A bomb went off in the city.
It happened Monday. Today is Thursday. My dad was there. He hasn’t come back yet.
I’ve been sitting at the window every day waiting for him to come home. Mom says the bomb interrupted the electric grid in the city, so there’s been barely any news about it. Our neighbor’s son is a meteorologist stationed outside the city limits, and he told his father who told us.
The bomb was the biggest he’d ever seen. He saw a flash of blue light from outside the window, and threw himself to the ground. He counted to five, because it was his job to “record phenomenon”. At five the windows exploded into the room and heat like a furnace rushed over him. His father says he managed to call from an emergency line in the station. He’s wounded but okay.
Dad was supposed to come home Monday night. Mom has been very quiet for the last few days. She doesn’t say much at breakfast, and only gives me an “I love you” at bedtime on her way out of the room. I only cry then, in the dark.
This morning, I stare out the window, hoping by some miracle I’d see him walking down the street, and turn onto our walkway leading up to the house, smiling and waving at me. My heart leaps every time someone walks by.
Mom comes in behind me. “Go upstairs and get ready for school, please.”
I turn around in my chair. “But-”
“Staring out the window is not going to change anything. Now go.”
I leave the window, feeling as though he won’t come home unless I was there watching for him.
Every day it’s gotten harder and harder to sit there at the window and watch. I have a need to run outside and look for him, to ask every person in every store if they’ve seen him, anywhere at all, because I need him, I need him home to wake me up in the morning and help me with homework and tell me jokes at the dinner table and be there for me when I need advice or just to talk and not be crushed under a mountain of concrete with pulverized shoulders that used to hold me during parades and let me press my face into them when I needed to cry.
I sob while I put my books into my bag, quietly because I haven’t heard mom cry and she won’t hear me cry.
The front door swings open from downstairs. “Hello?”
For three days I dreamed of that voice.
“Dad!!” I half-scream and rush to the landing, looking down over the banister through vision that swam with tears. He was looking up at me, I couldn’t tell if he was smiling or not, but I rushed down the steps and towards him with a hysterical laugh of relief. I stopped dead when I came closer to him.
His face was a deep red and covered in blisters. His arms looked burned like they were held over a stove. His shirt was torn, and covered in soot and, and maybe, blood.
“It’s alright,” he said. “Come give me a hug.”
I sprint to him and dive into his arms. He gives a little cry of pain.
“Oh God dad I’m sorry,” I mutter, trying to pull away.
“It’s all right,” he says, “I’m just a bit sore, that’s all.”
He looks up, behind me. Mom’s been standing there, watching us. She’s finally crying.
“Didn’t you know I’d be back?” Dad says to her, smiling.
She rushes over, and the three of us are hugging together. It was a long time before we broke up.
“What happened to you?” asks mom.
Dad looks at me, tentatively. His face is suddenly grave, pale, his eyes looked, did they look scared?
“I think it’s best if you leave while I talk to your mother. Don’t you have school in a bit? Go get ready for me.”
I nod, turning away reluctantly. As I head upstairs, I hear him say, “Let’s sit down. I need some water.”
I return to my bookbag with a different set of tears in my eyes. I knew he would be fine, I just knew it! Why would I ever think my dad could get hurt? He had to come home, and he did! That’s all there was to it.
I heard a gasping moan from downstairs. I turn towards the door, and stop when I remember that he told me to leave them alone. Another moan floats through the door. My curiosity gets the best of me.
I creep around the doorframe and down the hall to the landing. Leaning against the wall with my ear between the banisters, they couldn’t see me around the corner but their words were clear as day:
“-just got to the hospital to inspect the facilities. It was around eight in the morning. I was following the chief of staff to his office when it sounded like a cannon went off right beside me. The wall next to me exploded.”
Mom made another sound like I had heard from upstairs. I couldn’t see her but her face was plain as day. She must have been chalk-white. I was turning pale too. I found myself wondering how in the world he could have survived that.
“I woke up some time later, I really have no idea how much later. It was pitch black where I was, and hot, deathly hot. I put my hands out and felt metal as hot as a grill. Three walls of metal, and one of rock. I remember asking myself if I was dead, or captured or something.
“I started scratching and clawing at the rock to get out. It looked like I was in some sort of enclosure, like a space just big enough for my body. I had yanked enough rock away to pull myself out.
