Rachel Watts

The Present Tense

Rachel Watts


When I cannot cope, I write in the present tense.

***

As a child I have a recurring dream. I am driving. I don’t know how to drive and the car goes too fast or too slow, or the steering stops working. My sister is in the passenger seat.

***

The present tense is  bright, industrial light. A strobe. It casts deep shadows. When I cannot cope I write with the blankness of a machine gun.

***

When I describe the dream to my sister she says she has the same dream. In her dream I am also driving, and she is in the passenger seat. It surprises me that we are not all in the drivers’ seats of our dreams.

***

The passage of time is hard to manipulate. History evaporates. Wi-Fi and the wheel are invented simultaneously. The air fills with fumes. The present moment grips my throat. Squeezes.

***

Recycling is invented. We make two careful piles. We are helping the environment.

***

The present tense is immersive. Concrete, sensory detail. I pause to consider concrete as something sensual: solid, rough grit.

***

I’m in the passenger seat, a teenager. Mum is driving. She reaches across and holds my hand. This is the happiest moment of my life.

***

Meanwhile, exhaust fills the air with poison. In the present tense we ruin the future. But the present tense is divorced from time.

***

I’m in the driver’s seat in my late twenties, dropping my sister to the city. She gets out of the car and crosses the road and I feel the urge to call after her — to call her back, hold her close, keep her warm. She is alone and the world is big.

***

The world is the smallest it’s ever been. The end of the world is already here.

***

A woman on television casually suggests closing the border to Muslims. I text my partner about a future I can’t live with.

There is no escape plan for the future.

I see red dirt.

***

I update my Facebook status.

I update my Facebook status.

I update my Facebook status.

***

The present tense is empowered. It is status updates and instant gratification. The present tense is BUY NOW ON AFTERPAY. It’s how we wreck the world.

***

In Thailand, boys swim kilometres under water, underground. The darkness is immeasurable. In the free air, the boys smile too broad. Unbroken.

***

Time is speeding up. The present is forever. The moment extends, unbuckled by history.

***

The boys run from police. Their bodies are found in water in cold morning light. No charges are laid. The newsreader does not mention their race.

***

The present tense gives us no language for the dead. Grief is silent.

***

I am in my thirties and sitting at my laptop. There is something concrete inside of me. Hard and immovable — scored with each mark of the pickaxe as I carve it into something I can live with. I switch to green energy  and think of wind farms.

I am helping the environment.

***

The children are under five years old when their father kills them with knives and blunt objects. The newsreader does not reveal the father’s motives.

***

The Arctic is on fire.

The Arctic is on fire.

The Arctic is on fire.

***

I see a future in strobelight. I see headlines and empty apologies. I see electricity, running water and the internet blink out of existence.  

***

I am afraid that I will live to see the end of the world.

***

When I cannot cope, I write in the present tense.


Rachel Watts is a writer of literary and speculative fiction. She has a Master’s Degree in Creative Practice and teaches creative writing to adults and teenagers. Her work has been published by Westerly, Island, Kill Your Darlings, Tincture and more. Her climate change novella Survival was released in March 2018.

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