Rumpus Original Fiction: All This Will Be Underwater


I had been in a rut for some months. I was working remotely, writing ad copy for a company that was based in Mountain View. I lived with my girlfriend, Hanna, in a house with two other couples in the other two rooms and also the living room had been converted into a bedroom for a seventh resident whom the landlord did not know about. Everyone in the house promised they would do the dishes and smoke outside only they never did. And it was so hot all the time, and our air conditioner was on the fritz. I was drinking too much. I was pretending I was tired when Hanna wanted to talk at night. I kept inventing excuses to get out of the house so I could go eat greasy burgers at the place we had promised not to go because they abused their workers. In private, I wondered if I was the worst person I knew. It felt all the time like something terrible was about to happen. Partly this was due to the general state of the world. The other part was inexplicable, like deja vu.

Twice a week my employer would mail me a package, inside of which would be my assignment. My job was to write reviews of products that made it seem as though I had stumbled onto the particular item myself. I wrote tweets and Instagram posts and blog copy, which would then be plugged into various sites and influencer accounts, masquerading as native content. I had written about self-seltzering water bottles, lip scrubs, wine aerators, depilators, solar-powered cell phone batteries, lotions, serums, and so very many diet teas. I hated the diet teas the most. They were basically laxatives, only they smelled worse. In fact I had long ago stopped sampling them—they were always accompanied by extreme stomach cramps and diarrhea.

My second-most hated assignments were the beauty products, for which I had long ago run out of language to describe. The skincare products all promised to make your skin “glowy” or “luminous.” That pregnancy glow. That orgasm glow. 10,000-watt glow-power. I found myself writing things that I could not bear to say out loud. Hanna would tease me: “Oh you look so glowy. Get over here—I can’t help myself.” The beauty products reminded me of my mother, who spoke often about “aging gracefully.” Sometimes I thought about what I would look like as an old woman, and then about Hanna. I thought Hanna would age beautifully, which gave me a perverse and unearned pride.

I loved Hanna so much it felt like an agony. I knew I was letting her down. I got emails from my boss at random hours. We are pushing natural-grown products. Lab grown = sketchy, aberration. Call me w Qs. I never had any questions.



On Monday I told Hanna I was going to the dentist for a cavity filling and instead went to a bar across town, where I flirted with the bartender for two hours and got her number. On Tuesday, I came home with a slice of cake for Hanna and me to share. Hanna asked, “Should you be eating sweets? So soon after a filling?” and I accused her of policing me, and then I cried and then she cried and we slept on opposite edges of the bed. On Wednesday I texted the bartender, Tell me your fantasy. She did not respond.

On Friday a city official knocked on our door. She was wearing a yellow hazard vest over her blouse and skirt, and an N95 mask.

“English?” she asked. “Español? Chinese?”

“English,” we said.

She handed us a document.

“It’s all explained in there,” she said. Then she went on to the next house.

The document stated that the area would need to be evacuated. Rising ocean levels combined with new rainfall patterns meant that the city could no longer safely house us in these zip codes, and that we would need to find new accommodations. City services—power, garbage, mail, water (ironically)—would be cut off. After this deadline, it would be illegal to occupy the area. Any questions and we could email this address, or contact this 1-800 phone number.

“This is dumb,” our roommates said. “This is unenforceable. Where are we going to go? They can’t do this. This is just classic fuckery. I mean, who is going to make us leave? The cops? Good luck, evicting thousands of people. Who drank all the beer? Where is the beer?”

I went back to our room and opened the package for my next assignment. Unusually, I had a whole week to work on this single product, a multistep skincare regimen. The package contained three glass bottles with eye droppers in the lids; they were labeled only as 1, 2, and 3 and the liquids inside varied only in the intensity of their lilac hue. They smelled faintly floral and medicinal—like gin & tonic. I was to apply the products, in ascending numerical order, morning and night for one full week. The liquids were said to contain several vitamins, moisturizers, and emulsifiers that would brighten; tauten; and yes, give a healthy glow to the skin. Florilux was the brand name.

I took one look at the bottles and I got on my knees and begged Hanna to get me out of the house.

“Okay, but only if you promise to dial it back, like, two hundred notches,” she said.

