterland: mental health. In There Will Be Phlogiston: helplessness and violence. In Waiting for the Flood, I suppose, I’m writing about ... not so much loss itself, but the fear of loss.
It’s probably not so very coincidental that a couple of years ago, I bought a house with my partner. This was kind of A Big Deal for a lot of reasons. We live in a ridiculously expensive city, for one. Just the other day I was browsing the internet randomly and I realised we could have bought basically a small mansion in Scotland for the price of our two bedroom Victorian terrace down here in the South East. Also I’m ... I’m not really good with money. There have been periods of my life – like when I first left home and when I first finished university – that I .. um ... haven’t had any, so I’ve never really developed habits of spending. I am, in fact, terrified of spending because, like, what if I need that money. Therefore having to take basically all of it and give it to my bank for a proportion of a house I intended to live in ... was ... heart-clenchingly awful.
And then there was the whole “with my partner” aspect to the situation. Commitment is something else that doesn’t come easily to me. Not in the sexual sense, but the emotional one. The truth is, I never really intended to be in a relationship with anyone and yet here I am. And that’s also kind of terrifying: hanging your life on someone else’s. Or, worse, accepting that your life is better when you share it. Facing that need you’re opening in yourself. We’ve been together a while – and known each other forever - so I’m ... I’m learning I suppose. But when things go wrong, or the night is a little quiet, I don’t feel so very far from the seventeen-year-old whose only drive was survival.
But, y’know, I got through these small derangements and – after a few false starts - we found a house. And it’s a beautiful house. I love it. I love the old-man creaks it makes late at night. I love the bath under the skylight. I love the apple tree in the garden. I love the slightly dangerous ascent to the attic. I love the fact I’m too tall for the stairs. But most of all I love the fact it’s not mine but ours. As Edwin says in Waiting:
“You don’t really fall in love with a house. You fall in love with the life you could have in it.”
And it’s a good life we have. One that makes me happy in ways that lost seventeen year old couldn’t have imagined possible. But, of course, with that realisation comes another. How much I have to lose. How much it will fucking hurt when – if – I do.
This isn’t why I wrote Waiting for the Flood, but it was something I wanted to explore. The ever bit of happy ever after. What happens after the after. Essentially I created a man like me – a man who has everything – and then took it away from him. Or part of it at least. I gave him a love affair, a romance, a happy ever after ... and let it fall over. Not dramatically with betrayal or catastrophe, just quietly and bewilderingly with the end of love.
For me, the question at the heart of Waiting is: what happens after after.
And for me, the answer is that it doesn’t matter. Only that there is an after.
For the first time, I allowed myself to think of a body next to mine that wasn’t Marius’s. To ache for plain brown eyes and a crinkly smile and big-knuckled hands to engulf my own. It hurt a little in ways I was—at last—ready to accept.
Because I knew it was the final piece of grief.
Waiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall
Title: Waiting for the Flood
Author: Alexis Hall
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release: 23rd February 2014
Genre: M/M (contemporary)
People come as well as go.
Twelve years ago, Edwin Tully came to Oxford and fell in love with a boy named Marius. He was brilliant. An artist. It was going to be forever.
Two years ago, it ended.
Now Edwin lives alone in the house they used to share. He tends to damaged books and faded memories, trying to build a future from the fragments of the past.
Then the weather turns, and the river spills into Edwin’s quiet world, bringing with it Adam Dacre from the Environment Agency. An unlikely knight, this stranger with roughened hands and worn wellingtons, but he offers Edwin the hope of something he thought he would never have again.
As the two men grow closer in their struggle against the rising waters, Edwin learns he can’t protect himself from everything—and sometimes he doesn't need to try.
Sometimes the best things come in the small packages and this was definitely the case for me with Alexis Hall’s Waiting for the Flood. A story that is well scripted from beginning to end. An atmospheric, narrative style that is lyrical and easy to read.
This is the story of Edwin a reserved guy who stutters and his confidence low after his partner of 10 years leaves him, not because he had cheated on Edwin, but because he has fallen out of love with him. This has broken Edwin’s heart and he is trying to come to terms with the loss and the loneliness that has caused. He lives in the house alone that they originally bought together full of memories from his time with Marius.
I loved the way that each chapter deals with a particular room in the house. Starts off in third person singular and gives the reader the feeling of Edwin’s reflections on his memories, but then shifts quickly to first person singular to bring us back to Edwin’s current situation. His house is in a flood endangered area and as the grey skies and unrelenting rain pours, the river starts to flood and he has to take action to save his house. This weather alone is almost symbolic of Edwin’s mood and reflects wonderfully the way he is feeling.
However, what Edwin doesn’t reckon on is meeting Adam an engineer with the Environment Agency who is doing his level best to dam the ever rising waters from the flood. Their meeting at first is nothing special but soons turns into an attraction that is tender and exquisite as Adam tries to approach and get nearer to Edwin. But Edwin is still grieving for his partner and finds it difficult to unlock his heart for Adam. His self esteem is low and doesn’t want such a heartbreak again so finds it difficult to open up and trust; to let go and take a risk on someone who is obviously vying for his love and affection.
