A Novel of the Day After Tomorrow
"THE LAST DAY"
by Helen Clarkson
A Torquil Book
Dodd, Mead & Company
Copyright 1959 by Helen Clarkson
All Rights Reserved
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 59-14322
Permission to publish the lines on page 130 from Shiv and the Grasshopper from "The Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling has been granted by Mrs. George Bambridge, Mr. Kipling's daughter and Messrs. Macmillan Company, London. Also reprinted by permission of Doubleday & Company, Inc., N. Y.All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America
To the next generation
It was my good fortune to listen to a great scientist discussing what a global nuclear war would be like. He was shocked that some people were talking about what would happen the second or third month. He said, "I am not sure there will be a second or third day."
Senator Anderson of New Mexico
as reported in the Congressional
Record for February 4, 1958.
The First Day
We left Westchester early on August 1sttoo early to get our morning paper. Our car radio was out of order, so I brought a little portable that worked on batteries, but, when I fell asleep in the car, Bill didn't turn it on. He said afterward he was afraid the noise would wake me. I doubt that. Bill just didn't like popular music or radio comedians and he wasn't interested in news at all when he was on vacation.
The day before had been a strain. We had driven Eunice to Idlewild, and seen her off on her plane to France. She had never been so far away from us before. Bill kept insisting that Brittany was only a few hours away by plane, but I was too old-fashioned to think of distance in terms of hours instead of miles.
We were far up the coast of Massachusetts before I woke.
"We should be in Selsea in a few minutes," said Bill.
"I wonder if there'll be any changes?"
Bill laughed. "Changes in Selsea? Don't be silly! It's too far off the beaten track."
When we first came to Selsea Island twenty years ago it was forty minutes from the mainland by ferry across a wide shallow bay. But in the last few years they had built a six-mile causeway above the tide line with a bridge over the deepest part of the channel.
But after we passed over the causeway and through the village and around the last curve in the dune road, we were confronted with revolution.
Our cottage had always stood alone at this end of the island, its shingles scoured by the salty wind and bleached by the sun until it was a clean grey almost as pale as the sand around it. Now two new cottages stood on either side of ours, the raw yellow of wood that is neither painted nor weathered.
Bill swore. I sighed.'We could have bought the land last summer. We had decided to wait, hoping the price would come down. It hadn't occurred to us that anyone else might buy it. Selsea was too backward to attract many people from Boston or New York. Most of the summer visitors came from inland towns, and boarded in the village.
Both the new cottages were occupied. A plume of smoke came from the chimney of one. Near the other a bathing suit tugged at a clothesline with a whipping sound. It was always windy out here on the island.
"Funny Captain Baldwin didn't write us about this," I said.
"He probably didn't think it was important," said Bill. "What is privacy to an old fisherman?"
"He lives pretty far from the village himself."
"That's thrift, not choice. You don't pay taxes on a boat anchored in a marsh."
Bill was unloading the car. I went into the house and raised windows. When I went into the kitchen I was greeted by a harsh mewing like the cry of a gull. A calico cat ran towards me and rubbed her head against my ankles.
Her fur, all grey and yellow blotches, confused the eye like camouflage. It was hard to see her actual contours. Her eyes, set too close together, gave her a monkey look.
"Where on earth did that come from?" said Bill.
"There's a broken window in the kitchen. She must have been deserted by people who had a cottage for July. You know how some people are about cats in summer. Get a kitten to keep down the mice and leave her when you go."
She looked up at Bill and mewed again.
"All right," he said. "We'll call you Mystery because we don't know where you came from." .
"That will be Mysti for short." She ran towards the cupboard under the sink, turned and mewed once more. It was then I noticed the clot of blood under her tail.
"She wants to show us something."
The cupboard door was ajar. I opened it wider. There, sure enough, were two new-born kittens, one grey, one yellow. She had cleaned both and bitten off the umbilical cords, but the yellow one was dead.
"We're going to need milk," I said.
"I was going back to the village for gas anyway." Bill was nicer about cats than most men. "Better make a grocery list."
"Oh, let's not waste this heavenly day marketing and getting settled," I protested. "Let's go for a swim and have a picnic."
"But tomorrow's Sunday."
"We can drive down the coast and have Sunday dinner at that inn we went to last year."
"All right. We'll do our real marketing Monday. I'll just get stuff for today while you unpack the bathing suits."
"Don't forget a newspaper!" I called after him. "And do stop at the post office."
"It'll be closed Saturday afternoon."
"But you can look in our box. There just might be a letter from Eunice already."
I shut Mysti in a bedroom while I wrapped the dead kitten in aluminum foil and buried it. When I let her out she ran straight to the kitchen cupboard, but she seemed satisfied when she found that the live kitten was still there. Blind and hardly bigger than a mouse, somehow it knew where and how to suck, kneading her breast and pressing out the milk with minute paws.
I wound the clock, made the bed and unpacked our clothes. In one bureau drawer, I found a sun-suit Eunice had worn last year. Too small for me, and faded, but I didn't disturb it. I was going to miss Eunice more than I had expected.
I went back to the kitchen to see what canned food was left from last year. There was only one can of soup, a tin box of English biscuits, and three jars of baby oatmeal left over from the visit of an infant nephew of Bill's last summer.
An ant was marching purposefully down the drainboard, dragging a stale crumb twice its own size. Automatically I ground out the gritty speck of life between thumb and forefinger. Ants were a nuisance at Selsea, but we wouldn't get ant poison with a kitten in the house.
Mysti followed me back to the living-room and explored it, not with her eyes, but with her nose. She used that nose the way we might use a Geiger counter to detect danger we couldn't see or hear. At last, satisfied with her inspection, she leapt into the window-seat, soundless as a puff of smoke. In the direct sun, the pupils of her eyes were threads of black, the green irises round as full moons. She crouched, motionless, close to the window watching the gulls with contemplative rapacity.
I could hear other birds calling to one another among the roses I had planted in a bed of top soil last summer. Robins and barn swallows, shrill against the deep mutter of the surf.
I went to the front door when I heard a car, but it wasn't Bill. A jeep was pulling up in front of the cottage to my left. A woman got out, plump in shorts and halter, her hair an improbable shade of tarnished brass. Half-way to the walk to her cottage, she paused and spoke in the uninhibited voice members of some families use to one another when they believe no one else can hear them.
"Come on, you! Don't dawdle!"
A little girl climbed out of the jeep and trudged up the path on legs that had not quite lost their baby fat.
"Did you hear me? I told you not to dawdle! Do you want me to freeze here in this wind, waiting for you?"
The woman held a paper bag full of groceries in the crook of one arm. Her other arm was free. When the child reached her, she lifted her free hand. The blow was weighted with practiced precision like the stroke of an athlete who knows just how hard to hit a ball to get the effect he wants. Instantly, almost mechanically, came the high wail of pain that the very young cannot repress. Then a horrid thing happened. The woman smiled.
I was sitting on the window-seat with the cat in my lap when Bill came back.
"You were a long time," I said.
"I was held up twice," he answered. "First, at the grocer's. The door was open, but there was nobody there. I waited a while and finally just took the things I wanted, made out my own bill and left it by the cash register. I couldn't find any canned goods. There must have been a run on them out here because of that teamsters' strike that's been threatening for the last week."
"Never mind. I don't like canned goods anyway."
"Then at the filling station, I sat in the car and blew my horn twice. No one came out, but I could see that moronic young Jake through the window, watching a TV set with his mouth open. Made me so mad I drove on without getting any gas. I wasn't just going to sit there and wait for him to come out in his own good time."
"Baseball, I suppose."
"What are you doing indoors?" demanded Bill. "1 thought you'd be out in the sun by this time."
He tossed his hat on one chair, his jacket on another, loosened his tie and draped it over a lampshade. He was one of those men who cannot be in a room three minutes without finding some way to make it look dishevelled. Ordinarily I would have been on my feet, tidying up after him. Now I scarcely noticed what he was doing.
"Bill, I have a feeling this is going to be our last summer here."
"I just had a glimpse of our new neighbors."
He dropped his eyes. "I wasn't going to tell you just yet. I wanted you to have one carefree day."
"You saw her, too? And the child?"
"Child?" Bill was puzzled. "There's no child. Tommy's as old as Eunice."
"Look." Bill assumed an elaborate patience. "I'm talking about our neighbors on the right. Pile you talking about our neighbors on the other side?"
"Yes." I began to laugh. "Don't tell me we have unpleasant people on both sides!" He looked at me.
"You never did think the Lindens unpleasant, but you know how I felt about them."
"Not Eric Linden and Sally?"
"None other." Bill's dismay was tempered with a sense of comedy. "I ran into Eric at the post office just now. It's not really coincidence. We used to talk a lot about our unspoiled island in the old days in Washington and they couldn't have expected to find us here now. We always said we'd spend all our summers in Europe as soon as Eunice was old enough."
"Maybe we'll be able to afford that next summer. I'd like to see Paris again and we could go on to Italy."
"Not southern Italy in summer. Too hot."
We were in the kitchen now, getting ready for the picnic.
"I wonder if I'll ever get to Athens before I die." I was stuffing endives with cream cheese while the chicken broiled. "Wasn't there anything at the post office?"
"Not a thing."
The vegetable knife slipped and nicked my skin.
"I opened our box to make sure. There was nobody I could ask. All windows closed and not a clerk in sight. Here, you need a bandaid."
It was a short cut, but deep. We had to use several bandaids before the bleeding stopped.
"I doubt if all Saturday's mail is sorted by two o'clock," I said. "Perhaps we'll get something from Eunice tomorrow."
"Perhaps." Bill took over some of the picnic chores. "Now I'm doubly glad Eunice is in France. Tommy's just her age. I don't believe I could stand Eric's son as a son-in-law."
"Then Tommy's with them?"
"Oh, he has some sort of job in New York, but he'll be up for week-ends."
"Did you see Sally?"
"No. She was back at their cottage, unpacking, Eric said. That's when he told me where their cottage was."
"Did you tell him we were just next door?"
"I had to. They would have found out in a day or so."
"Did he say what he's doing now?"
"Teaching physics. Some little college out west."
"What a waste! Bill, why do you dislike Eric so much?"
Bill's face lost its brightness. "I can't stand cowardice. Why didn't he stand up and fight? Why did he just give in and resign? If he was innocent...." I was Startled by Bill's vehemence. He had been devoted to Eric in the days when they both worked for the A.E.C. Eric's job had been scientific, Bill's administrative. Bill had respected Eric then. What Bill felt for Eric now was not simple dislike, but something far more sourcurdled affection.
"How does he look?" I asked Bill.
"Different. I had a queer feeling that the Eric we used to know has gone away somewhere else and quite another man has taken his place in Eric's body."
"Do you think they'll bother us much?"
"Not if we're a little cool. Eric was always sensitive to atmosphere, especially after his resignation. He didn't force his company on me just now. I really had to offer him a lift. He was on foot. But he said, no, he'd rather walk."
"I hate being cool to people who were once our friends."
"Would you like to pack up and go home? Just scrap the idea of spending August here?"
"That would be silly, wouldn't it? But I'm tempted. With the Lindens on one side and this unpleasant woman on the other..."
"You haven't told me about her yet."
I told him. "The little girl was so little!"
"And your little girl is so far away!"
He was laughing at me, gently, but still laughing.
"Oh, Bill, I know Eunice is practically grown up now, but that child did remind me of the way she used to be. I felt as if I ought to do something."
"Forget it," said Bill, firmly. "You can't interfere in other people's family life. Maybe the child's a perfect pest. When another person scolds or punishes a child, it always sounds so much worse than when you do it yourself."
"We never punished Eunice like that."
"We scolded her."
"But not like that. It's the smile I can't forget. That woman was enjoying herself."
"You've never really learned to be callous, have you?"
"Oh, yes, I have! How could I go on living otherwise? I shall put the whole incident out of mind now but I don't want to see any more of that woman."
"You won't have to. Her cottage isn't that close. Picnic ready?"
"Just about." I put away the last of the groceries, emptying the big, paper bag. "Bill, didn't you get a newspaper?"
"Oh, Lord, I forgot!"
"You always do in Selsea."
"Well, what's the use of having a vacation if you have to brood over the same, old, dismal headlines every day? We can catch up with the news tomorrow, when we see the Sunday papers."
The beach was deserted. Even on the island that was unusual for a sunny Saturday in August.
"Thank God for baseball and television," said Bill. "This is like a private beach."
"We'd better make the most of it now," I answered him. "They'll all be back when the game is over."
The tide was rolling in on long, smooth swells. Inshore, the billows towered before they crashed. It would be tricky diving through that surf.
We stood, knee-deep in the shallow froth of a spent wave, while an imminent wall of water bore down on us, closer and closer, higher and higher, until it hid the horizon. Bill plunged. I hesitated. Already it was too late to turn and run. A curl of foam trembled on the crest as it leaned towards me.
"Come on!" shouted Bill.
The wave was curving inward like a drawn bow. In another moment it would smash down upon me, blinding, deafening, drenching, dragging.
I dived, and the crash roared harmlessly behind me.
The first shock had the tingling chill of champagne. In another moment my body met the challenge and I felt warm again, water-borne, almost weightless, moving and resting at the same time. The sea lifted me towards the sky, then fell away from me gently, only to lift me again. This must be the way a bird felt when his body was air-borne. This made walking, and even dancing, seem like drudgery. And Eunice seemed a little nearer. Now there was nothing but water between me and France.
We turned back towards shore. A breaker, smaller than the rest, slapped our calves as we ran before it, bare feet dashing jets of spray from a receding wave stretched thin across the sand.
The beach was still deserted except for one figure on the village wharf, so diminished by distance that it was hardly recognizable as human, just something ant-like and inconsequential as man would look to God. We were in no mood for company. We climbed to the top of the sandy bluff and walked in the other direction.
From that height, the great billows were only ripples, the ocean itself a level, blue floor stretching to the earth's rim, solid looking as stone, faceted by the sharp edge of the wind and glittering in the sun.
Here there were no houses, only dunes, and nothing grew but scrub oak and pine, bayberry, beach plum and poverty grass. Nothing moved, but the wind and the birds.
In wet suits we had to walk fast to keep warm. We went farther than we had ever gone before. We rounded a point and came upon another stretch of dune land, empty as the sky above it.
Here, for a little way, our path was a narrow ridge between two sand bluffs dropping a hundred feet or more on either side of us. Looking back we could barely see the roofs of the distant village. I forged ahead of Bill for he was burdened with the picnic basket and I had only the ice bucket. I stepped too near the edge and suddenly I was sliding.
I landed in a deep, round hollow walled by a ring of high dunes. I was in a giant cup. Coarse grass grew at the top, outlining the curve of the cup's rim high above me, but nothing had found root in the shifting sand of its steep sides and only a few bushes clung to the sand at the bottom. The dunes around me were like great ramparts, walling out Bill and the sea and the distant village. I could see nothing beyond the hollow itself but the sky where a few white clouds drifted against the summer blue. The place was still and secret as the bottom of a well.
The ice bucket had rolled away from me. I set it upright and heard Bill's voice calling:
"Lois! What happened? Where are you?"
I called back. "I'm all right. Down here." I saw him far above me, at the edge of the hollow looking down in amazement, his head dark against the sky.
"Come on down!" I cried. "It's wonderful and warm here. No wind. Just the place for a picnic."
"Will we ever get up again?"
"Why not? We've climbed the bluff near our cottage a hundred times."
"But not with a picnic basket!"
Slipping, sliding, stumbling, he made his way to the bottom. "You're right. No wind at all."
We stretched luxuriously on our backs in the noon sun and forgot what it was like to feel chilly.
"A little pocket of eternity," said Bill. "There's no motion here at all and so no time. Even the witch-locks at the back of your neck are quite still."
"I wonder how high above us the wind really is?"
"Maybe we'll find out if we watch that bird when he passes overhead."
He was at some distance now, but coming towards us, a small, brown bird, wings spread wide and motionless, planing with the wind like a tiny glider. But, when he was directly above the hollow, his wings began to flutter in startled flight. Once beyond it, he glided again.
"Uncanny," said Bill. "He was at least twenty feet above the hollow. Even at that height, there's no wind here. He couldn't glide. He had to fly."
"No more uncanny than that zone of silence in the Pacific."
"That's been explained. Something to do with ionization."
"Has anyone ever really explained an echo?" I hurried on, before Bill could interrupt, because I was sure that, if anyone ever had explained an echo he would know all about it. "Chance forms a cave so there's an echo. Why couldn't chance shape a hollow so that the wind can't find any way to enter it, even from above? Something to do with the pattern of air currents we can't see and don't know much about."
"Sounds completely unscientific to me," said Bill. "But I'll not say it couldn't happen. Every time I say that about anything, it promptly happens, as if someone were taking up a challenge I'd thrown down. Look. Our bird again."
He was sitting on the twig of bayberry bush, only a few feet from us. He called, three clear notes on a descending scale, like drops of water falling through the air.
Bill laughed at my delight. "Some scientists say birds sing only to warn other birds away from their feeding grounds, the way gangsters warn other gangs to keep off their territory."
"Some scientists are fools," I retorted. "Don't tell me that song means 'Scram, youse, or else....'"
"It's funny we never found this place before."
"We've never been this far along the beach before."
"Maybe the place wasn't here before. Winter tides shift the dunes every year."
"Do they?" I looked about curiously. "No driftwood or seaweed. I don't believe the sea has been here for a long time."
"But the sea and the wind must have made this place in the beginning."
"I'm glad they made it so windless. There's always something a little frightening about wind to me. Hurricanes can kill and a mistral can drive some people to suicide. Even a little wind is mischievous. It snatches your hat and musses your hair and lifts your skirt too high. I think of the wind as an enemy of man."
"Don't you mean an enemy of woman?"
We laughed and Bill sat up. "How about lunch?"
When we were first married, we had agreed that a picnic should be something more than wilted sandwiches. Today we had a whole broiled chicken, buttered rolls, stuffed endives and fresh peaches. There was a bottle of white wine in the ice bucket and hot coffee in the thermos.
"If you eat all the chicken now we won't have anything left for dinner," I said.
"You can save half of your share for your dinner, if you want to," retorted Bill. "I'm going to have all mine now."
"Perhaps Baldwin will have some fish left."
"On Saturday afternoon? Fat chance!" We finished the chicken and the wine and everything else. We lay in the sun again and smoked and made plans for all the things we would do when Eunice came home for Christmas.
We had no idea what time it was until, at last, the sun dropped below the edge of the cup and it filled to the brim with shadow. Now, quite suddenly, it was cold down there in the stillness, much colder than it would be at the top of the bluff, where sunshine still lingered. Hastily I packed paper cups and all our other trash in the basket.
"Let's come back here tomorrow," I said, as we struggled up the yielding sand of the dune face.
"Let's come here every day it doesn't rain," said Bill.
"And let's never tell anyone else about this place. It's not often you can be outdoors with such a perfect sense of privacy.
"But we must tell Eunice."
From the top of the bluff, we saw the sun close to the horizon. The beach was again as deserted as it had been at two o'clock. We had managed to miss altogether the Saturday afternoon mob of children, wading and building sand castles, while mothers gossiped under beach umbrellas. At the cottage we left our picnic things and changed into shirts and slacks, then took the path down to the harbor where Captain Baldwin usually dropped anchor on summer afternoons.
But this afternoon there was no sign of his little craft. Only the larger vessels of the fishing fleet rode at anchor on the swell of the high tide and there was no one in sight not even a fisherman mending a net or a boy trolling from the end of the pier. The whole place was as abandoned as if it had been a day of lashing rain.
"Where is everybody?" demanded Bill.
"Probably watching some quiz programme. Let's go on to the marsh and see if Baldwin's there."
Another path took us across low dunes to a swampy cove where a small boat lay at anchor, its prow nuzzling tall grass. It had a single cabin and it had not seen paint for years. A lean pig, tethered to the boat, snuffled along the edge of the marsh looking for salvage. There was no one on deck.
Bill called out: "Captain Baldwin?"
He crawled out the hatchway of the tiny cabin where he lived all the year round. Long ago he had been master of the fishing fleet. Now, like his boat, he was little and old and warped and poor and not too clean. He wore a peaked cap, cocked to one side. I'd never seen him without it, winter or summer, indoors or out. There were darns in the worn, grey sweater, buttoned tight against the wind. He limped in his heavy sea boots. Arthritis had twisted his legs and turned the knuckles of his hands into great knobs, but the hands were still skillful and there was kindness in the faded eyes.
Opinion in the village was divided as to whether he was really as poor as his mode of life suggested or whether old age had turned his Yankee thrift into miserliness. There were those who swore that Captain Baldwin had several thousand dollars in bearer bonds sewn into the lining of his winter coat.
"I hope you're not all sold out," said Bill.
"Didn't sell nothing. Nobody come round for fish today."
It was hard to preserve the double negative and words like "ain't" against the incessant assaults of public education on each generation, but Selsea had done it. Any child who came home from school avoiding such locutions was promptly punished for putting on airs and making out like he thought he was better than his old mom and dad.
"What have you got?"
"Blowfish, caught this morning. You know, I tied up at the wharf. this afternoon and waited two hours, but there wasn't nobody there all that time. Not even kids. So I upped anchor and came home. No point hanging round there with no customers in sight. 'Course the wind was high, but not that high. Funny. Whole village seemed dead. You know where they all were?"
"I've no idea," said Bill. "We'd like a dozen blowfish, please."
The fish were alive. Baldwin set one down on a cutting board. It puffed itself up to twice its normal size until a prick of his knife point let out the air and it collapsed, a very small fish indeed.
"I suppose that's the way he bluffs his enemies," said Bill.
"That's the way we all bluff our enemies," said the Captain. "If we can."
He chopped off the head and began scaling the body with quick, even strokes of the knife edge. The scales that peeled off were almost transparent with the lustre of pearls.
When he had collected a dozen fish heads he tossed them to the pig.
"Won't that give the meat a fishy taste?" I asked him.
"Sure, I know some folks don't like bacon that tastes of fish, but I ain't going to waste money buying feed for a hog. I'll have to butcher him pretty soon if business ain't no better than it was today. Was there a big baseball game on TV?"
"Don't ask me," said Bill. "We've been out on the dunes all afternoon."
"I ain't gotta TV nor a radio. They cost too much. Musta been you folks I saw out on the dunes when I was at the wharf." He looked at us with new interest. "You went a lot farther than most folks do. Right around the point to the hollow."
"Oh, you know about the hollow?" I cried. "We thought it was our secret."
Baldwin was amused. "Nobody's likely to bother you there. Too long a walk. I guess nobody knows about that place nowadays but me and the coast guard men. It's a good spot to get out of the wind."
"There was no wind there at all today," said Bill. "But I suppose, if it shifts tomorrow..."
"Won't make no difference. There never has been any wind down there, even in my grandfather's day. He used to call it the Hurricane's Eye. Said it had the same funny hush you notice when a hurricane's right overhead. He didn't believe there was any other place on earth quite like that hollow. And he should a known. He'd been most everywhere. He was in the China trade."
"Why is the place so windless? Have you any idea?"
"No." Baldwin was wrapping the .fish neatly in brown paper, an old grocery bag he had split and saved for the purpose. "Lotta things in this world people can't explain. That hollow's one o' them."
Bill gave him a five dollar bill. He took change out of a battered coin purse and counted it carefully.
"I'm glad we found such a lonely spot," I said. "We like to get away from neighbors some times and we have them on both sides this year."
"Don't suppose you'll mind the Lindens," said Baldwin. "They seem like real nice folks. From some place out west, I hear."
"And the people in the other cottage?"
Something stilled the Captain's tongue for a moment. I became aware of the sound the water made, slapping against the sides of his boat.
At last he said, "Mrs. Kane was born here in the village. Her dad was one of my men when I was captain of the fishing fleet. She went to New York and married a sailor on a submarine. She lives here when he's at sea."
Walking home, Bill said: "I think I know who your Mrs. Kane is now. Don't you remember, some years ago, there was a girl in the village that all the boys called 'Frisky'? Her mother was dead and her father wasn't very good to her. She ran away when she was fourteen. Didn't she marry a sailor?"
"She did. I remember the gossip now. He left her, after a year or so, but she still gets his allotment because of the child. He's a Catholic and won't divorce her. You know, Bill, Captain Baldwin is a nice man. He didn't say a word against her, the way the other village people do. He even tried to cover up for her. Instead of saying her husband left her, he said she lives here while her husband's at sea."
It was dusk when we got home. On the path, ahead of us, we saw Sam Orpen, who kept the village radio repair shop, going towards Frisky's cottage. We had known him for yearsa small, swarthy, bandy-legged man with a narrow face and uneasy eyes. He was a pure technician with no knowledge or even curiosity about theory. He could name all the major league ball players, but I doubt if he knew that "amps" had anything to do with a man named Ampere. Once, when he was repairing a radio for us, Bill had asked him idly what he thought electricity really was. He had answered: "Juice. Nothing to get excited about. Just juice."
The paper bag he carried under one arm was shaped more like a bottle than a repair kit. Soon there were sounds of loud voices next door. We couldn't hear words, so we weren't sure whether it was the radio or Sam and Frisky.
Bill made a fire in the grate and I went into the kitchen to cook the fish. Bill used most of the butter and milk he had bought for tomorrow's breakfast and some flour and sugar left over from last year to make Sally Lunn.
"That leaves practically nothing in the house for breakfast but coffee and bread," I objected. "You forgot to get eggs."
"We won't want a big breakfast if we're going out to the inn for Sunday dinner," said Bill. "And I'm hungry now."
Some sugar spilled on the floor. I wiped it up carefully because of the ants.
After dinner, he suggested brandy to celebrate the first evening of our vacation.
I set a decanter and glasses on a low table before the fire and lit the oil lamps. We had bottled gas for stove and refrigerator at the cottage, but no electricity.
I put the portable radio on the table and fiddled with the controls. "Since you also forgot to buy a paper, let's find out what's going on in the world."
"I'll make a small bet that it will be the same old guff we've been hearing for the last fifteen years," said Bill. "You could go away for six months and not notice any change in the headlines when you came back."
A shriek of static assaulted our eardrums. Bill turned the volume down and the cacophony died. A glutinous voice came through in mid-sentence.
"...further conferences would be of no practical use at the present time."
"What did I tell you?" said Bill. "I've been hearing those words since the late forties."
"And now for the lighter side of the news. A man in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who doesn't believe in flying saucers...."
We never did find out what happened to the man who didn't believe in flying saucers for just then there was a knock on our front door.
Bill shut off the radio as I opened the door. There, in the fresh, windy night, stood Sally Linden and Eric. Beyond them the wide sky was a blaze of stars.
"Why, Sally..." I couldn't think what to say.
"May we come in?" Sally's voice was high and light and quick as if she were out of breath. She didn't pause for any form of greeting. "We thought we heard a radio over here. We don't have one in our cottage and our car radio just went blank. A tube, I suppose."
"Do come in!" I was aware of strain in Bill's effort at cordiality, but apparently, the Lindens were not. Sally walked directly to the radio, as if she could not see anything else in the room. Eric followed her with the same blinded look. Her hand was shaking as she reached for the knob.
"We were just going to have a drink," said Bill. "You'll join us?"
There was no response.
Bill looked at Sally's fumbling hand. "Let me. Any particular station you want?"
"No. Any station that has news." Eric turned towards Bill. "Don't you know?"
"Where have you been all day?"
"Out on the dunes."
"Didn't you see a morning paper?"
