Reeds and Retribution

Jacob Ashton / 4 min read / Cli-Fi Imaginarium
4 September 2021
A stand-off at the communal pool escalates.

“Closed? What’re you closed at this time for?” It was that old man from down the street. He thrived off complaining; if the baths had been open, he would’ve been moaning about how busy it was. Today, he had taken the liberty of preliminarily stripping down by the gate, which I had foolishly left unlocked, with only a yellowed towel knotted dangerously loose around his waist.

“Third Monday of every month, we always close it,” I answered. “To clean the paving and pipes and things.” I gestured to the mop in my hand, which he had opted to ignore.

“Cleaning? Don’t you have one of those robots that does it for you?”

“Maybe one day,” I answered. “But if we did, I wouldn’t be here for you to complain to. So, you know, maybe it’s for the best.”

He eyed me suspiciously, unsure if I was mocking him or not. I turned away from him and resumed cleaning the tiles around the edge of the pool, mopping up the last of the silt that had gathered in the cracks. The pool itself glittered in the sunlight. An emperor dragonfly whirred among the reeds that fringed the shallows. The reedbed did a miraculous job of keeping the water clean, even if it couldn’t keep it clear. 

It was a beautiful day; a shame the pool was closed, really. But, on the other hand, it was the perfect day for charging the batteries that lay hidden beneath the ground. The solar array that skirted the reedbed shone a deep cobalt blue, absorbing the sunlight like a row of sun-drenched sentinels; but alone, they were not enough to recharge the batteries that had slowly been depleted by a month of heating the pool to an amicable temperature. It was time to bring out the big guns.

I began cranking the winch. Slowly, steadily, the tiles that fringed the pool began to rotate, the last of the water sloughing off them, as they revealed the solar panels underneath.

“Won’t you stop that for a moment?” said the old man. I turned to him with what I hoped was an air of impatience. “I can just have a quick dip, can’t I?” he asked.


“I paid my share, you know. When they were setting this place up. I paid for that solar heating system, out of my own savings. That gives me a right.”

“Yeah, you get the right to bathe here when it’s open,” I said. “Not when I have to clean it. Read the contract.” He was still stuck in the old transactional ways of thinking, unsurprisingly. He paid, therefore he has an inalienable right. The words ‘community’ and ‘co-operative’, which had become unceasing buzzwords during the investment phase, seemed to have passed him by. The pool was built by the community, for the community; not by or for any particular individual. Besides, there were still rules.

“I’ll be five minutes,” he said, and with unerring speed he suddenly slipped past me and, casting the towel aside, hopped over the emerging solar panels and lowered himself into the pool.

I stood still for a moment as we locked eyes. Then, very deliberately, I carried on turning the winch. The solar panels finished their rotation and began rising above the level of the pool.

“Hey, none of that. You’ll trap me in here. I’ll drown,” he said.

I carried on winching. I could call his bluff. Besides, it was an easy wade out of the reedbed, if he stopped being so dramatic.

“You know, I could make your cleaning job a lot harder,” he said. There was a nasty glint in his eye.

“We have kids in the pool every day, the pool is already full of urine, if that’s what you mean,” I said. “That’s what the reedbed is for. Filters it out like a dream.”

“I’m talking about worse than that,” he said softly. “I had a big curry for lunch. A madras. How does your reedbed deal with… solid waste?”

I stopped winching. I did a few quick mental calculations, but I knew that the reedbed was only capable of so much – and so was my mop. I knew when I was beaten.

Photo credit: Evan Brockett – Unsplash

Jacob Ashton UK Having studied a scientific degree, I now work in environmental communication. In my free time I venture into climate fiction, putting my work on my website and occasionally getting published. View all posts
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