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Richie met Athena Righteous-Fury on the same day the tower block where she lived got up and started walking.
       Richie was scooping his hangovered behind out of an acquaintance’s yard after a night of group-drinking. The lift was dead. Last night it had seemed hysterically funny getting up to Floor 29, like climbing a concertina. When they finally arrived, gasping, strung out in the corridor like paper bird decorations in the wind, looking at the stars, Richie saw he was too drunk to get down again.
       It was a distinct tremor in the concrete that had woken him, but he’d only realise that later, confusing the tremor with a need to urinate. He slipped out the shaking front door, leaving a snoring crowd splayed amongst Rizlas and pint glasses.
       Richie didn’t notice the fluorescent blue liquid running down the tower block walls, hissing and fizzing. He slunk down the corridor. Didn’t tower blocks usually sway in the wind?
       A woman three doors down flung open her door and walked out, orange robe flailing. Richie would have skipped on by, but for the transparency of the woman’s nightdress, exposing prodigious breasts and a bigger belly. She was the largest person he’d ever seen, like marshmallow foam, beautiful eyes wide and head cocked. There was no way to get past her without full body contact, and he was sure that would be like a hurricane: swept up into trouble.
       – You feel that? asked the woman.
       – What? said Richie.
       Her reply was drowned out by a yawning, squealing metal sound, like all the cutlery in the world scraped against corrugated iron, and a sudden, meaty stench, as if they’d been rammed face-first into a butcher’s shop.
       The tower block began to move forward.
       Gaping, wordlessly screaming, Richie glared over the edge. No, he was not insane, the entire structure was walking, as if he’d hitched a ride on a stone monster. Things were falling off the building, bits of furniture and clothing and was that a bicycle coming for his head?
       The large woman grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, pulling him inside her apartment and out of the way of the falling bike. It was a perfectly organic motion, like a wise mamma cat with her kitten. Richie crouched in her hallway, heart thundering. He choked a thank-you, noticing the heart-shaped mole on her shoulder.
       WINNER OF THE ANGELIC BODY AWARD, said her orange robe.
       Outside, metal boomed.

Her name was Athena Righteous-Fury. Richie recognised her type: she was a fixer, always consulted by community. Her day job was swimming instructor, she said, and it was her personal mission to teach everybody in this blasted tower block to swim; she’d been doing it for years. You were supposed to get lessons at school, but around here pools were mostly shut, or shit, and teachers believed their kind had heavy bones anyway. Some parents came from countries where swimming was for rich people; others were too tired to bother.
       – Make me a cocktail, said Athena Righteous-Fury. – You look like you’d be good at it.
       – Richie was a trainee bartender and felt validated by her presumption. He made his best Bamboo from stuff in the kitchen: sherry, dry Vermouth, Angostura bitters and orange.
       – Saves on water, said Athena Righteous-Fury, the glass almost disappearing inside her remarkable fist.

She sent a child to collect the respected people in the building and danced around her front room, waiting: for Mr Burt who ran the local cheap-goods store; Aspidistra, a grandma who’d lost her left breast to cancer; the bisexual choir who sang pop songs; the 17-year-old who planted corn and excellent white roses in the communal garden. A whole hour had passed, and word was out: a helicopter buzzed at the window, men inside gesticulating.
       The newly minted Tower Block Emergency Group established the facts. Electricity was off. They had a week’s water in the tank if careful. Rose Girl and her pals would check door to door and make a list of people short on food. Most people still had the internet, but all computers and phones were to be confiscated immediately to conserve battery life. They had to communicate with the outside world, and there was no point everybody running out of charge. One person per floor would hold a phone, another a laptop. Mr Burt would monitor the news 24-7 and no one should touch the lifts, they were bound to be fucked like always.
       Since he was at the meeting too, Richie piped up. Setting rules was all very well, he said, but normal people would certainly disobey.
       – Of course, said Athena Righteous-Fury. She was chairing the meeting in her nightie, skin exposed and undulating as the tower crashed forward. No-one seemed phased by her nakedness. – What you do is factor in the disobedience. Don’t it, Mr Burt?
       Mr Burt nodded.
       – Oh, said Athena Righteous-Fury. – And somebody need to talk to the tower block and ask it what it want.
       As the group rocked off down the jerking stairs, Richie asked how Athena Righteous-Fury was going to spend her day. She looked mildly surprised.
       – Swimming lessons start soon, she said. – Make me another cocktail.