"No, and we haven't heard a newscast. What's going on?"
"You didn't say anything about it in the post office."
"It was a shock seeing you again. I hardly knew what I was saying. And, of course, I thought you knew. I thought you'd been hanging over the radio all day like everybody else in Selsea. Bill, things look bad."
Bill laughed. "Things have been looking bad for a long, long time."
"I know." Eric sounded as breathless as Sally. "But now they look worse. Much worse."
The radio voice was loud again:
"...and that concludes the stock market report. We will now switch you to our special correspondent in Washington..."
"Do sit down," I whispered.
Sally subsided on a hassock, close to the fire, chin resting on the heel of one hand, elbow propped against a knee. Her hair had become veined with grey in the years since I had seen her. Her face had always had symmetry. Now it was the blurred symmetry of the classic in decay. Only the brows were firm, Roman arches still standing among the ruins. The chin had collapsed, the lips were crumbling.
Eric had bowed shoulders, the back of a man who has spent most of his life bent over a desk, or a book. But when he looked at you directly, you surprised a secret in his eyesknowledge had not made him happy. His look of tragic consciousness set him apart from other men the way the troubled, searching gaze of anthropoid apes sets them apart from less developed species.
At the moment, Eric's eyes were cast down. I could not see their expression. His face was still as a pool of stagnant water. Only his hands moved, filling a pipe with tobacco from a pouch.
The disembodied voice from the radio possessed the room, blotting out all sound of wind and sea.
"...the situation is undoubtedly serious, but the consensus in Washington is that there is no real cause for alarm. The Secretary told newsmen here today that he has not shut the door on all further negotiation. He is prepared, and even eager, to consider any future proposals for a settlement, providing he is convinced they are made in good faith, but he feels he has little reason to rely on the good faith of his opponents and he will not enter into negotiations designed solely to give them a propaganda advantage.
"It must be remembered that the Secretary has access to a great deal of information withheld from the general public for security reasons and he is, therefore, in a better position than most of us to judge what is advisable at the present time.
"Like his predecessors, the Secretary has been forced to lead us to the brink of disaster a number of times in the past, but he has always had perfect confidence in his own ability to avert catastrophe at the last moment and the event has always proved him right.
"Smiling and cheerful, at his press conference today, he parried all questions with a tough-minded resilience usually associated with younger men. When the New York Times correspondent asked him to comment on the current crisis, he retorted: 'What crisis?' and there was general laughter.
"Official Washington is inclined to reflect this spirit of cautious optimism..."
I was the one who interrupted. "But what are they talking about? What has happened?"
Bill held up his hand to silence me and leaned forward in his chair, eyes closed, as if temporary blindness would make his hearing more acute.
"...the text of the Secretary's note has not yet been released to the press, but I have it, from an unofficial source close to the State Department, that this note demonstrates once more the firmness of principle which has always characterized the Secretary's conduct of foreign policy. Apparently the note states clearly and categorically that, unless our demands are met, we shall feel morally obliged to withdraw all diplomatic recognition from the government in question."
Someone whispered: "Oh, no!" I think it was Sally.
Eric's hands were motionless, holding his pipe half-filled, as if he had forgotten all about it.
And now there was a new note in the radio voice. It lost a little of its synthetic cheerfulness.
"At the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization a spokesman said that we are fully prepared to deal with any emergency that may arise. The important thing is not to give way to panic. In the unthinkable event of resort to nuclear arms on a global scale, we must have faith that, if this war comes, we are going to win it.
"If an air-raid alert should sound, everyone must be prepared to seek shelter promptly, since the invention of the inter-continental ballistic missile has reduced warning time to less than half an hour. The public is advised not to look directly at any sudden, intensely bright flash of light on the horizon..."
Sally's lips moved, almost soundlessly, and her whisper filled the newscaster's pause. "Lot's wife. Fire from Heaven. Escape for thy life...look not behind thee...lest thou be consumed..."
"No one should leave shelter until instructed to do so by the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization broadcasts. There will be no all-clear signal. It was abolished as impractical in the fifties, when the possibilities of fall-out were first beginning to be understood.
"The dangers of fall-out are considerable, but they have undoubtedly been exaggerated by pacifists and other alarmists. There are several practical steps that everyone can take to reduce radiation exposure. The first rule of survival in time of fall-out, or suspected fall-out, is below-ground shelter. This must take priority over all other activities during the first few days following a nuclear attack. If no better shelter is available, a cellar should be used for that purpose..."
Bill and I looked at each other. There were no cellars in Selsea. The old houses were small shacks for fishermen, who used kitchen ranges, burning wood or coal, to keep themselves warm in winter. There was sand directly under the floor where they stored live clams in cold weather. The new houses were either ranch houses or summer cottages, both designed without basements.
"...if there is no cellar available, windows should be dosed and all curtains, blinds or shades drawn across the windows.
"It is conceivable that, in certain circumstances, large numbers of people may have to remain under shelter for days, or even weeks, while decontamination squads are at work. In these circumstances the most important thing will be to stay under shelter and keep cheerful, with faith in the experts, who are trained to deal with emergencies of this sort. Civilian personnel should not use the telephone. All lines will be needed for official messages, but radio will keep everyone in touch with the outer world. In the still most unlikely event of a nuclear war, all radios should stay tuned to Civil Defense wave-lengths for news and instructions.
"If there is any suspicion of fall-out, only canned food should be eaten and only bottled liquids should be used for drinking. Such beverages as coca cola and orange crush may be drunk after an atomic explosion, if the cap is washed carefully, before removing, in uncontaminated water."
Bill reached for his glass of brandy. "Can you imagine anyone drinking orange crush after an atomic explosion?"
"Above all in such a situation, do not leave shelter until instructed to do so. We repeat: do not leave shelter until instructed to do so, even if it means remaining under shelter for several weeks or longer. Your life could depend on following these instructions exactly.
"The public is urged not to forget that fall-out may remain in the earth's atmosphere for a considerable time to come and may occur anywhere on earth, however far from the explosion. Radioactive ash is carried by the wind. It can go any place the wind can go.
"And that's all the news for now. Stay tuned to this station for further announcements. We expect to have more reports at any moment. Meanwhile, our studio orchestra will play their own arrangement of Brahm's Lullaby..."
Bill turned the volume low.
"I can't believe it," whispered Sally. "It's not happening."
"It's not going to happen," said Eric. "The enemy isn't completely nuts and neither are we."
"Of course it won't happen," said Bill. "This is all window-dressing to out-bluff the enemy. We've been as close to the edge a dozen times before. Then, at the last moment, somebody always backs down. I'm not worried."
"I am." It was Sally's voice, humming like a taut wire in the wind.
"Sally, darling!" Eric took her hand in his. "Even if the impossible became possible, think how far we are from any military or industrial targets here."
Sally snatched her hand away. "But Tommy is in New York!"
"Oh, Bill!" I cried. "We shouldn't have let Eunice go so far away from us this summer. For years we didn't because we were afraid something like this might happen. But this summer...just because she wanted to go so much and we thought we couldn't afford to go with her..."
Bill said something to comfort me, but I did not hear him. I was listening to the echo of another voice in my own mind. You have a little daughter. The doctor's voice, cutting through clouds of anesthetic, just before I heard Eunice's own voice for the first time. Daughter. It was a word of infinite meaning. The finite mind could not contain it now. It slipped out of my mental grasp, like a word in a foreign language, only half understood.
Sally turned to Eric. "You really think they'd pay attention to military or industrial targets this time? It was indiscriminate civilian bombing that brought Germany and Japan to their knees. The other was tried and it failed. Men can rebuild factories, but what man can rebuild his own morale when his children are on the firing line?"
Bill spoke more loudly than usual.
"Sally, let's be realistic about this! Even Hitler did not use poison gas because gas follows the wind and no one can predict which way the wind will blow. Fall-out is just as unpredictable for the same reasonit's wind-borne. When we set off the Bravo bomb in 1954, the wind changed direction at the last moment and carried fall-out to places we had supposed outside the danger zone. There've been rumors of a similar accident in Russia. If war does come now, it will be just another war, fought with conventional weapons, like the Korean business."
"Do you really believe what you're saying?" Sally stood, glowing and pulsating, as if she had suddenly burst into flame. "Think how much money both sides have poured into these nuclear weapons in the last few years! Far more than was ever spent on poison gas. Would any government let all that money go to waste, if it were fighting for its life? Haven't we been told ten thousand times that we had to have nuclear weapons because we were inferior in military man-power? If they should attack us with conventional armies, we might soon reach a point where we'd have to use nuclear weapons or give in. And if we used ours, they'd use theirs in retaliation."
"Sally." Bill's voice was a dash of cold water in the heated atmosphere. "You know our bombs were made only to serve as a deterrent, not for actual use."
"Are murderers deterred by the threat of capital punishment?" Sally tossed the answer at him with contempt. "Deterrents might work if men were governed by reason, but we all know they are not."
When the silence became unbearable, I cried out:
"But what do we do now? Just sit here?"
Sally flashed her scorn in my direction. "What else can we do?"
"We can wait." By some miracle of self-control, Eric managed to put a note of reasonableness into his voice. "I, for one, do not believe that the world will go completely mad. If two men are fighting in an empty house and suddenly discover that the roof is on fire and about to collapse they will stop fighting long enough to save their own skins, no matter what the cause of the quarrel. If war came now, I should cease to believe in free will. I've always disputed the mechanist view that man is a plaything at the mercy of blind psychological and social forces. But I'll have to admit the mechanists are right, if collective man marches blindly as a sleepwalker into a war of annihilation that no individual man wants. Both sides have known for years that it's a choice between co-existence and co-annihilation."
"I'm not so sure." Sally was quiet now, as a banked fire is quiet. "Men in positions of power live insulated from popular thinking and feeling. They don't read newspapers. They read summaries of news compiled by subordinates who share their views. I doubt if anyone of them has ever heard that phrase 'co-annihilation.' If they have I'm sure they've heard it only with their ears, not with their imaginations. Otherwise they would have tried to find some alternative to war. It did provide a way of settling international differences. But now, when we all know war has become race suicide, no other way has been provided or even suggested, in terms of practical politics. There's a political vacuum that no one has tried to fill. Debates, like those at the U. N., are just verbal wars. They make international quarrels worse instead of healing them."
"You make our leaders sound like monsters," said Bill. "After all, they have children and grandchildren too. They must feel, as we all do, that these years of living under this threat have been one long nightmare."
"Then why didn't they do something about it? They didn't. They acted as if they believed we were all going to wake up some fine, sunny morning and find that the nightmare was only a dream after all, that our enemies had melted away or come over to our side, and that everything was going to be just the way it was in 1912, forever. Without some such psychological insulation, who could risk war in a nuclear world?"
"All right," said Eric. "Maybe some of us are dreamers or suicidal neurotics, who really mean what we say when we scoff at 'mere biological survival.' But, thank God, our enemies, with all their faults are realists. They won't let this happen, no matter what sort of note we write."
"Do you really mean that, Eric?" demanded Sally. "Have we reached such a state of moral bankruptcy that we have to rely on the common sense and self-control of our enemies as our only protection? The enemy is only human, too. His mental life may be quite as unrealistic as ours. Long ago we under-rated his technological ability. Now we may be over-rating his ability to keep cool and practical under the nagging, unnerving pressure of a prolonged cold war. Do we never see them as they really are? Is hate as blind as love?"
"They started the cold war!" said Bill.
"I don't care who started it," retorted Sally. "I want to know who's going to end it, and how?"
"I'm not going to call you Sally any more," said Bill. "I'm going to call you Cassieshort for Cassandra. Eric, why are women more pessimistic than men? You and I know damned well it can't happen, but I believe Sally and Lois are seriously afraid it will."
"And you aren't?" Sally looked at him analytically. "You know I believe the most dangerous American tradition is the cult of the happy ending. We just can't believe that anything really bad can happen at the end of our story. We expect the going to be rough at the beginning and in the middle, but we have absolute faith that everything will turn out all right in the end, no matter what we do. And that's one reason we make mistakes. Subconsciously, we feel we can afford to, because the happy ending is inevitable."
"And I believe the happy ending is inevitable, or the human race would never have got this far," said Bill. "How about that drink you were going to have?"
The brandy had no effect on me. It was like the time when Eunice was six and fell down the stairwell and lay unconscious for twelve hours. Bill had made me drink brandy then, but I had stayed as sober as if I were drinking tea. It's only when you want oblivion that alcohol can give it to you, and you don't want it if you are frightened. Your instinct then is to summon every resource of being to fight for life. Awareness is one of those resources. That's why the face of danger is bright.
But the brandy did have some effect on Bill. He can't have been as frightened as I. He looked at Sally owlishly and blurted: "You know, you sound to me like a communist."
Fortunately, Sally was sober. "I'm not. Just a pacifist."
"But a fighting pacifist." The brandy thickened Eric's speech a little. "Don't take it all so seriously, Sally, dear. Bill's right. There'll be no war. All this radio talk tonight is just one more move in the international chess-game. I am not a prophet, nor the seventh son of a prophet, but, mark my words: by noon tomorrow, they'll announce that somebody has written another note or called another conference and we'll all be right back where we have been for the last fifteen years."
"Perhaps that's the worst thing that could happen," said Sally. "This long psychological preparation for a suicidal war that never comes is driving us all mad."
"'For God's sake, drop that other bomb?'"
"Exactly. And it must be affecting the enemy as well as us. That doubles the impact on us, too, just as the impact of two cars, colliding, is the sum of their individual speeds. If we could just have a moratorium on newspaper vilification on both sides, it might do almost as much good as physical disarmament. Wars, like everything else, begin in the mind. An arms race leads to war largely because of its psychological effect."
"Eleven o'clock." Bill put down his glass and turned up the volume of the radio. The last notes of music died. The sticky voice came back again.
"You have just heard our studio orchestra playing their own arrangement of Brahms' Lullaby, conducted by Gregor Smirnoff. Please stand by for the latest news bulletins. When you hear the time signal it will be eleven o'clock."
Silence, then a harsh whistle. I set my watch as another voice broke in.
"This is Cornelius Butler bringing you the latest bulletins from our newsroom in New York. The big story tonight: will Jim Geraghty challenge Nat Blitzer for the world heavyweight championship? But, first, a word from our sponsor..."
A softer, more insidious voice tried to persuade us that one thirty-cent brand of cigarette had finer, costlier tobaccos than all other thirty-cent brands, but we were not listening.
"What happened to the crisis?" Bill demanded.
"Maybe they've been advised to play it down," said Eric. "And that means it's over."
"I suppose I might have known it," said Sally. "There have been so many crises in the last fifteen years. Korea, Dienbienphu, Hungary, Suez, Quemoy, Lebanon, Hong Kong. War has become the normal state as peace used to be in our parents' time. We haven't really been at peace since 1914."
"But neither have we had another world war since 1945," put in Bill. "And we never will. The most significant event in the history of our generation was when England, France and Israel halted their invasion of Egypt. That's going to be the pattern for all nations from now on. At the last minute they will always come to some accommodation. Sir John Slessor was right. War has abolished itself."
"But so has peace," said Sally. "We have neither one nor the other."
"Even that's better than war," said Bill. "Let me freshen up your drinks."
"...if Blitzer accepts the challenge, the match will probably take place in Madison Square Garden in the early fall. Turning to the political scene, we find that the Secretary has chalked up another victory for his uncompromising foreign policy. There has been no direct reply to his latest note, but, according to an unofficial source close to the Secretary himself, there is every indication that the reply will accede to our demands on all major points."
"Thank God!" said Eric. "I believe him now. It's quite obvious that, between the last broadcast and this one, the commentators have been advised to play down the crisis. They wouldn't get such advice if the Secretary wasn't sure the crisis is over."
"...from Hollywood comes news that..."
Bill switched off the radio.
"Can we get France?" I suggested. "It's silly, I know, but it makes me feel closer to Eunice."
Bill switched to the foreign wave-lengths. There was an appalling stutter. We seemed to be hearing all the electrical storms across three thousand miles of ocean. Bill coaxed the volume knob delicately, first right, then left, as if he were trying to find the combination of a safe. Suddenly a French voice came through, each syllable shaped with exquisite precision, like something carved sharply in jade or some other hard stone.
"...et le chef de cabinet Ã¡ dit qu'il n'est point certain que..." An electric mutter like the mumbling of a madman cut off the voice.
"Not at all certain of what?" said Sally. "I wish we could have heard the rest. It sounds almost as if the French commentators hadn't been told to play down the crisis yet."
"They will be," said Bill. "But I'm afraid we can't get France tonight. Want to try England?"
Sally shook her head and rose. "Thank you for the drinks. And the entertainment."
"Isn't that what it really is? A sort of show put on every year or so to keep us all at crisis pitch for the cold war? I don't mind too much, except for one thing: how long can it go on? Another ten years? Twenty? A hundred? How will it end? How can it end? It's quite beyond my own capacity to imagine, but experience has taught me one thing in life: the future always proves to be something no one could possibly have imagined or expected. Howells was right when he said, speaking as a story-teller, 'Life has a trick you can't catch.' What will the trick be this time?"
After the Lindens had gone, there was silence. The sighing of the surf took over as I rinsed the brandy glasses in the kitchen. When I went into the bedroom, Bill was already in bed, smoking a cigarette, his hands clasped behind his head.
"Quite a jolt that first broadcast gave us," he said.
I began to undress. "They shouldn't make such a dramatic crisis out of each little diplomatic difficulty. If ever a real crisis comes, we'll be too jaded to recognize it. Crisis is he wrong word for this. Crisis means a turning point, a high momentnot years and years of unending tension, stretching out like an elastic band while everyone waits, breathless for the final, fatal snap. I can't blame Sally for being a pacifist."
"Is that all she is?" said Bill. "You know she did sound like a communist."
"Don't be silly."
"But Eric was accused. He lost his job with the A.E.C."
"It was never proved that he was."
"And it was never proved that he wasn't."
"How can you prove a negative? That's what makes this sort of suspicion so horrible."
"I never could see Eric as a Communist," went on Bill. "But, if he wasn't, why didn't he fight in his own defense? Why did he just resign? Tonight I had a new idea: suppose Eric was accused because of Sally? Suppose that was the first time that he, himself, had any reason to suspect her? Wouldn't he then just resign, without a fight, because he wanted to protect her? Or because he didn't want to know the truth about her, which an investigation was likely to bring out in the open?"
"Does it matter now?"
"I suppose not. But just think about some of the things she said tonight."
I looked at Bill. "Is it communism to want peace in a nuclear age? You're sounding now like that editorial in Life, long ago, that said the only people who wanted to end nuclear testing were 'scared mothers, fuzzy liberals and weary taxpayers.' In other words: mothers are a lunatic fringe, a minority group, and if they don't like it here, let's send them back where they came from!"
We were almost squabbling, but a double bed is insurance against that. Bill doused his cigarette, switched off the light and put his arms around me. The curves of our bodies fitted smoothly together. How warm, how soft, how safe it wasto love and be loved! And what a gift of God that sexual love should be so much more than brute procreationthe earthy root of altruism, the one physical pleasure that can be shared, the mysticism of every-day life. Why did so many of the civilized regard it with an unnatural disgust? Man could not love or respect life, if he hated its source. Was this one secret, psychological cause of the accelerating tempo of the war cycle?
Neither Bill nor I had ever felt the almost universal sense of sexual shame. Perhaps that was why the whole idea of war was distasteful to both of us. We didn't feel a half-conscious need for expiation. We had no atavistic sense of monstrous sins that can only be washed away in the blood of human sacrifice.
Sleep claimed us gently and we surrendered to it trustingly, as we had so many times before, in each other's arms.
It was thirst that woke me. Carefully disengaging myself, so as not to wake Bill, I sat up in bed. But I had not been quite careful enough. He stirred and opened his eyes.
"I'm just getting a glass of water. Want one?"
"From the kitchen window I saw that the sky was turning that bright, unearthly azure that is only seen for a few moments just before dawn on a clear day. A bird called. Another answered and the silence came alive with flute sounds in every key. I got two glasses of water and we drank.
"What time is it?" asked Bill.
"Dawn and it's going to be hot." I leaned across him to raise the shade that darkened the open window beside the bed. "That's better. I don't really mind the light."
Now, as we lay there, we could feel a breath of air sighing against our cheekssoft, sea air, tepid, rather than cool.
"I'm going back to sleep," I said, stretching out again.
"I'm going to smoke a cigarette." Bill made a long arm and reached across me to cigarettes on the bedside table.
It was then that we saw itfar across the dunes, on the horizonthe vast, idiot glare, more blinding than the sun itself. The whole world woke to light and color and even shadow. The sand was dazzling white, then red as hellfire in that sudden, monstrous, man-made day that came without dawn and fled without dusk.
It did not fade at once. It was vast in terms of time, as well as space. It fired the sky from horizon to zenith and hung there ponderouslya flash in slow motion that broke the familiar limits of all normal dimensions. It was as if the mouth of hell had opened and we had seen a vision of eternal fires.
But still there was no sound.
Yet the blast already existed, the way an accident already exists when a plane's engine dies too soon before landing and ambulances race down the field to care for the injured who have not yet been hurt.
The measured ticking of the clock was loud in the stillness. Time was bleeding to death, second by second, and we could do nothing to stanch the flow from that mortal wound. Free will ceased to exist. The future lay before us, as inalterable as the past. We didn't know when the blast would come, or how near it would be, but we knew that it would come in only a few minutes and that these might be our last minutes on earth.
Shaking, we sought comfort in each other's arms, and our bodies said all the things there was no longer time to put into words and still we heard the cruel ticking of the clock.
The house tottered under a force like the blow of a hurricane. The roar was everywhereabove, below, without, within. I seemed to feel it even in the dark unseen cavities of my own bodyin my splitting eardrums, my rattling brain-box, my tortured chest and bowels and womb. Then came the silence of deafness. The front door was lying on the floor, half the door frame beside it, and every window was broken.
"Was it nine minutes? Or more? Or less? I lost count."
"So did I. Will there be more?"
"Let's try the radio." It had fallen on the floor. When Bill picked it up a jagged piece of the plastic case fell off. He turned knobs, but the silence was unbroken.
"Listen!" Bill lifted his head. "Do you hear a child crying?"
The Second Day
Before we could move, we heard footsteps running on the porch.
The child next door stood in our shattered doorway, barefoot, in thin cotton pajamas; her hair, tangled; her face, red and crumpled as a baby's.
I knelt beside her. "What's the matter? Are you hurt?"
At first, she could only cry and cling. I held her and smoothed her hair and, finally, she said: "Noise."
"I know, but you shouldn't have left your house. You should have stayed with your mommy."
"She won't wake up! She won't!" There was a fresh spurt of tears.
Bill and I looked at each other. Then he got a flashlight from the kitchen and moved towards the doorway.
"Must you?" I said.
"You know I must."
"I'll come, too."
"Don't risk it. Stay with her."
I knew when I had to yield to him. I sat by the dead fire, the child in my arms, and Bill stepped out into the dawn.
Everything had changed and yet...the sand would still have its night chill under his bare feet, and the sea breeze would still be fresh against his cheeks, playful with his hair.
Bill came back alone.
"Couldn't you get in?"
"Oh, yes. The door was blasted open, like ours. I knocked and called, but there was no response, so I went inside and found her in the bedroom."
"No. Snoring with her mouth open. She didn't seem hurt, but she didn't stir when I spoke to her and turned the flashlight beam on her face. I was worried until I saw the empty gin bottle under the bed and smelled her breath. She knows nothing. She's out of this world."
"Didn't you wake her?"
"No. I merely envied her. I tried her radio, but it's broken, too, and the Lindens don't have any." He had peeled off his pajamas. He was putting on slacks and shirt. "I must go to the village for news at once. We must find out if Eunice is all right and we must find some way to let her know we're all right. She'll be so worried when she gets news of this, if she hasn't heard from us."
"What about fall-out?"
"At the distance it seemed that won't be for at least three hours and it may not be for eighteen hoursdepending on wind and topography. We must use this time to get ready for it. Shelter, canned food, bottled water."
"Bill, what in God's name has happened? Is this war? Will there be more bombs?"
"After last night's broadcast war seems the most likely thing. And, if it was, more than one bomb must have been dropped already."
"Oh, Bill, what about our house at home?"
"Let's face it. We may never see our house again, but, at least, we're alive. If only Eunice is safe...."
"Why would anyone bomb Greenfield? It's just a small town.
"Inter-continental ballistic missiles are notoriously inaccurate. There are no maps to show the exact distance as the crow flies from a launching platform in Northeastern Europe to a city in the United States. You could aim at Chicago and hit Miami if there was malfunction. Or it may have been one of our own defensive weapons that misfired. For years practice alerts with nuclear weapons have made a nuclear accident statistically inevitable, just as traffic accidents are Statistically predictable on national holidays."
"Do you suppose the rest of the country has been hit? And did we hit Russia?"
"God knows." Bill held out his hand. "I found these scattered on the porch."
He was holding the screws that had held the latch to the front door. "A blast so far away," he said. "Yet strong enough to pull long, steel screws out of hard wood. Not nails. Screws. Think what it must have been at Ground Zero."
Bill kissed me. "You'd better stay here and look after this child until her mother wakes. I'll be back in a few minutes."
He was gone. A small voice said: "I'm hungry!" I looked at the child. "What's your name?"
"What do you like for breakfast, Jean?"
"Oatmeal?" Jean frowned. "I like Flicks and Krunchie Krumbles."
"And I'm sure you like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch."
"How did you guess?" .
"I used to have a little girl of my own."
"Where is she now?"
It was the surgeon's knife without anesthetic.
"Well, where is she?"
At last I managed to answer. "She's far away. And she's not little any more. She's grown up. But she used to eat oatmeal, when she was your age. Like to try it? We have three jars of baby oatmeal."
Jean shook her head. "I don't like oatmeal. And I don't have to eat baby food. I'm not a baby. I'm a big girl now. Couldn't I have toast?"
"All right. How about cinnamon toast?"
"I love that." Jean smiled.
I don't believe anyone had ever taken such pains with her breakfast before. I was lavish with butter and sugar and cinnamon and I popped it into the oven for a minute so that the topping would melt and fuse into a sweet soft crust.
She ate six slices and drank milk while the sky grew pale beyond the broken windows and the sun rose.
The cupboard where Mysti had nested with her kitten was empty. I called her, but there was no response.
"A big kitty or a little kitty?" asked Jean.
"Both. A big mother kitty and a very little one, born yesterday."
Jean's eyes grew round. "Oh, I wish I could see the little one!"
"The noise must have frightened her, too. She's probably hidden the kitten some place where she thinks it will be safer. I just hope she didn't try to carry that kitten out through a broken window." I had a cruel picture of instinct, trying to cope with something as far removed from its level of understanding as that ultimate product of refined reasoning, the nuclear blast.
"I wish I had a kitty," said Jean.
"I'll give you this one when she's old enough, if your mother will let you keep her."
"Hey! What's going on around here?"
Jean's mother had come up on our porch. She was staring at our ruined doorway as if she couldn't believe her eyes. She was wearing Chinese pajamasa raw pink with frog fastenings of billiard table green. Her face was unpowdered, creased and red from sleep. Her limp, blonde hair looked tired, as if hundreds of tintings and permanents had worn out its vitality. Her lips, her face, her whole body had a used look, like the wear and soil in a rented house that has never been cherished as people cherish a home of their own.
