©1985 T. McMullen
Thursday, December 22, 2016
THE TIME FOR TALK
A Short Story by Tim McMullen
The glass sparkled as he held it up to the light. He poked the towel into the mouth with his fingers and wiped it again; then he reached up and placed it on the shelf beside the other glasses. He quickly picked up a fork and began to rub it.
"Sure," he said, scratching with his fingernail at some unidentifiable crust of food, "I know everybody's making a big deal about it, but it's mostly just bull."
"What do you mean by that?" the woman said as she lifted her hands out of the water and rinsed the soap off a saucepan.
"I just mean that we've been through it all before. The scare stories…the tests ...the drills. You remember, when we were kids, the plan we had to follow?"
She placed a newly rinsed spatula in the drain rack and raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"You know the rule ...but then, maybe you don't ...being a hick and all," he grinned and then ducked the water which he knew would be flicked in his direction. "All us city kids learned the four magic rules: When you see the light," he chanted, "turn your back to the windows, get under your desk, put your head between your legs, and KISS YOUR ASS GOODBYE!"
"That's disgusting," she giggled and flicked both water-drenched hands in his direction. He caught one stream on the right cheek before he grabbed her hands and pulled her to him. He clasped both her wrists in his left hand and lifted them above her head as he encircled her waist with his right arm.
"AH-AH-AH! You'll lose your kitchen help," he said.
He kissed her playfully. She kissed him back, saying: "Hmph! Some help you are." She wrinkled her forehead and looked into his face.
He looked back at her for a second and then peered intently at the fistful of forks in his hand, inspecting each one carefully as he placed it in its proper slot in the drawer.
"I'm catching up!" he laughed as he reached for the last item in the drain rack. The muffled clank of pans rose from the dishwater as she submerged her hands.
"Besides," he said finally, "What do you want from me? It's just not that big a deal. I mean we've been through it before. Everybody gets all stirred up for nothing. Nobody's stupid enough to start something ... Not even the Russians. Gimme a break! They know we'd blow hell out of 'em if they ever tried to hit us ...and we're never gonna' start it, so why get all excited?"
"How do you know we'll never start it?" Her fine, brown hair flipped from her face as she looked at him over her shoulder.
"We just don't do that kind of thing. We stop wars...We don't start them. That's a fact."
"Maybe, but there's only one country that's ever used an atomic bomb on people."
He looked at her, slightly puzzled, then mumbled, "Oh." Then he brightened. "But, like I said, we didn't start that one ...we finished it!"
"All the same ... " she muttered and pulled the stopper out of the basin. She watched the swirling vortex whirl down the drain. The sink sucked loudly as the last of the soapy water disappeared. With a faint but reassuring smile on his lips, he dried his hands on the dishtowel, folded it neatly in thirds, and threaded it through the handle of the stove.
He put his arm around her shoulders, and they walked into the living room. She watched him settle down in the new armchair and fold his hands across his stomach. She stood at the end table, idly riffling the pages of a magazine with her right hand.
"You know," she said finally, "we're less than ten miles from downtown."
"We're sandwiched between the oil fields, naval base and a huge metropolitan area." "Yeah, so?"
"We're a target. It would hit us before we even knew it. Don't you ever wonder what you'd do.... what it would feel like ...really?"
"You mean what it would feel like? Yeah, I suppose . . . " He spoke hesitantly, his voice and eyes raised unison. "Well, no. I guess I haven't really wondered. A bit too morbid for my taste. But we have Civil Defense. We'd know ahead of time ... We'd be prepared." He shrugged his outstretched palms upwardly in a "you-know-what-I-mean" gesture.
She gazed over his head through the hazy, lace curtains, at the darkening sky. This view out her living room window was her favorite. Her sudden reverie was so deep that she was startled to hear his voice again. But it was his voice, the voice she loved, and she pulled herself back to hear him finish his sentence.
"...to worry about," he said. "What good does it do? You only scare yourself. Wondering what an atomic explosion feels like is like asking what it’s like to be dead. Who knows?”
She shrugged her shoulders and smiled slightly. Having won her tacit agreement, he continued enthusiastically. “I mean, one second you’re sitting here talking, and
©1985 T. McMullen
All Rights Reserved