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Rated: E · Short Story · How-To/Advice · #1661336
An unrealistic plan for a hopefully unlikely disaster.
I hope I’m not bothering you (which is surprisingly easy considering that I am you), but your thoughts do tend to be most paranoid while showering. It seems to me that we should establish a few emergency procedures, in the event of nuclear holocaust, ethnic cleansing, zombie attack, etc. Set down the soap and ponder with me for a minute. Don’t want to be caught unawares do we?

Let’s be hypothetical. You’re sitting at your desk, minding your own business, making smiley faces out of post-it notes and hating yourself for your unoriginality, when you are unexpectedly spared that one rabid horse laugh, the chortling sound of your desk mate stuffing a meatball sub into his mouth. Though you don’t mind the respite, you search the room confusedly for your savior. What irony. Your gaze stumbles on the television where some dispassionate voice with a nose job is telling the world the number of casualties they estimate will be incurred in ten minutes when that nuclear warhead stumbles across wherever you are. What do you do?

Everyone else is hiding under their desks, looting the vending machines, or standing dumbly and I know it’s alarming, but you must show no emotion and proceed swiftly. You are a vector: clean, urgent and direct. Get moving immediately and thank some vague benevolent force that you took the desk closest to the door (as per my suggestion). Take only your car keys and your cell phone. The roads will be clear now. Be thankful that the squat little office building where your man works is just down the street, in fact be concerned about your eerily good fortune. You must be more coordinated than usual, take the stairs three at a time and don’t fall on your face. You should already be on the phone telling him (as calmly as you can manage) to be waiting by the back door and ready to drive. He drives far more recklessly than you, no matter the situation.

You need to have a fast car and not fumble with the keys as you so often do. Imagine yourself in one of those action movies where the flames are licking your bumper, but make it artsy as well so that you know your survival is not a given. (Make your soundtrack Italian opera to reinforce this feeling.) Channel your flight instinct into your right foot, maybe add your left for good measure. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. These familiar environs are now out to get you; every lamppost, every gaudy fast food joint, every slab of loose foam whipped up in your wake is trying to get in your way as you struggle for control at these ungodly speeds. Consider that his life also depends on you, but don’t push the car to the point that it will give out on you. If you’ve done right, he’ll launch himself into the driver’s seat less than a minute after you left work. He’ll shout that he loves you with the panic showing in his eyes. He takes off, mercilessly squashing the doomed grass rather than wasting time turning around properly. This is partly why you love him, you know. He wants to live as badly as you do right now.

Race away from civilization like you’re Huck Finn in a rocket ship. Now that you’re in this together and all you have to do is hit 120 and the cruise control button, you begin to rattle off memories, reasons that your life is worth continuing. If you’re silent for even a moment, despair could creep up on you. So you say ‘remember that night when we were frustrated teenagers cross legged in my driveway and as I groped you, you told me our first daughter’s name?’ He grins madly, says ‘we’ll make her someday soon.’ Your laughter is ragged with sobbing, because you don’t know if he’s right. Don’t worry about getting a grip on yourself, all the rest now is a matter of luck.

Go crazy. Howl wildly like you’re on the trail of something juicy, relish the huge set of shoulders keeping you company, sing those crazy songs you sang when you were kids with your face buried in that special place where his neck meets his shoulders. Scream that humankind will never be so blessed as it was with the two of you, laugh until your voice cracks at the irony of your buckled seatbelt. Look out the window. See the blur that the world is reduced to, wonder how the universe would look from astride a beam of light. Vocalize this thought. Be desperately grateful that you’ve had what you’ve had so far. Hope madly that your luck hasn’t run out. Bite your nails with abandon.

This is the most important part of the plan. Are you listening? Soak in what it is to be alive in case you can’t get far enough away. This would not mean that your efforts have been futile. Survival is an iffy thing. The point is that you know you haven’t given your life up easily. Surely this tenacity would be rewarded in any sort of afterlife.

You’ll know you’re safe (for now) when you feel the shock wave. It will feel like you have one of those aliens in your gut trying to get out, but don’t worry because next we’ll come up with a plan for that. Your ears will hurt like hell, but will feel better once your ear drums rupture. Your man has had the foresight to take the car out of cruise and slam on the brakes, being in no condition to drive as you both rattle around in your seats. Something wet is dripping out of your ears, but don’t worry, it must be pus. It smells too bad to be blood.

The tremor has passed. Unclench your fist in front of your face to make sure it still works. Smile when it does. In crazed joy, hug him ferociously and scream into his neck, feel his tears on the end of your nose and taste his laughter rumbling in his throat. After a minute or two you’ll both fall silent, look over your shoulders for the first time and see the smoke assume that disgustingly familiar shape. Now you’ll remember your young hound dog left in your backyard, your crazy neighbor who always wears the powdered wig and impersonates famous British jurists, the little girl at the end of the street who knows to hit you up for Girl Scout cookies every year, that one friend you had just started getting to know at your dog’s obedience training classes. Try to keep the image of scorched meat out of your mind, but feel free to cry. Contemplate no ‘what-ifs.’ Realize that a war has just started. Everyone you’ve seen for the past few years is dead now. You’ll be shocked into silent, racking sobs. The world seems like a much more dangerous place. But you won’t be that shocked, because we considered these dangers many years beforehand. Assuming you’re paying attention instead of meticulously shaving your knees…

You and your man will cry inconsolably for a while, eventually falling asleep with your hands tightly clasped. You’ll wake up as a dark curtain goes down on the horizon and the fires behind you still burn. You’ll become strangely paranoid about marauding mutants, having read the synopses of far too many horror movies. Tug on your man’s shoulder urgently, then calm down as you realize that you’re goddamn lucky to have him with you. Now he’s awake and his eyes are full of worry, creasing at the corners. He kisses your forehead and you both buckle up. Things could be far, far worse. You could be alone.

The car starts up obligingly, purring its gratitude for not being reduced to a charred frame and hubcaps. The two of you are colonists looking for a new place to plant your flag. Try to be optimistic. It’s not as hard to do when that familiar twice-as-big-as-your-own hand is cupping your chin and stroking your lower lip. You stare him down and know that your thoughts are the same. “You’ll never be lonely and you’ll always be loved, and maybe that’s all you need,” hums that one singer whose name you can’t remember.

The highway is stretched out in front of you like a picnic lunch. He finally turns to face it. You’re driving at a less breakneck pace and can see the bowed trees, horrified but still standing this far out. Breathe in deeply. Exhale quietly and worry just a little bit less than you’re inclined to. Ask ‘where are we going?’

There are many obvious flaws in this plan. What if you’re in the middle of a heavily congested city and your car doesn’t stand a chance? What if your man isn’t so close by? What if your car isn’t fast enough, what if you don’t have enough time? What if there is nowhere else for you to go in the world?

Retrieve your soap, get clean before your skin prunes any further. I will always be rambling around in your head; there will be time to address these contingencies later. Don’t panic.

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