"My doors and windows are all smashed, too, and" Her glance took in Jean. "Oh, there you are! Wha'de ye mean, comin' over here an' botherin' these folks? I'm gonna give you a spankin' you'll remember all the rest of your life, you"
Jean's eyes filled with tears.
"You don't understand," I cried. "The child was frightened. Don't you have any idea what happened this morning?"
I told her.
"Jee-suss Chr-rist!" She sat down on the nearest chair, mouth gaping, face suddenly a bloodless white. "I never believed it could really happen, even after that broadcast last night."
"I'll get you some coffee," I said.
"What I need is a slug of gin. Bro-ther, have I got a head this morning. And now this!" Behind the hard, ignorant eyes, I could almost see a mind, unaccustomed to exercise, struggling to grasp an unimaginable situation.
"Sam Orpen come over last night. We had a few drinks because he was gettin' kinda worried, but after we heard the eleven o'clock news, we thought everything was gonna be okay."
"I'll put some brandy in your coffee, Mrs. Kane. We haven't any gin."
"Gee, thanks. You're a real pal. And, by the way, my pals call me Frisky."
She put both hands around the cup of hot coffee as if she wanted to warm them. She drank thirstily and sighed.
"What happens now, for Chrissake?"
"My husband's gone down to the village for news."
"With all this fall-out around? It said on the radio last night stay under shelter no matter what happens. Hell, if I'd known what happened, I wouldn't've dared come over here this morning."
"Don't worry. Bill says fall-out can't reach us for several hours."
"How's he know?"
"He had a job with the Atomic Energy Commission a few years ago."
"How long do we have to stay under shelter?"
"No one should go outdoors for a week, and no one should go outdoors, who doesn't have to go, for a month. Those who have to go out should remain out for as short a time as possible. We can't possibly get back to anything like normal living for at least a year." Frisky helped herself to more brandy. With this second drink, the blood came back into her cheeks and her lips loosened in a speculative smile.
"When this first year's up, I'd like to get back to New York. You can have a heluva lotta fun in New York when there's a war on. You know." Her smile took me in as a fellow female who would understand what kind of fun she meant. "Guys comin' through on their way overseas, wantin' a last fling before they go, and not doin' it cheap, neither. Nothin' but the best for our boys, Stork or Morocco, and why not? Chances are they won't be alive three months later. When that last police action was goin' on in the Near East, there was one paratrooper I used to do the town with But, of course, this time I have the ball and chain on my hands."
"The what?" I asked her.
"The kid. Jean. Maybe I can find a summer camp that takes 'em at five. Then I could high tail it to New York and start livin' again."
"If New York is still there," I said.
"Well, then, S.F., or whatever the main drag is. There has to be some place where the boys wait before they go overseas, don't there?"
"I don't think any of us should make plans." I picked my way among the words as delicately as a man stepping across a beach sown with landmines. "Transportation alone may be a problem for a long time to come." Frisky eyed me sharply. "Gas rationing?"
"Yes, and damaged roads."
"But in the last war" I interrupted her. "Mrs. Kane, if we've only got three hours to prepare for a month indoors, I want to get started now."
"You've got about four hours." I turned around at the sound of Eric's voice. He and Bill came into the room together.
Frisky smiled. "Hi, Dr. Linden! Isn't this a heluva note?" Bill didn't wait for introductions. "There's not a TV or radio in the village working. Even car radios are knocked out. Sam Orpen has no idea what happened but it has affected all radios, even those that were stored with care in his shop. It could be that here or elsewhere there has been the sort of high altitude nuclear explosion that interferes with radio and radar reception. No telephones workingno electricity. The power lines to Greenfield are down. We're cut off from every mainland town on this part of the coast. We were damned lucky to be so far out on this island. All the other towns near us will have suffered greater damage and they'll get fall-out much sooner. It would be dangerous for us to go there and even if we did they would be in no condition to help us. Lem Gates has called a town meeting, so we can fix up shelters and ration canned food while we still have time before fall-out."
Eric looked better than he had yesterday more alert and alive.
"Are you sure about the four hours?" I asked him.
"I've estimated distance, but, of course, I'm just guessing at high altitude wind direction and velocity. I don't see how there can be fall-out here for at least four hours. We must use this time to get things organized. The village people don't seem to realize how urgent this is."
"I'll get dressed right away." Frisky grabbed Jean by the hand and hurried back to her own cottage.
"We'll all go in one car to save gas," said Eric.
"Shouldn't we walk? It's not far."
"Not this time. We'll have food to bring back, I hope. Luckily Jake's place, like so many country filling stations, has gas pumps that can be worked by hand as well as by electricity, so we can still get some gas from himas long as his gas holds out."
"You sound almost cheerful."
"How do you expect me to sound?" Eric smiled. "Actually I feel rather like a man who has just been to the doctor and learned that it's not cancer, after allmerely a bellyache. I have been living under the shadow of this threat for years. It has haunted all my dreams and warped all my plans. But now it's over and I'm still alive. I feel freefor the first time since we began calling our side the free world."
"And Tommy? Does he feel free? It he feeling anything at all?"
It was Sally. She had come up on the porch behind Eric silently, on bare feet. The long, loose skirt of a shabby housecoat flowed around her impatient stride. Every movement was reckless and uninhibited, almost wanton. Her hair was uncombed, her face unpainted, her pale lips parted, dry and breathless. There was something demoniac about her, something unstable and explosive. She was Electra haunted by Furies. She was Cassandra after the fall of Troy.
"We mustn't allow ourselves to think about Tommy yet." Eric's voice was quiet as if he felt any loud vibration would shatter her into a thousand pieces.
"I don't let myself think about Eunice," I said. "I just pray."
Sally laughed loudly. "You can pray?"
"I must pray."
"Of course. Eunice is in Finisterre. There's a chance for her. But Tommy was in New York." Sally's eyes looked past me as if I were not there.
"Listen, both of you!" said Eric. "Even in New York, there may be some survivors."
Bill came into our bedroom while I was dressing.
"I'm worried about Sally," he said.
"So am I. She has the false radiance of the damned."
"There's as much energy locked in the normal human mind as in the atom," said Bill. "Like the atom's force released, that energy can destroy anything when it runs wild. God knows we all live all our lives balancing on a tightrope between two abyssesthe jungle of hostility outside ourselves and the hell within ourselves, where nightmares are born. Of the two, I'm more afraid of the nightmare world. That's where devils live."
Eric and Sally were waiting for us outside in their car.
"We'll have to Stop for Mrs. Kane," I said.
"Who's that?" asked Sally.
"The woman next door. She has her child with her."
"She has her child with her" Sally repeated the words slowly, without expression. "Is that the woman who calls her child the ball and chain?"
Sally began to laugh as if she would never stop.
The rest of us were looking up at the sky. It was a clear day. There was just one cloudthe man-made cloud that towered above us, at least fifteen miles high and, surely, thirty miles wide. We looked at it helplessly and wondered what it was going to do to the race that had created it.
Our world had never looked more beautiful than it did from the bluff early that morning. The summer sun was a blessing, warm and gentle, on every grain of sand, every drop of dew, every blade of grass. The church steeple was a sharp white against the summer blue of the sky, and high above it the gulls were diving, looping and rolling along their airy skyways, as playfully as pilots stunting at a county fair. The sea was brilliant as a peacock's breast. A high wind faceted its enamelled surface and bellied the sails of the fishing fleet, at anchor in the harbor. Beside the working boats an immaculate yacht, all white paint and brass, rocked on little waves that danced like diamonds in the sun. It took a real effort of will to feel fear on such a laughing day.
At the heart of the village there was a crossroads and a green. Eunice had learned to walk on the green, during her second summer. I could never look at it without remembering the chubby, unsteady legs, the proud smile when she took her first step alone. After walking became an old story to her, Bill and I used to take her there to feed bread crusts to wild ducks who hatched their young in a tangle of reeds around the pond.
This morning the familiar scene was unnatural, like a picture of a place you know well that is subtly out of drawing. Everyone in the village was gathering here, as word spread that we now had a little less than four hours to prepare for fall-out and that Lem Gates, the grocer, who was also our First Selectman, had called a town meeting in the Village Hall. Some people were stunned and dazed, some voluble and incoherent, but almost all were hurrying about aimlessly as ants when a heel has crushed an anthill. A few stood in groups, looking at broken windows, smashed doors, fallen trees. Several houses were down, including Sam Orpen's cottage with his little radio repair shop on the ground floor.
One woman sat alone on the curbstone in front of Loft's drugstore, her ankles neatly crossed in the gutter, as unself-conscious as if she had been on a chair in her own living-room.
Then I realized what was most unnatural about the scene. It was the utter absence of traffic. This street was the main artery of the village, a continuation of the causeway that was the one line of communication between the island and the outside world. Normally, on a clear Sunday morning in summer, even this early there would be cars from inland towns, speeding down the main street towards the beach, or slowing while the driver looked for houses with signs that said: Tourists accommodated and Lobster Rolls. Family cars, as a rule, father driving, mother beside him, holding a baby on her lap, other children in the back seat with picnic baskets and bathing suits, sometimes a dog and always Daddy's best, Sunday jacket swinging from a coatrack on a hook.
But, today, there were no moving cars in sight. The hard, white surface of the causeway stretched across dunes and water to the horizon, empty and silent as the surface of the moon. People were all standing or wandering in the middle of the street without a thought for cars or trucks.
I had never seen summer visitors and villagers mingle so freely before. I've heard that a fox will not attack a rabbit if they both seek shelter from a forest fire in the same stream and it was a little like that. There was a sense of social moratorium in the air, as if this were a block parry on Manhattan's East Side or a Fourteenth of July celebration in the streets of Paris. There was the false cheerfulness that so often masks terror, an almost morbid euphoria, partly because these people, like Eric, were celebrating the mere fact that they were still alive. Life's commonest blessings seemed more marvelous than ever beforethe early sun, that poured its light and warmth on us so prodigally from a cloudless sky, the sea breezes that raced across the dunes with shrill cries like boys at play and cracked the flag on the village pole like a whip. This was sailing weather, traditionally the favorite weather of a seaside village. I doubt if half the crowd realized how much better off we would be if this day were windless.
But all understood that this was crisis and that panic was just below the surface. The same questions were in everyone's mind: What next? More bombs? Starvation? And what happened over there? Did we hit them as they hit us? How is it going to end?
Frisky responded instantly to the surface mood of improvised holiday. Her step was more springy, even her lank hair looked more alive.
"Say, would you mind keepin' an eye on the kid for a minute? I'm gonna ask Sam Orpen what he thinks is wrong with all the radios."
She was gone before I could answer. Captain Baldwin spoke at my elbow. "I'll look after Jean, ma'am. She and I are old friends."
Jean looked up at him gravely. "Captain gets shells for me. He tells me stories, too. About the sea and things that happened long ago, when he was a little boy. His grandfather used to go all the way to China in a boat with nothing but sails. I'd be scared."
I spoke to the woman on the curbstone in front of the drugstore. "Is there any news?"
"None." I had never seen her before, but she spoke as if we were old friends. "The drugstore telephone has always been the first repaired after a hurricane. I'm waiting for it, and I don't care what those Civil Defense people said on the radio, I'm going to call my married daughter in New Jersey. She'll be worried to death about me when she hears this over the radio."
"Perhaps she'll call you."
"There haven't been any incoming calls yet and Sam Orpen says unless we can get hold of spare parts for our radios there's no way to get in touch with the Civil Defense wave-length, Conelrad, or whatever they call it, and find out what's going on."
"When did you last try to telephone?"
"Oh, about twenty minutes ago. But Mr. Loft promised to let me know as soon as anyone gets through."
We went into the drugstore. There were photographic murals of Selsea on the wallsone of the beach in 1890 with women in long-sleeved bathing suits and black stockings, one of an old bi-plane landing on the dunes that was taken in 1912. A sign said: Breakfast served on Sundays, but no one was eating.
In the telephone booth stood. Dr. Franklin Joel, who had seen Eunice through all her summer illnesses and accidents. Mr. Loft stood behind his cosmetic counter talking to a strange man. The doctor saw us through the glass door of the booth and came outside.
"Not even a dial tone yet," he said.
"Of course not," said Mr. Loft. "It took thirty-six hours to get the line up after the last hurricane." The stranger was annoyed. He was the first man I had seen that morning who had shaved. His shoes were polished, his slacks freshly creased, his white shirt crisp from the laundry. There was a handsome watch strapped to his hairy, muscular wrist and he smoked his cigarette in an ivory holder. He looked and spoke like a man who still had all the complex services of a highly organized society at his command.
"But I must get through to my broker in New York before the market opens tomorrow morning. With a war on, it's the time to buy solid fuels and electronics, but that old fool is so cautious he might not think of it. Can't you suggest anything, doctor?"
"I'm afraid not," said Joel. "All power lines are down, and no telephone in the village is working. Tell you what, sir." Like most Yankees, Loft reserved his "sir" for men of substance. "I'll try the phone myself every thirty minutes and I'll let you know as soon as it's working again."
"You do that, even if you have to stay up all night. I'll make it worth your while as soon as the banks reopen. I am Foster Stallings of Conway, Stallings and Brean. I'm living on that cabin cruiser in the harbor. Came up here from New London last night after I heard the six o'clock news. Now don't forget I'm counting on you to let me know as soon as that phone is working."
He walked out of the store with the air of a man who has met an emergency and put it in its place.
Sally spoke to Loft. "And will you please let me know as soon as the telephone is working again?" There were no tears in her eyes, but her voice sang like a high tension wire in the wind.
Dr. Joel looked at her quickly. "Mrs. Linden, as a rule doctors do not like to volunteer their services but, this time, will you let me prescribe for you?"
"But I'm not ill!"
"Of course not. But you are disturbed, naturally, and Mr. Loft has some tranquilizing pills that will make things a lot easier for you."
"I never take anything like that."
"And I never drink or smoke. Can't afford to with my heart. But I had a drink last night. What's the fun of rules if you never break them?"
He was scribbling on his pad as he spoke. He tore off a sheet and laid it on the counter. Loft went behind the prescription desk and came back with a little box of bright red capsules and water in a paper cup.
"I don't need anything," insisted Sally.
"Please." The doctor was patient. "You want to be in good shape to take that call when it comes, don't you?"
"If it comes." Sally swallowed the pill.
Dr. Joel gave her the pillbox. "One every six hours, no more than four in twenty-four hours. You understand?"
Sally nodded. Eric said: "Now, for God's sake, let's get these people into the Village Hall."
"There's only one way to reach everyone on the island quickly," said Joel. "We'll ring the church bell."
Long ago the little church was built high on a hill, close to the sea so that fishermen, far out, could have the comfort of its bell in fog or darkness. Now, the old bell began to speak in that iron tongue that is so resonant of all the history of western manprivate and publichis births, his deaths, his marriages, his victories and his invasions.
As first Selectman, Lem Gates faced the audience presiding at the centre of a long table, decorated with the usual pitcher of cloudy water and row of dusty glasses. On either side of him were ranged the other selectmen, among them the Reverend Dr. Leslie Fabian and the irreverend Dr. Franklin Joel.
These two always greeted one another familiarly, though it was hard to tell if they were old friends or old enemies. Perhaps they were both.
Fabian was from Boston, Joel from New York, but both had lived on the island, winter and summer, for many years because both knew that Selsea would be left without a clergyman or a doctor if they did not. Both men were busiest in winter. Captain Baldwin often told me that he felt sorry for people who had to go back to New York in the fall and miss all the fun and excitement of a winter season in Selsea. No one could spend time being sick or going to church in summer, without losing money. That was the time for fishing, farming and exploiting the summer visitor. But, as soon as the last visitor departed and the crops were harvested and there was nothing else to do, every man, woman and child in Selsea developed some ache or pain, ranging from a cold in the head to diabetes, and life on the island became a whirligig of covered dish suppers, cake sales, square dances, PT A meetings, and Boy and Girl Scout affairs. All who participated in these felt a flow of self-righteousness because they used the church as a centre for these secular activities.
Actually Fabian knew that there were few duties he performed that could not have been discharged as well by a lay social worker and this was his tragedy. He sometimes referred to his own sermons ruefully as "pep talks." They were brief and colloquial, dealing largely with current events or local problems, and spiced with lively personal anecdote. The enigmatic, Biblical text of each sermon was simply a jumping off place, a hasty genuflection towards old forms of religion, a sort of grace before meat. The meat was the man-to-man talk on juvenile delinquency or installment buying.
"Let's sit down," said Sally. "I don't know why I should feel so tired so early in the day."
It was the pill, of course, working on emotions from the chemical side. She was no longer Cassandrajust a carelessly dressed, middle-aged woman resting on a bench in a village hall.
Lem Gates called the meeting to order by pounding the table with an outsize ashtray shaped like the State of Texas which he had brought home from a western trip two years ago.
Though Lem had prestige as owner and manager of our only grocery, he was not an articulate leader. On occasions like this he always seemed sensible of the honor of his office the way a man might be sensible of an honorable uniform a shade too tight across the shoulders. When the pounding of the ashtray had quieted our barnyard cackle, he addressed us, as he usually did, laboriously.
"This here meeting has been called because we gotta consider ways and means of dealing with this here emergency. We're all in this together, so we're gonna let summer visitors in on the meeting on the same footing as folks who live in Selsea. Doc Joel here has always run our Civil Defense. Early this morning, I appointed him Chairman of a War Emergency Committee. Now I'd like to call on the Chairman of the W.E.C. for his report. Dr. Franklin Joel"
It was customary for our massive First Selectman to call upon someone more nimble than himself when there was work to be done, but this time his announcement was greeted with a flurry of nervous, meaningless applause and that was not customary at all.
Unlike Lem Gates' labored speech, Dr. Joel's tone was conversational, quick, fluentthe voice of a man to whom words, spoken or written, are familiar tools. "Mr. Chairman, fellow Selectmen, ladies and gentlemen: We are completely isolated from the rest of the world. The radios and telephones are not working. Since yesterday evening no cars or trucks have come down the road and no boats have put into the harbor. We have no idea what is going on elsewhere. Fortunately we have with us a gentleman who is a nuclear physicist, Dr. Eric Linden. According to Dr. Linden's calculations, some time near nine o'clock this morning we shall be subjected to megaton-class fallout. The fact that this fall-out is delayed by four hours will make it less severe than if it reached us sooner. But the fact that we appear to be downwind from Ground Zero, will make it more severe than if we were upwind from Ground Zero. Perhaps the wind will change, but we can't count on that. Our lives depend on what we do in the next three and a half hours. Every second is so precious now that, to save time, I'm going to ask Dr. Linden to put his advice in the form of a motion. Dr. Linden."
Eric rose. "I'm a teacher of physics now, but for some years I was a nuclear physicist working for the A.E.C. I left them in 1959, so I haven't been able to keep up with all the latest developments in the field of nuclear weapons." I saw Dr. Joel look narrowly at Eric. A nuclear physicist doesn't just quit, like a bus conductor or a nursemaid. If he hasn't kept up with the latest developments it can only mean that he has not been allowed to do so.
"My calculations are based on the hope that today's bombs are not much dirtier or more powerful than the bombs of 1959. I do know the precautions against fallout that were discussed then.
"Therefore, I move: First, that all food and drink in sealed cans or glass jars and bottles now on the island shall be pooled and rationed immediately so that each family will have enough uncontaminated food and liquid in the house to remain under shelter for a period of one month.
"Second, that all possible containers of water shall be pooled and rationed and filled immediately. This water will have to be pumped by hand as we have no electricity now.
"Third, broken doors must be repaired and broken windows must be filled with sand bags. We have all the sand we need here and we must use anything we can for bags clothing , sheets, blankets, old flour and potato sacksanything. If we have time, and if there are enough bags left after the windows are blocked, we must place sandbags around the interior walls of the rooms where we plan to remain under shelter for the next three days. Indoor radiation is least at floor level. We shall have to sit and sleep on the floor for the next seven days. During that period, you should stand and walk as little as possible, just as if you were in a burning house trying to keep the smoke out of your lungs. Canned food should be eaten cold to avoid standing up for cooking.
"If my rough estimates are correct, radiation should drop considerably on the third day and again still farther on the seventh day and then it should be possible for adults to make brief excursions outdoors, but only, of course, for some essential purpose, such as decontaminating the roof.
"The floor of a house with sandbagged walls is as near as we can come here on the island to the ideal sheltera basement or cellar. I've considered the possibility of trying to dig deep shelters in this loose, sandy soil, but the danger of cave-in is too great, especially if the shelters were dug as hastily as they would have to be now.
"Since time, labor and supplies are so limited, the fewer houses that are occupied the better protected each house will be. Families will have to double up. That will mean less fuel burned, fewer walls to sandbag and fewer roofs to decontaminate later. Dr. Joel, who lives alone in a large house, has already made arrangements to take in those who are living on boatsCaptain Baldwin and Mr.Stallings and his crew. He is also taking in Sam Orpen, whose house has been destroyed. Dr. Fabian has turned the Rectory over to a family with six children and he will also move in with Dr. Joel. The rest of you will have to make similar arrangements.
"Fifth, after a week an effort must be made to hose the roofs of occupied houses. This will reduce radiation indoors considerably.
"Finally, I beg you to vote on this motion as quickly as possible so we can all get to work."
"I second the motion," said Bill. "And I move that we limit the entire discussion to ten minutes, allotting one minute to each speaker."
This motion was passed unanimously and the Chair recognized Dr. Fabian.
"Mr. Chairman, this is August. In only two months winter will be upon us and we have absolutely no idea when we will be able to get food from other parts of the country again or how much they will be able to spare us. The chances are that they've got too much to do out there to worry about us, and we'll just have to take care of ourselves and hope for the best until they've been able to get things organized. It may be that meat and grocery trucks will come over the causeway tomorrow morning. But it seems prudent to proceed on the assumption that we will have to feed ourselves for the whole winter. This being the case, I should like to offer an amendment to Dr. Linden's motion, to the effect that we should gather and store all the fresh food we can from the few small truck farms on the island for the lean months that are possibly ahead of us."
A plump, complacent woman rose in the body of the hall. "All I can say is, Dr. Fabian, everybody's more than welcome to use my deep-freeze."
"Mrs. Hinkley, will you kindly address the Chair?" said Lem Gates sternly.
Mrs. Hinkley, obviously unused to town meetings, looked bewildered but fixed her gaze obediently on Dr. Fabian's chair instead of Dr. Fabian himself as before. "I gotta big deep-freeze. I guess it's just about the biggest in Selsea. My son-in-law got it for me last Christmas. Everyone in the village is welcome to put food in it and."
"Yes, Mrs. Hinkley?" prompted Lem.
Her face, round as a mask painted on a balloon, could not lengthen. It deflated. "II just remembered. The deepfreeze ain't no good now. No electricity."
Half a dozen would-be speakers were on their feet. The Chair recognized Captain Baldwin.
"What I want to say is this: deep-freeze or no deepfreeze, there's not one thing for us to be worried about. Our ancestors didn't have deep-freezes, did they? No, sir, and they got along all right. They were hardy pioneers who conquered the wilderness with an axe in one hand and a frying pan in the other. We got all the things they had right here. There's crops to be harvested, hogs to be killed and cured, fruit and vegetables to be preserved. We got laying hens and good milch cows and, best of all, we got the sea. There's always fish in these waters and driftwood on this beach. Speaking for myself, I haven't bought firewood for years and I've had a fire whenever I wanted one. I raise a hog each year and feed him on the fish I catch, and you can all do the same now. We got food, fuel and shelter. What more could anybody want? It'll do us good to live for a while the way our forefathers did without any TV or cars or electric light. And, if we have to, we can hold out here forever, no matter what happens to New York or Detroit."
This fighting speech was greeted with the first real applause of the meeting. The breath of the heroic blew upon us and made us feel larger than life. What fine fellows we were to face privation with such grit and gaiety! Indeed it went further than that now. Several of the older men present rose to explain at considerable length that they never had approved of TV or frozen food anyway. They were glad the whole, comfortable, twentieth century life they had lived for so long was suddenly swept away. They seemed to equate leisure and comfort with immorality and they were all convinced that our moral character would be automatically improved if we had to work with our hands instead of our headschopping wood, milking cows and breaking ice in the water pitcher every winter morning, as they had done in their own youth, with little or no time for reading books and playing games and other such nonsense. Through the mercy of God and nuclear war, a guilty state of Babylonian luxury had been brought to an end richly deserved. The next generation would have every opportunity to develop a moral fibre as sturdy as their grandfathers!
Eric was on his feet, furiously angry. "You are all wasting time. Don't you understand? There isn't time to gather and store fresh food now. There is hardly time to ration canned food and store water, and sandbag broken windows. After nine o'clock this morning, all crops now in the field will be poisonous, too. The very earth itself will be poisoned for hundreds of miles in every direction for at least ten years to come. You may not be able to raise food or cattle on this land or fish in these waters again in your lifetime. In a year or so, you may be forced to emigrate for the sake of food, if the external radiation is low enough to permit emigration. Our only hope of survival now is to live on canned food for a month, praying that at the end of a month we may be able to get uncontaminated food from some other part of the world."
"Mr. Chairman." It was Stallings of Conway, Stallings and Brean . "In my business in New York, when we want something done, we don't appoint a committee. We appoint a mana czar, you might say, with absolute power to"
A dozen citizens of Selsea were on their feet, but Sam Orpen caught Lem's eye first. "If you think you can come here from New York and tell us what to do"
"Mr. Chairman, I have the floor."
"I guess he has, Sam," said Lem, reluctantly. "You gotta wait till he's through. That's parliamentary."
"I move that the Chairman appoint one man with unlimited powers to deal with this emergency." Lem's eyes roved the hall. "Anybody second that?"
"I was a fool to think that a bunch of hicks would have sense enough to do the only thing that can possibly save us."
Sam Orpen turned towards the New Yorker, shouting: "Why you lousy, stinking son of"
"Sam!" Lem Gates interrupted firmly. "You will kindly address the Chair!"
"You lousy, stinking"
"And you will kindly repeat them remarks in parliamentary language!"
This feat was beyond Sam. Dr. Joel rose, all politician at this moment. "Mr. Chairman, one thing we may all be sure ofthere will be no undemocratic solution of our problems in Selsea."
Loud clapping and stamping, a few whistles and cheers. Now we were really getting somewhere.
"But we must make democracy work fast this time, so I move that the Chair put the question without further discussion, and then let's adjourn the meeting at once and proceed to the rationing and storing of food and water. If there's any time left afterward, we can resume the meeting and work out further details."
"Okay, Doc," said Lem. "Discussion is closed. Those in favor?"
"Aye!" Our roar shook the rafters.
"Nay!" It was one voicea faded voice that came from a tall, stringy woman. At any meeting there are always some people who feel a dark, perverse compulsion to prevent unanimity, whatever the motion before the house. Fortunately, this time there was only one.
"Meeting adjourned!" said Lem and we all got to work.
As our cottage was the largest of the three on the bluff, it was decided that we should take in our neighbors, the Lindens, and Frisky and Jean. Captain Baldwin came up to help Bill and Eric dig sand for the bags that Sally and I hastily cut and basted from every piece of cloth in all three cottages.
After we had repaired the front door and blocked the broken windows, we found we had enough sand bags to protect all three of the small bedrooms, as well as bathroom, kitchen and living-room. I was glad of this for it meant that Bill and I would have some privacy in the weeks ahead of us.
