Meanwhile It Was Nuclear War

by Smiley McGrouchpants, Jr-Esq-III

                   It was like a dream — bombs were falling from planes, falling like taffy, falling like plaster, falling like it wasn't their fault . . . “Stay calm, people!” they told us over the intercom.  “Things will be all right!”
                   But they weren't all right . . . 

                   Joe from Accounting sipped his coffee, and looked at me.  I hated that.  I knew something was coming.  There was nothing I could do.
                   “Soooo . . . ” he said, looking at me, in my starched blouse, pleated skirt, scrubbed and poofed and freshened! . . . for what??  Here's this guy looking at me — and my pay's only $27,000/yr.
                   “Looks like it's the end of the world,” he said over his coffee cup, like it just dawned on him, and he had to voice it, burp it up like a bubble.
                   “Looks like,” I said, wishing I had a coffee cup, tea, marmalade, jar of peanut butter to just dive into with relish with a knife looking like I may . . . something to hide behind.
                   Meanwhile it was nuclear war.
                   It had to be . . . 

                   I sipped my coffee (it was a little later — Joe hadn't provided any useful information in-between, and in the intervening hush in the building, ominous and eerie in its unusual-ness, I had little else to do but make more . . . to do something — ), and Marsha ($48,000/yr., pleated skirt — why does it not seem to matter much?? we might as well be all wearing smocks or chef's costumes — ) comes in: “Have you heard??” she said, smoothing her hands on her skirt, like it would make any difference.  Like if the skirt was smooth, we'd have no bombs falling, like if she kept her legs together, it wouldn't have happened . . . We women are like that.  It's always our fault.  “No!” Joe said, like Dudley Do-Right™ — spat it out like that, what a jerk, while the cup was en route — and, finishing his swig, with a gesture of his hand, open-armed sweep . . . “go on and tell us!!!”
                   (“Tell her what she's WON!!!” I couldn't help but think as we heard a PEEEEEEEEE-YEW!)
                   CRASH! outside the window and we all jumped.
                   We all looked around at each other.
                   “Do you think anybody was hurt??” Marsha exclaimed.
                   Do we think anybody was hurt . . . 
                   We didn't know
                   And then all of a sudden the door banged open and Jim from across the hall said —
                   Quick hit the ground!”
                   We all did.
                   The building shook.
                   Things fell down everywhere, but we were all right.
                   Things swayed from the ceiling.
                   There was dust everywhere.
                   Then we heard a siren

                   By this point, enough bombs had fallen we were wondering about the tonnage (we were in the basement, now — when we heard the siren, we ran!  We were joined by Bob from Upper Management, $60,000/yr., so there were four of us now . . . hmm . . . ).  I sipped my coffee.
                   “Geez!” Joe said, crassly as ever, as though making a point of ignoring all beats of conversation, all consciousness of minds around him — let alone the bombing of our city.  “You sure do like that coffee!”  As though I was alone in it.  It's funny — it could constitute hitting on me, except he always did it, to everybody, and it always hit the ground with a thud.  Some people are good for some things — in Joe's case, I really wondered.  Even in terms of job function.  Don't the people who mop up even contribute more
I sipped again.
                   “It's okay,” Bob said to me, consoling, Upper Management, but unable to turn it off, the world was falling apart, what was he supposed to do?  Re-frame the situation?  Have been consulted??  Gotten the (proverbial) memo??  “I'm sure they're straighten all this out!”  He said, that, too, after the last corporate takeover — when a whole tier underneath me had been summarily fired.  I feel like I'm in a video game, or a board game, like Jenga, some cartoon where the whole floor drops out from you, and you barely stagger on your two feet back to regain footing on the flooring that remains from what dropped off
                   I sipped again.
                   And tried to think . . .

                   I'm at least a college graduate, right??  I should be able to come up with something.
                   (By then I was in a sub-basement with Jim — not but itemizing my choices, and what with two daft straight-laced office types, and a guilty-feeling woman, I didn't want to spend the last day of my life . . . the last day of the world . . . alone with those two — )
                   “When do you think they'll drop the big one??” I said, sipping my coffee (I'd brought it with me).
                   He was already ready with the hand-wave — pish-posh!  “They wouldn't do that nowadays,” he said, as though reciting it from memory, a sort-of TV news item: “They learned that from the Cuban Missile Crisis in '62!!!” he said, and then beamed, as though he had “got it right.”  But I hadn't questioned him, I hadn't quizzed him —
                   Life had, and —
                   BOOM! There goes another one.
                   All of a sudden, upstairs didn't seem to be a safe place to be.
                   We had to find a way out — there, through those windows . . . 
                   There . . . 

                   And . . . 