When I first met Hanna she’d been hovering, quite literally dangling, above my head. Strapped into a device for painting high walls. I was walking below and saw her sneakers, then her lovely shapely legs. She was an angel! She was an employee of the city, commissioned to paint a mural. I asked if I could buy her a drink. Two months later we’d moved in together.



That evening after I got the Florilux shipment, we went to the bar down the street that we loved, a skanky punk bar called Eddy’s. The bar looked rough outside but led way to a starrily-lit enclosed patio. The fence had a texture like fish skin because so many people had nailed their N95 masks to it—in an act of protest, or perhaps boredom. It was crowded that day, and someone was sitting in the booth we normally liked to sit in: a man about our age with a long beard and chipped black fingernail polish.

“Mind if we join you?” we asked.

“Makes no difference to me,” he said. We seated ourselves far down the table from him and got situated with beers.

Unprompted, he cracked his knuckles and announced, “Feels like the sunset of civilization lately.”

“You’re fun,” Hanna said.

“Do you mind not bumming us out?” I said.

“Hey, fuck you. I got evicted today,” he said.

I said, “Isn’t that just classic fuckery? How are they going to evict ten thousand people?”

“They’re sending us from the frying pan into the fire,” he said darkly.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Do yourself a favor,” he said. “Get this app. I created it, full disclosure. You can search any location and see what’s coming.”

He held up his phone and showed us Eddy’s. A little animated water line sloshed around above the building roof. It was surprisingly cutesy, for what it was conveying.

“Are you for real?” I asked.

“Ever heard of climate departure? Ever heard of the methane clathrate gun?” he asked.

We moved to a different table.

When we got home, I stared at the Florilux bottles, all lined up on the dresser. I felt like a fraud. Just a skincare regimen! Just one hamburger, just one ride on a plane! Hanna was on the bed on her phone, and when I turned around, she showed me our place, with a little water line dancing around and an animated fish swimming past our window.

“You downloaded it?” I asked.

“Look at this,” she said, and swiped the screen to show a stick figure clutching its neck and drowning. Its eyes turned to Xs.

“Say we move inland,” Hanna said. She fiddled with the app again, and now the stick figures were running from cartoon flames.

“This guy’s a sicko,” I said.

“Yeah. I’m deleting it,” Hanna said.

But then she didn’t say anything else for a long time. I opened the Florilux bottles and quickly, roughly applied the product to my face. One-two-three. I hated myself for finding pleasure in it.

“Are you okay?” I asked Hanna.

“I know you’ve been texting other girls,” she said.

I sat down. I didn’t bother denying it. I said, “It doesn’t mean anything.”

She scratched the blanket with her fingernail, back and forth. She said, “I don’t want to have to always be asking you to do the right thing.”

“You won’t,” I said.

“Anyway, just because the world is trash it doesn’t mean you can do bad things,” she said. I wondered if she knew about the burgers. I put my hand on her thigh.

“I know. I’ll stop,” I said.

Her face was turned away, but she curled her fingers around mine.

“I feel like shit,” she said.

“Now you sound like me,” I said.

“Shut up,” she said. “You don’t have a premium on despair.”

I kissed her over and over. I tackled her back onto the pillows. I pushed my face into her lap.

“Don’t,” she said, giggling. “You smell like an old lady.”

The next day I did not work on my assignment, instead staying in bed all day watching TV. And I didn’t work on it the next day, or the next, or the next. I tried, but instead I found myself walking to the coffeeshop I liked in the morning and sitting in the shop for the time it took to drink my coffee and then by the time I got home all I could do was get into bed. I threw a T-shirt over the Florilux bottles on my dresser. They made me think of too much: my mother, standing at the mirror, pulling her brow taut with her hands. Flowers. Springtime. Hanna when we first started dating. The curl of her hair, the tawny patch of down on her navel. It was objectively insane to love someone this much. In the evenings, I’d meet Hanna at her BART stop and walk her home. I did not text other girls. Soon a week had passed; I missed the deadline for my copy and I received a professional-but-concerned email from my boss, with her boss copied on it.

Noticed your copy did not come in last night. Everything okay? We can give you a one-week extension, but do hope that you’ll get something to us soon.