Frisky took our few cans of food and containers of water down to the village in her jeep to add to the pool She would drive back with rations for the six of us. Jean was with all the other children on the beach, gathering driftwood which would be our only fuel if the tanks of bottled gas were not refilled soon. From the bluff, we could see her and the others on the sand far below.
They had soon decided that the most desirable pieces of wood were those floating in spent waves a few feet offshore, where they could be reached only by wading. To the children all this was still a glorious summer game that, happily, involved a great deal of running and shouting, splashing and laughing.
But it wasn't a game to the adults. The urgency we felt in Eric and Bill and Dr. Joel was contagious. We all worked like machines, rapidly, steadily, uniformly, without fatigue or discussion.
When Frisky came back with our rations, she told us that Dr. Joel believed there was just enough food and water to see everyone through that first month, if we ate sparingly.
By seven o'clock we had done everything that we could, so we gathered again in the village hall.
The tall, stringy woman rose. "Mr. Chairman, does rationing mean that each person gets just the same amount of food?"
"Will you answer that, doc?"
"The answer is, yes, with a few exceptions. The better part of certain vitamin foods, like oranges and cod liver oil, were allotted to children and pregnant women."
"That's what I thought and that's why I opposed Dr. Linden's motion. Everybody getting the same amount of food, and nobody paying for it, sounds like communism to me."
Eric answered her. "Mr. Chairman, I would like to point out that wars always achieve the opposite of their avowed purpose. The war to make the world safe for democracy produced the worst dictatorships the world has ever seen. The war to end war produced the most fearful weapon of war the world has ever seen. And the war to stop communism has reduced all of us, I hope temporarily, to living communistically."
Lem said: "Doc, will you please take the Chair while I take the floor? Folks, I voted for the motion to ration food, but there's one little problem we didn't considermoney. It may not seem important now but it will be later. A lotta this canned food came from the storeroom in back of my grocery, and the reason it ain't paid for is because you don't all have the cash right now. If I just got big-hearted and said: 'Okay, folks, help yourselves!' I don't think it would be good for you, and I know it wouldn't be good for me, because it would cost me an awful lotta money. So I move that everybody write down on a piece of paper how much food he's got and then, when this is all over and we're civilized again, everyone can pay me what he owes. And though this is really a sort of loan I'm making you, I'm not going to charge any of you one cent of interest."
"What about inflation after the war?" shouted a voice.
"Well, what about it?" said Lem. "If prices go up after the war, I'll still charge you the same prices we have now. You may be paying me off in a dollar worth two cents."
This last consideration induced someone to second the motion and it was passed by a small majority.
Frisky had a question. "What are we going to do when our clothes wear out?"
"Oh, it won't go on that long," said Lem, back in the Chair now.
Dr. Joel rose. "As I am the only medical man on the island, I am now responsible for the health of all of you. The symptoms of radiation poisoning are a redness or brownness of the skin, not unlike sunburn, pain, vomiting and bloody diarrhea; also the failure of ordinary wounds or cuts to heal normally. Dr. Linden has told us that one week after today the radiation from fall-out here should drop considerably even out in the open. It will then be possible for adults to go outdoors for very brief periods. Adults with any of these symptoms can come to my office for treatment then. Parents, whose children have any of these symptoms, can come to my office to get medicine for their children. The children themselves should remain under shelter and I cannot make house visits. If I did, you would have no doctor at all in a few days.
"There is no cure for radiation poisoning, but we do have palliatives that may enable some healthy individuals to pull through, if exposure is not too prolonged. These are antibiotics to combat probable infections when white corpuscle count is so low, blood transfusions to combat anemia and sedatives to ease pain. I had thought of allotting a sufficient quantity of these medicines to each family but, unfortunately, Mr. Loft and I between us do not have enough on hand to go around, and we have no idea which of you will need them. All we can do is to save the antibiotics and sedatives we have on hand for the most serious cases. We shall put antibiotics and sedatives at the head of the list of medicines we want as soon as we can get them from the outside world again."
Sam Orpen was on his feet. "I gotta question. If we're so short of food and medicine we got barely enough to go 'round, what are we gonna do if refugees come here from places like Greenfield and Norwich?" An anonymous voice called from the body of the hall:
"Only one thing we can do with the bastardsshoot them!"
The Reverend Dr. Fabian rose. "I am utterly opposed to that appalling suggestion. I shall feel that I have failed in my work here among you if anyone supports it."
Dr. Joel took the floor. "The fact remains that we shall all starve, if we allow anyone else to come to the island from now on."
Sam Orpen yelled, "How about blowing up the causeway?"
Eric rose. "Mr. Chairman, there is only one thing we can do. Barricade ourselves in our houses during the next month. Radiation will take care of any refugees foolhardy enough to venture outdoors, and it is most unlikely any will do so. After that, we can perhaps consider the possibility of putting a road-block on the causeway with armed men to guard it. One truck parked across the bridge would do the trick. Obviously it would be nonsense to blow up the bridge or the causeway. That would just make it more difficult for help to reach us from outside. Our position is peculiar, isn't it? We can't afford to help others, but we know our only hope is for others to help us."
Bill had not spoken, but now he rose.
"Listening to all this, I feel strongly that everything depends on our getting in touch with the outside world as soon as we can. We not only need food and medicine, we need news. Civilization is communication. Without modern communications, we'll be reduced to barbarism, just as without language, we'd be reduced to animals. I have a daughter now in France. Dr. Linden has a son in New York. Most of us have relatives in other parts of the world..."
Now there was a whispering in the crowd like the sibilance of a breeze in tall grass! "I have a daughter in Michigan...I have a mother in San Francisco..."
"Complete isolation for any length of time will be an intolerable strain on all of us. I suggest that the Chairman ask Sam Orpen to tell us if there is any way at all to get at least one radio repaired."
Sam wiped the palms of his hands on his jeans and looked at the crowd. "The thing is..."
Someone shouted: "Louder! We can't hear you!"
Sam bellowed. "The thing is we ain't got no parts for them radios. We can't fix them. Something went wrong with their innardswhy, I just ain't got no idea. But we ain't got no radios and we ain't got no phone and there's nothing we can do about it. We just gotta leave it to the folks outside to get news through to us as soon as they can, and I bet they will in a few days. But they can't right now because things must be pretty upset out there. We just can't expect them to take care of us first thing. Right now we're on our own, you might say, but we ain't got no kick comin'. After all, we got plenty to eat, and nobody's hurt."
Eric spoke. "Sam, you don't understand. It's not just a matter of getting news. If we don't get in touch with the outside world we will all starve at the end of this month. Just what is wrong with all these radios?"
Sam thought this over for a moment. "Damned if I know! Those little transistors on the battery radios were guaranteed for eighty-five years, as nearly as I can recollect now, so was the printed board"
"The what?" demanded Eric, again forgetting all about parliamentary procedure.
"You know. The board the circuit is printed on."
"Surely not a piece of wood?"
"Oh, no, it's metal board."
"You mean the metal plate where the resistors and transistors are placed in circuit?"
"Sure. That's what I said. The whole thing was guaranteed, and there just wasn't enough blast to smash them. But something happened to them. Don't ask me what. I just dunno."
"Can't you do nothin', Sam?" demanded Lem.
"Not without we get undamaged spare parts transistors, resistors and boards. Best radio around here is the radio-telephone on Mr.Stallings' cabin cruiser. It's a transistor type, run on batteries, and it has a transmitter with a range of one hundred and fifty miles. If we got it to working, we could get on the marine telephone band and call the Coast Guard or Civil Defense or the State Police, or any phone number in the country. But we gotta have transistors and I ain't got none that will work. Tried every one in my shop, but it was no soap every time."
Bill spoke again. "Perhaps Dr. Linden will tell us what chances of survival a man would have if he went to Greenfield or Norwich in the hope of finding spare parts there."
"None whatever, if he went to Greenfield, he couldn't possibly find undamaged radio parts there. Apparently it was at, or near, Ground Zero. But there's a smaller town, this side of Greenfield, where the damage may be lessSutton. Driving here, a few weeks ago, I noticed a radio and TV repair shop on the highway, on this side of the town."
Sam interrupted. "But if that bomb did something to all them radios here on the island, what makes you think stuff like that wouldn't be busted in Sutton, too? It's nearer Ground Zero."
"If the spare parts were kept in a basement storeroom, still packed as they were for shipping, they might be undamaged," said Eric. "I think it's worth taking a chance to get them."
There was a flash of silence, curiously disturbing.
"And just what chance would a man have if he went to Sutton?" asked Lem Gates.
"His only chance would be to go at once and drive like hell at ninety miles an hour, so he could get back here by eight o'clock."
"But you said fall-out wouldn't be here until nine."
"Sutton is nearer Ground Zero. Fall-out in Sutton and on the road to Sutton will be earlier. If anyone went there and was unable to get back here by about eight, he would have very little chance of survival at all."
A voice called: "And who's going to take a chance like that?"
Lem Gates said: "I guess the only fair way would be to choose somebody by lot."
"I disagree, Mr. Chairman." It was Eric again. "We should send a man who knows something about the insides of a radio. That reduces our choice to Sam Orpen or myself."
"But you ain't a radio man," said Lem.
"No, but I do know quite a lot about the principles of radio. The old joke about the physicist who couldn't fix his wife's electric iron is a myth, like the absent-minded professor. At home I've been repairing my friends' radios and TV sets for years."
"Mr. Chairman, I may not be a physicist," said Bill. "But even I know a radio tube when I see one."
"There's more than one kind of tube," said Eric. "And we need other parts, too. This isn't a job for an amateur. It will have to be either Sam or me."
Sam spoke with that queer, desperate courage that is always needed for a public declaration of cowardice.
"I ain't goin'."
The crowd didn't like that. It wasn't in the romantic tradition that had been fed to them through movies and TV for so many years. Now that they knew there was no danger of their being called upon themselves, they gave voice to their entire willingness to go in Sam's place, with all the bravado of statesmen in their seventies urging younger men to accept the moral inevitability of a just war.
Sam stood his ground. "Listen, here! All my folks are here in Selsea and we got enough to eat right now. Before a month is up the Coast Guard will be around to see we get some food. They ain't never let us down yet. But if you think I'm gonna take a chance going down that road to Sutton just to find out what happened to somebody's great uncle in Nebraska, you're nuts! It's different for Dr. Linden. He's got a son in New York. If he's willing to take a chance and go off looking for tubes and transistors, that's his business. If he brings back the parts we need, I'll be glad to fix your radios and keep 'em goin', as long as I can. But I ain't goin myself and that's flat."
Sally was looking at Eric. The drug had dulled her awareness, but even now her voice was a trembling thread of sound. "You will be careful?"
"Of course, Sally."
"And you'll bring back news of Tommy?"
"I'll do my best."
"Why can't I go with you?"
"You need rest. Lois and Bill will take you home with them. Try to sleep."
"I'll try." Her smile was frail. "Please don't be too long. It's the waiting that's hard."
"Trust me, Sally." Eric turned to the crowd again. "My only problem now is gas for my car. The tank's nearly empty." He spoke to Jake, the filling station boy, whose last name I never learned. "How are your pumps, Jake?"
"I've got enough to fill your tank, Dr. Linden, but that's about all I got right now. I was expecting the oil truck yesterday afternoon but it never showed up."
"If it's a question of gas, take my car." It was a woman's voicethe woman who had been sitting on the curbstone. "I've got a full tank. I don't know that I'd dare to go to Sutton myself, but anyone who does can have my gas."
Everyone cheered, even Sam Orpen.
Somehow, among them, Eric and Bill and Dr. Joel had managed to reduce what had seemed for a few moments like the ultimate catastrophe of man to the scale of the personal, little emergencies that have made up the greater part of animal life ever since the shrew, that small, fierce, first of all mammals spent himself fighting and hunting, feeding and breeding in the dark of prehistoric jungles. We knew we were here only because each of countless generations before us had faced their crises with what nerve and resource they could muster, and postponed their own deaths as individuals long enough to pass life on to another generation.
Now it was our turn, and we bustled about getting everything ready for Eric's venture with that hopeful eagerness to adapt to any fate that had always been re. warded with survival in the past. This was trouble, of course, but now it seemed like trouble on the comfortably familiar scale as the sick child or the lost job, the highway accident or the common cold, the straying husband or the checkbook that won't balance. The essence of life is that it does not give up when everything crashes, but sets about picking up the pieces and putting them together again in some sort of viable patchwork, however clumsily, however deep the heartache. While there is hope there is life.
For a few minutes it seemed as if our only worries were practical worriesgetting gas into Eric's car, tuning up his engine and batteries, checking his oil and tires. If the car broke down only for a few minutes, his chance of survival would be less.
Stallings gave him a flask of Bourbon, Mrs. Hinkley, a thermos of coffee, and Lem Gates half his own cigarette ration and a flashlight, in case the basement of the radio shop in Sutton should be dark. Bill gave him a screwdriver, a wrench and fifty dollars in cash. If anyone were alive in Sutton payment would be demanded. Captain Baldwin gave him a shotgun. There was no knowing what was going on at the other end of the causeway. He might have to defend himself.
All this brave activity made us all feel braver. Eric was a hero and, by some remarkable sleight-of-mind, we managed to feel that we were sharing his heroism, without having to share his risk. His example inspired us all the more because we were so absolutely sure that our own ignorance of radio eliminated any possibility of our being asked to take his place at the last moment. The holiday mood was back again. We felt ourselves kin to all the indomitables of history from Thermopylae on. What had those old Greeks said? Man cannot control his fate, but he can control his manner when he meets it. The human species had survived because of people like us, who looked disaster cheerfully in the face and made the best of it. At that moment most of us were extremely pleased with ourselves and this self-satisfaction did us more good than all the tranquilizers in the world.
Eric settled himself in the driver's seat while the tank was being filled.
Lem shook hands with him. "See you at eight o'clock."
Sally turned her head aside so the crowd could not see her face. "Must you go now?" she whispered to Eric.
"You know I must." The throbbing of the gas pump stopped. Eric proffered a ten dollar bill, but he only embarrassed Jake. "For the love of God, Dr. Linden, you know you don't owe me a thing!"
And now it was time to say goodbye. The crowd closed around the car. Everyone had scribbled messages they thrust upon Eric. "If you get to a telegraph office...If you find a telephone that works...say we're all right....Say everything is fine here....This is the address of my mother in Baltimore...My niece in Detroit...My grandfather in Georgia....Goodbye!...Good luck!..."
Eric started the engine. The crowd drew back, all smiles and waving hands. The car moved away from us. Now its roof hid Eric from our view. But we all stood watching it recede and diminish, faster and faster, until it was a toy . car far down the long straight causeway. Its reckless speed renewed our sense of urgency. It reached a curve and passed out of sight, hardly slowing at all. Now the road was empty.
As we turned back towards the village, the sun fled behind wind-driven clouds and the day lost its light and warmth. Village and dunes lay before us, shadowless and bleak. We were all reminded that we lived, and had always lived, at the mercy of tremendous powers we could not control. Fear came among us stealthily, a sly thief of courage. I could feel tension building around us and within us, as you feel a sudden change in barometric pressure.
I believe Dr. Fabian felt it, too. He had been walking a little apart from the rest of us. Now he turned and spoke. "We have made all the preparations we can. Now I'm going to ask you to give five minutes to a prayer for Dr. Linden's safe return and for the future of all of us. After all, this is Sunday, but we won't take time to go into the church. We'll have our service here, in the open air."
Some of us were Christians who never went to church; some of us were Christians of another sect; and some of us were not Christians at all. But Dr. Fabian was the only representative of any faith on the island and just then even the most rational of us felt an irrational need of faith.
His sermon was not a "pep talk" this time, but a modest prayer for faith and courage. It was a sermon that could not possibly shock an unbeliever, and that is a rare sermon indeed. He went on into the liturgy and our everyday voices borrowed dignity from the immemorial words: Lord of all things, visible and invisible...as it was in the beginning...as it is and ever shall be...world without end...
In this context the words took on a resonance they had never had before. To us, things invisible meant the unseen, wind-borne death already on its way to us, and for the first time in human history, we were facing the possibility of a world with end, in our own generation.
But the grace and antiquity of the ritual made us feel momentarily that we were in the presence of something above and beyond all change...
Somewhere in the crowd, a rumor startedthe telephone was working. We all began to run down hill, calling the good news to one another, jostling and pushing,stumbling and falling.
Joel raised his voice. "One at a time! Form a line!"
Through the glass door of the drugstore, we saw Mr. Loft shake his head.
Bill looked up at the clouds. "Rain might help. If it's heavy enough to wash radioactive ash off the roofs, it will reduce radiation indoors."
"Oh, the Post office!" I cried. "There may be something in our box now. Air mail is faster than it was a few years ago."
There was one letter. I saw the French airmail Stamp and grabbed it from him. He read it over my shoulder."Saint-Jean-du-Doigt
"Dear Mommy and Daddy,
"I'm so glad you let me come over here to Brittany. It's much more fun than Selsea could possibly have been this summer. Madame Jolicoeur brought a plate of home-made crullers up to my room last night. Wasn't that nice of her? The French call them beignets and they call waffles gauffrettes and serve them in railway stations, cold. Imagine! I'm learning to call shoes chaussures instead of souliers the way we did at school. The only thing I learned at school that's any use at all is the irregular verbs. I guess you just have to memorize them. I'm cheating a little though. I use the infinitive after il faut. They didn't tell us we could do that at school. They wanted us to master the subjunctive I suppose and they thought we wouldn't use it at all if we knew there was another verb form we could use after il faut.
"I'm working hard at pronunciation though, which is, of course, the main reason I'm here. Madame Jolicoeur says that any American can pronounce the French U if he puts his lips in the shape for saying O and then says E instead. It works, too. I don't say ridiquioule any more. That's the way the French spell our pronunciation of ridicule. By the time classes begin at Grenoble I should have quite good enunciation and I'll be able to talk idiomatically, too. That really just means saying alors all the time.
"It was a wonderful idea to send me over here before classes start. Thank you both for that and for everything else, dearest mommy and daddy.
Lots of love,
"P.S. I have met a nice, young Frenchman, a nephew of Madame Jolicoeur, who is going to take the same courses I am. His name is Jean Duplessis. He has blue eyes and red hair. Isn't that odd for a Frenchman? He says that bon soir is formal and bonne nuit is rather intimate, just for the family. I wonder if that's right. He said bonne nuit to me last night but maybe he feels anyone staying with his aunt is part of the family.
Only when I had finished reading did I look at the date. The letter was written yesterday, before the bomb fell.
Bill took it from my numb fingers, folded it and put it in his wallet. "Saint-Jean is a remote fishing village, very like this, and I trust Madame Jolicoeur to deal with any emergenciesincluding blue-eyed nephews who start saying bonne nuit on short acquaintance."
"Do you still have that snapshot of Eunice in your wallet?"
"Yes." He took it out and we both looked at it.
"If only we three could be together now," I said. "It's hard having Eric, whom you don't trust, and Frisky whom I don't like, instead of Eunice. We always said we'd all stay together as much as possible so, in case anything like this did happen, we wouldn't be separated."
"I know, but there were so many crises for so long we ceased to believe them. The governments of the world cried 'Wolf' once too often..."
"I wonder what did happen to our house at home." I was suddenly overcome with homesickness for all the little thingsmy roses, our wedding presents, my father's books, my mother's china, the children's books and toys Eunice had when she was little. "All gone?"
"Almost certainly," Bill answered. "We were pretty near New York, there in Westchester. Too near."
My glance fell on the wall where the post office notices and posters were displayed. Among them, I saw an idealized picture of a flaming, orange horizon, dominated by a white mushroom cloud in a dark sky. There were words printed across this landscape: Protect yourself from fallout. Get free booklet from your local Civil Defense...
It was a dusty poster. It had been there a long time.
When we left the post office, we found Sally and some others looking down the street towards the causeway to the mainland. "It's twenty minutes of eight," she said. "There's no sign of him."
"He'll make it," said Bill, with a conviction I knew he could not feel. "But we should go home now and see if there's anything we've forgotten to do there. Before long it'll be too late."
On the path, we overtook Frisky. Captain Baldwin was with her, carrying Jean.
"The kid was too tired to walk," he explained.
"You spoil her." Frisky's eyes were hard as bullets. "She'll want to be carried all the time now."
Baldwin looked at her as if he would like to plead Jean's cause, but he didn't say anything.
Our cottage seemed grotesque with sandbags blocking the broken windows. Inside, it was worse with partially sandbagged walls, blankets and pillows on the floor and stocks of canned food and bottled water.
Mysti appeared suddenly, at the edge of the dunes, and ran into the house before we could close the front door. I had been her first friend here so she ran to me, and jumped into my lap, kneading my knee as the kitten had kneaded her breast, for suiciding and love are inalterably associated in the psychological patterns of a mammal. She alternated each mew with a purr, saying as clearly as a cat can: "I'm hungry. I love you. I'm hungry. I love you."
Jean knelt, with a little cry of delight, and took Mysti in her arms. The cat didn't struggle, but she looked up at me and mewed again, as if she were saying, "Affection is all very well, but I'm hungry and I'm a nursing mother."
Bill frowned. "Lois, we can't spare any of our rations for the cat."
"Not even one saucer of canned milk a day, out of my own ration?"
"No, Lois. If you're going to take any milk out of your ration, it must go to Jean, not to a cat. You do understand that, don't you? We have no idea how long our rations will have to last."
"Yes, but....How can we bear to watch her and the kitten starve to death?"
"Just lock 'em outside," said Frisky. "And radiation will take care of that little problem."
"Oh, no!" cried Sally. "That's a slow, painful death."
Jean looked up at me, the cat still in her arms. "Pussycat isn't going to die. I want her to play with. You said I could have her kitten, if mommy would let me."
"Well, I won't," said Frisky. "So that's that."
Jean bent her head to hide the tears and stroke the cat again.
"Oh, damn it!" said Bill under his breath.
Baldwin crouched beside Jean. "Maybe you'll let me have the cat, Jean. Then you can play with her later, as soon as you're able to come and see me again. Lotta mice in that big house of doc's where I'm gonna be. She can live on those."
"And you'll keep the kitten, too?"
"Sure. If I can find her."
"I'd like that." She smiled and looked as if she wouldn't mind kissing him.
"Good-bye, Jean." He kissed her and stood up, the cat in his arms. "I gotta be gettin' along now. Good-bye all."
Frisky looked after him, petulantly. "Some old men are so darn soft and sloppy about kids. They wouldn't be, if they'd ever had to raise a couple of their own!"
Bill was lighting candles. He said: "We're going to feel like fools when it's a threat we can't see or hear, but we'd better crouch on the floor, as Eric told us to."
Sally smiled. "Some actor said, long ago, that tragedy can occur only when people are standing up. The moment they sit down, any situation becomes comedy. So crouching must be farce."
I looked towards what had been our picture windownow a solid wall of sandbags. "How curious that the architecture of a nuclear age should be all glass walls and no basements."
"Those who live in ranch houses shouldn't throw bombs," said Sally.
"Are we going to sit here for three days and do nothing but talk?" demanded Frisky.
"I'm going to read." Bill buried his nose in a volume of Plutarch's Lives. He had reread it many times, each time finding something astonishingly modern which he had missed all the other times.
"So am I." Sally took the book nearest her hand. Jean was busy with crayons and a coloring book, lying flat on her stomach. I began work on an angora sweater I was knitting for Eunice.
Frisky didn't know how to knit, she informed me, and she hated reading.
Would I play gin with her?
"I could brush your hair, mommy," said Jean.
"No, you can't. I always look like a freak after you do."
Reluctantly, I put my knitting aside. I felt a little closer to Eunice when I was working on that sweater.
"Anybody else wanta play?" asked Frisky. "How about you, handsome?"
"No, thank you, not just now," said Bill.
Sally put down her book. "I can't read this."
"It's a novel about nuclear war. In the book, it really is the end of everything. There's no escape. The characters all know they'll die in a few weeks. A man and woman fall in love. He's married,but his wife is in another part of the world and is almost certainly dead. So what do they do? They say: This is no time for dirty little love affairs. What a strange culture we live in! A culture where love is 'dirty' and a hundred megaton bomb is 'clean'. If Stone Age men had thought life dirty and death clean, we would not be here today. I'm beginning to think that modern man is, quite literally, too dainty to live."
"Perhaps it's one sign that his day is done," said Bill. "That he must now return to the inorganic, the neuter, where there is neither gusto nor disgust."
"We've been called the rebels of nature because of our technology," answered Sally. "But when we feel only guilt for the most fundamental impulse of organized matter it may be that we are biological rebels against nature as well."
"Not rebels, just snobs," I said. "Man would rather be descended from the sun-goddess than the ape or the amoeba. We fear anything that reminds us of our animal origin and sex is one of those things."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Frisky. "All I wanta know is this: We gonna get more bombs?"
Sally lay down and closed her eyes.
"We have no way of knowing," I answered Frisky.
"Then we just gotta live from day to day?"
"Have we ever done anything else?" said Sally without opening her eyes.
Frisky shuffled the cards with practiced hands. "Penny a point okay with you?"
"As long as my pennies hold out."
"You can always write I O U's." Frisky passed the cards to me for dealing, and the clock on the mantelpiece began to strike.
...six, seven, eight, nine.
There was no sound for a moment. Then Sally opened her eyes. "Eric's not here."
"He may not have had time to get all the way to this house," said Bill. "But he must have found shelter elsewhere in the village."
Sally closed her eyes again. I knew that she, like me, was listening for a step outside. When ten minutes passed and there was still no sound, we knew that even if Eric were safe, we would not see him again for a long time.
"I said 'Gin'!" cried Frisky, impatiently. "You're just not paying attention, Mrs. Cobbett!"
The Third Day
That night I dreamed of Eunice.
She was standing in the doorway of the bedroom where I slept. She was dressed as I had last seen her when she went on board the plane at Idlewilda light summer suit of linen, dark shoes, white gloves, no hat. Though the room was dark, I could see every detail of her appearance clearlythe smooth, light brown hair, the dark brown eyes, the sweet, young curves of mouth and chin. She smiled and came towards us. She leaned over Bill for a moment, then she looked at me, still smiling, but sadly. Then she turned away and stepped through the closed window into the night and I saw her no more.
It was far more vivid than any dream I had ever had. The shock brought me to full wakefulness, trembling and frightened. For a long time I lay in the darkness, remembering Eunice.
The baby, as she first lay in my arms at the hospital, only seven and a half pounds, but so perfect in every miniature detailfinger nails, eyebrows, even eyelashes. Her skin was fair and uncrumpled, her head uncrushed, for she had been born by Caesarean. Already she gave promise of beauty, an unexpected gift from God since neither Bill nor I were remarkable for our looks. But most unexpected of all was the way she returned my gaze with a look that gave me a startlingly vivid impression of a newly independent personality. What did I really know about her? Was she a Republican or a Democrat? Did she like modern art or traditional? Was she gay and frivolous or studious and contemplative? Would we be friends? In the years to come I would find the answers but then I could only look into her eyes and wonder.
There were other memories. The time we had to leave her with my mother when she was only a few weeks old and we came back to find that her eyes had turned from the new-born's grey-blue to the brown they would be all the rest of her life and that she had given her first smile to her grandmother.
There were other memories. Eunice in her first real coat and leggings of pale pink wool. Eunice, square-dancing, flicking one pigtail and then the other with a new grace that hinted at womanhood, still several years away. Eunice trying not to cry when her long hair became so tangled it had to be cut and she was so afraid the short hair would make her look like a boy. Eunice in the hospital, feverish and half asleep, while she had an intravenous injection. The anguish of waiting to see if the doctor was right in believing the fever came only from dehydration.