                   And outside.
                   And me and Jim were confronted by a phalanx, row after row, of armed guards — army guys! — all holding rifles and looking like hockey goalies, or a SWAT team.  “HALT!” one said, and they all levelled their guns at us.
                   “What's THAT??” one screeched, letting his rifle falter — while he troubled himself to point at Jim's coffee mug, “BOSS #1,” which he'd brought with him.  “Uhh . . . ”
                   I'd left mine inside.  (I'd finished my coffee.)  Jim was a slow drinker.  Helped him think, or something.  Meanwhile he was a slow thinker. Meanwhile it was nuclear war.  Meanwhile it was almost nuclear war, and . . . 
                   They blew him away.
                   Hair-trigger, good thing I'd left mine inside, I didn't know what to say.  What sides to take.
                   “You'd better get in the lorry, missy!” his superior said, as the young turk commenced a round of vomiting — he'd obviously never killed someone before, this war was taking everyone by surprise.  I was feeling a little wobbly on my knees myself — I'd never killed someone before, either, but I'd been near enough to someone when it'd happened, the energy shock I know felt awakened bid unwelcome memories come to the surface.  That tree . . . in the South . . . it was all supposed to be over . . . Like this, it was supposed to be over.  Though a White Woman, I, too felt like Steve Martin, in The Jerk: “I, too, sir, am a niggetr!”  I honestly couldn't tell the difference, for all I'd been through, for all the advantage it'd supposed to have given me . . . and now here I was being called “missy” again . . . “You've come a long way, baby!” . . . war does that to people, though, oh gosh, we have to ration, it's so necessary, revert to old forms, I guess you'll have to put us up for a while, I guess we'll have to requisition this house, Sergeant, I guess we'll have to fuck and I guess we'll have to die
                   I got in the truck.
                   It seemed safer in there, warmer.
                   It had a roof on it.
                   And so it was.

                   Riding along, jostling with the soldiers (I was the only woman! Boy what a score . . . except they were all exhausted, sullen, scared-shitless, and hostile — so, by gum, there was a war on . . . )
                   I talked to one, sitting next to me, like it was the obvious thing to do.
                   “Where're ya FROM??” I risked, blurting it, like it was the obvious thing to ask.  Asking like you're in a war film sometimes helps, because it gives a context.  Despite themselves, people start responding accordingly.  And they are supposed to follow orders, after all.
                   “Sko-sko-skoKIE . . . !!!” he said, blurting it out, haltingly — he wasn't supposed to be talking to me, he thought, but no-one had given him orders not to, and no-one had given him orders to respond to me.  Like I said.  So it came out like that.
                   Sko-kie . . . ??” I said.  “Skokie?”
                   “Yes, ma'am,” he said, politely, out of form of the current ', reverting to the last — at least it was a welcome reprieve from “missy.”  Though I guess he [that guy] jst wanted to get me out of harm's way.  Someone had died, after all.  “Skokie, Illinois, that's where I'm from.”
                   “Really??” I said, kind of surprised.  “I went to school at the University of Chicago and I've never even heard of it.”  I paused for a minute, kind of perplexed — the same kind of “rapture” of thought U of C is supposedly famous for getting us to spin aloud, deepening your thoughts into.  As it were.  “Skokie, Illinois . . . Skokie, Illinois . . . Why I never — ”
                   I was reverting to [previous-century] thoughts, too: Well I never!  Land's sakes in all my life!
                   “Well, actually ma'am — ” he seemed trying to tell me something.  The guy must have been 18, 19 at most.
                   But the lorry had stopped.
                   We all almost fell over, some of us almost threw up and then we heard —
                   That sound I was getting to know better and better — that doppler effect —
                   We all hit the dirt, hit the bottom of the truck and —


                   When I woke up in the hospital, the doctor said, “You're lucky to be alive!!!”  The nurse smirked.  She pointed at him, mouthed the words “HE SAYS THAT TO EVERYONE” and then shook her head up-and-down several times, did the sign for “SCREW LOOSE!” by whirling her finger around her ear, and then went “WHEW!” with her hand in an “WHAT I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH!!!” sort-of way, and went about picking up the sheets and bedpans from the next bed over — an empty one, but a happy case, it seemed, there wasn't any blood or mess about, who knows what kind of hospital this was, who knows
                   The doctor cleared his throat, like he didn't catch any of the nurse's conniving — or chose not to.  They were a regular comedy routine, yes sir, these two