Because Marius had left me. Because my house was flooding. And because the universe had dropped a wonderful man into my lap right when I felt least worthy of having him. I just wasn’t ready.
In the end Edwin takes the hand that is being offered him and takes that leap of faith that he has to make to find happiness. I just loved the way this book is written the rising flood waters representing Edwin’s increasing sadness until the sun comes out in the form of Adam and the worst of the flood is over for now. A lovely HEA. Read this book; you’ll love it!
The Front Door
With frosted glass panels and a big chunky knocker. The bell doesn’t work. Has never worked.
He remembers that first viewing, standing in front of it, expectant, hopeful, hand in hand with Marius.
He remembers, like his first kiss, the first time he put the key in the lock, turning first the wrong way, then the right, fumbling over the not-yet-familiar gesture.
When I tell people what I do, they always want to know if I’ve worked on anything famous. The Ben Jonson Shakespeare. The Austen juvenilia. The Abinger papers.
I have, but these aren’t the projects I cherish.
What I like are diaries and letters, commonplace books and ledgers, calendars, invitations and almanacs: the everyday documents of nobody in particular. Ephemera, it’s called. From the Greek. Like those frail-legged mayflies, with their lace-and-stained-glass wings, who live only for a day.
I wonder, sometimes, if it’s a strange occupation, this semi-obsessive preservation of the transitory. But whereas for some people history is a few loud voices declaiming art and making war across the centuries, for me it’s a whispering chorus of laundry day and grocer’s bills, dress patterns and crop rotations. The price of tallow.
Only that morning, as I was assessing and stabilising several folders of late nineteenth-century letters in preparation for digitisation, I noticed that some of the accompanying envelopes seemed slightly thicker than their fellows. Inside one, I found a handful of pressed flowers. Inside another, some pieces of fabric. Even my phone’s impatient reminders of a waiting message couldn’t break the moment.
Me and these pieces of lives, linked, for a little while at least, in quietness and time.
Then I peeled off my gloves and picked up my phone.
I hadn’t seen the sky darken or heard the rain begin to fall, but all of a sudden it was coming down hard, just streams of grey water on the windows, blurring the view like tears.
The message read: sure u know this sweetie but theres a flood warning for ur area lol love mum x.
Two, nearly three years on, and Marius’s mother still kept in touch, still remembered my birthday, and still gave every indication of loving me. Unlike her son.
She had no idea how much it hurt.
Sometimes, I tried to blame her. If she had raised him with a little more guilt, a little more shame, a greater sense of social and personal obligation, he might never have left me.
What we’d had was good. It would have lasted a lifetime.
The lol wasn’t personal. She’d picked it up as a thing commonly said on social media, and we hadn’t quite realised the magnitude of the problem until Uncle Teddy dead lol, and by then it was too late to do anything.
I wanted to ignore her, but she would worry. So I sent back fine lol, which was probably likely to be true. We—I—lived on a floodplain, but most of the city is floodplain. My friend Grace, who was less romanced by sandstone and dreaming spires than me, once called it England’s cunt. She said it was basically a big wet cleft in the middle of the country—a phrase that has somehow never quite found its way into the poetry or history of the place. But I always thought she meant it affectionately. She was the sort of person who could get away with saying things like that.
The house had flooded twice, once in 1947, and once in 2007, but not since we moved in. We’d known it was a flood risk when we bought the place, but I’d wanted it, and Marius had apparently been willing to indulge me. Since the early days of our relationship, we’d found ways to live together—in cramped student rooms, awkwardly in shared housing with friends, in a flat we’d rented—but this was the first, the only property we’d ever owned.
You don’t really fall in love with a house. You fall in love with the life you could have in it.
From the moment I saw it, I saw us. I saw us in every room: talking, touching, sharing. I saw it all. But as it turned out, I saw only my dreams.
When we broke up, he wanted to sell, but I begged, and he let me buy him out instead. I think it was a weird relief to both of us that there was something I could fight for, since he’d made up his mind I couldn’t fight for him.
Looking back, I don’t know what I was trying to keep. Because all I’ve got are responsibilities and empty spaces.
When I got back to them that evening, I dutifully went to the Environment Agency website and checked for my area. The whole of the southeast was on red-alert status: flood expected, immediate action required.
So I went to bed with a book. Surrounded by the thudding of the rain.
At about ten o’clock, lost in that interminable nowhere-time before you can legitimately go to sleep, I went downstairs to make myself a cup of Horlicks. I’d call it the comfort drink of the single gentleman, but I’ve had a Horlicks habit for as long as I can remember. Based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I’m vaguely under the impression it helps me sleep.
