We asked you for your stories of Environmental Disaster to mark our current Book Club pick, Astra by Naomi Foyle. This story by Frances Gapper is one of our winners, following a suburban estate as it falls into decline.
The suburban estate was built between two public parks, with shops and schools nearby. Three-bedroom houses on tree-lined, made-up roads, with cavity walls, bay windows, fitted kitchens, garage space. No road or legal charges, said the builder’s advertisement. Special features could be ordered, such as cornicing in the hallways, a lamp on the staircase, parquet flooring. The detached houses cost £875, the semis £785.
People moved in and stayed for decades. They raised families despite the small kitchens and were grateful to have an indoor bathroom. On Saturdays they went shopping – the women wore long black gloves and stepped into the passenger seats of saloon cars, through doors held open by their husbands.
Extensions were built, attics converted, double glazing installed. Old people died, houses changed hands, the quiet family area with its good primary schools attracted a mix of cultures. The local Methodist church ran an Alpha course, also popular were line-dancing classes and the Over 50s club. New developments clustered around the tube station. The greengrocer, the butcher and the paint and hardware shop all closed and were replaced by charity outlets; people shopped at the big Asda, or at Marks & Spencer Simply Food. The century turned.
By now, foxes had become a problem. Killing them was illegal, but some people hid poison in the black plastic bin bags. Put out on Sunday nights with the recycling bins, to be collected on Monday mornings, the bags were often torn open, littering the street. The council introduced a new bin system.
War came, then plague. Huge rats. A hail of dust. Most people died quickly. At last, everyone was dead.
An orange moon. Shrieks in the wind. Broken gutters, smashed windows, doors hanging off their hinges, torn-up floorboards.
No more original features or new things, no schools, shops, TVs, computers, no electricity or gas, no piped water, no comforts of life, no human life. Soon the houses will be gone, the estate a wasteland.
Another turn of the century, this time nobody is keeping count.
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