“I looked back and saw I was under a steel desk that had been thrown right-side up on top of me. It was the perfect cover. My skin felt horribly sunburned, and the air was so hot it was like sitting in a sauna. I looked around and saw I was standing on what was left of the second floor as it came down on top of us. And I was alone. The hospital had fallen away, so I could see the sky, though it was so dark. It looked like a storm had come in in seconds. Rain was coming down. But it wasn’t rain. It was black, and tarry…
“I climbed over walls of the hospital, I was so thirsty, so groggy. I knew there would be no running water. But we were close to the bay, and I crossed a river to get to the hospital. So, I started making my way back there. I was so lucky to be close to the city limits, I doubt anyone in downtown survived the collapse of those huge buildings. But almost every building here was destroyed, and the ones that weren’t were burning…
“At first I didn’t see a single person. Then I came across a mother and her baby under an awning of concrete. It was…it was hellish. The woman…her skin was peeling off in sheets…her eyes were a bright gold-white. They must have been bleached from looking at the explosion. Her baby was charred black. It looked rubbery in her arms. She was staring straight ahead, the skin hanging off her arms was translucent, like the wings of a fly. The shock on her face made me nauseous. I called out to her but she didn’t hear me. I doubted that she would, she was probably deaf from being outside for the blast.”
I closed my eyes. What he was saying scared me. I didn’t want to be here, but I was frozen against the wall, helpless to hear.
“As I got closer to the riverside, I saw more and more people, some on their feet, some lying like rag dolls, some whose body parts were just barely sticking out of the rubble. The people on the ground were so burned they were swelling up. They looked like black rubber dolls. When I got to the river, I-”
He stopped, choking on his words. Mom was dead silent now. I could imagine her dread is keeping her from even moaning. My heart is hammering now. As I listen I see with clarity the ghastly sights my father had seen. The images burned into my mind’s eye.
“I saw hundreds, literally hundreds of corpses, covering the banks of the river, piled on top of one another, trying to get a last drink…there were corpses floating down the river, too. I saw a woman pass who looked like she was wearing a long white cloth belt that was billowing out behind her. I got closer and realized it was her intestines, whitened by the water.
“On the other side of the river, there were these large mounds piled up against the ruined walls facing the explosion, and people were standing around them, pulling them apart. They were looking for their loved ones, inside mounds of human beings. I saw children there, on their knees, screaming into the mounds, ‘daddy are you in there?’, ‘mommy please come out!’
“I stood there, behind the bodies bordering the river like black and red sandbags, watching people float by, watching people dig into mountains of humans, watching people collapse where they stood, watching people with burst out organs try and fit them back in, watching a man with eyes burned out of his head as he asked, ‘Is anyone there? Please, kill me.’
“I stood there under the gray sky, watching all this through smoke as black rain fell, and you know what I realized? I realized that, in all my thoughts, all my dreams of what Hell might look like, I could never have imagined anything like this. I guess I didn’t need to, though. Hell came to me. Hell came to earth.”
I stood for a long, long time after that. My back was still against the wall. The grotesque images swam in front of me, as if at the end of a black tunnel, the women writhing, the men pleading for death, the corpses grinning up at me as they floated by.
My shirt peeled off the wall as I ran to the bathroom. I bolted to the toilet and promptly vomited into the basin. My eyes felt like they would burst under the pressure of my undigested breakfast.
The monsters I picture when I swing my closet door open or look under my bed from on top-expecting to see a set of dripping white teeth over two glaring red eyes-those monsters are nothing now. Nothing compared to these horrors. These people, they’re real, and the ones who caused them this…there couldn’t be anything more evil in the world.
I kneeled, dazed, over the bowl for minutes. I came out of it only when mom knocked on the door and told me in a quiet voice that I would be late for school if I didn’t hurry. Thirty five minutes later I was sitting in class before the teacher came in.
Before I had left the house, I hugged my dad, who had fallen asleep on the couch where he sat. His face looked very lined, very tired under his blisters. He looked older. I hated thinking of him that way, but I couldn’t stop myself.
I came out of it slightly when the teacher came in at 11 o’clock, shushing the chattering class. He wrote the month and then 9th on the board before turning to us.
“Kids,” he said, “I know things have been scary these last couple days but we all need to remember to keep calm, okay? It’s especially important to obey your curfews, and not to cause ruckus of any type. I’m talking of course about the incident that happened last night. It seems someone has defaced the school sign outside. You may have seen it on your way in this morning. Now, I hope the perpetrator is not part of my class, but if he or she is here, I ask that they come forward and confess. It doesn’t have to be now, but it has to be today.”
I had seen the sign. The janitor was out there as we came in, scrubbing at the sign. It was faint, but we could still see the word “sucks”, underneath “Nagasaki Elementary School”.
Outside the windows, a blue light explodes across the sky.