The kitchen and the sunroom are extensions to the original structure. Mine runs parallel to my neighbour’s, so we can see straight through into each other’s houses. Marius would forget and wander around with his shirt off. “It’s all right,” I’d tell him. “She appreciates ornamental young men in their natural habitat.” And I remember, un-faded by time, a streak of viridian on his inner wrist. A curl of purple madder at his throat.
The light was on across the way, so I could see Mrs. Peaberry with her kettle. I waved at her through two panes of glass and a rainstorm.
The truth was, we always said goodnight this way. And good morning just the same. Book-ending each other’s days to stop them collapsing into heaps of jumbled time.
When we’d moved in, she’d welcomed us. When Marius moved out, I sat on her floor and cried. I suppose I could have called any number of our friends, but that was the problem. They were our friends. Even now, when I see them, which isn’t as often as I should, I feel less. Less than I used to be. When I was with him.
She picked up the whiteboard she was meant to keep for emergency numbers, scribbled, and held it up. It was hard to read through the rain, but I thought it said, fuck this weather eh.
I nodded and mimed out, Are you okay?
I wondered if she was worried. She’d been flooded out in 2007, but her husband had been alive then.
“I’m coming round.” I accidentally spoke the words aloud, my voice so alien in the silence of my kitchen.
She held up a packet of Hobnobs: an octogenarian Eve with an oddly shaped apple, and I pretended—cartoonishly—to come running.
Something strange happens to me sometimes behind my kitchen window. It’s as if my body forgets itself, and tries to make jokes without me.
I pulled my coat over my oh-so stylish tartan lounge trousers and T-shirt combination and hesitated by the half-empty shoe rack. I really didn’t have anything suitable for the weather.
When I was at university, I’d developed a semi-ironic preppy image: chunky scarves, cable-knit jumpers, and tweed. But the irony wore off long before I hit thirty, and now I just look old.
About five years ago, in a charity shop, I spotted a pair of sparkly purple cowboy boots. I think I was hoping to rediscover my irony, or perhaps something else entirely, but I must have lacked conviction because the moment Marius saw them, they weren’t quirky at all. They were just incongruous and trying-too-hard, and I never dared wear them again.
I tugged them on and plunged into the rain. I was outside for less than a minute, but it was still enough to leave me chilled through and dripping apologetically all over Mrs. Peaberry’s hall.
She was waiting for me in her raincoat, with a big yellow sou’wester jammed firmly on her head.
I hid my smile. “You look like . . . whichever of them is the dog in Wallace & Gromit.”
“Gromit.” She unhooked her stick from the radiator. “Now, come along, Edwin.”
“Are we going somewhere?”
“To the river.”
“To see what we can see.”
“I really d-don’t think . . .” We were going to end up as newspaper headlines: Pensioner and Homosexual Found Dead in River—Coincidence, Tragedy, or Satanic Ritual Gone Wrong? “It could be dangerous.”
“It will be—” she glinted at me, “—an adventure.”
I have a sort of . . . thing, I suppose, for certain words. They spark inside me, somehow, turning me to touchpaper, but I don’t know what they are until someone says them. Once, on a very ordinary day, Marius—in some odd, theatrical humour—had lent across a table in the café in the modern art museum and whispered that he couldn’t wait to get me home so he could ravish me. And I sat there, electric-bright and honey-sweet, staring at my hands, undone in all the ways by a single word. I don’t think he realised, because he never said it again, and I didn’t know how to tell him. Or ask.
I think I also like secret. The way it hinges on its central c, like a box opening.
Or pod, enclosing itself always.
And, of course, adventure gets me too. Not quite in the same way as ravish, but it gets me. It makes me fizz a little. I don’t know how or even when Mrs. P. worked it out, but she’s been exploiting it ever since. Weeding her lawn is an adventure. Replacing a lightbulb is an adventure. Taking her bin out is an adventure. Or perhaps it’s just easier for both of us than admitting she struggles to do these things herself.
Moving at Mrs. P.’s pace, slow but relentless, we battered our way through the rain to the end of the road, navigating the old churchyard in the hazy glow from the last streetlamp. By the time we stumbled onto the footpath, the darkness was a damp fist closing round us.
Living in a city, it’s so easy to forget how absolute the night can be.
Mrs. P. paused, her breath harsh beneath the wind. “I’m sure there’s a river around here somewhere.”
“Just . . . wait a moment. I’ll check.”
I crept forward through a sticky mess of overhanging leaves, the wet gravel crunching beneath the heels of my boots. It was a rather jolly sound, really—defiant percussion within the symphony of rain.
Another step and my boots were full of water, and I was soaked all the way to my knees. A cold, wild shock that made my breath catch and my heart jump.
“I think,” I called out, “I f-found the river. And it’s really not where it’s supposed to be.”
Back at home, adventure concluded, I tugged off my sparkly boots, turned them upside down over the radiator to dry, and peeled out of my soaking pyjama bottoms before I ruined the carpet.
Tried not to think how ridiculous I looked, bare-legged in the hall, with nobody there to laugh and make it mean something.
Connect with the Author
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.
He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.
He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way. Oh, and you?
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