I read it once and deleted it.



On Saturday, our roommates informed us that there would be a protest to the eviction down at the lake.

“What time will it be?” I asked.

“Ten or eleven-thirty,” they said.

“And what are we protesting?” I asked.

“Eviction,” they said.

“How is that going to help?” I said.

“Shut up, you boot-licker,” our roommates said.

We put on our walking shoes and made our way down to the lake. It was crowded; it stank of algae. The heat rose off the pavement in wiggles. I thought of the man’s app, wondered what grisly animation he had cooked up for the lake. He didn’t strike me as an expert. There were many people in the crowd, pent up and angry, wound like springs. They held signs with various admonishments. At the fringes were the slower walkers, the families; I saw a girl bend waveringly to tie her shoe, her mother putting her hand like a cap over her head.

We approached a stage built up in front of the courthouse. There was a speaker up there, a woman with long, gray hair and black taped Xs over her nipples. She was otherwise topless. She had a megaphone, and she stood in front of several others who also had Xs on their chests.

“My name is Justine,” she said. “I have been ringing the alarm bells for fifty years. And, boy, are my arms tired.”

My phone dinged. Assignment overdue, it said.

Justine was still speaking, though the persons around her had laid down on the stage in the pose of corpses.

“Extreme heat at the equator plus existing humidity is already causing staggering numbers of deaths due to renal failure. A wet-bulb temperature of ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit—temperatures we are already seeing regularly in places with such humidity—is lethal within hours.

“At three degrees of warming, we cannot even be certain that there will be clouds,” she said.

Hanna squeezed my hand. “I want to go,” she said.

“Right now?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

We went home, we went to our room, we sat together on the bed.

“How soon do you think it’ll be?” Hanna said. “What do you think it will be?”

“What is the ‘what’ here?” I asked.

“Death,” she said.

I pushed her shirt up to uncover her perfect belly, round and tan. What the French called the “cheese belly.”

“There simply aren’t any satisfying answers to that question,” I said.

She turned away from me, and I could tell she was crying.

“Hanna,” I said.

“You’re the doomer,” she said. “So just tell me, so I can expect the worst.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

She wiped her nose on the sheets and said, “I want a sea burial.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “A what?”

“I want a burial at sea. Actually, I want a Viking burial,” she said. “I want you to put me on a raft and push me out to sea, and then shoot a flaming arrow.”

“I have really bad aim,” I said.

“You can only get into Valhalla if you die in battle,” she explained.

“Good,” I said. “Let’s go down fighting.”

I loved her so much. I told her, “I love you so much.”

Then I asked her if she wanted to get very drunk.

We went to Eddy’s. I felt a sudden and intense conviviality towards every single person around, my fellow humans. I wanted to make love to everybody all at once. We went to our booth and Hanna put her forehead on the table. I bought drinks and returned.

“To your health,” I said, tapping my glass against Hanna’s.

She slurped at hers. She pointed to a booth at the back where people had begun to pile sundries: blankets, bags, jugs of water. TAKE WHAT YOU NEED read a sign taped to the wall above.

“It’s like everyone already knows it’s an emergency,” Hanna said.

I didn’t say anything. My phone dinged: another email from my boss. We stress the urgency of you turning your assignments in. Failure to comply with deadlines will result in probationary status or, if misbehavior continues, termination.

I downed my drink. I reached out and took Hanna’s hand.

“I’m going to be better,” I told her.

We arrived home tipsy and as we went into our room I nearly knocked into our dresser.

“Steady, cowgirl,” Hanna said, giggling. She pulled at my clothes.

“I have to send my thing,” I said.

“Do it later,” she said.

“I’ll be so quick,” I said.

I got out my computer and stared at the Florilux bottles. I opened one and that herby, lovely smell leaked out. I took a tiny drop and put it on my tongue. It was gaseous, like perfume. I imagined downing the whole thing. Glug! Hanna bit my ear and I batted her away.

I typed, Are you aging? Are you tired and worn? Do you spend all your time fretting about the fine lines on your face and how they foretell the slow and steady march toward death or, worse, that moment when the world will turn its eyes from your old & unbeautiful face? Do you wake in the morning with an aching in your knees and wonder if there will be any dignity in the end? If so, FloriluxTM is for you.