Eunice the first time she had a real wallet of her own with dollar bills in it: "It looks just like the wallet of a human being!" Eunice the first time her father took her out to dinner at a restaurant, just the two of them. "He never did it before, but then men are generally more interested in older girls, aren't they?" Eunice appearing in jodhpurs at her first riding lesson when all the other girls were wearing jeans. "I wish I could die right now, but I suppose I can't."
Eunice listening as I told her how sad I thought the scene at AppomattoxLee, with the pride of the defeated in a splendid, new uniform, Grant, with the carelessness of the victor, in old, soiled field dress. "What's so sad about that?" How ruefully we had smiled, Bill and I, realizing that it takes many years of being hurt before any of us can feel that undercurrent of pathos in life which even the unsentimental Romans knew as lacrimae rerum. Had she discovered it yet? Would I ever know? Eunice...
They had warned mothers of my generation not to be overprotective. They had written treatises and plays and novels to show the evils of possessive love. They had made love unfashionable, hardly respectable, for they implied that all love was possessive, a vice of the loving and a burden to the loved. For centuries Puritanism had poisoned sexual love, but it had remained for the Twentieth Century to attack parental love as well. How strange that those sophisticated thinkers had been able to spare so little of their ammunition for a far more common emotion, hatred. Every citizen of every nation-state had cultivated the hate that leads to war as if it were a rare flower, but the thinkers were too busy discussing the evils of love to pay much attention to that.
I dozed again and woke later to the whisper of rain. It was dark with all the windows blocked. I lit a candle and looked at my watchquarter of nine.
I could hear sounds of voices and movement from the guest room where we had put Frisky and Jean, but Bill was still asleep, and the door to Eunice's room, where Sally slept, was still closed. She had taken a sleeping pill last night, so I could understand that, but it was not like Bill to sleep so late. The only other time I had known him to do such a thing was long ago when we were young and he had lost his job. After months of looking for another job in vain, he had begun sleeping late in the morning, as if sleep were a welcome escape from reality. Perhaps the same feeling of helplessness made him sleep now. Perhaps I would have slept, too, if it hadn't been for my dream.
The cut on my finger was still bleeding. I found a clean bandaid and wrapped the finger tightly.
Frisky's voice grew louder.
"I said you were a bad girl"
"I'm not a bad girl!"
To me, the thin, wavering treble of a child's voice is frighteningly insubstantial. I always think of the newly lighted candle flame, frail, trembling, easily extinguished.
Frisky's answering voice held only anger. "You did break your china mug, didn't you?"
"I didn't meant to! It slipped!"
"And you didn't eat all your cereal, like I told you, did you?" Frisky sounded like a shrewd lawyer cross-examining a hostile witness, comfortably sure he is dealing with an intelligence less developed than his own.
"It tasted queer! I'm not hungry!"
"So you admit it. You disobeyed me and you broke your mug. Aren't those bad things to do?"
"Aren't people who do bad things called bad?"
"I'm not bad! I'm not! I don't do bad things all the time."
"You smart little bitch! For my money, you're bad all the time!"
There was an outburst of blows and screams.
"What on earth is going on?" It was Sally's voice. I turned and saw her crouching in the doorway of her room.
"Frisky's angry at Jean. She wouldn't eat her cereal and she broke a mug."
"We'll have to do something," said Sally. "I can't stand it." The sounds had ceased when we reached the door of Frisky's room. Jean was sitting on the floor, laboriously dressing a rag doll.
"Good morning, Jean." She didn't answer me. I think she could not trust her voice to speak without a quaver. She had forgotten that her wet, red eyes would betray the tears anyway. She just looked at us and dropped her eyelids. Her baby face was quite adult in its set, unsmiling mask of humiliation and hatred.
Frisky's face was flushed, her eyes bright and satisfied. On the floor beside her, a broken, china mug lay in two pieces. On one piece was the picture of a little girl in a blue dress. On the other piece there were words:
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day is merry and bonnie and blithe and gay.
"Hi!" said Frisky.
I took a deep breath and plunged. "I'd like to talk to you about Jean."
"She been botherin' you?"
"Oh, no, but...she reminds me so much of my own little daughter, Eunice, when she was the same age."
"I didn't know you had any children." Frisky was genuinely astonished. I had a sudden vision of myself as I must appear to hera quiet, graying, middle-aged woman, alone with an equally quiet, graying, middle-aged husband, obviously a childless couple. It seemed strange that all the ecstasies and agonies of parenthood should have left no mark on us.
"My daughter is in France," I said. "I have no idea what has happened to her now, but...let me put it this way: I find myself regretting every sharp word I ever spoke to her. Don't you think, in a situation like this, you might be a little easier on Jean? She must be quite upset by all that happenedperhaps even more upset than we are."
"You mean the war? Kids don't realize things like that."
"Are you sure? At Jean's age, Eunice realized a great many more things than I had thought she would."
"Well, I can't see it going soft on the kid just because we're cut off from the rest of the world for a few days. You gotta be tough. How else can you teach a child manners?"
"By example." Sally couldn't contain herself any longer. "The polite child is the child who is treated politely and knows no other way to behave. You wouldn't slap an adult who had no appetite for breakfast this morning, would you? Then why slap a child?"
"You been readin' them child psychologists," said Frisky. "If you ask me, they're nuts. My old Dad used to whale me when I was a kid and it sure didn't do me no harm."
This, of course, was unanswerable, unless we were willing to antagonize Frisky.
"A good spanking does Jean a lot of good." Frisky paused, then went on with sensual relish. "Funny thing, it does me good, too. I always feel better after I've spanked her."
She spoke comfortably, as we all do when we know we are well within our legal rights, and I was at a loss for an answer.
So was Sally. She was not the same Sally she had been a day ago. She just looked at me and said: "Let's go and see if Bill is awake."
He wasn't. Sally and I spoke in whispers.
"I can't talk to a woman like that," said Sally. "It would take a thousand years to teach her and we haven't got a thousand years. That crack about child psychologists. Has she ever read one single book on the subject? I doubt it. Before I was married, when I was a social worker, I never had a case of juvenile delinquency without a background of corporal punishment. Hate begets hate and love begets love with children as with everyone else."
"I know. And just because there are so many books about child psychology today does not mean that the majority of parents pay any attention to them. I knew a child psychologist a few years ago who wanted to make a study of fifty families who used what they call old-fashioned discipline and fifty families who were permissive. He had to give up the project. You know why? Because, in his town he couldn't find as many as fifty families who were permissive."
"Do you know when I first began to understand the real psychological significance of old-fashioned discipline?"
I shook my head.
"When I discovered that, throughout the civilized world, a man will pay a prostitute an extra fee if she will let him beat her up. In French brothels they have a room for the purpose called the chambre des supplices. It has nothing to do with moral discipline. It never had. It's just fun. And it's not abnormal, perverted fun. War would be quite impossible if there were not a tough, solid streak of sadomasochism in every one of us, except perhaps a few saints."
"That does throw a new, harsh light on the whole business," I admitted.
Sally went on: "Just think less than two hundred years ago it was legal to beat wives, children, soldiers, sailors, servants, slaves, convicts and maniacs. In most places today only children can be beaten legally. I find that curious. A doctor friend of mine who worked in a hospital emergency ward once told me that the cases of cruelty to children that reach the courts and the newspapers are only a fraction of those that actually occur for usually there are no witnesses. And far more of these cases end in death than you or I would have thought possible."
We heard the scrape of a match. Bill was awake at last, lying on his back, smoking his first cigarette of the day. I gave him canned orange juice and hot coffee from a thermos bottle that we had filled yesterday. Sally told him about Frisky and Jean.
He sighed. "I hope she won't light into the child more than ever now, just to show you that you can't change her views. A lot of people would think Frisky a normal young mother except for one thing the word 'bitch.' That would shock them far more than spanking a child for not being hungry at breakfast."
"I don't feel hungry myself," said Sally.
"Neither do I," said Bill. "But we've got to eat some breakfast to keep going."
In the end we nibbled some English biscuits from a sealed, tin box.
It was the longest day I had ever known. All day we could hear the rain on the roof and I wondered if it had come too soon. Someone had said that rain in a week's time would wash radioactive dust and ash off the roof and reduce radiation inside the house. But wouldn't rain today be as radioactive as the wind itself?
We could hear that evil wind whistling as it prowled around the house, prying at each crack and cranny, trying every outside door. We couldn't read and we couldn't talk with Frisky there. She played her interminable game of gin rummy, first with me, then with Sally, then with Bill, and whoever wasn't playing with Frisky tried to keep Jean happy with all the devices you use when a small child is ill and has to stay in beddrawing, story-telling, word games, Parcheesi, checkers, dolls. And all day long we had only the light of one candle, for candles were rationed, too.
Among Jean's coloring books, Sally found the little cards she had colored for Sunday school illustrating the Ten Commandments. Sally read one of them aloud to me: "Thou shalt do no murder. How could anyone change the wording from Thou shalt not kill? That's reducing the poetry of a moral principle to the prose of a legal technicality. As if one man in a million ever contemplated murder! It might as well be: Thou shalt commit no homicide in the first degree. But I suppose you have to tamper with the Ten Commandments if you want to prepare for a nuclear war with a clear conscience."
In the late afternoon, Sally lay with her eyes closed, pretending to sleep, because sleep, or apparent sleep, was the only way she could withdraw from the rest of us.
Frisky was snapping at Jean again, deliberately provoking the child, and working herself up into a temper. Bill spoke to me in a low voice, almost a whisper, but less sibilant and so less likely to be overheard. "I think she's the kind of woman who's in a better humor when she has something to drink. There is beer and wine in our rations. Shall we use some now? Or shall we save it?"
"Now," I said emphatically.
Frisky chose beer. Bill was right about her. After the first can, the lines of temper around her mouth eased. The rest of us took our beer in delicate sips savoring each mouthful and trying to make it last as long as possible as if it were fine cognac, but Frisky drank hers quickly. When she reached for another can, no one protested. After the third can she became so genial that I dreaded the day when there would be no more beer for Frisky. But perhaps by that time she would be able to live in her own cottage again.
Jean recognized her mother's change in mood.
"Mommy, please can't I brush your hair now? It needs brushing."
"Okay." Frisky was still as the little hands went to work with untutored enthusiasm and the hard contours of the expensive coiffure melted away. In ten minutes Frisky's hair looked like a bird's nest in a hurricane.
"Oh, Mommy, you look just beautiful! I'll get the glass so you can see."
Frisky looked in the glass and I expected an explosion but the beer was still at work in her bloodstream. "It sure is different!"
"If only you'd wear your hair like that always!"
Frisky laughed and lay at full length on the floor. Jean crawled over her and they rolled together, still laughing. This was another Frisky, laughing and playing with her child unselfconsciously, her hair tumbled about her face.
When Jean and Frisky had gone to their own room for the night, Sally said: "I could hardly believe my eyes. I thought she had no love for that child at all. I'll never understand people like that. A man who loves his wife and beats her. A woman who loves her child and makes the child suffer whenever she happens to feel like it."
"It's impulse that betrays most people," said Bill. "Love and the moral sense are both rooted in memory. The stronger your memory, the more you view each act in the context of your whole life and the less likely your are to yield to the sudden, base impulse. I really believe that no man ever committed murder without regretting it ten minutes afterward. But then it's too late. It's done and he's stuck with it. We all want to hit each other at times. All that holds anyone back is memorythe memory of past love and its reflection, the anticipation of love to come."
The rain had ceased. The wind had died away. Suddenly I became aware of something unnatural in the silence.
"What's happened to all the song birds?"
"Birds have no shelter," said Bill. "And they eat seeds and berries. That wouldn't be healthy today. We'd better go to sleep early and save our candles."
"And when the candles are gone?" said Sally.
"We've got three dozen. If we're careful, they should last until we can go outdoors again."
I went to sleep feeling hollow, but not hungry. I had never liked canned food and tonight I had had to force each mouthful down. For a long time I lay awake in the darkness, listening to the wind that had risen again. It was never still for long, out here on the island.
From time to time I dozed, but I happened to be wide awake when I heard Frisky crash into our room.
"Lois." It was the first time she had called me by my Christian name. "What are we going to do? Jean is sick. Really sick."
A single candle was burning in their bedroom. Frisky crouched beside the child, clasping and unclasping her hands in the immemorial gesture of helplessness, involuntary praying. "I don't know what to do." She was talking to herself. "I don't know what to do."
Jean lay on her back, her hair plastered damply to her forehead, her face a bright, unnatural pink. Her lips were parted, and dry, her breathing labored. Now and again she moaned, but she didn't open her eyes. There were stains of bloody diarrhea on the floor.
"We must get that fever down," said Sally. "Have you tried an alcohol rub?"
"No. I gave her aspirin, but it came up. She had loose bowels, too. Then she fell into this sort of half sleep. She doesn't seem to know me. She keeps rubbing her eyes."
"Lois, have you rubbing alcohol?" asked Sally. "Witch hazel? Anything like that?"
"I have cologne."
"That'll do," said Sally. "Get a bowl. Get some cotton."
It doesn't take long to find a bowl and cotton and water, but we couldn't move fast enough. Our nerve impulses were nightmarishly slow in reaching our muscles while time ebbed, second by second. This was time seen through a magnifying lens. We were conscious of the cruel lag between thought and act as we had been conscious of the loaded pause between the flash and blast of the nuclear explosion.
Of course we forgot all about staying as close to the floor as possible. We couldn't move fast enough that way.
I spoke to Jean softly. "Jean, dear. Would you like a drink of water?"
Bill's hands were shaking as he set the bowl on the floor beside Jean. Sally emptied the whole bottle of cologne into the bowl, then filled the bottle with lukewarm water and added that. I rolled up one sleeve of Jean's nightgown. Her arm was as pink as her face. That was something I had never seen before, even in the highest fever. It was like a bad sunburn. I dipped a piece of cotton in the bowl and began to paint the hot, languid arm with the lukewarm solution.
"You've done this before," said Frisky.
"Many times. Measles. Mumps. Flu. It often works when nothing else does. It's just artificial perspirationwater taking heat from the body by evaporation. Alcohol makes it evaporate more quickly."
The other arm...the right leg...the left leg. But Jean was still flushed and hot.
"We could try another aspirin," said Sally.
We did. It was vomited immediately.
"Have you any aspirin suppositories?" asked Sally.
"No," I answered her.
"Has Jean ever vomited aspirin before?"
"Never." Frisky was clasping and unclasping her hands again. "What are we going to do?"
"There's only one thing to do," said Bill. "I'm going to the doctor."
"Not tonight!" I cried.
"Let me go," said Sally. "You still have Lois. I may never see Eric again."
"I suppose I oughta go," said Frisky. "But I don't want to leave Jean now."
"What good will it do?" I protested. "The doctor said there was no cure."
"But he said there were palliatives," Bill answered me. "Antibiotics, blood transfusions, sedatives. She'll have to have a sedative stronger than aspirin and she'll have to have it by hypodermic. We don't have a hypodermic. The doctor could give me one."
"You'll bring radiation into the house on your clothes."
"We'll have to chance that."
"Couldn't we wait a few days? Eric said that radiation would really drop on the seventh day after fall-out."
"I don't believe we can wait another minute if Jean's to have any chance at all. If it were Eunice, you'd want me to go."
"I'd go myself. Let me go now."
"Don't be silly. You know I wouldn't let you, but..." He laughed. "You'll have to let me because I'm bigger and stronger than you are. That's the hell of being a man. We have to do all these things we don't want to do because there's nobody who can stop us and if we don't do them we feel guilty."
He was trying to make us laugh, but it didn't work. We jut watched him helplessly as he put on slacks and shirt and shoes and reached for a flashlight.
"You'll ask the doctor if there's any news of Eric?"
"Of course." Bill came over to me. "Don't worry."
"But Eric said no one should go out the first three days after fall-out and this is only the second day."
"I may surprise you by surviving. The length of time you're exposed is important and I'll be damned quick."
He left by the kitchen door because it was the exit farthest from where Jean was lying.
Sally made Frisky take one of the tranquillizing pills the doctor had given her. I sat beside Jean, trying not to resent the fact that she had involuntarily put Bill in mortal danger.
There was no sound at all now but Jean's breathing and the ticking of the clock. Bill had said he would be quick and no doubt he would, but...
"That sounds like a car," said Sally.
"It can't be...unless a decontamination squad has got through to us. After all, if they did, we'd have no way of knowing cooped up in here." I saw hope flare in Frisky's face.
Noises in the kitchen. Bill came in first. Sally looked at him without speaking.
"No word of Eric," said Bill.
Doctor Franklin Joel followed him into the room.
"But I thought you couldn't make house visits for a week!" cried Frisky.
"Every child on the island is sick tonight," said Joel. "And half the adults. If we are to save any of the children they must have all the help I can give them now. They can't wait until it's safe for me to go outdoors. They're a lot more important than I am. They are our future."
"But if anything happens to you, what will we do?"
"I'm gambling that I'll last long enough to save some of the children in the next few days and by that time we should be getting help from the outer world." His sharp, serious eyes took in everything before him the child, the bowl, the cotton.
"Yes." I answered him. "She can't keep aspirin down. Her whole body is red."
"Has she vomited?"
"I'll take a blood test to see if she needs a transfusion."
"Use my blood!" cried Frisky. "I'm her mother."
"You and Jean are not the same blood type," said the doctor. "Jean's type is the rarest of the four. Captain Baldwin is the only other person on the island I know of who is the same type as Jean."
He opened his bag. He was taking out the gadget doctors use for a quick blood test.
Jean scarcely stirred at the prick of the needle. I remembered how loudly Eunice used to protest against any needle at Jean's age, but Eunice had never been ill enough to drift into this state of semi-consciousness.
The doctor's hands were steady as he held a test tube up to the light, studying figures etched on the glass. The fluid within looked pale to me.
He reached into his bag for another hypodermic. "First, the sedative, then penicillin. She's never reacted badly to penicillin, has she?" Frisky shook her head.
"We won't ask her to swallow anything now. I can give her liquids intravenously, if I have to."
He gave Jean penicillin in one buttock. We all saw the red welts that had not healed.
He repacked his bag and Stood up. "Was there bloody diarrhea?"
"Another symptom. So are wounds that won't heal. Keep her as quiet as you can. I'll be back as soon as possible with Baldwin."
Jean was asleep now. There was nothing we could do but wait for the doctor's return.
Frisky stared at the wall, her hands clasped tightly. Bill offered her coffee, but she shook her head. Sally and I drank ours gratefully.
"Was your daughter ever as sick as this when she was little?" Frisky whispered to me.
"She was very sick when she had measles. Her temperature was a hundred and five and a half. Aspirin had no effect at all. I was very frightened. Children can die of measles. When she got well, she was listless for two weeks afterward."
"Measles." Frisky echoed the word, dully. "That's the sort of thing you kinda expect with a child. It's not like this."
"No, it's not like this."
"Where did you say your daughter was now?"
I managed to keep my voice steady. "In France. She's going to take courses at the University of Grenoble next fall."
"France." Frisky repeated the word as if she hardly understood it. "We have no idea what's happening over there, have we?"
"No, we haven't." I marvelled at my own calm. "That's why I'm so anxious for news from abroad."
Frisky pushed her hair out of her eyes. "I feel a little better since the doctor was here. There are things you can do for this and he knows what they are. Jean was always strong. She's never been really sick before. And you say your little girl had a fever of a hundred and five and a half, but she pulled through. I think I'll have some coffee after .all." Time stretched again. Seconds were minutes, minutes were hours and an hour was eternity. I opened my last pack of cigarettes. How would I manage if I used them all up before supplies came through from the outer world?
"She began vomiting right after supper," Frisky was saying. "I thought it was just a little stomach upset. But when the loose bowels came and I saw blood..."
I looked at my watch. It was nearly eleven. Why was the doctor so long? I was beginning to feel the same killing tension I had felt long ago, when Eunice woke in the middle of the night with a high fever, cause unknown, and Bill and I had hesitated to wake a doctor before morning.
He came at last. He walked in without knocking and crossed the living room to the bedroom door. Captain Baldwin followed, dragging off his shabby cap unobtrusively, as if he were shy enough to fear we would think courtesy an affectation in so humble a man. It was the first time I had ever seen him without the cap. His bald head was well-shaped. His forehead looked like the brow of a scholar. Was it lack of opportunity or some flaw of character that had kept him a simple fisherman all his life?
He spoke to Frisky gently. "I'm sorry."
She looked faintly surprised. "Thank you, but I'm not so worried, now the doctor's here. Jean's always been strong. She'll get over this if anybody does."
"I'll have to test your blood first," said the doctor to Baldwin.
The captain rolled up his sleeve. Again the doctor held a test tube up to the light.
"Well," said Baldwin. "Hadn't we better get started?"
"Just a minute, please." The doctor put a stopper in the test tube and dropped it in his bag. He went over to Jean, took her pulse and temperature. He lifted one of her eyelids. Still, she didn't stir.
He turned back to Frisky. "Mrs. Kane, do you trust me to do the very best I possibly can for Jean?"
"Why, of course." Frisky looked up at him, wondering, waiting for his next words.
"It is better for Jean not to have a transfusion at this time. We'll keep her on antibiotics and sedatives for a few days and leave the rest to time and God."
Frisky nodded. It was Baldwin who protested.
"What's God got to do with it? Why not give her the transfusion first and then do the praying?"
The doctor sighed. "Because a transfusion would not help Jean at this time."
Baldwin's face hardened. "You said kids with radiation poisoning need red blood. That's why you brought me here. Why'd you change your mind?"
"I've just examined her. The anemia is less serious than I feared."
"How'd you know? You didn't test her blood again."
For the first time since I had known Dr. Joel, he looked the old man he really was. "1 can tell by her eyelids and her lips. She doesn't need a transfusion now."
The doctor hesitated.
"Never mind answering that," said Baldwin. "I can see the answer in your face. Some o' the other kids in the village died tonight. Jean's not gonna die. She's gonna have a transfusion right now if I gotta give it to her myself!"
"Captain, you must trust my judgment. I am a doctor of medicine. You are not."
"Maybe you're a doctor, but to you Jean's just another kid." Baldwin turned to Sally. "You musta had nursing experience when you was a social worker. Will you show me how to give blood to Jean?"
Sally looked at the doctor. "Is there some reason why I shouldn't?"
"What reason could there be? He brought the stuff with him." Baldwin was reaching for the doctor's bag. I am sure he was prepared to seize it by force, if necessary. But, suddenly, his hand dropped and he looked at the doctor, searchingly. "You didn't test Jean's blood this timebut you tested mine. Is there anything wrong with my blood?"
The doctor had reached his breaking point. "You might as well know the truth now. You'll all guess it soon enough, even if I don't tell you. I've made a lot of blood tests tonight. I had to and I haven't found anyone I tested, including myself, with a normal corpuscle count. I'm beginning to think there isn't one of us fit to give a transfusion. There may be no clean blood on the island at all."
It took a moment for the meaning of his words to settle in our minds.
"Then there's no hope," said Sally.
"There's always hope," Joel corrected her, sharply. "Individuals vary in the amount of radiation they can stand. Children are the most vulnerable. Back in the early fifties they made the mistake of thinking that radiation was distributed evenly in the earth's atmosphere and in the human body, and all their calculations of maximum permissible dosage were based on those two assumptions. But in the late fifties they discovered that wind distributed external radiation unevenly in the atmosphere and that during a certain period of time internal radiation from milk or other foods had a way of concentrating in a few spots which Swedish scientists called 'hot spots' where radiation was higher than in the rest of the body. If only one cell in the whole body is exposed to excessive radiation it's enough to start the chain-reaction of a cellular disease like leukemia. All this makes it difficult to calculate the chances of anyone individual, though we can prophesy that so many hundred thousand will die in so many years, just from the fall-out from tests made before 1957."
Baldwin turned his cap round and round in his hands. "Is there any hope for her now, without a transfusion?"
"There's hope for all the children who are still alive tonight, if we can get clean blood from the outer world some time tomorrow. I'm sorry I had to tell you, Captain. I should have tested your blood before I brought you up here. But I was in a hurry. I didn't think. And you insisted on coming."
"I wanted to see Jean."
Bill said: "You haven't tested Lois' blood or Sally's or mine."
"It's hardly necessary."
"What do you mean?"
"Look at your skins, much redder than yesterday. Did you think it was sunburn? It isn't. And you've been rubbing your eyes. They itch, don't they? Mrs. Cobbett has a cut on one finger that hasn't healed. I noticed it yesterday. It should have healed by now, but there's a fresh blood stain on the bandaid she's wearing."
"Is there anything you can do for us?" said Bill.
"I can't spare the little penicillin I have left as long as you are no worse. If there's fever or pain or severe vomiting and diarrhea, let me know. I'll do what I can."
He shut his bag with a snap. "Jean's had enough penicillin to last twenty-four hours. She'll need more sedative in the morning. I'll look at her then. There's nothing more I can do for her now. I must get back to the village and see what I can do for the others."
Sally said: "I'm not just going to stay here with every child in the village sick and you trying to care for them single-handed. I have had nursing experience. I'm going with you."
"Do you realize how dangerous it is?"
"Then it's up to you. I won't argue."
I have often wondered what it is in human nature that makes us do things that common sense tells us not to do. During the second world war I was young and living with my parents. I was an only child. They didn't want to lose me. And I was engaged to Bill. I had a lot to live for. But when I got a chance to volunteer for an O.W.I. job in England where V-2 rockets were falling, I went. Why? It didn't make sense. In later years, I would look back and remember the curious, light-headed feeling I had when I decided to go overseas. After Eunice was born, I often told myself I would never be such a fool again.
I did not know myself as well as I thought I did, for now I had that same giddy, light-headed feeling and I said: "I'll go with you, Sally. I can help, too."
I saw the anguish in Bill's eyes. "You can help by staying here with Frisky and Jean," he said. "They need you."
"Oh, I can manage alone now," said Frisky.
"All right, let's go," said the doctor.
Bill fell into step beside me with a smile. "You didn't think you were going without me, did you?"
I tried to be honest. "No, I think I knew you'd go if I did. All this trying to protect ourselves doesn't matter now all the children are sick. I only hope there's someone in Brittany now who's trying to save Eunice."
It seemed so strange to be outdoors again, as if we had been imprisoned for a much longer time than we actually were. Moonlight defined the mass of each bush sharply and drew shadows on the sand. In the village there were no lights outdoors. The street lamps had been electric. This was the way the village had looked two hundred years ago.
The doctor stopped his car beside the green. As we got out, Sally turned to look down the road towards the causeway. I heard her catch her breath.
"Someone's coming! See!" We all turned. There was someone walking towards us slowly, but, at that distance in the moonlight, I could not tell who it was.
"It must be a refugee, Sally," Bill said. "Eric was driving and this man's on foot."
"No!" Sally's voice was wild. "It's Eric! I know the way he walks!"
She ran down the road. She threw herself into his arms.
Then we all ran toward him.
"What about Tommy?"
"Where's the car?"
"Did you get the radio parts?"
"Did you find a telephone that worked?"
"Did you talk to anybody?"
"Did you see any aircraft?"
"Did you get any news?"
"Did you get as far as Sutton?"
"What kept you so long?"
"Is help coming from the outer world?" Eric waited until we fell silent. His face was ghostly in the moonlight, haggard and unsmiling. His shoes were cracked and dusty.