The tower block moved at a steady, rhythmic pace: purposeful, as if it were finding its balance. Richie peered through the kitchen window, mixing Athena Righteous-Fury a Bees Knees: gin, lemon and honey. The tower block skirted other buildings where it could, only driving deep furrows through parks when it had to, stepping over furiously beeping cars and people shaking their fists below. Residents lingered on corridors and balconies, looking out at the vast city, taking their washing in, chattering, and pointing. Crying children were slapped or comforted. A married man with conveniently handsome features arrived, knocked, and headed for Athena Righteous-Fury’s bedroom. The subsequent noises suggested he appreciated an angelic body.
       Afterwards, Athena Righteous-Fury liked Richie’s bright pink Clover Club so much she had two: gin, lemon juice, raspberry syrup and a frothy egg white.

There were more helicopters buzzing now, from news shows. People sent messages up to say they’d seen themselves on television, waving at the cameras, in Toledo and Latvia and Port Antonio and Laos. Blue liquid ran down the sides of the roaring building and into the corridors. Athena Righteous-Fury scooped a handful and sniffed.
       – Like cocoa butter, she said.
       She stood on the balcony, listening intently, stroking the concrete, watching flocks of surprised clouds, shushing Richie when he tried to talk and taking reports from slickly organised minions.

By afternoon, somebody came running up to say the police were coming.
       Athena Righteous-Fury put on a yellow polka-dotted bikini, her navel piercing playing hide-and-seek in the velveteen folds of her belly. She gathered a bag full of swimming goggles, snorkelling equipment, and purple swim-caps for people with large hair. She’d been teaching local people to swim in their bathtubs since someone pooped in the local pool and shut it down. The main thing was to teach breathing and floating, she explained. Respect for water.
       – What about the police, said Richie.
       – I suppose they’re upset we’re heading for the rich people, said Athena Righteous-Fury.
       She’d only managed to get through two lessons before Mr Burt and the Aspidistra came up with three-score and ten people, all fussing about Babylon heading their way. The news said the tower block occupants were dangerous criminals from somewhere else, set on destroying the country, but everybody knew they were only a few hours away from a fancy part of town and if the block tore through that, very powerful people would have less money.
       Mr Burt said they needed to give an interview to explain there were innocent residents here. Athena Righteous-Fury said the Rose Girl was the best choice.
       – What about you? said Richie.
       – Too fat and too drunk for them, said Athena Righteous-Fury, splashing water over a happy man learning the breaststroke in her bathtub.
       – I thought we was saving water, hissed somebody.
       For the first time, Richie thought Athena Righteous-Fury looked worried.

Rose Girl was interviewed at 5.17pm. Richie held up a phone so Athena Righteous-Fury could see it all as she coaxed a teenager in a white swimsuit to duck her head up and down in the sink, breathing to the side for the crawl.
       Rose Girl was pale and conventionally pretty. Her flat was tatty, ferns and potted lemon trees everywhere. The interviewer asked her why and who and how and was she a bad person, were they all bad there, and Rose Girl had to yell NO over the sound of the tower block stepping around a playground.
       – Breathe, said Athena Righteous-Fury. – Swoosh-brrrrr-one-two-three. She glanced at Richie. – Go number 128 though 147 and tell them I teaching them in a group, today.
       – We’re just like you, said Rose Girl on TV, her face shaking.
       Athena Righteous-Fury said Richie should go make Rose Girl a Mai-Tai for good measure, so he did.

At 5.57pm, just as Richie decided to kiss Rose Girl, the police attached a bomb to the underbelly of the walking tower block. Someone’s dog on a bright red string sniffed it out and howled so hard Mr Burt’s lookouts jumped up from their beer.
       Before anyone could hatch a plan, the tower block belched out a vast quantity of blue viscosity, swamping the bomb, splashing in the faces of the lookouts and soaking the police vans driving alongside.
       The drenched police cars hit brakes, eerrrks.
       – I see, said Athena-Righteous-Fury, when Richie ran up to tell her.

The tower block stalked past the fancy part of town, leaving the TV cameras behind. The bright, late summer sunshine filtered platinum; birds Richie didn’t recognise swirled the building’s circumference. The land changed, sloping into golden-green expanses of rapeseed; fluffy white sheep; a bigger blue sky than he’d ever seen.
       Richie went back down to squeeze Rose Girl’s hand, then found Athena Righteous-Fury on the 16th floor. She was flat-out running between apartments, a bag of swimming stuff bouncing against her hip. Richie scowled; he’d have been leading the troops and making speeches if he had half her gravitas. He told her so; something about today had him speaking his mind.
       – Move out of my way, boy, snapped Athena Righteous-Fury. She swept by him in a crocheted, lavender bikini; he knew her nipples better than his own.
       He’d seen his drinking companions from last night, all eyes to the heavens. There was a lucid sense of prayer emerging from this place; a woman in number 27 had sung hymns all afternoon and now he couldn’t imagine a life without her wheedling, glossy voice.
       For the first time, Richie was quite sure he was going to die here.
       He’d go foraging for Pina Colada ingredients, that was what he’d do.