                   “Soooooo . . . Paperwork.”  I was at the front desk.  He smiled at me.  I couldn't help looking around — “What is this place — or rather, . . . ” I started to ask.  “What did it used to be . . . ??” he chimed in with me.  We laughed.  Part of a comedy team ourselves.  “Yeah, it used to be a museum . . . or something.”  He said, doing a full 180° around the room, looking as if impressed.  Then he yawned, stretched.  I thought there'd be more, but there wasn't.  “Yup, a museum . . . of some kind . . . ” he looked around, as if half-obligated, half-intrigued, a schoolchild who's been dragged along on a field trip, and can't help but admit it's kind of a neat thing — but just that.  “Yeah, it's a bit weird to see all these IV drips and broken bones — ” he laughed; I laughed too, but I had to fake it, I'd hoped he didn't notice, but he was too busy, he wasn't paying attention, THANK GOD!!! “ — but with me just out of the hospital, halfway through doing my internship . . . ” he shrugged again.  “You know — there's a war on!!!” he half-barked, to mock the seriousness of it, while invoking it, sort of.  He scratched his nose.  “Hopefully it'll all be over by next week, and we can get back to normal.”  He examined something he'd found of interest by the side of his nose, and then flicked it away.  They must have janitorial staff here.  Or a lot of woman patients.  All of a sudden, I felt very unattractive, very sibling-like to this guy, for no rational reason — but, there's a WAR on!!!  So I guess I'd have to make the best of it.  “Do you need to see my insurance card — ” I started to ask, lamely.
                   He shrugged it off, waving his hand towards me as if to fan away the concern.  “Naaah,” he said.  “Obamacare'll take care of it.”  He yawned, stretched again.  “You're a monthly-paid, salaried employee.”
                   That was true.
                   “We're letting everyone else die.”
                   “We might as well buy you beer.”
                   A heard another bomb go off — peee-YOOOOOOUWWWW — but it was far away, and I wasn't worried, so much as concerned.  He looked around, as though his hackles had gone up, and then shrugged.  A not-very-convincing way to shrug off the problem, but who knew??  You never heard the one that gets you.  That's what they say, anyway.
                   “Thanks,” I said, slinging my purse over my shoulder (I'd had it with me, the whole time — somehow, that confers respect.  Both I seem ladylike, and therefore worth preserving, and perhaps like I've got a Pony Express™ pouch over my shoulder — might be important documents inside.  Neither was really accurate, but like I said, people revert to forms, and I was playing them so I'd have a chance at staying alive — so far, it'd worked, but then again, I'd been doing this for most of my professional life, and never thought that I'd be — )
                   “Whup!” he said, as a lorry pulled up in front.
                   “Here's your lorry.”
                   “Where're they taking me?” I said, breathless.  Worried.  “Do I need to sign any forms??”  Did I ask that already??  Do I need to ask that —
                   “No,” he said.  “Nah.”  More curtly.  Some soldiers came tromping into the room, all too glad to do so, in a way that makes one nervous, unless one is safely ensconced — up a cliff, watching them down below, say, or seeing a parade, for Chrissakes.  “Hup! one! two! three! Hup!” etc. trounce-trounce-trounce-trounce.  A lot of SWAT gear, it seems like to me, all in line like the Stormtroopers from Star Wars™ — and hopefully not the Stormtroopers from Nazi™ Germany.  These boys seemed a little too excited to be there.  “Oboy, we get to shoot stuff!!!” kind-of thing.
                   “What was the reason for this war, again??” I asked the clerk.  Like it'd help.
                   But it did: “Treaties!” he said, like he was proud — again, boys like getting the answer right.  Particularly if it's day-off, not-in-school testing — like bar trivia, or television, or something.  He'd pointed up in the air with his pencil to punctuate the remark, and now started promptly itching behind his head with the back end of it, the eraser end — he must have had a lot of itchy-skin surface, or maybe he was just stressed out.  Maybe he didn't use Oil of Olay™.  Men[1], you know??  “Like World War I,” he said, vaguely, like it was on the memo but he just didn't read it that clearly — they'd pulled him out of bed, you know, got him out of his internship, and now he's got to talk to this broad, me asking questions, in this like, this like museum, for god's sake . . . whatever.  Doing the best he can.
                   “Corporate takeover,” he said.
                   Halliburton, or something like that.”
                   I left.
                   My car was waiting — or, rather lorry

                   I was crammed in the back.
                   I was getting used to this.
                   The ride was bumpy.

                   Finally, the door opened.
                   Again, I was the only woman.  Something seemed in store for me, but what was weird, was it didn't seem like rape — woman's perennial fear — but it seemed like the boys were hungry for war and didn't notice me.  They were thrilled.  It didn't seem like I'd be needed for, for lack of a better word, secretarial services either, or a waitress or an assistant or something . . . again, I'm grasping, but somewhere between being a princess and being a salaried employee and being a graduate of a top school (that'd be 1 in 100 people, senior year, the year I graduated — was it that big a deal[2]??), I became a vaunted figure —
                   I don't know.
                   But this guy showed up —

                   “This guy showed up.”
                   “Yes.  This guy showed up — ”
                   “And . . . here I am!!!”
                   I looked around — vaulted roof, lots of art all around.
                   “Here I am . . . ”

                                              for post office winter
                                                promises to keep

[1] “Can't live with 'em, can't … ”  Right.  You know the drill!!! — ed.
[2] I don't know.  I really don't.  Don't ask me.  They won't let me out of this place.  Still, I eat o.k.  And I meet all the men I want.  So.  You won't hear v complaining!  Etc. — ed.