The day of the flood by Helen Beaglehole

Helen BeagleholeI stare out the window. It's still raining. Out the front of the house the waves are bashing the lake shore, out back the river is slithering past, full and brown. I turn back to Granny. "Granny, don't you ever get bored being inside all the time?"

She shakes her head. "You don't need to be outside to have adventures," she says, as she generally does. "I look over the lake and I cruise away." She's on her feet. "Right, cast off Toby, m'mate!"

"Cast off it is, Capt'n!" I shout in reply.

By now Granny's on the table. "We're off into the unknown waters of the world," she cries. "Sail South 180 degrees."

I'm on the table with her. "180 South it is, Capt'n." And we set off to scour the high seas, Granny scanning the horizon with her telescope for land, or ships for bounty, or whales that might smash our timbers to smithereens.

Suddenly the world is full of the crash of waves. The ship bucks and twists and turns and spray is stinging my face. Granny stands high on the poop deck. "Heave to and batten down the hatches."
Heave to and batten down the hatches it is, Capt'n!" I yell back.

But hours later even we have to admit defeat. "Mate, get ready to abandon ship," Granny shouts. "Grab your dearest possessions."

I have just time to grab my teddy for me and some plastic bags for Granny and the next order comes through.

"Lower the lifeboats, mate."

"Lifeboats lowered, Capt'n."

"When I say 'Jump' jump!." I wait, and "Jump!" she yells and I'm into the life boat and Granny jumps just after me, and we cast ourselves loose, into the maelstrom of waters. "A captain's always last to abandon ship," she tells me.

Gradually the storm passes. Granny takes out her hanky. "That was a close shave, mate. Still, the drill's the thing, if the crew know what to do, that's what pulls you through. Now, I must mop my fevered brow." I use the hanky after her. It's not every day we have storms like that.

Luckily for us, we're picked up by a passing ship and finally make landfall in the farthest islands of the South Seas.

"The sun's well over the yard arm," Granny says. "I think we need a swig of rum and some cake."
I think so too, so we swig the rum and eat some cake. "That was a tough sail, Toby my mate," Granny says.

"It was," I say.

"We pulled through with flying colours," she says.

"We did," I say. Granny winks at me and I wink back. We've been practicing winking a lot lately. Then Granny goes off to cook our dinner.

Afterwards I sit, as I generally do, on Granny's lap and we watch the video of Grandad's funeral. When Grandad died Granny couldn't go to the funeral because of her ago-ra-pho-bia, so Mum and Dad videoed everything for her. I don't remember Grandad because I was too small, but I like the video because I like the songs and the way everybody has come to say goodbye to Grandad and Granny likes it because she says it makes her feel close to him. Grandad's name was Nat, short for Nathaniel. That's a good eighteenth century nautical name, Granny says, like Toby.

Granny lumbers to her feet. "I think we should look at those bags you brought me today, young Toby."
I find my carry bag. Inside are the two the bright green and yellow striped plastic bags Mum and I carefully folded so they won't get unnecessarily creased.

She takes them out and holds them at arms length. "Now these really are something," she says. "How do you think we should classify them?"

In the end we decide they're probably more red than green, and we troop upstairs to the spare bedroom. We get down on our knees and huff and puff and we pull out one, two, three - four suitcases. "I think this is the one," Granny says, and we open it and it is. Inside are piles of plastic bags, bright reds, deep reds, brick reds, purple reds, crimsons. Granny adds the new ones, then writes the new number in her notebook. "Fifteen thousand, four hundred and ninety-nine," she says. "That's a lot of bags, Toby."

"That is," I say.

"Now if you're not too tired," she says, "we could just look through a couple of the other cases. That'd give them a bit of a breather."

"I'm not too tired," I say, and we decide we'll go through the suitcase with the green bags first.

It's still raining when I go to bed, and when I wake up in the morning Granny's drive is almost part of the river and the lake - " Oh no," says Granny, "the lake's eating up my garden." As we watch a wave surges over another part of a flower bed, then draws back for another great bite.

Granny turns to me. "This is an adventure! It's a good thing you're with me! What d'you reckon, mate?" she says.

"I reckon, Capt'n!" I say.

"I think we need a big breakfast. You face danger better on a full stomach, mate."

"You do," I say.

After breakfast Granny helps me into my coat and my gumboots and puts up her umbrella for me and I go out and plant a stick close to the waves, to see if they're going to come still higher.
"So how's that stick of yours?" Granny asks me at morning tea time. I troop out again, under the umbrella. The waves are almost coming up to the stick. I go round to the back of the house and the river - the river is flowing over the bottom of Granny's drive!