Then I hit send.



That night I dreamed of my mother, I dreamed of her swimming laps in the pool at the Y like she did three times a week. When I was younger my sister and I would go to the daycare but when we got older we would do our own thing, swim sometimes ourselves or play in the gymnasium or, once we reached middle school, go on the ellipticals. We all went together to the locker room and while my sister and I would undress in the bathroom stalls, my mother would strip alongside all the other middle-aged-to-old ladies, and put on her navy one-piece and swimming cap. I could picture her body even better than I could picture my own, even still, her long skinny limbs and her soft round belly, the appendectomy scar she had that looked like chewing gum, the freckles on her shoulders and back, the nodules of her spine. She fretted about the changing of her body into something spent. “Youth is its own beauty,” she would tell us.



In the dream, she was already in the pool, cutting back and forth across the water like a blade. She turned her face every three strokes to breathe: slice, slice, slice, breath. But as she swam, only the lane she was in began draining, and she didn’t seem to notice, she just swam doggedly on, even until her knees and elbows were knocking the pool’s bottom and finally she was on her belly. Only then did she get up and move to the next lane to begin again. I woke before the entire pool had emptied.

Unsurprisingly, my copy submission had elicited a curt response from my boss, which read simply: Come to office ASAP. So I showered and dressed and declined a portion of the eggs Hanna was cooking for breakfast.

“I have to go to Mountain View,” I said.

“Are you in trouble?” she asked.

“Probably,” I said.

“If you wait like fifteen minutes I can walk with you to BART,” she said.

“Actually, I think I’d like to go alone,” I said. “Trying to get my head right.”

The train that day was standing room only. It moved above and below ground, finally descending under the bay in a pop of darkness. We rattled along there down below. Everyone around me was distracted, wearing headphones or scrolling on their phones or staring at their feet. It felt like the waiting room at a hospital. Still, it was sort of a miracle, traveling under the water like this. How had they built a tunnel underwater? How did you do that without it flooding into where you dug? There was so much I didn’t know.

At Millbrae I switched to an aboveground train. I kept checking my phone, wondering what sort of trouble was waiting for me at the office. Or maybe I would just be fired. I tried to summon alarm at the thought, but none came. I saw a billboard with two beautiful golden people tongue-kissing in a club. I wondered if I was the worst person I knew.

At the office, I checked in with the receptionist and was led to a room to wait for my boss, Jules, a scary, beautiful, and severe woman whom I’d once watched eat sushi by stabbing pieces with a chopstick. I got out my laptop and futilely typed some notes: Florilux: so luxe it’s in the name. Floral = flower (??) Flowers are nature. Smells great! Jules marched in, her tight skirt gripping her thighs.

“You think this is funny?” she asked, holding a printout of the copy I’d turned in yesterday.

“It’s not meant to be funny,” I said.

She sat down. I could see her working to compose her face.

I said, “Do you ever think about how we’re ugly little cogs in a terrible machine?”

Jules pressed her lips together. “You’ve picked a funny time to grow a conscience,” she said.

“It’s recently come to my attention that our days are numbered,” I said.

“Yeah, yeah. The world is falling apart and we’re writing ad copy for lip gloss. I’m not stupid, you know. But you can’t eat self-righteousness. So do your job,” she said.

She slid the paper across the table to me and left the room. She had drawn a big black X over my copy. I thought of the people from the rally. I typed, Florilux: You’ll need your skin in tip-top shape for when the clouds disappear and we all irradiate.

I hit send; I waited. A few minutes later, I received Jules’s reply.

“Do again,” it said, “or you’re done.”

I pictured the bottles, their floral smell. I thought of Hanna and her Viking burial. I thought of my mother washing her face. I considered that Florilux was in many ways a perfect product. It promised not only beauty and youth but also something more fundamental, the idea of preparing for a future that would surely come and would be better than the past.

Florilux: for those of us left, I wrote. Then I hit send and I went home.




Rumpus original art by Rosie Struve

Erin Gravley lives and works in Oakland, California. She received her MFA from Syracuse University. Her fiction has previously appeared in The Barcelona Review. More from this author →