A bit of fiction for you, with an explanation at the end:
“I don’t want you to go,” Brett said. He leaned back on his hands, the grass tickling his wrists.
“And I wish Cherenkov radiation wasn’t so pretty,” Fiona replied. “We don’t always get what we want, Brett.” She stood, dusting her hands off on the legs of her jeans. A lone ant, busy climbing her bracelet, flew off into the breeze to settle back amongst the grass.
Brett sat, staying behind, to watch the sunset. The sky turned wild neon blues and dark purples and pinks, something that had some of the town worried. The atmospherics should be holding steady. The filtration proved different. And if the filtration didn’t work right, then they were all cooking in their skins, right then, just being outside.
Except it never happened that way. They grew up, the kids of the town, like any other kids. They knew the secret rocks and broken logs to hide in and behind. They were familiar with the houses hat held unlocked garages and the ones with the best pools to sneak into at night. The area was fine. No mater how often they got warnings of danger from the reactor or the processing factory, nothing happened. The Russians were coming – eventually – but not today, and not tomorrow and everyone knew that didn’t show up yesterday, either.
The danger of their town became its own sort of background radiation, after a childhood spent around it. It hardened the skin and made mutants of them all. Instead of fearing radioactivity they simply understood it and dealt with it the way a fire-eater handles open flame – with respect and an element of boredom that always teeters on the edge of dangerous.
Brett and Fiona, and their friends and siblings, grew up in the shadow of the scariest thing humanity had discovered at that point – and all it seemed to do was make their parents even more safety crazy. Well, that and the Government surveillance. That never let up. Still. You learned to be fine with things when they were all you never knew.
Fiona dreamed though. she dreamed bigger than Brett, at least. Whereas he wanted to help with the factory and find new ways to refine plutonium safely, Fiona wanted out. Not out of fear or worry – no matter how many high school PSAs they made them watch about babies with abnormal structure. Fiona wanted to leave so that she could look back fondly.
As long as she could remember Fiona knew that one day she would look back and talk about the town that birthed her as a great place. Somewhere that she used to belong. A good place, she would defend, and never scary, she might lie a little swallowing the memory of a reactor leak drill, and she would smile and lean back and look up at a different place entirely.
Brett, though, wouldn’t leave. Not yet. And so, instead, Fiona realized she had to leave Brett to leave the town. It broke her heart, but she wouldn’t let him know that. To let him know would be to allow him hope and put doubt back in her own mind. No, she had to go seamlessly.
Walking away from him, from their favorite spot, Fiona wanted to run to the reactor and crash it all down. Make the town itself pay for how she felt. It was a point she had in common with Brett, and many of the other children they’d grown up with. The town was the reactor, to them, in a strange symbiotic way. To hurt one you hurt the other. And they’d all had fantasies of the sirens the lights flashing and the screaming.
Old radioactive monster movies held a special place in the heart of the town.
Fiona smiled as she got on her bike. She would tear and smash and stomp across this world, like a demon born in the radioactive wastelands of her hometown. Or something like that. Something heroic, a thing that would sound and feel big. She peddled hard, leaning into the wind.
Brett sat there, watching the sun set, and thought. He knew Fiona would be all right with them staying together if he were willing to leave the town. For his part, though, Brett couldn’t do it. He loved the town with all of his heart.
They knew that was the crux of their problem. Between their hearts lay a town. The break could not fix itself, and would not bear taping or stapling. Like countries locked in a seemingly endless cold war, like particles with similar polarities, the wound would not be fixed by conventional weapons.
Fiona and Brett knew that, to their credit. they didn’t tear their clothes or reduce themselves to braying hysterics. They simply watched the decay cycle of their relationship speed up and sink into the hard water layer of their memories, a poisoned well now, but one they would each drink deeply from.
And that was, Brett realized, all right with him. Not all of life had to be happiness and ;love stories. Not everything needed to end in swooning music and acceptable sunsets. There was room out there for imperfection and feckless emotional engenderment. The stunted results would breed their own fruits and build a life worth living just as gladly as anything else.
Running, Brett caught up with Fiona, sitting on her back porch, swinging slowly and shoelessly. He told her that, all of it, letting it pour forth from his brain in a torrent. Through it all Fiona sat and smiled, never interrupting.
When he finished, wound down like a clock, she slid a hand down his arm softly, the way she always had. “You just realized that, Brett? No, that’s the secret. The key. We’ll be fine. Better yet, stronger for it.”
“Can’t we just be there now?” he asked, weakness nibbling at him.
“Soon,” Fiona said, patting the seat next to her. “Soon.”
Brett sat and together they watched the stars, each of them wondering how long those lights had before they went out, and each of them thrilled to think of stars not yet born.
Behind them alarms started to go off, red lights flashed and the walls of the reactor began to crumble, as they always had and always would.
So a friend mentioned growing up in a town that had a history of refining plutonium and all. I mean there was basically a nuclear childhood, as it was put to me. And I realized I wanted to set a story there. Just a slim little thing, of the 80s, at the end of the Cold War, when the very purpose of the town would be winding down for good. I wasn’t sure what the story would be or how long it would end up – but I haven’t been writing much recently due to all kinda of crazy busy and I needed to warm up so I knocked this out for funsies. Hope you enjoyed it.
It seems that I still miss the Cold War, at times.