CREATIVE Heledd Williams

NWR Issue 122

Water, Water, Nowhere

Mattie tried to remain composed while she faced the IriScan, keeping her features relaxed so the pigment algorithm of her irises could be analysed. It was hard to do it with thick dental gauze stuffed down one side of her bleeding and painful mouth.

There was no use complaining to the jolly-looking cashier. The dentist had been right; he had known Mattie would be a good girl. The discount had been substantial and taken without complaint, as she was desperate. The cashier, bearing a large name badge inscribed with ‘I’m Melissa, hi!’, smiled as Mattie shakily put her glasses back on after the iris scan.

‘Why don’t you wear contact lenses?’ she asked. ‘Surely they’re easier to use?’

‘I just like these,’ Mattie mumbled, appreciating her dependable glasses. She was in no mood to discuss her possessions and her appearance. Her hair and clothes hadn’t been washed properly for months; she knew she looked awful.

Melissa gave Mattie a pitying look. ‘Well, I think you would look so much better with contact lenses... sorry – your choice, I suppose. If you do change your mind, send your iris scans off to this company. Within a couple of days, you’ll get contact lenses with readable irises. They’re very cheap as well.’ With that, Melissa proffered a card bearing an eye logo. Mattie took it politely, giving a pained lopsided grimace of thanks before leaving the clinic.

She was glad to be out of the place: what a horrible morning it had been. A slight nagging pain over the past few days had avalanched overnight, necessitating a raid of her last savings and the appointment. Luckily, she worked from home doing low-grade computer programming nowadays, with flexible hours, so she hadn’t needed to take any official time off work.

She got into her old battered Tesla Model Y, recalling how things had changed over the past ten years. The car had reflected her lucrative salary when she had bought it, but the world’s economic woes had turned everything upside down. Everything had got more competitive and her work paid her just enough not to starve, but not to save much either. She was so glad she had bought the electric car and her apartment just before the big droughts had begun.

Mattie drove past empty canals and along deserted streets. The canal water had long ago disappeared before the water ‘problem’ as it had been first called. Canals had served a purpose in Cardiff but then evaporated as soon as the steel, iron, lime and coal industry had gone. The city was dying. Rubbish swirled and banked against buildings with smashed windows. Her local public swimming pool came and went past, drained and closed. She reminisced over carefree times there, paddling, splashing and swimming umpteen laps. There were no pools anymore, none for the public anyway.

She climbed the stairs to her once trendy apartment on the eighth floor. Only necessary electricity could be used in the building, so the able-bodied weren’t allowed to use the lift. The building had been built in the fashionable Cardiff Bay area, but now it was tenanted with people who were just getting by each day, fearful of being thrown out by their avaricious landlords. The whole city felt as though it were waiting to explode. Her head ached: the pressure was building up inside there, too.

As Mattie entered her apartment, she could hear a small child wailing next door before the screaming hysterics of its mother ensued. Probably a spilled cup: the anguish over the imaginary spillage radiated through the walls. It would almost certainly herald the usual depressing cacophony of noise that permeated the building at night...


Originally from north Wales, Heledd Williams has been an English teacher in Hong Kong since 2006. She started writing in 2018 and acknowledges Margaret Atwood, Irvine Welsh, Roald Dahl and Charlie Brooker as inspiration. So far, she has enjoyed serving up in anthologies, speculative fiction that combines slivers of the macabre with comedy. Her entry in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2019: Aberystwyth University Prize for a Dystopian Novella (from which this is an extract) was highly commended at Hay Festival this summer.

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