"Are we all right?" I ask Granny after I've told her.

She gives me a big hug. "Are we all right? When were we not all right, mate? We're going to weather out this storm OK. Heave to and batten down the hatches!"

"Heave to and batten down the hatches," I echo.

The words are barely out of my mouth when Granny is rushing upstairs. I follow and she's into the spare bedroom, is on her knees, is pulling out a suitcase. I squat and watch and she flings open the lid. It's all the dull supermarket bags, the ones Granny's calls expendable in a crisis.
"I knew it, mate, I knew it. I always knew these would come in handy."

I don't get it.

"We've got to batten down the hatches, make sure the ship's well and truly watertight. Right, mate?"
"Right, Capt'n." But I don't get it. I don't get it at all.

"Well, we shove these into the nooks and crannies, under the doors and round the windows and they'll make the house waterproof. So mate, the water could be up to our ears outside, but we'll be snug and sound and dry inside."

Light dawns. "Right on, Capt'n," I say, and Granny hoists the suitcase up under her arm and rushes down stairs, and I follow, picking up the bags that scatter behind her.

It's hard work sealing up all the nooks and crannies and especially for me - with my small fingers I do most of the work. But at last Granny says, "That's it mate, we've done every door and every window. Lunch time - if you feel you could manage a pancake or two."

"I could, Capt'n," I say.

I've just finished turning the last pancake when there's pounding at the door and a man's face peers in at the window. I look at Gran but she's slumped into a chair. The bags stop the door opening.

"Just coming," I call and I drag away bag after bag. Suddenly the door jerks open and the man in seaboots and parka and overtrou crashes onto the heap of plastic bags. I help him up.

"Been doing the supermarket shopping?" he asks.

"We've been battening down the hatches," I start to explain. "What we did, we … "

"Ss-hh, dear," Granny says, so I ss-hh. She is the captain, after all. Yet when I look at her, she looks too little to be a captain scouring the high seas But then, as she says, a life of high adventure can take its toll. I expect that's what's happening now, it's taking its toll.

The man kicks a plastic bag from away round his legs. "Lake's rising and the river's rising. We're evacuating all the houses along this stretch. I'll be back in half an hour. You can take a small suitcase each." I wonder if that includes the pancakes. He turns and goes, stepping carefully to avoid all the bags and slams the door behind him.

I rush to the window. The waves have almost reached the front steps! All this way while we were busy! The man pushes his boat out into the waves, jams down the motor, and roars away. "We're abandoning ship," I say, "into a real lifeboat."

Granny says nothing.

I look out the window again. Two waves join together and reach the steps. The water is brown and there are big branches in it and it's everywhere! I want to go, but Granny is sitting, her head in her hands.

"Capt'n," I say, " we can take our dearest possessions."

But Granny sits on. "I can't," she says. "I can't go outside."

I hold her hand tight. I'd hate to have ago-ra-pho-bia.

"My bags. I can't leave them. They've always been around me. Oh, Nat, Nat."

I don't mind that she calls me Nat instead of Toby. Anyway, I've thought what to do. I whisper in her ear.
For a moment Granny sits considering. Then we're rushing upstairs again, and dragging out the suitcases with the colourful bags, the ones that are not expendable, and I'm cutting and sellotaping and sellotaping and cutting, making them into a cloak for Granny. Just as we're fixing on the last bag, there's pounding at the door again.

"Just coming," I call, and I help Granny into her cloak. It hangs right over her head so she doesn't have to see the outdoors and the bags are all round her, just as she likes.

But Granny doesn't move. Then I remember. The drill's the thing, if the crew know what to do, that's what pulls you through. I hold Teddy in one hand and Granny's hand in the other. "When I say 'Jump', jump," I tell her.

There's a third knock.

"Jump!" I say. I open the door and, with her hand in mine we step out. I'm just in front, so that Captain Granny is the last to abandon ship.

The flood didn't come into Granny's house after all. But it did make what Dad and Mum call a pig's mess of her garden, and they had to spend a lot of time clearing the mud away. Granny did a little bit of helping, but mostly she and I were inside. We had to go through all the bags to assess the damage and to put them away properly. Besides, Mum bought some new clothes to give Granny some new, bright bags. Granny's says she's going to start a whole new series with those. AF we're going to call it. After Flood.

© Helen Beaglehole

Read our interview with Helen Beaglehole.

Print this page