"The car is in Sutton. I couldn't drive it back. The tires disintegrated. They just couldn't stand up to broken road surfaces. I had to walk back and that took a long time. I didn't talk to anyone. They were all dead. There were no radio parts. There was no telephone. There was no town. Just rubble."
No one spoke. No one could think of anything to say at first. It was Baldwin who broke the silence. "There's only one thing to do," he said. "Take that cabin cruiser and go up the coast to Norwich. I think I can handle her alone, but I'll give that New Yorker who owns her a chance to show us whether he has any guts or not. And I'll take Sam Orpen to look for the radio parts. You've done enough, Dr. Linden."
"You can't take Sam," said the doctor. "He's too sick to be moved."
"I'll go," said Eric.
"No you won't," said Bill. "It's my turn. Just give me samples of the transistors and other things you want and I'll match them."
The Fourth Day
Dr. Fabian was the only other helper that Dr. Joel had besides Sally and me. Joel had insisted that Eric go home and try to sleep with the help of drugs. Bill had gone with Baldwin and Stallings up the coast to Norwich.
There were far more patients than two men could possibly handle. Joel gave sedatives and penicillin to Sally and me and told us what to do and we each went our separate ways.
The worst part was arriving at a house when it was too late and facing fathers and mothers who were numbed with shock or maniacal. We used up a large proportion of our limited store of sedatives that night. Most of these parents moved and spoke like automatons and I felt that their minds had not yet begun to grasp the magnitude of their tragedy, that once they did they would all be raving or dead, unless help came from the outer world and came quickly.
The doctor's house was on the edge of the village with a view of the harbor. Sally and Fabian and I met him there in his consulting room after we had done all we could. He was going over his depleted stock of drugs and medicines, making a list of the things he needed from the mainland most urgently.
When we came in, he threw down his pen. "Well?"
We had lists for him. The children who had died. The children who were ill and desperate for clean blood and more penicillin and more sedatives.
He read the names slowly. Each child he had known from birth. He put the lists aside and looked out the window at the harbor, pale in the first draining of darkness that comes before dawn.
At last he spoke.
"In the old days, men at arms were always sustained through the immoral act of killing by the thought that they were not fighting for themselves, but for their children. Today men ask their children to die for them.
"In our grandfathers' time, women and children had no country. They belonged to life, not to death. They were the future made flesh, respected by both sides in a quarrel between men. Now women wear uniforms and children are the first to die, even in peacetime when fighting men pollute the very air their children breathe and the milk they drink. And they rationalize this statistically. Only so many children will die in so many years. As if the murder of even one child were not an act of immorality that would have been unimaginable to our fathers.
"We've come a long way from primitive man and his animal devotion to the young of his species. Does civilization erode the natural feeling of a parent for his young? Why else would child labor appear in the west and child marriage and prostitution in the east? Why else are laws needed to protect individual children from their parents' cruelty?
"Primitive men, and women, too, torture their prisoners of war to death, but they will not raise a hand against their own children, as the first missionaries discovered to their amazement. We pay wages to our prisoners of war and respect their officers' rank, but we sacrifice the lives of our children and our enemies' children without any apparent qualm.
"There is a stage of barbarism where a Genghis Khan will put every enemy to the sword in a conquered city, including the children, or an Agamemnon will sacrifice his own child to a god before sailing to besiege Troy. But we are less innocent. We know better. We have no gods who demand human sacrifice. Yet we sacrifice not one child, as Agamemnon did, not a few thousands, as Genghis Khan did, but millions and we have been preparing for this monstrous act in cold blood for many years.
"Can any cause justify such treason to life itself? Do we really prefer this enormous burden of blood guilt to the passive resistance of a Gandhi, which takes so much more courage and self-discipline than just fighting? Christian martyrs went to their deaths without striking a blow. What would they have thought of the child-murderers of the twentieth century who call themselves Christians?
"The people of Hamelin town didn't know the Pied Piper would take their children, if they cheated him, but we knew what would happen to our children when we made our obscene bargain with death. Our political passions were so inflamed that we promised the Pied Piper anything if he would destroy those rats, our enemies. And, just as in the old story, he destroyed the rats and as his price took away our children. Here and there a lonely voice protested and those voices were dismissed as fools and pacifists or even traitors by those who were betraying life itself." His voice died, defeated and hopeless.
Sally said: "Listen." In the silence, we heard a steady humming that grew nearer and louder until it was a throbbing in our bones.
"An outboard motor?" I said.
"No." Joel's face was exultant. "It's a real engine. Either our cruiser or another coming into the harbor." We ran down to the wharf. The distant throbbing of the engine was magnified by stillness. There was no wind now. In the pre-dawn Light, the bland sea was wan and reflective as a mirror, more like a dream of ocean than ocean's self. Waves were ripples now, lips of the sea that kissed the sand without a sound. There was no horizon. Sky and water were the same hazy pearl color. Together they formed a vast, hollow bowl, all around us and above us, empty and echoing and forlorn. In that unearthly light even the dark shore line was shimmering and unreal. Only the wharf under our feet was real, but it, too, was desolate.
The weathered planks were strewn with the bodies of dead sea gulls. Hundreds more were floating on the water, rising and falling with the breathing of the sea. It was the first time I had ever seen gulls so close. They were larger than they looked in flight. Their beaks were bent down at the tip, their wings were a soft pewter grey, their tails tipped with black, and their bellies white as the bellies of the fish they had fed upon. Their round eyes stared at us, unwinking.
We were the only things that moved and breathed in that great stillness. It was one of those moments when human beings feel as small as they actually are. The world was a mirage created by our senses out of sound and light waves and what inconceivable reality lay beyond?
Joel whispered: "Lord of all things, visible and invisible..." At first the boat was only a point of light, its lantern shining through the haze. A moving point that paled as daylight grew and we could see the boat itself, moving steadily towards us across the empty bay that had once been dotted with so many little fishing boats at dawn.
Sally made binoculars out of her hands and looked through them. "It's a cruiser. It must be ours."
I had a vain wish that this moment, when we didn't know what was coming towards us, might be prolonged. For, as long as we did not know, we could still hope.
Now the boat was close enough for us to see detailsthe white painted hull, the darker wood of deck and cabin, the touches of brass. We could even see three men on deck, one at the wheel, one walking forward to the prow, one in the stern making ready to cast a line.
Now the boat was so near it seemed to be coming towards us at a great speed, as if it must collide with the pier.
"I see the name!" said Joel. "It is the Sea Puss."
I raised my voice. "Bill! Can you hear me?"
A voice answered but we couldn't make out words. The engine died. The sudden silence was shocking. Momentum carried the boat on towards us. Now we could see that the man at the prow was Bill. We waved and he waved back to us. The man at the wheel gave it a twitch and the boat turned, graceful as a gull, gliding alongside the pier. Sally and I caught the line Bill threw and Joel caught the other line that Baldwin sent snaking through the air more expertly. In a moment, the boat was made fast.
"Get Sam Orpen!" Bill was breathless. "We've got transistors. We're sure they're not damaged."
"You didn't try them?" I cried. "How could you wait?"
"We were afraid to risk it," said Bill. "This is a job for a man who knows what he is doing. These are the last transistors we're going to have for a long time. Is Sam able to come down to the pier now?"
"He'll have to," said Joel. "Even if we have to carry him to the car."
"I'll help you." Bill ran after the doctor who was already half way to his car.
"What's going on in Norwich? Did you get to the Coast Guard? Did you talk to anybody, Captain?"
Baldwin looked at Stallings. "You tell them."
Baldwin was slumped bonelessly against the bulkhead, rubbing his unshaven chin with a hand that left a streak of engine grease on the grey stubble. Stallings sat in a deck chair, smoking a cigarette.
"Norwich is in the same state as Sutton," he told us. "Or worse. Rubble everywhere. Radioactive rubble of course. You couldn't have all that blast without radiation."
"But why Norwich?" I said. "It has no strategic value."
He shrugged. "It's a seaport. There isI mean, there was a Coast Guard station."
"But it wasn't like New York or Detroit," said Sally.
"It could have been a bomb that went off-course. Or..." He flicked ash over the side. "It could be there were more bombs than we expected. We often said we had enough to wipe them out three times over. Maybe they had enough to be equally generous with us."
"You saw no refugees? No wounded?" said Sally.
"Everyone we saw was dead."
"Where did you get the transistors?"
"Coast Guard station. The building itself was gone, but Baldwin remembered that they used the basement for storage, so we dug our way in there. We found a lot of stuff in cartons that had never been unpacked after shipping. The transistors were about as well-protected as they could be. We unwrapped them carefully. There was no damage we could see."
"Did you go into the city at all?"
"There wasn't much point in trying. We couldn't clear those streets without protective clothing and instruments to detect radiation. We did walk along the wharf to the Coast Guard station. We didn't see a living thingman, or woman, child or beast. Just a great silence."
Stallings tossed his cigarette overboard and let his empty hands dangle between his knees, head bent forward, eyes on the deck. We all sat still until we heard the doctor's car again.
Bill and the doctor helped Sam Orpen out of the car and he leaned on Bill's shoulder as they came towards the yacht. He was in pajamas, slippers and gown. His skin was an ugly brown, his eyes blood-shot, his lips pallid.
Stallings rose. Baldwin straightened and moved away from the bulkhead. It was the courtesy men show in the presence of death.
Joel and Bill helped Sam down into the cabin. The rest of us crowded around the hatchway. Sam's fingers shook as he picked up one of the little transistors, but he smiled. "No damage," he whispered. "This is it. We're saved."
Bill smiled suddenly at me. Joel and Baldwin and Stallings were smiling. Sam's words were like a draught of strong wine on an empty stomach. We had pulled through. We hadn't panicked. We had kept our heads and our nerve, and now we had our reward. Now there was a chance of clean blood and medicine for Jean and all the other surviving children in time to do some good. We would radio. Someone would send a plane. And some day some of those children would rebuild the world, a world where no one would ever make war again. They could never forget what had happened this time. There would be the mutants to remind them in each generation.
Sam finished his job. He tottered to a bunk and Joel eased him into it gently. Stallings sat before the radio-telephone, pulled a switch, spun a dial and paused. Spun and paused again. And again...
We weren't smiling now. We just waited. It seemed a long time before he laid the microphone aside and looked at us.
"Nothing?" said Baldwin.
"Try sending," said Joel.
Stallings picked up a microphone. "This is the yacht Sea Puss, out of New London, calling from Selsea, Massachusetts. Acknowledge, please. Over and out..."
A long pause. Then again. "This is the yacht Sea Puss..."
"Try again," said Baldwin. "Keep trying."
I left the hatchway and walked alone to the stern. From there I saw the sun rise out of the sea in a glory of light like a burst of song. But there was no bird song to greet the sun this morning.
Bill came and stood beside me. Behind us, we heard Stallings' voice, dull and unbelieving. "There isn't a voice or a signal anywhere."
Bill said: "That's impossible. It must be the transistors."
There was a wild sound of scrabbling, like the sound of an animal trying to claw its way out of a trap. Sam Orpen struggled up the hatchway from the cabin to the deck without help from anyone. He stood there swaying, gaunt and uncanny as Lazarus.
"Who the hell are you to say what's impossible?"
"Take it easy." Baldwin put an arm around Sam's shoulders. "We brought back a lotta cartons. We'll try some others now. It's just a question of time before we get through to the outer world."
Sam opened his parched lips, but it was a moment before words would come. When they did, they came softly.
"What outer world?"
"What do you mean?" I demanded.
"There ain't nothin' wrong with those transistors. I guess maybe there never was nothing wrong with the other transistors in the other radios. It's just that there ain't no broadcasts anywheresnot anywheres in Europe or America. And, soon, there won't be any broadcasts anywheres in the whole world. Mrs. Cobbett, you'll never see that daughter of yours again. You'll never even know how she died. Blasted in a second or slow, like you and me. We been runnin' round here like chickens without heads. We're not just dying. We're dead. We been dead for two days, only we didn't know it. But it won't take long now. Every time the wind blows it comes nearer. And there ain't nothin' we can do about it."
"You're crazy!" shouted Bill. "What about the Southern Hemisphere? No blast there and fall-out is confined to the hemisphere where blast occurs."
"You've forgotten something." The doctor was looking at Bill strangely. "We gave nuclear weapons to allies in the Southern hemisphere in the early sixties and our enemies made the same sort of present to their allies there. Even China is in the nuclear club now. Soif this war is truly global...after all, we have no reason to assume it's limited, have we?"
Sam Orpen died that morning. In less than an hour everyone knew that we had lost our only radio technician. There was little grief for Sam. Frisky did not seem to feel his death. They had been boon companions rather than friends, drawn together because they were both outcasts. The Village was willing to tolerate sin but not forgive it.
Bill and I stole a few hours' sleep that morning. In the afternoon, we helped the doctor again. Wherever I went from one house of sickness to another, I noticed fewer references to the outer world, to trucks coming down the road again or telephone lines being repaired.
For the first time they had some inkling of the magnitude of the disaster, but even now they could not let themselves believe what Sam had told them before he died. They clung stubbornly to the idea that the transistors from Norwich must have been defective after all, in some way Sam had been unable to detect. Lem Gates remembered that electrical storms on the sun often interrupted broadcasting. Could it be that the great amount of radiation released by the bombs had some similar effect? Any theory, however preposterous, was more acceptable than Sam's. For if there were no outer world, how would we live when we exhausted our store of canned food?
Bill told me that Lem Gates' theory might not be as preposterous as it sounded. As long ago as 1958 experimental high altitude hydrogen bombs had disrupted radio communication and radar warning systems. How long that disruption would last if each side dropped many such bombs no one could tell.
"Just think," said Bill. "A megaton is equivalent to one million tons of TNT. So, if you drop two hundred bombs of twenty megatons each, you have exploded the equivalent of countless tons of TNT."
"Bill," I said, "is this possible? Or are we dreaming? Will I wake up after a while and find that the bomb in the night and all the rest of this, never happened? That I just had a bad dream my first night in Selsea and that soon I'll wake to another beautiful summer day and tell you all about it and we'll laugh at it together?"
"You're not dreaming," said Bill. "This isn't nightmare. This is reality."
That afternoon Baldwin and some other fishermen took the cabin cruiser down the coast in the opposite direction, hoping they might have better luck there.
The doctor was not fooled. When he came that night to give Jean her second shot of penicillin, he spoke to Eric.
"Tell me the truth. Is it possible what Sam said? Could every broadcasting station in the world go off the air, all at once?"
"Not every station in the world," said Eric. "Just every station in North America and Western Europe. We've known for a generation that Europe and North America would be the first to go, and those were the only continents that radio would pick up. It never got the Far East or the southern hemisphere. And, of course, it wasn't 'all at once.' This is the fourth day since the bombs fell."
"Then you do think it's possible?"
"Did you ever think it was impossible? If every country now possessing nuclear weapons used them all at the same time, every big broadcasting station in the world would be knocked out in the first fifteen minutesincluding our marine telephone band, our civilian defense band, our police and Coast Guard bands and our big commercial broadcasting companies. They all depend on surface installations in or near strategic targets. The military may have some underground facilitiesI wouldn't knowbut with one half to two thirds of the military and civilian population dead I believe they would soon go off the air and so would naval ships at sea, if any survived submarine-launched missiles. The submarine crews themselves would come ashore eventually but only to find a poisoned, dying world.
"Then one by one the little stations would go off the airno electricity, no one left to man them, all dead or dying and no news to broadcast, no central government. Just a few pockets of survivors here and there like uspeople who are mostly sick or dying and cut off from everyone else. After a while there would be only a great silence. Even the few who had battery transmitters like ours wouldn't be bothering with radio after two or three days. Like everyone else who survived that long, they would be fighting radiation sickness and, possibly, fighting refugees from other places where the radiation was worse."
"But we've been trying to get in touch by radio," said the doctor. "Wouldn't there be others like us, doing the same thing?"
"Possibly, but it would be sheer chance if we were able to pick them up. Our radio telephone transmits only within a radius of a hundred and fifty miles. Theirs would be limited, too."
"Then how are we going to get food for next winter?"
"Do you expect any of us to be alive next winter? If all the great cities of Europe and America have been destroyed as Norwich and Greenfield were, enough radiation has been released to kill every living thing on this continent in a few months at the most and the same will be true of Eurasia. As for the southern hemisphere and the Far East, they can not survive if the same thing has happened there, and why shouldn't it? They were as armed and eager for war as all the rest of us. Did you never understand this before, doctor?"
"I understood what could happen. I just couldn't believe it would."
"There were a lot like you. That's why it happened."
That evening after supper I stayed with Jean while Frisky slept. Jean was awake and restless.
"I'm not thirsty." Her head moved from side to side on the pillow. "I wish I could get up and go wading. It's cool in the ocean."
"Perhaps you can in a few days. Would you like a sponge bath?"
"I'd rather be in the ocean. It was fun getting that driftwood. We splashed each other." Her eyes closed again. "I wish you'd tell me another story about your little girl when she was my age."
I started obediently. "Once upon a time, when Eunice was only five years old..."
After a few minutes, I let my voice die away. I thought Jean was asleep, but she wasn't. She stirred and spoke without opening her eyes. "Sing. Please."
"What shall I sing?"
"The one about sitting on the doorstep." I racked my brain. I couldn't recall any song about anybody sitting on a doorstep.
"You sang it last night. Such a sleepy song."
Then I remembered.
How many years ago it was, that hot summer in Washington, when Eunice was only four. I had taken her down to the basement billiard room of our little house in Georgetown. We had no air conditioning, but the basement, like any other cellar, was always cool in a dank, earthy way, and Eunice had felt the heat so much that summer. She had sat in my lap and I had read her from the first Jungle Book the story of Toomai of the Elephants. When I came to the verse that Toomai's mother sang to his baby brother in the jungle camp at night, I didn't just read it I sang it to an air that came to me out of the words at that moment. Kipling had said it was "an old, old song," but he gave no hint of the tune. So I had made up my own tune for Eunice, as some mothers do when they read Mother Goose. Perhaps the only time in a woman's life when she wants to make songs as well as sing them is when she has a child of her own in her arms.
"Let me get you some fruit juice. Then I'll sing."
Jean sucked pineapple juice from a can through a straw. I washed her face and hands and arms in tepid water. Then, when I had done everything I could for her, I began to sing, very softly so I wouldn't wake the others, the song "about sitting on the doorstep."
For Jean, as for Eunice, I had to change "Little Son of Mine," to "Little Child of Mine." The air, in the natural minor of G, had an archaic sound to my ears that matched the words. As I sang, I saw again the mental pictures that always came to me with the song. First, the jungle campfirelight and darkness, tethered elephants, gigantic, shadowy, swaying to the rhythm of the lullaby, and the mother at the door of her hut with the baby in her arms, rocking him gently, looking down at him with great, black, Indian eyes...
Then that picture would fade and I would see incredibly bright and, somehow, youthful sunlightthe dawn of time, when ancient India was young, and the seeds of all the ideas of all the Indo-European speaking peoples were being planted in the world-forms of the Sanskrit language. There, in the sunshine, I could see Shiv himself, gigantic, archetypal, laughing as he poured the fruits of the earth from a giant horn of plenty, divinely indifferent to human inequalities...
Wheat he gave to rich folk, millet to the poor...
And, beside him, exquisite and mischievous, his wife, Parbati, hiding the grasshopper in her breast under a gold-bordered sari...
Saw and feared and wondered, making prayer to Shiv.
Who hath surely given meat to all that live...
I stopped. Jean was asleep. This was one lullaby I had never known to fail in sickness or health.
"Thanks for taking over. I needed sleep. How's Jean?"
"She had fruit juice and went to sleep several minutes ago."
"Funny how you get her to sleep without aspirin or anything. I never could. I'm no good at that."
Frisky pushed back the damp hair from Jean's forehead. Jean lay on her back, eyes closed, lips parted and pale against the darkened skin that looked so much like bad sunburn.
It was Frisky who noticed the change in the child.
"Lois! Get the doctor! Quick!"
"I'll go." Her cry had wakened Bill. He ran.
I leaned over the bed. "Jean, darling, can you hear me?"
The eyelids fluttered. The eyes opened.
Frisky dropped on her knees and put her arms around the child. "Jean!" Her voice rasped. "Don't leave mother! Mother loves you." The dry lips moved weakly.
"No. I won't leave mother."
And then the whole face congealed, and the eyes closed.
Frisky screamed. The personality was ripped aside and crumpled, like the paper mask it was, and the chaotic, infinite creature within looked out of her eyes in agony.
I ran for water and wet Jean's lips. No response. After what seemed a long time, the doctor came in and walked over to Jean. At last, he stood up and put away his stethoscope. Frisky was still holding the child's body in her arms when he gave her an injection of morphine.
Sally and I got her to lie down. She slumped like a puppet on a broken wire. We drew covers over her and she turned her face to the wall.
"She'll sleep," said the doctor. "Anyone will sleep with that much morphine."
"And tomorrow?" said Sally.
"Don't leave her alone. Someone should stay with her tonight and be here when she wakes in the morning. People can die from trauma."
"Is it so important that she should live?" said Sally. "Now?"
"All life is always important to a doctor. We couldn't function without that plain rule. We're not like generals and nuclear physicists. I'm worried about Frisky because of the memories she will have to live with now. Trauma is worse than shock."
"I thought they were the same."
"I should define trauma as prolonged shocka wound in the mind that will not heal. Something you want to forget and can't, an insult to the conscience. Sometimes, it's unbearable, like an unhealed lesion in the body that leads to cancer and then..."
We were startled by a step outside. Baldwin came in from the kitchen. "Just got back."
I had forgotten all about the cabin cruiser sailing south.
"Didn't find anyone alive," he said. "But I got into the basement of a wrecked house and found a first aid kit with some penicillin tablets. Place was all fixed up like a shelter. Canned food, bottled water, radio and fire extinguisher. But there weren't nobody there. Not even dead bodies. Guess they just didn't have time to get to it. I brought the penicillin back for Jean. She's gonna need more."
The doctor shook his head.
Something in our silence got through to Baldwin. When he spoke again, his voice was flat.
The doctor nodded.
Baldwin took off his shabby cap, and spoke to me. "May I see her, please, ma'am?"
He took a long look at the still face.
"And Frisky?" he said at last.
"Asleep," said the doctor. "I gave her morphine."
"Tell her I'm sorry."
The doctor picked up his bag. On his way out, he paused to lay a hand on Baldwin's shoulder. "I know how you feel. Thank God this child didn't mean anything personal to you."
Baldwin stood still, turning his cap over in his hands. He spoke in a dry, cracked voice. "I was her grandfather."
He looked down at one hand and spread the warped, arthritic fingers. "I guess you can hardly believe I was ever a man that a woman could love. But it was a long time ago. I was young. I was strong. I was makin' good money. I thought the world was mine for the taking. I learned different."
None of us could speak. Baldwin went on. "Frisky's mother died when Frisky was born. Frisky thought her mother's husband was her father. I dunno what he thought. He was a sailor sometimes away for months at a time when I was in port. He was real mean to Frisky. Times I wondered if he guessed...but I didn't see nothin' I could do so long as he let everybody think she was his daughter, born proper-like in wedlock. I had to keep quiet for her sake.
"I had a bad time when Frisky run away from him. For years, I didn't know where she was. When she come back with Jean, I could see she hadn't turned out good. The way she treated Jean was just like her old man had treated her. I didn't want Jean to run away, too. But what could I do? I had no legal rights and I didn't want people to know. I was afraid that would hurt Jean when she got older.
"Now I don't care who knows. It hit me real hard when you said the child didn't mean nothin' personal to me. She was all I had."
He moved towards the door.
"Where are you going?" asked the doctor.
"Nowhere. I got nowhere to go."
"Then why not stay here with your daughter? She loved Jean, too."
"She hated Jean."
"No. She just didn't know how to love. No one had ever taught her. When she found out, it was too late."
"Okay. I'll stay."
Baldwin carried Jean's body out to the car for the doctor. There was a dent on the pillow where her head had lain. I smoothed it out, so Frisky would not see it in the morning.
The last thing I noticed, as I was leaving the room, was in the scrapbasketa fragment of china mug inscribed And the child that is born on the Sabbath day...
I took it with me. That was something else I didn't want Frisky to see in the morning.
The Fifth Day
On the fifth day, I woke to silence. I had not realized how many song birds there were around our cottage until now, when they were gone.
Bill was asleep. I boiled water for instant coffee, the only coffee we had left.
I must have made more noise than I intended. I heard Bill stirring. I poured coffee into another cup and took it to him. "Perhaps you'd like this before you dress?"
Bill's eyes were unfocussed. They moved towards the sound of my voice as if he were blind. His eyelids were red and swollen. His cheeks looked swollen, toolumpy and stiff. There was a web of red creases on one cheek where he had lain on a crushed fold of the pillow slip. Each movement he made was random and unpremeditated,almost convulsive. In the language of common observation he was "not all there," a phrase that shows we unconsciously think of the mind as living in another kind of space. After all, what is the distance in feet and inches from the room where you sleep to the images in your dreams? And in what direction does the mind move when it leaves waking reality for the images of memory?
He made no move to take the coffee cup. I set it down on the floor. A mad voice shouted in my mind: Not Bill! Oh, no, not Bill!
My speaking voice was quiet. "How do you feel?"
At last his eyes came into focus. He tried to smile. "Awful. My eyes hurt. Everything hurts. I've never felt like this before."
"Try some coffee."
He shook his head. "1 couldn't keep it down. My sphincter muscles seem to have quit on me altogether. I soiled the sheet last night."
I got him a fresh sheet and rinsed out the soiled sheet.
"I'm sorry," said Bill.
"You know I don't mind. Think how glad Frisky would be this morning if she could wash a sheet Jean had soiled because Jean was still alive."
Bill thought this over. "1 suppose disgust for the natural functions of others is not really fastidious, but merely a lack of love. We rarely feel disgust for our own natural functions...poor Frisky! Have you noticed how we use that ridiculous nickname without a smile now?"
He lay back on the pillows and closed his eyes. Suddenly I knew it was beyond my power to help him. I must send Sally or Eric for the doctor.
"Try to rest." I kissed him. "I'll be back in a minute."
I went into Eunice's room which we had turned over to Eric and Sally. Eric was lying on his blanket staring at the ceiling. He did not look ill or in pain, as Bill did, but there was a change in him this morning, as if something that had sustained him for a long time had suddenly broken.
"Eric! Bill is sick. Can you go to the doctor?"
"No. I can't leave Sally."
"Look." I went to the other end of the room where Sally was lying. I don't know just what I expectedSally in Bill's condition, or worse, I suppose. I found her lying on her back, her head propped up by a pillow, her bare arms outside the sheet relaxed on either side of her. Her eyes were half open, her lips parted, smiling, her hair, tumbled, loose on the pillow. All lines of fear and pain were smoothed out of her face.
Eric whispered. "Don't make any noise. We mustn't wake her. She's sleeping so happily. And I've got to stay with her. I must be here when she wakes."
I started to touch her hand, but he snatched my hand back. "Don't! She needs sleep."
I looked into his eyes. "Eric. Don't you understand? Sally is dead."
His eyes shut me out. "That's impossible. She hasn't been sick enough for that. She's had hardly any symptoms at all. She's just asleep."
Then I did touch her. "Feel her hand. It's colder than life."
"You're trying to frighten me. She can't be dead. Look at her. She's smiling."
I couldn't take time to persuade him. I decided to humor him.
