By: Benjamin Ashton
An aroma of brown sugar and ground beef lingered in the kitchen as it had every Meat Loaf Monday in recent memory. Jill, slightly up on her toes, was rinsing dishes to be placed in the dishwasher. She paused briefly to lean over and snap on the news radio console, leaving a glob of suds on the knob. A calm baritone voice came through the single speaker.
“To the surprise of her fans and manager, Lily Sinclair has announced her separation from her husband and producer, Gil Berg. This comes on the heels of her Oscar win for her performance in the Berg financed picture ‘Lighthouse of San Juan.’”
From the entertainment room Jill heard her mother. “You don’t say,” she exclaimed, shuffling into the kitchen. “You hear that, Jillian?” she asked as if Jill wasn’t standing next to the radio. “They’re the biggest couple in Hollywood. I can’t believe it.” Her mother sighed and refilled her glass of wine before resigning back to the front room.
Jill was looking for the dishwashing detergent from under the sink when the new’s man’s voice crackled back over the radio.
“In international news, the High Cleric of Adgikistan has given his final warning to Western leaders to remove their forces from their southern and northern borders before he will take nuclear action on civilian targets located in the UK and North America.”
Shocked, Jill slammed the back of her head into the bottom of the sink, knocking over some cleaning products. She had been following the conflict since she started her sophomore year in high school the previous Fall. Her mother poked her head into the kitchen wearing an asymmetrical scowl. “You know, Jill, If you want to start buying all of the windex and drain-o and floor wax and wood polish and tile cleaner then you can knock over whatever you want but until then you need to clean that stuff up.” Jill looked up, rubbing the growing knot on the back of her head. “But ma,” she tried to retort as she turned to a now empty doorway. She sighed when she heard the television click on, followed by scripted female squawking from one of her mother’s favorite “reality” shows. Jill sat the radio next to her, trying to tune out the TV’s audible pollution the best she could while she reorganized the chemical bottles under the sink.
She heard the clicking of bicycle gears across the yard. It grew louder then stopped outside of the window at the far end of the kitchen. Through the window crawled her on-again, off-again boyfriend of the past month. Jill had recently heard that he had made out with her ex-best friend after last week’s football game so they were off-again at the moment. He must have thought his whereabouts after the game weren’t as well known as they were because he casually sauntered across the kitchen and stood over Jill, hands tucked into his jean’s back pockets. She saw in the reflection of a stainless steel polish that he has leaning against the counter and his lips were moving but she wasn’t listening. She pulled the radio closer and held it in the crux of her elbow like an old friend. The broadcaster began to speak again:
“The latest quote that we have from our president has indeed set a precedent.” He chuckled into the microphone and paused, as if waiting for the laugh track to cue. He continued with the quote, “ ‘The United States and it’s allies, civilized entities of moral and reason, do not bend to the will of aggressors who do not recognize the need for a global understanding. An understanding of mutual peace, which will be achieved by force, if necessary. Such understandings, in this case, have been set by us in the West and have been ignored by our neighbor to the East, Adgikistan.’ “ After a pause, long enough to make Jill think that her radio had malfunctioned, she heard the president give his final decree. “We will not back down.”
“Fantastic,” the broadcaster announced. “And now for a message from our sponsors!”
As this information was being processed in her mind, Beau’s words began to become clear.
“-and I just don’t think it would be very cool if we didn’t come.” he was saying. “I mean, it’s Saturday and everyone is going to be there. Well, not all of your friends but everyone who matters.” Jill was still transfixed on the AM radio.
“Beau,” she began, “something is going on here, I know it.” He scoffed and twisted the toe of his shoe on the floor, as if snuffing out a cigarette.
“Aw, come on Jay. Who are you going to believe?” he asked nervously. “Her or me? I mean ya’ll haven’t even been friends since eighth grade. She’s just trying to get to you.” Now his voice was raised in pitch and he looked toward the front room, like a scared puppy, hoping he hadn’t caught her mother’s attention.
“Jesus,” she exclaimed, “I’m not talking about that. Haven’t you been listening to the radio?” He paused for a moment then asked sincerely,
“Why? What’s been happening?” She grabbed the radio and thrust it toward him. Once his hands clasped over it the man’s voice came back through the speaker:
“And big news for the sports fans out there; Duane Stokes will be traded from Miami to Kansas City within the hour. News that is sure to upset those soggy folks down in Florida.”
Beau’s eyes grew as wide as saucers and he half-tossed the radio in Jill’s direction. “Oh my God, babe,” he stammered, “you’re right. I’m so sorry I wasn’t listening.” He ran back towards the window he crawled in and muttered, “I have to make a trade on my fantasy team I can’t believe I didn’t know he was-“ and he was gone. Jill picked up the radio from the floor, along with her bottom jaw. The radio man continued:
“Well we’ve just gotten the word that Western forces have sent the combined Air Force across the border with ground forces closely behind. Adjikistan has countered with an automatic launch of coordinated ballistic missiles, all with individually important targets. That’s right the missiles are in the air, America. At this point we would like to ask all our listeners to retire to their respectable bomb shelters. We would also like to remind you not to forget your pack of True Blue cigarettes, the only tobacco recommended by four out of-“ Jill switched off the radio, placed it on the ground like a priceless artifact, and rose to her feet.
Behind her Jill heard her mother cackling over the sound of her shows. She thought about that laugh for a moment then looked out of the kitchen window. She saw the nuke angle through the clouds and marveled at the beauty of it all. She felt like the last generation of dinosaurs, after hundreds of millions of years on Earth, who looked up from a pond to see the final nail of mortality bearing down upon them. It detonated above the tree line past their field, almost in the next town over. She immediately felt her forearm burn as she shielded her face. When she opened her eyes everything was wavy as if her entire vision was a mirror of the surface of a pond that had just been peppered with stones. The next half of second seemed like a lifetime for Jill and she relished it.
The cupboard next to her had exploded with popcorn and the telephone had turned to putty. Turning her head to the right she noticed that a funny dust storm was covering the distance between the suburbs and the farmland that she lived on. What she didn’t know was that it was a blast wind traveling at three hundred meters per second. Her vision moved to the fridge, which now seemed to be becoming transparent, and she saw her father – as he was at twenty-five, when she was just a toddler – leaning into the refrigerator with a True Blue hanging from his mouth. He turned to her but she couldn’t see his face or the cross he wore around his neck behind the smoke screen from the cigarette. Jill’s mother laughed again behind her as she looked out at her older brother bicycle leaning against the swing set. She imagined Beau kissing her friend under the bleachers and actually felt happy for both of them. As the heat grew more intense Jill took a millisecond to think about the Homecoming Dance and wondered if she would be able to find a date in time.