This story, by Cassandra Rose Clarke, is a masterclass in world building, about how histories—even one’s own—are always more complicated than they may seem.
~ Julian Yap, April 10, 2022
Two months after my mother died, I sit working at my desk in the sunlight, scratching out bookkeeping figures for the jeweler down the street, when a drop of water lands on the page.
I stop, pen hovering above the paper. I look at the smeared ink, and then I look up. For the first time I see a dark spot on the ceiling. As I watch, another drop of water falls, splashing against my book.
“Damnation,” I mutter, throwing my pen aside. The room above my office is one of the many bedrooms I closed off upon my mother’s death, preferring to live out my days in the front of the house, where I can see the glitter and shine of the city proper from my window. The second floor was as dry as a desert then, but that water has seeped in somehow.
I close my logbook and shove it out of the water’s path and then make my way up the narrow twisting staircase to the second floor. When my great-grandfather built this house, a ramshackle growth sprouting out from the steel of the Seawall, it was the first of its kind, although there are others now. The people in the city call us “barnacles.” My mother always found the nickname amusing, but my father hated it. He raged against it until the day he vanished when I was thirteen years old.
They’re all dead now, mother and great-grandfather, and grandmother and grandfather, too. I’m all that’s left, rattling around the ramshackle house my forebear built against the side of the Seawall.
The house is huge, three stories tall and sprawling, but it’s a speck compared to the massive cold steel cliff of the Seawall. It does look like a barnacle.
Every day at high tide, salt water buffets the roof as the tallest of the waves crest over the Seawall. The city folk are frightened of those crests when they see them; they think every spray of water is the first sign of the monsters on the other side finally breaching the wall. But it’s not. The wall still does the work it was built to do.
I come to the top of the stairs, and as soon as I step into the hallway, I smell it: the stink of old seawater. I unlock the door to the bedroom and throw it open.