"Eric, I must get the doctor for Bill. Perhaps he should see Sally, too."
"You think her sleep is unnatural?"
"It might be. Please stay with Bill while I'm gone."
"No. I can't leave Sally. You can't ask me to do that."
"She might wake when I wasn't here. I couldn't bear that."
I thought of asking Baldwin to Stay with Bill, but I didn't. I couldn't afford to waste any more time.
I was alone on the path to the doctor's house. When I came to the outskirts of the village, I saw closed shops and a street that was empty except for the postmaster's dog lying in the gutter licking an ugly, infected lesion on his hind leg. He wagged his tail when he saw me, but he didn't get up and come towards me, as he used to do. I wondered how old the lesion was as I went on to the doctor's house.
I knocked at the door. When there was no answer, I walked into his living room. He was half asleep. For the first time he had abandoned his neat professional dress. He wore a soiled, white shirt, without a tie, collar unbuttoned, sleeves rolled up.
"Doctor Joel! Bill is in great pain. Can you come quickly?"
He opened his eyes slowly, and I saw the familiar look of pain.
"Are you sick, too?"
"A little. It's only a matter of time. It's got to everybody now."
"Not me. Nor Eric Linden."
The doctor picked up his bag. "And Sally?"
"I think she's dead, though she was perfectly well last night. Even now there are no lesions or swelling. Just a little redness."
"We'll have to walk," he said. "I've no gas left."
He climbed the path slowly. I could see he had little strength.
"I'll take a look at Sally first."
Eric heard our steps and came to the door of his room.
"I'm glad you've come, doctor. I don't think it's serious, but she's sleeping so soundly, I'm a little worried."
Joel went into the bedroom, looked at Sally, touched her.
"It's not serious, is it?" insisted Eric.
Joel lifted one of her eyelids and looked at the pupil.
"Dr. Linden, I don't know how far you have gone beyond reality, but I must try to bring you back. I must tell you that your wife is dead."
"But what did she die of? There are no symptoms even now and"
The doctor cut in brutally. "She died of an overdose of sleeping pills. I don't need an autopsy to tell me that. Instead of taking those pills we've been giving her, she's hoarded them until she got a lethal dose. She's not the first person to do so. There've been several here in the last few days."
Eric did not look shocked. He did not even look surprised. I'm sure one part of his mind had known the truth ever since he woke that morning.
"Now," said the doctor, "suppose you come into Bill Cobbett's room with me and see if there's anything you can do for him. He's really sick."
Eric didn't accept or refuse. He simply did what he was told, as if he had lost all power to resist, or even modify, suggestion. I had a feeling that if the doctor had told him to cut off an arm or drown himself, he would have done so with the same listless obedience.
Bill was smoking a cigarette. The cheeks that had been merely swollen when he woke were cracked now. The cracks were open sores, raw and suppurating.
The doctor examined his skin, felt his abdomen, took his temperature and pulse, took a blood test.
"Don't fool me," said Bill. "I want the truth. Is it a matter of a few hours or a few days?"
"If I had hospital facilities"
"But you don't. So?"
"In other cases, here in the village, it's been a matter of a few days at the most."
"That sounds like the truth. Thanks," said Bill. "Wasn't there once talk of grafting marrow?"
"You' d have to have marrow that was uninfected. We don't."
"Is there nothing...?" my voice died away.
"Nothing but sedatives."
"I don't believe I could keep a pill down now," said Bill.
"What about a morphine injection?" I suggested.
"I haven't any morphine left," said the doctor. "Now I'm here I might as well take a look at Mrs. Kane."
I followed the doctor into the living room. "You're sure about Bill?"
"As sure as I can be. His liver is already enlarged. His blood count is almost too low to sustain life now."
"And that means only a few days?"
"More likely a few hours. We know so little about this even when we know the amount of radiation involved. In Bill's case, as in all the others here, we really haven't the slightest idea how much radiation we got. I'm just guessing, on the basis of the symptoms and a few pre-war recordsold, reactor accidents and Japanese casualties in the second world war. Of course the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were toys compared to the bombs and missiles we have now, but the data apply. A matter of roentgens. When I think how carefully we used to test every apparently harmless drug before we released it for general use...This time man is his own guinea pig."
Captain Baldwin met us at the door of Frisky's room. "She hasn't spoken once. She sleeps most of the time, but even when she's awake, she keeps her face turned away from me. She hasn't eaten anything."
We went into the room. She was asleep now.
"Is it the stuff you gave her?" Baldwin asked the doctor.
"Perhaps. Don't try to wake her. She needs rest, and so do you. Why don't you let Eric Linden or Mrs. Cobbett take your place for a while?"
"I'm not tired."
I looked at him and knew he would never leave her, any more than I would leave Bill.
"At least she's resting," I said. "Maybe she'll be better tomorrow."
"Better?" His look made me ashamed of my clumsy effort to console him. "She's still breathing, but she's already dead. She died the night Jean died."
"I'm running out of sleeping pills," said the doctor. "But I can spare you a couple for tonight."
"I don't want none," said Baldwin. "I might sleep too sound and not hear her if she calls."
"Take them anyway. You'll want them later."
Baldwin shook his head. "I don't hold with them things. I've got a bottle of rum stashed away at your house. If I get to a point where I gotta have something, I'll take that. But what about her?"
"Sleeping pills won't do her any good now."
"Okay. Then let Bill Cobbett have my share."
Eric was waiting for us in the living room.
"Doctor, how many are there still alive on the island?"
"You and me, the Cobbetts, Captain Baldwin and Mrs. Kane."
"Of those six, two are going soon: Bill Cobbett and Mrs. Kane."
"Both from radiation?"
"No. Mrs. Kane is dying of shock. It's rare, but it does happen and it doesn't have to be surgical shock. It can be moral. We now suspect that shock releases certain toxins in the bloodstream or the brain that can bring unconsciousness and even death. Nature's own anesthetic for the unbearable."
"Why are we four unscathed so far? You and I, Lois and Baldwin?"
"Any attack on an organism seeks out its weakest points. We don't all have the same number of weaknesses, so people vary in their reactions to any biological attack."
"By how much? How long do we have?"
"You were with the A.E.C. once. Aren't you familiar with the Japanese records?"
"Yes, but all that was a long time ago. Just suppose these bombs are something entirely new with a much higher level of radiation?"
"Possible, I suppose," said the doctor. "But Japan is all we have to go by and in Japan there were a few curious cases where the symptoms like Bill Cobbett's did not appear until eight years after exposure."
"Eight years." Eric was stunned. "You mean that you and I and Baldwin and Lois might live for eight more years after everyone else was dead?"
"It's most unlikely. These bombs were so much bigger than those. Besides I doubt if we could find enough food that was not radioactive."
"I couldn't stand eight years of this," said Eric. "I couldn't stand one year of it."
The doctor was unimpressed. "It's amazing what people can stand, if they have to. In most individuals, the instinct of self-preservation is pretty strong. I can't say the same for most nations." He took a small bottle out of his bag.
"These are the last of the sleeping pills. There are nine left. Baldwin refused his share. He prefers rum. I think I agree with him. I've just remembered. Stallings gave me two bottles of brandy before he died. That will take care of me."
"I thought you weren't supposed to drink?" said Eric.
The doctor laughed. "When I think of all the drinks I've gone without ever since they discovered I had a bad heart, I...never mind. Since there are just nine sleeping pills left and Baldwin and I don't want any, they can be divided three waysyou two and Bill Cobbett get three each. Here, I'll put them in three separate envelopes. If I were you, I'd save most of them until you really need them, but Bill should have one of his tonight, if he can keep it down. He won't sleep unless he does."
"What is the usual dose?"
"One every six hours, and never more than four in twenty-four hours. This is the same stuff I gave Sally." A thought came to Joel. "Would either of you rather have brandy?" I shook my head.
Eric said: "I never was a heavy drinker. But I don't feel happy about your not having any sleeping pills for yourself."
"Don't worry about that. I'd rather have brandy. I don't have any obvious radiation symptoms yet but I feel weak. If I get any weaker, I won't be able to get up that path again."
"Doctor," I said, "Bill is in such pain. Can't he have one tablet now?"
"I'll have to leave that to your judgment. You and Bill between you have only six and there aren't any more."
"Oh, yes, there are!" said Eric. "Lois, if you need more for Bill you can have mine."
"Well, settle it between you." The doctor waved a hand to us and went out the kitchen door.
Eric came back into Bill's bedroom with me to see how Bill was. He wasn't smoking any more. He was hot and restless and tormented. I knew he had a high fever and a great deal of pain. I made my decision then.
"The doctor left some sleeping pills for you." I didn't tell Bill they were the last. "You'll feel better if you sleep a little."
"If only I can keep it down..."
I gave him one pill with a little water and put the other five beside his pillow.
"Don't leave them there," he said. "I might be tempted and I don't want to be. I don't want to miss any of my last moments with you."
So I put the pills in my bag and put it on the mantelpiece in the living room.
When I came back to the bedroom Bill seemed quieter. His eyes were closed. I started to leave the room, but Bill spoke without opening his eyes. "Don't go."
"What are you thinking about?" I asked him.
"Us...Everything." He took my right hand and kissed the palm and folded the fingers over it. "Hold that kiss tight for a little and it will always be there, long after I am gone. You know the thing I wanted most for you and me? A happy old age together, with grandchildren."
I sat quietly holding the kiss in my clenched fist. He went on: "Do you think much about Eunice now?"
"Yes. Before she was born I thought only of the fun of being a mother. I had no idea of the unending anxiety. I didn't know that every mother is a mater dolorosa for to care so much for another is to say goodbye to peace forever. Long ago when she was a baby I used to think I would die or kill myself if anything happened to her."
"I'm more grown up. No matter what has happened, no matter what is going to happen, I am grateful just to have known the joy of loving for eighteen years. I shall love her always, darling, as I shall love you always."
"Always? That's a funny word now. You mean, of course, for the next few days."
I was quiet hoping that he would go to sleep, I didn't feel ill. I didn't feel any pain. But I did feel as if I had passed into another state of consciousness where every thought was abnormally clear and bright just as sensations sometimes appear in moments of physical danger. I was hardly aware of my body now but I was acutely aware of my mind.
I seemed to move by sheer will power, unsupported by physical force and what there was of my body felt light and immaterial as if it were almost able to float without touching the ground as bodies do in dreams sometimes.
Bill shifted his position. "Where's Eric?"
"You want him?"
"I'm too weak to talk, but I wish you two would stay near me and talk to each other. I'll listen. I don't like this silence. I want to hear the sound of human voices."
Eric and I looked at each other. What can you talk about when there is no tomorrow? What can you say in a grammar that has lost its future tense? All the things we usually talked about were cross-sections of the space-time continuum that was now abolished. Politics without a future is unimaginable. Art that has come suddenly to a dead end has lost its savor. At least half normal conversation had always been concerned with the personal futureplans for next winter, plans for Eunice and Tommy when they left college, plans for next winter when we would be home again. Now all these things were gone. We could not go forward and there was no way back. The past had always been inaccessible except in memories or dreams. Now the future was inaccessible, too, except in dreams. There was only now a now that had become a prison. Man's freewill dies when his future dies. Without the illusion of freewill, life has no meaning.
"Lois," said Eric at last. "Would it help at all if I gave you my word now that I was never a communist?"
"I never thought you were."
"But Bill did, didn't he?"
"Bill was upset because you didn't fight the accusation. What happened?"
"I never wanted to talk about it before," said Eric. "But now I do. Let's see if I can put it into words that will make you really understand how it was.
"Bill's job with the A.E.C. was just administrative. He didn't know too much about what we were doing in the labs, but I did. If Bill had resigned a lot of men could have taken his place, but I was almost irreplaceable. Though I am such an ordinary man in every other way, I do have this flair for mathematics that is unusual, the way some children are precocious as chess players and nothing else. I was in a position to know just what we were doing and I believed then that it might destroy the whole human race. Others who knew the facts didn't believe that so. In one sense, they were more innocent than I. They didn't know any better. I did. I knew damned well I carried death in my pocket.
"So I was guilty as long as I went on doing what I was doing. After all I wasn't just a univac. I was a man who could evaluate the results of his calculations for himself and other men. I came to hate the fertility of my own mind. I began to get glimmerings of new possibilitiesinventions more hideous than any we have seen yet. Theoretically my duty to the government was to pursue these glimmerings and make them real, but didn't I have a higher duty to mankind?
"My conscience bothered me for a long time but the feather that tipped the scale was the government press releases about the maximum permissible dosage of radiation, as if any dosage at all were not potentially dangerous to the human body and its genes. I found the layman was thinking in terms of radiation as he thought of certain drugsa small amount is medicinal, a large amount is poisonous. But that isn't true. All radiation is bad, even a small amount. The very phrase 'maximum permissible dosage' had lulled him into a false security. Another thing that bothered me was the fact that just about the time they found children were getting more strontium 90 than had been expected, they raised the maximum permissible dose. That may have been coincidence, of course, but it certainly made the statistics look better just as your check book looks richer if you're writing checks in a highly inflated currency.
"I wanted to get out and I didn't know how. They wouldn't want to let me go with all those secrets in my brain. If I resigned I couldn't plead ill health or the offer of a job with higher pay. They would soon find out that no other job had been offered to me and if I went out to look for one I doubt if I could have found one with higher pay that didn't involve a firm working on something similar. A medical check-up would prove I was lying if I said I was ill.
"But if I told them the truth, that I feared and hated nuclear war, they would almost certainly accuse me of communist sympathies and I realized that I like everyone else could never prove a negative against such a charge. Should I make a martyr of myself, risk my living, my reputation and the future of my family? Could I make my sudden resignation from government service spectacular? Something that would draw public attention to what was going on?
"Or should I go on as I was, doing what I believed was not only wrong but dangerous to all of us?
"I am not proud of what happened, Lois. I was not strong, and I did what so many human beings have done in so many dilemmasI drifted. I followed the line of least resistance and went on with my job. But I made one feeble gesture to placate my conscience. I did draw up a memo outlining what I believed to be the dangers inherent in our work and I sent copies to various people I knew in government at what Washington loves to call 'the policymaking level.'
"That did it. Well do I remember the day they came to my office to question me in spite of all the other security checks that I had passed to get where I was. They said nothing about the memo, but I knew instantly that it had triggered the new investigation. My first impulse was to defend myselfnaturally. But my second impulse was to keep my mouth shut. I reasoned this way:
"God or fate has taken the decision out of your hands. This is your escape hatch. This is an answer to your prayer. Since you are innocent they won't be able to prove anything against you and you'll be able to get a job elsewhere, probably as a teacher. As long as your defense against this charge is weak enough they will have too many doubts of you to keep you in this sensitive job and so they'll have to let you go. You'll be free. You'll be out of it. If the world goes up in flames, it won't be you who lit the match. That at least is something. But if you defend yourself vigorously they just might keep you on and then you'd be back where you started.
"Of course I was sorry to lose the intellectual satisfaction of research at such a high level. I knew I would be cut off from most of the later developments in nuclear physics after I lost my Q clearance. But I thought that price small enough for a free conscience. Do you understand, Lois? Do you believe me?"
"Of course I believe you. It sounds exactly like you."
"My successor was a German, who had worked for the Nazi government, a man who was not bred to associate war with guilt, a man who could witness the devastation of his own country the last time and then joyfully devote his scientific gifts to preparing for an even worse holocaust.
"I have a theory that a scientist is peculiarly ill-equipped to meet a moral dilemma. Most people don't realize that science, by its very nature, has no room for the moral or the aesthetic which are not susceptible to evaluation by the experimental method. Therefore, for science, they do not exist.
"Do you remember a book that came out in the twenties or thirties called Kamongo? It was a dialogue between a clergyman and a biologist about evolution. At one point the clergyman says that something in natureI forget what, a flower, a sunset, a bird's plumageanyway that this thing, whatever it was, was beautiful. For the first and only time in the debate the biologist shows real heat. He says something like this, quoting it from memory: 'Nothing is beautiful in nature. Everything is harsh and cruel and the very word beautiful is sentimental nonsense applied to anything in nature.'
"Many scientists feel that way, for how can they accept the premises of either morals or aesthetics when none of them can be proved experimentally?
"That is why I think any culture dominated by science tends to be inaesthetic and immoral. Science has no conscience. It's neither good nor bad. It's neutral like all tools. It can be put to good uses or bad uses, but the choice of the uses to which it is put cannot be made scientifically for that choice must be governed by the unscientific values of morals and aesthetics."
"That sounds strange coming from a scientist."
"Not all individual scientists are unaware of morals and aesthetics." Eric sighed. "At a time like this, I wish I did not know quite so much. You and Bill cannot visualize what is happening in your bodies now. But I can visualize what is happening in mine. I've been ionized."
"What do you mean?"
"In the atoms of my body radiation particles are knocking orbital electrons out of orbit, and leaving behind a charged atom called an ion, causing heat and chemical changes in more and more of my atoms and molecules, as the biological chain-reaction spreads. The electrons knocked out of orbit act like secondary radiation particles. If the orbital electron is not hit hard enough to be knocked out of orbit, the radiation particle remains in what we call the 'excited' atom and does a lot of damage that way.
"Think of the atom as a tiny solar system and of the radiation particle as a comet hitting one of the outer planers with a force that eventually wrecks the whole solar system. Only this is all on such a fantastically minute scale that it is hard to realize that it can cause the death of a human being. A bit of matter the size of a pinhead contains one hundred billion billion atoms, but to an electron this bit of matter would appear mostly open space with the atoms far apart from one another. Perhaps from an electron's point of view, inter-atomic space would seem as vast as inter-galactic space seems to us. To these solar systems, galaxies and universes of your bodyyour atoms, molecules and cellsyour life and mind is the unifying principleyou are God.
"Consider an electron passing down a cylinder one thousandth of an inch in diameter and filled with water. The five million volt electron would travel only one inch before stopping. Yet it would have collided with about one hundred thousand atoms. A lot? No. Only one out of every ten thousand billion atoms present in the cylinder. But our bodies are not being bombarded by only one radiation particle at a time. We are now being bombarded by untold billions simultaneously."
Bill was asleep. Eric whispered: "You must eat."
I whispered back. "I'm not hungry."
"Please, Lois. I'll bring you something. Out of a can, of course. Soup?"
I nodded. I had no appetite but I suddenly realized that I hadn't eaten all day. The only things I could think of that would be at all palatable were a glass of cold milk and a bowl of hot oatmeal with lots of thick, cold cream. For a moment my imagination pictured the look and taste and smell of such a meal with an insanely perverted vividness, just because I couldn't have it.
Eric brought me a cup of black bean soup made without watera hot, thick paste. I ate a few spoonfuls but as soon as the raw edge of hunger was blunted, my stomach revolted. My body had wanted this food, but my mind did not want it at all and that is a conflict that makes digestion difficult. As another doctor had said to me, long ago, in France: "You digest with your brain."
Eric took the half empty cup away. "Why don't you rest? I'll stay with Bill."
I shook my head. "I'm not going to leave Bill for a moment. But you must rest and, when you've rested, you might see if there's anything you can do for Captain Baldwin."
Eric left the room and I was alone with Bill. As I sat there, it seemed to me as if this were not Bill at all. He had always been so full of gaiety and courage. This tortured thing with a swollen, suppurating face was a stranger, but it was all I had left, so I held the hot hand in mine, hoping that in some way wordless love could reach the real Bill who was so far away.
After a long time, he stirred. "Lois."
"Could I have another sleeping pill now? I'm in pain."
"Of course. It's been five hours since you had the first one. But...there aren't a great many left. Wouldn't it be wiser to make them last as long as possible?"
"I'll wait a little while."
After twenty minutes, he said: "Lois, I can't wait any longer."
I gave him another pill. "That's two I've had." The words came with difficulty from his puffy lips. "How many are left?"
I couldn't lie to Bill. "Seven."
His eyes opened but they didn't focus. "What about the rest of you?"
"We're all well. We don't need any."
"But you may need them later." His eyes closed, his brow furrowed. "You and Eric and Baldwin and Frisky and the doctor. Five people. I won't take any more." I had to lie then. "There are seven of yours left. We've each got nine. Do you feel any better?"
"My eyes hurt. II'm afraid I'm going blind."
"I'll go for the doctor."
"What can he do? Stay with me. I need you. And I need Eunice. Where is she?"
"Bill, you know she is in France."
He answered in a stranger's voice: "Are you crazy? A child of four in France without her parents? Besides I heard her voice a moment ago. She's outside playing with Tommy Linden. I heard his voice, too. Better remind them about not climbing the apple tree. It's too close to the gate. Cars come so fast along this road. If Eunice or Tommy fell from a branch into the road in front of a car...You will tell them, won't you?"
"We're more careful than some parents I know. I can't imagine why the Lindens let Tommy ride a bicycle on a road like this when he is only six. Sally says there are only four or five cars a day that go by but I told her that just one car is enough and then it's all over."
"Bill, are your eyes better?"
"No. They're worse. You'd better call Dr. Blount."
"Darling Bill, Dr. Blount has been dead for fifteen years."
"Don't be silly, Lois. He just came into the room. I can see him now standing over there. I guess my eyes are getting better."
He slept again, more deeply this time, and for a longer period, but he never let go of my hand and I never stirred.
Eric opened the bedroom door and beckoned to me. Very gently I disengaged my hand from Bill's and he did not wake. Baldwin was outside in the living room.
"She's dead. She went in her sleep. I never had a chance to talk to her."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"I brought something for you." He handed me a manila envelope. "Something I been keeping for Jean when she got older. I couldn't let Frisky have it while Jean was alive.
She wouldn't have kept it for Jean. Now I don't care who has it. Maybe you can use it some day."
"You look as if you had a fever," I said.
"I know I have. I don't feel good. I'm going down to the doctor's house and have some of that rum."
"I'm going too," I said. "I want to ask the doctor if there's anything he can do for Bill's eyes. Eric, take care of Bill while I'm gone. He's asleep now. He had a pill at twoso he shouldn't have another till eight o'clock. They're in my bag on the mantelpiece in the living room."
"Don't worry. I'll take care of him."
The walk to the doctor's front door was lined with rose bushes. Now perversely and inexplicably, a rose had bloomed out of season.
I pushed aside the ugly thought of mutation. It seemed a perfect bud, half unfurled, deep red, silken to the touch. For me there was a lifetime of memories in its sweet, dark fragrance.
Bill had always loved red roses. I plucked it before I went inside.
The doctor was in his living room, but he was not asleep this time. There was a drift of newspapers around him. A half empty bottle of brandy was on the floor beside him.
He had a glass in his hand and he was smoking a cigar. His face was red, his eyes bright. He had pulled away some of the sandbags from his big, rear window so he could see his view of meadows and harbor once again.
He waved at the bottle. "May I tempt you?"
I shook my head. "But I would like this rose for Bill."
"Of course. Just let me hold it for a moment and take a good look at it. A really good look. We shan't see anything like it again." He laughed. "The last rose of the last summer."
Baldwin went off to look for his rum and I said: "Doctor, Bill thinks he's going blind and his eyes hurt. Is there anything you can do? Anything at all?"
He looked at me and. for a moment he looked almost sober.
"Do you think for one moment I would have allowed myself to get drunk as a fiddler's bitch this evening if there were still one thing I could do for anybody?"
"Then there's nothing?"
I sat down because I couldn't stand up any longer.
"Take a little brandy," he said. "It won't hurt. It may help."
"I can't swallow."
"Then rest a minute before you go back. You'll need your strength for tonight."
There wasn't anything to say.
But there was a lot to think about.
Everything that had beeneverything that might have been and that now would never be.
How small the world is for each of us! My own world had been Bill and Eunice. I had lost one already. I was losing the other now. Nothing else really mattered to me.
The doctor looked at me. "When a gambler doesn't care whether he wins or loses, he usually wins. You and I don't really care what happens to us now so...we'll probably survive longer than anyone else."
He began pulling away more sandbags from the window. "Did you ever see a more beautiful day? A perfect August day, warm but not hot. Bright and cool and sad, because the coolness hints at autumn waiting in the wings for her cue. Not a leaf has turned, but, suddenly we know the green cannot last. I can almost see summer as a woman deliberately making herself as lovely as possible so that we will miss her when she has gone. I see her hesitate as she turns away from us. Now she's looking back over her shoulder with a smile and whispering 'Make the most of these last days with me...'"
Baldwin came back with his rum and offered me a drink. I shook my head again and he poured one for himself. "Funny thing; we've had good weather all this summer. One sunny day after another and just enough rain to keep things green."
The doctor poured another drink for himself. "Time is the great deceiver. The Garden of Eden story was not history, but prophecy. This was Eden and we didn't know it. The atomic cloud is the angel with the flaming sword that will keep us out forever more. And the knowledge of good and evil was our downfall. We knew the difference and yet we chose evil.
"It's fun reading old newspapers now. I found these in an old trunk. They'd been used to wrap up glass and china I wasn't using. Listen to this: In the New York Times for June, 1959. Metropolitan Life statisticians blithely inform us that:
"'Children born in 1959 in the United States have excellent chances of living through the first quarter of the twenty-first century.' It's amusing and instructive to correlate that with another story in the Times for June 1959. Dr. Wernher von Braun, tells the world that it would be an almost hopeless task to protect the entire nation against attack from ballistic missiles. The cost of maintaining a widespread, protective umbrella would be prohibitive and defenses would have to be restricted to strategic areas. In other words: Billions for nuclear bombs and not one cent for Civil Defense."
Through the broken window I could see the doctor's cow in the meadow beyond, cropping clover. The setting sun shone through the leaves of willows beside a brook, dappling the cow's brown hide with little dots of gold, and freckles of shadow that quivered whenever the wind moved the leaves. The cow's bell tinkled as she took a leisurely step to a new grazing spot. The scene had been painted a hundred times in the nineties with some such caption as Summer Peace or Pastoral Harmony. Now...
My gross eyes could detect no outward sign of the sly, secret rot that was gnawing away at the infinitely small foundations of life, but I knew that the rot was there, in the cow herself and in her milk, in the grass she ate, in the earth where it was rooted, in the very air on which they both depended. Nothing had changed and everything had changed.
I found I was examining every detail of the scene as if I wanted to impress this illusion of healthy life on my memory foreverthe deeper green of the grass in shadow, the shrill, translucent green of leaves when the sun's rays shone directly through them, the cow's familiar shape that seemed suddenly unfamiliar and worth notingthe level backbone, from which all the rest hung, like a long, loose sack, except for the crescent-horned head and incongruously dainty legs and hooves. It was only because I was paying so much attention to detail that I noticed one slight change in the accustomed picture. The cow was not swishing her tail.
After a moment I said: "What has happened to the flies?"
"I don't know. The smaller organisms were supposed to be less susceptible to radiation than we are."
"Years ago a biologist told me he thought the virus would be the last form of life on earth. He said it alone could survive cataclysmic extremes of temperature that would kill everything else."
"He didn't foresee radiation. The world may soon become as clinically sterile as a well-kept operating theatre. No more strep throats, no more flu, no more T.B. or syphilis. Maybe no more cancer, if cancer is a virus."
"Isn't it possible that life itself will go on in some mutated form? Wasn't there a wild theory at one time that each species came originally from mutations caused by natural radiation?"