The tower block accelerated as darkness folded in. Most slept.
       One fat woman did not sleep, going door to door like a dark tremble, clear and firm and soothing.
       – Teach you to swim, sis?
       It is not a request.

Hot dawn hit the tower block and made it dance: skank one-time, pirouette, a jitterbug, wine-down low, stop for a moment, hammer-time; flairy, 6-7-8. The inhabitants felt the air quicken, the urgency deepen, felt the promise of completion; hushed and afraid, they gathered on grey and crumbling corridors, hundreds, looking, straining, holding hands. Snatches of panicked chatter, like bursts of static. Some newscasters said the tower block had been shot down. They spoke as if the block was a monster, an unholy thing, but around them here it breathed and jigged. They clutched its parts, cheeks to walls, some kneeling and putting their palms to the ground.
       Ahead, the endless sky, as if conjured only for them.
       Richie stared, trying not to cry. His parents and two older brothers said never come to places like this. He would steal back his phone if he had to, call them and say he was…what? Safe? He’d had leftovers for breakfast: Athena Righteous-Fury’s cold fry plantain, bully-beef with plenty scallion and scotch-bonnet. Then she’d made morning love with another neighbour, a session that seemed to go on so successfully long that Richie stopped using the sofa cushion to block the sound.
       He put his chin on the railing. Athena’s hand fluttered around the back of his neck, fiddling, light, ticklish; a jolt; the smell of condensed milk. He turned.
       She was holding a megaphone; she was wearing her goggles; she was naked and glorious.
       In the distance, the new blue sky glimmered. Richie clutched the railing. The tower block tried the lindy-hop, then a lambada: ohhhh look at that pop-locking, wooo-baby.
       – Such a beautiful day, someone said.
       – Just wait, whispered Athena Righteous-Fury. Her angelic body simmered. Richie thought he could hear it.
       Crunch-crunch, the pebbled shore, crackling underneath the tower.
       The sea.
       The residents scuttered backwards, hands raised.
       Richie turned, looking for Athena, but her face was set on the crowd, all the men, women, the small ones, fierce-fierce, convinced she’d done enough.
       She was, after all, a spectacular teacher.
       You haven’t done enough, he thought.
       She lifted the megaphone.
       – TAKE A DEEP BREATH LIKE I SHOWED YOU! bellowed Athena Righteous-Fury.
       One. Two. Eyes closed.
       – THREE!
       He’d skived on swim school days.
       The oiled tower block plunged into the creamy ocean, fizzing and sinking and sighing. Its walls melted, water pouring into every home, pulling objects out: loaded bookshelves, thin yellow cushions, ancient hi-fis, curried cookers, love letters stiff with tears, stinky shoes, pet toys, red polyester underwear, cho-cho and guineps, clothes hangers, cinnamon lotion, 104 kinds of medicines, snapped earrings, give-thanks journals, blood-pressure cuffs, naughty games, lamps that purr, blackberry-flavoured condoms in cupboards.
       Richie had the sensation of cold all over his body, then calm. He was happy he’d learned so many cocktails, but he would have liked to kiss the Rose Girl.
       No time to wonder if drowning was a pleasant way to die.
       Then that strong, swimmer’s hand on his scruff and he was up in the air hollering, fitted like a cork between Athena Righteous-Fury’s breasts. He tried to fight but she had him fast, spluttering madly, her strong thighs pushing through the ocean. She was smiling and watching for every beloved forehead: pop-pop-pop! up through the water and safe; waving, calling out to neighbours: where Dave-where Miss Sue-I-see-you Putus Mr Burt-oh-yes where-Mrs Trudeau third child-see-her-there Miss Annie, hello now.
       Pop-pop-pop: everybody accounted for, swirling, diving, exclaiming, checking, clambering over the stone blocks rising to the surface amongst them.
       – Look at what I can do!
       – Ooh, you pretty!
       A baptism. A cooling. Heads down, backsides up.
       It took Athena Righteous-Fury fifteen minutes to teach Richie how to swim. First the float, where the trick was to relax; then the breathing; flip you over; done.
       – Which stroke you want to learn?
       – Butterfly, he said, and she called him a contrary bloodclaaht and taught him the butterfly stroke. Forevermore he would think of her, backstroking through buoyant bricks and mortar, her nipples round and wet and pointed up to the sun.

© Leone Ross

This electronic version of “When We Went Gallivanting” appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the publisher and the author. It appears in Best British Short Stories 2023 edited by Nicholas Royle, published by Salt Books, 2023.

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