"I suppose it's possible that natural radiation may have given matter its first kick from inorganic to simple, unicellular organisms. But natural radiation is a tiny fraction of what we've got now. No unicellular organism can survive this. As for the multicellular organisms like uswe are the products of an infinitely patient evolution far more delicate and intricate in design than, say, a TV set, and you can't make random changes in a complex mechanism and still expect it to function. What sort of picture would you get on a TV screen if the electrical connections behind it were made at random? All the little mutations we have known in the past have weakened both the individual and the species. Human mutants survived at all only because they were protected by a highly organized society. But even society could not protect the gross mutations of massive radiation, though most of them would abort in the womb."
"Why did we let this happen?"
"There is just one reason why a species becomes extinct: failure to adapt. Our Stone Age souls could not adapt to the God-like powers of atomic fission and fusion. Our collective reaction-time to new ideas was too slow for survival. After the I.C.B.M. our choice was narrowed down to peace or suicide. But we were like a motorist whose reflexes won't let him step on the brake fast enough to save his life. We went on planning policies as if a war for survival was still physically practical. It wasn't. Our slow minds just couldn't keep up with our runaway technology. We were still thinking in terms of manned bomber strategy and using buildings for air raid shelters that couldn't have stood up to the baby bombs of World War II, when the I.C.B.M. and the atomic submarine cut down any possible warning. of annihilation to fifteen minutes. Yet we went right on through sheer psychological momentum as if nothing had changed. We told the world that for several years we would be at the mercy of our enemies because we hadn't any I.C.B.M.'s and they did and then we proceeded to quarrel with them as if we were invulnerable. How can a government be so irresponsible as to carry on a reckless foreign policy that risks war every day when it has provided no protection for its civilian population whatever? As late as fourteen years after Hiroshima, Civil Defense was still in the planning stage."
"But why?" I insisted. "Why did we let things get to this point of no return?"
"There were a lot of reasons. For one thing we had no imagination. Man cannot believe what he cannot imagine. An individual cannot imagine his own extinction, so he behaves throughout life as if he were immortal, putting the futility of everything a mortal does firmly out of his mind. That's a built-in, psychological mechanismautomatic amnesia for the unbearable. Now we know that man collectively cannot imagine the extinction of his own species, so he will do anything, politically or economically, to bring about his own extinction with imbecile faith that somehow, at the last moment, all will be saved by some fluke or gimmick, the happy ending of popular fiction that has done so much to blunt the edge of our intellectual honesty. A lot of us really believed that nothing irrevocably bad ever happens to those who mean well. Not in the cosy, jolly, banal universe our vulgarization of science has made for us, the Saturday Evening Post universe where there are no unanswered riddles, no awe or mystery.
"Another factor was the traumatic experience of a rapidly changing world of ideas, even more disturbing to man than a rapidly changing world of technology. Winston Churchill was surprised to find that men risked their lives so heroically in the slaughter-trenches of World War I when, as he said, they were the first generation of Western soldiers without a belief in personal immortality. But I think the loss of that belief has made life less valuable to us rather than more so, because it makes experience meaningless, a comedy rather than a tragedy. Today Western man shows an accelerating contempt for life that is alien to his tradition. The cars we drove could kill us at twenty-five miles per hour. Engineers at Cornell designed a car that could not kill or even injure at fifty miles per hour, but we continued to drive the glittering death-traps Detroit sent us as if we just didn't care and we even tried to rationalize war by saying 'Think of all the people killed in peacetime on the highway!' as if one form of murder justified another.
"Another important factor was fear. As A. E. Coppard once said: 'Jesus Mary, what a thing is fear! Bolts, bars, locks, chains, walls, wardens, warnings, police, barracks, guns, ships, bombs, a million things to placate that demon!' Gilbert Murray said that the Greco-Roman world collapsed through a failure of nerve. So did ours. We were so paranoically afraid of communism, and fear destroys reason as well as courage. We couldn't think straight. We were like a man running away from a mad dog who plunges over a precipice to his death. If we had devoted half the time, thought, energy and money to fearing and fighting nuclear war that we devoted to fearing and fighting communism this could not have happened.
"All man's instincts are wild animals that have to be domesticated if they are to serve him in a social context. We cannot live without fear and the fighting instinct, Just as we cannot live without the procreative instinct. But these impulses must not run wild. Man can stand just so much fear. Then the most dangerous thing in the world happens: he becomes blase. Once we were more bored than frightened we were really doomed.
"You see we had lived too long with our crisis to realize it. For years we had been scanning headlines every morning like a man in the death house waiting for a stay of execution. Will Russia veto America's proposal? Will America reject Russia's proposal? How much fall-out can the human race stand? Can a nation survive a hundred million casualties? Tune in tomorrow for another thrilling installment of this exciting arms race and now a word from our sponsor. This programme comes to you by courtesy of the A.E.C. Exterminating Company of Washington, D.C. Are you plagued by too many human beings cluttering up the earth? Just pick up the phone, day or night, and call our twenty-four-hour service. Popular pricesonly a few billions a yearand results guaranteed.
"Lois, our generals and politicians were not intellectually or morally equipped to deal with such an apocalyptic threat. Only a Gandhi or a Schweitzer could have saved us. All traditional diplomacy and strategy and politics and the very concept of the sovereign nation-state itself became obsolete when the first nuclear bomb was exploded, but the leaders in every nation did not have enough intelligence to understand this.
"In the fifties you often heard people say: 'Just suppose a nuclear war started by accident!' and, for all we'll ever know, it did. That's unimportant. The strange thing is that so many of those people did not realize that a nuclear accident was statistically inevitable. On national holidays if there are so many cars on so many roads for so many hours going at such speeds a certain number of accidents can be predicted statistically. In the same way if so many Russian and American bombers and pilots practise so many alerts in the air armed with so many nuclear weapons for so many years a certain number of nuclear accidents become statistically inevitable and any one of them can start a global war. The Air Force phrase for a SAC drill, 'fail-safe' does not make sense to a statistician or a psychologist."
"But lookit here, doc," said Baldwin. "Weren't all them drills and bombs just to scare the enemy and keep him from doin' what he finally done?"
"If the real purpose of stockpiling nuclear weapons was deterrence, why the secrecy? The best way to prevent nuclear war was to advertise its true nature as widely as possible. Movies should have been shown of every nuclear test explosion and every radiation sickness victim, the way the Army used to show movies of syphilitic patients to new recruits before antibiotics, and these movies should have been shown on TV every day throughout the world.
"But exactly the opposite was done. The greater part of the information about the effect of blast and burn and radiation sickness was hidden not only from the enemy but from our own people. Why? It's logical enough that the methods of making and delivering bombs should be kept a secret, but why should the effect of bombs on cities and human bodies be a military secret? Could it be that some people feared, if the facts were known, the voters would be inalterably opposed to nuclear war for any reason? Was this the reason some political leaders referred to the difficulty of 'preparing the American people psychologically for nuclear war'?
"It is really extraordinary that the ideal of patriotism still has such religious power over the minds of men when religion itself is so much more lightly regarded. Men don't die or sacrifice their children for religion now but they do for patriotism. Yet historically patriotism is nothing but a fossil of the worship of ancient priest-kings. It has no other origin or function. When an Englishman said that there could be no patriots in a country where there was no loyalty to a king, Edward Everett Hale wrote The Man Without A Country to refute him. But the Englishman was the more logical for what does the word 'patriotism' mean when it doesn't mean loyalty to a king?
"Loyalty to the people? We have let them all be killed. Loyalty to the land? We have let it be burned and poisoned so it cannot be farmed for a generation. Loyalty to the government? But the government exists solely for the purpose of protecting the land and the people, not for annihilating both in what is paradoxically called 'their defense.' Whose defense, if we are all dead or dying now?
"Is our loyalty engaged by words like democracy? At this moment I feel that democracy did not function efficiently during the nuclear crisis. Perhaps when you give power to the unorganized many it is too easily stolen from them by the organized few and the many are too big and too fluid and too easily a prey to cunning propaganda to get power back before it is too late. When a continent can be wiped out in fifteen minutes, you can't afford to fool all the people some of the time. I doubt if the majority of the American people wanted nuclear war, but they got it because power was frozen in the hands of a few and those icy fingers could not be pried loose before it was too late.
"They used three devices to emasculate democracy. First, they classified all pertinent information as military top secret. Second, they initiated a bi-partisan foreign policy so that presidential elections became personal popularity contests instead of opportunities to vote on the issue of life or death. Third, they intimidated pacifists by equating them with communists and traitors and so muzzled dissenting opinion. Hitler didn't know it, but he didn't really need the Gestapo and the concentration camps and the knock on the door in the middle of the night. Democracy can be eliminated far more quietly and painlessly so that the patient is hardly conscious of the operation.
"In one sense, nuclear weapons killed democracy before they killed us. There were those who would have led us into nuclear war immediately after World War II if they had dared. But they knew that the American people would not support another war so soon. So they invented the cold war as a compromise, hoping that it would lead to a hot war after we had had a little time to forget World War II. On the surface the cold war seemed like a nuclear Maginot Line, and psychologically it was, but economically it was nothing but our old friend, the arms race, under a new name and everyone knows that the arms race, that curse of industrial societies, always leads to war.
"Who were 'they'? Not necessarily generals. Omar Bradley was one of the first to warn us against our 'electronic house of cards.' Not necessarily big business men. Many of them listened more tolerantly to Mikoyan in the middle west than politicians and newspaper men did. I think 'they' were simply people who were unrealistic enough to fear Russia or communism or both more than they feared nuclear war and who happened to be in positions of power where their fears could mould policy.
"This was the mentality that said: 'I'll take my chances with strontium 90you can't trust those Russians!' As if any social organization were based on trust rather than a carefully cantilevered balance of mutual interests. This same mentality was so panic-stricken it took comfort from the idea that our defensive devices, like Borgia poison rings, would still be killing our enemies after we were all dead ourselves, though killing after you are dead can hardly be called killing in self-defense.
"On both sides there was the same formula, the simple balance of terror: make bigger and better bombs each year and convince the enemy that you are willing to use them. Neither side allowed for the psychological effect of prolonged fear on both. Man is never more foolish or more dangerous than when he is frightened.
"For the first time in history man had to choose between treason to the legal fiction of the sovereign nation-state or treason to life itself and apparently he made the wrong choice.
"Dr. Johnson shocked people when he said 'Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels', but for our times it is an understatement. In a nuclear world any man who calls himself a patriot should be clapped in an insane asylum before he has a chance to wreck the world."
"Maybe all that's true, doc," said Baldwin. "But I don't think our politicians was dishonest. I think they was trying to do their duty as they seen it."
"Perhaps we would have been better off with dishonest leaders who know the value of compromise," answered the doctor. "Man has not climbed the long, slow, rugged path from simian to human by being honest. He climbed because he was adaptable and adaptability is compromise. It is a far more honest appraisal of reality than the fidelity to purely verbal forms that we mean when we use the word 'honest' today.
"For what are principles? Words. And every word means something a little different to every person. A word is like a coin or a tool or an instrumentgood or evil according to the nature of the man who uses it. But a word itself is quite neutral and worthless. To sacrifice life for a word is madness. Any other animal would have more sense."
"A lotta men have died in a lotta wars for words like 'loyalty' and 'duty'," said Baldwin.
"Including my son," said the doctor.
"I didn't know you had a son!" I was surprised.
"Oh, I had a very distinguished son. He got a medal. Posthumously. He was one of the first Americans killed in Korea a long time ago. It was announced as 'wounded in action', but two days later they corrected the casualty list and said, in effect : 'Sorry, we goofed. That should have been "killed in action." And that killed his mother. I've been alone ever since. Nobody but me remembers him now or even knows that he ever existed."
It was twilight when I walked back, almost night when I reached our cottage.
Eric was sitting alone in the living room. I stopped to speak to him, when I heard Bill's voice calling.
I ran into the bedroom, dropping the rose I had brought him. Bill was moving uneasily from side to side, his eyes closed. "Lois! Where were you? I've been calling for some time."
"But Eric was here."
"He didn't come when I called. I'm in such pain. My eyes...I've got to have another sleeping pill. Please."
"Did Eric give you any?"
"No. I only woke up a little while ago. I've been calling ever since. Can't I have another pill?"
"Of course you can. It's after eight now." I ran into the living room, took my bag from the mantelpiece and opened it. The pills were gone.
Bill called again. "Lois! Hurry! I can't stand it!"
"Yes, darling, just a moment."
Eric was still sitting in his chair. All Bill's shouting had not roused him. He was asleep.
I shook him by the shoulder, hard. His head swiveled from side to side. His eyelids lifted and he recognized me. His eyes were strange.
"Eric, where are the pills I left in my bag for Bill?"
His eyes closed.
I shook him again, harder than before. "You stole them, didn't you? I had four left. The doctor gave you three. Seven all together. You rememberedanything over four in twenty-four hours is the lethal dose. Is there one left? Or did you take them all?"
My words reached him. His heavy lids lifted again. "All. It was so tempting...like a sexual temptation. The promise of a soft death. Not a death like Bill's. I'm sorry, Lois. I'm not a brave man. I never was a very brave man."
"But you went to Sutton alone!"
"That was different. There was hope then. But now...Despair, like science, has no conscience."
The Last Day
Bill died in my arms a few minutes after one next morning. Though I had known that this would happen, I had never really believed it. At first I thought I would never sleep again, but after a while I did lie down and soon I fell into the sodden, unrestful sleep of emotional exhaustion.
It was still dark when I woke. I went out on the porch. The moon painted its immemorial path of light across the dark water tipping the edge of each wave with silver. I looked at her, the White Goddess whom men had worshipped long ago because she waxed and waned with the tides of the sea and the flow of menstrual blood. Some said her three phases were the first symbol of the idea of the Trinity found in so many religions. For millennia she had watched us climb slowly and painfully out of the dust. Now she would see us sink back again and she would go on bathing the desert world in her bland light long after we had gone.
The stars winked like the lights of a distant city. Beacons of other inhabited worlds? Or just the fiery play of senseless force? Now we would never know. The Milky Way was an arch of glittering dust, each mote a sun in our galaxy, and, though it looked so motionless, I knew that it was supposed to have made five complete revolutions in the last nine billion years.
For a long time I sat looking at the meaningless beauty of the dying world and at last the sky paled and turned peach color in the east and the sun rose in all its ancient splendor and blessed the earth once more with warmth.
I sat passively basking in the warmth and brightness as an animal does, listening to the song of the wind without a thought for past or future, deliberately closing my mind to reality. But stealthily, irresistibly, awareness began to seep through the cracks of my shattered consciousness, unwelcome awareness of the inalterable past and the intolerable future. If only I were an animal, forced to live within the shallowest dimensions of time, how much easier it would have been. I didn't want to think. Unfortunately activity was the only thing that could keep me from thinking, now I was fully awake, but what activity? What was there to do? I felt empty and hollow, the dry shell of all that I had ever been.
After a while I went into the kitchen and made coffee without any realization of what I was doing, the way you drive a car over a familiar road when you are thinking of something else, only I wasn't thinking of something else. I wasn't thinking at all.
My glance lingered on the kitchen floor. I was aware of something unnatural about it, something missing that should have been there and was not. I stood quite still staring at the linoleum, cream-color with a pattern of marble veins. That was all. I took a step towards the sink and the sugar Bill had spilled that first day was gritty under my feet. Then I knew what was missing. Ants.
A few days ago it would have been impossible to spill sugar on that kitchen floor and leave it there overnight without finding a column of minute, busy sugar-ants, carrying it off to their nest grain by grain. But now there were no ants anywhere at all.
The earth was like a sinking ship. One by one the crew and the passengers and even the stowaways were deserting.
Suddenly I remembered my craving for oatmeal and cream. Why not? I had always hated canned food. The few cans left would soon be gone anyway. There was no reason for being careful now.
I found some cream in the refrigerator. It was warm but thick and smooth. I made hot oatmeal. I ate, ashamed of the small, brute pleasure I could still get from a sensation as primordial as taste.
I went back into the living room still disfigured by broken windows and sandbags and tin cans, opened and unopened. Never again would it be a tidy room. Never again would Bill make it untidy by throwing his hat on a chair and draping his necktie over a lampshade.
The manila envelope Captain Baldwin had given me was on the floor. I opened it. There was about six thousand dollars in federal bonds, thick, crisp, rich-feeling paper, the seal of the United States with the great eagle, words finely engraved: The Government of the United States of America agrees to pay on demand...one thousand dollars in the currency of the United States...
But there was no currency and there was no government and there was no United States. It had become The Country Without A Man and this fancy made me laugh aloud though none could hear me. The paper I held in my hand was the fruit of a lifetime of hard work and frugality but, like everything else, it had lost all meaning and value now its social context was destroyed. It was just paper to use for lighting a fire or lining a garbage pail.
I picked up the volume of Plutarch Bill had been reading a few days ago. Bill had always said that Plutarch was a comforting voice in time of trouble, whispering: This, too, will pass. It has all happened before. But Plutarch failed me this time. Without a future, history became a comedy in a foreign language that I had never learned.
I started to close the book. I was stopped by an inscription on the flyleaf in a sloping, beautifully legible hand, in faded brown ink: To William, on his eighteenth birthday, with love from grandmother. June 6, 1897. Bill's great-grandmother had written those words for his father.
Suddenly they were all before memy mother and father and Bill's and our grandmothers and grandfathers who had been so happy when Eunice was born. What would they have thought if they could have foreseen the fate in store for her and all of us before they died? I remembered long ago when my mother was a little girl how my grandfather had called my grandmother on the telephone and when my grandmother asked him if there was any news, he had answered: "Biggest piece of news since the Civil Warthe New York Stock Exchange has closed and there's war in Europe." That was in 1914 and my mother had always remembered it because of my grandfather's putting the stock exchange closing first, as if it were the more important thing. And that, she said, was the authentic flavor of New York in 1914. The world had walked into that war as gaily as if it were going to be another Spanish-American picnic, but it was that first world war that had led directly to the empty world I faced now.
I thought of the geometrical progression of forebears two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four. Take it back a hundred thousand years and surely all men were brothers crouching over the same crude fires in the same caves and gnawing the same bones of animals now extinct. Each individual had an unimaginable horde of generations behind him who had fought that he might live and hand on life to their descendants as they had handed on life to him. But we in our generation had decided to break the chain. We were the first to forget that life is not an absolute possession but an entailed estate that each generation holds in trust for the generations to come. We had not considered our ancestors or our descendants. We had considered only ourselves and we had squandered a patrimony that was not ours to squander. We were the first who had said to life: Hold! Stop! We've had enough. We don't want any more. Our problems are insoluble. We'd rather die than live with them.
I stepped outdoors into a shining world of enameled blue sky and glassy sea and white sand, bright as snow in the sun. The wind was high and the surf was loud. The sea was boiling as far as the horizon. Long, white-crested combers rolled in towards shore, roaring like lions. The gulls that had always punctuated the empty sky with such animation had been among the first to go, but there was still an insensate beauty in the scene that would be here as long as there was one pair of living eyes to see it.
And then? Only living eyes see certain waves as light and color. Only living eyes see the dance of the electrons as form. Soon there would be no form, no color, no lightonly a vast, monstrous pulsation of electric and magnetic forces without purpose or future.
I moved up the slope towards the Lindens' cottage, at the edge of the bluff. From this height I could see the surf running to and fro in its endless game of tag with the sand. Motion there was still, but motion without life, random, aimless, without sense or meaning.
I took the path to the doctor's house. As I passed through the outskirts of the village the most appalling thing was the silence. It was like being alone in an empty house when all the others have gone away. Such a house is always haunted.
As you pass from one familiar room to another you are startled to find that you cannot actually hear any echo of the voices that still ring so clearly in memory. Could time alone obliterate them so utterly? Or is it only your perception of time that makes you feel they are lost forever?
Now there was not even a dog in the deserted streets. The wind was the only thing that moved, the wicked wind that had brought death to all of us. No, not wicked. The blind, innocent wind that would survive all our supposed wisdom and virtue. The only wickedness was ours.
It was a frolic wind that morning. It plucked curtains through broken windows and ran down the street, tossing the first fallen leaves into the air with both hands, like confetti at a wedding. But no one came to lower the windows. The houses were empty.
As I climbed the steps to the doctor's front porch, I had a premonition of what I would find there, perhaps because there was no longer any smell of cigar smoke or any sound of the little, creaking, rusting motions life makes in an inhabited house.
The door was unlatched. I stepped inside. Through the French windows I saw Joel and Baldwin in the living room.
They did not move, even when I went close to them. They had died with two empty bottles of rum and brandy on the floor beside them. The last of the cigars had scorched a black scar on the floor and gone out, leaving a worm of ash in its place.
In a corner of the room, I saw the body of our little cat, Mysti. One forepaw lay on the body of her kitten and her tongue was out, as if the kitten had died first and she had died later, trying to lick it back to life, as mother cats so often do when a kitten dies.
In the field of clover beyond, the doctor's cow lay as unmoving as he and still there were no flies. Would the mouth of the worm feed on these dead? Were there any worms? Or just bodies, human and animal, great and small; over them all the warm, bright blessing of the sunshine? And now I was alone, the only living thing on the Island. For all I would ever know, I might be the only living thing on earth and if only earth knew life I would be the only living thing in the universe.
For a little while I went mad. I ran through the village streets from house to house, opening doors and calling, calling, but there was no answer. Often I thought I heard footsteps behind me. Once I was sure. And I know I heard laughter. But when I turned there was no one. I screamed and screamed and ran until I was exhausted. No one made a sound while I was looking. They all waited until I turned my back, and then they froze the instant I whirled around again to catch them In the act of moving. They pretended they were dead. But I knew they were just pretending. They looked so alive. Even the children who lay in their cribs and cots. How could they be dead when they were all unburied and there was no stench of decay, no stench at all?
Was it possible that these corpses could not rot? Were they gone, toothe patient, invisible bacteria that had labored through the aeons to return man's dust to dust so that the earth itself might be alive enough to nurture the plants and plant-eating animals man fed upon, and so make the cycle complete? But now had the wheel of life ceased to turn in mid-cycle?
If there were other beings in other worlds and if they ever came here, they would find our poisoned planet and its undecaying bodies a mystery, like the Mary Celeste, abandoned and drifting, but why? Their archeologists would marvel at this sudden, strict arrest of life as our archeologists had marvelled at the suddenly arrested motion of skeletons in the ashes of Pompeii.
They would not know that we had been destroyed because we had failed to conquer that demoniac world within ourselves where all hatreds and hostilities, vanities and perversions are born. Nature had been kinder to man than he had been to himself. She had nurtured him in his helpless infancy for three hundred thousand years and in a short ten thousand years of independence he had destroyed himself and every other form of life.
In one house I found a piano. I played the second movement of the Moonlight SonataLiszt's "flower between two abysses"and I wondered if it would ever be played again.
It was hot in the sun, hotter than usual for a day by the sea in August. As I toiled up the path to the bluff, I had to pause several times to catch my breath. At the top I paused again and looked down.
The creamy edge of the surf was still advancing and retreating, again and again, with the monotonous rhythm of a square dance. To the old Hindus, as to modern physicists, all the material world is The Dancera whirling ballet of electrons that bemuses man's senses and distracts his mind from the divine reality that is within his soul. But at least until now that dance of matter had been a dance of life. It was Western man, wilful and Promethean, who had changed the beat and the step to a dance of death.
On such a golden day as this, there should have been beach umbrellas and barefoot children, building sand castles with tunnels and moats to catch the tide, and mothers reading and gossiping, but now there was no audience for the dancing of the waves or the clowning of the wind. Now there was only the earth itself and the sunlight and the wind that had never ceased to blow since the bombs fell.
What a dear world it had been! Had I been an exception to think so? Had most people hated life, with or without cause? They must have hated it, or they could not have endured the prospect of ending it with eyes open to what was coming for years before it came. Why was the nation with the highest standard of material comfort for every citizen the one that hated life the most, and so dropped the first atomic bomb and triggered the nuclear arms race? Were the old religions right when they taught that an excess of material possessions destroyed the spiritual life?
People had said: We cannot take the risk of nuclear disarmament. If we do that, we might be conquered. But there was risk either way. Arming for nuclear war we took the risk of annihilation. Disarming we took the risk of defeat. Which was the greater risk in terms of geological time? Either way we would die. Why were we willing to die for war and not for peace? Why did we prefer to die with the guilt of murder on our consciencesnot just the murder of our foes or ourselves, but the murder of allies and neutrals as well? Patrick Henry did not say: "Give me liberty or give you death." No one had a right to say that. As a nation we had always repudiated the pacifist slogan "Peace at any price." Had our slogan been "War at any price?" Even at the cost of destroying all life on earth? No one had ever asked us to pay a price like that for peace. Had we been a nation of idiots ruled by madmen?
Now the whole earth was a house haunted by all that had ever been. Such a vast, beautiful, airy house, a palace really, its vaulted ceilings, now blue, now silver, now black, its golden lampsthe sun and moonits winter carpet of white and its summer carpet of green. Man had inherited a noble dwelling but he had rejected his heritage.
He had not had the courage to use it wisely or the joy to love it deeply. He had always abused it and finally he had destroyed it, like a spoiled child, puny and peevish.
When I was very tired, I slept and when I slept, I dreamed.
Eunice and I were living in a house I had never seen before. She was only four years old. We were alone. It was night. Outside the window of our bedroom was the low roof of a garage. As I looked out the window I saw a child of four crouching on the roof, weeping and moving towards the edge as if she were about to leap off. Her sobbing became singing in a high-pitched minor key and she sang about death. I couldn't see her face. Her long hair hid it and I was thankful for that. I was afraid of seeing her face. I was grateful for the long hair as if I knew it hid a face I knew and didn't want to identify. I thought I mustn't let Eunice see how frightened I am. I must get the police. I must stop her somehow. I called to her from the window and she vanished. There was nothing on the roof now.
But I heard steps downstairs, loud and clear and slow. Nothing furtive about them. But I knew there was no one else in the house. There couldn't be. I heard footsteps again. I ran to the head of the stairs and saw him pass slowly from hallway to living rooma small, dark stranger with an averted face. He did not look up at me or seem aware of me at all, and I was frightened because he made no effort to move stealthily. When a thief is as bold as that it means that he believes he has mastered the situation and then he is dangerous.
Eunice woke. I told her everything was all right. I sang her back to sleep and then I saw the thing on the table.
It was the size of a large doll. It had the head of a man and the body of a dog. It moved and breathed and its mouth writhed silently as if it would speak and couldn't.
I told myself: this is illusion, glamour, witchcraft. You're bewitched. This thing cannot exist except in your own mind. If your mind has the will to reject it the thing will vanish.
I picked it up. I felt its horrid, warm, furry flesh in my hands, horrid because it was so alive and a thing like that could not be alive. I willed it away. I said to myself: It's not there. It doesn't exist. And the thing laughed at me and tried to speak again and I tore one leg from its body and I crushed it in my hands and I thought again: It isn't here. It can't exist. And slowly the thing dwindled and became a shadow and was gone. I had broken the spell as they said long ago, and I had broken it with my will because I knew it could not be.
I lost track of time. Time is a social thing. I had no appointments to keep, no anniversaries to share, no plans for the future. I ate when I was hungry and slept when I was tired. It was as if I had reached that hypothetical point in infinity where past and future must meet, if space-time is curved.
Time is a motion generated by motion, said Balzac and now the only things that could move were the sun and the wind, and the sea and I, so time dwindled to a point and vanished. Was it that day or the next day or the day later that I suddenly remembered the hollow Bill and I had found that first day in Selsea this summer, the hollow that was windless. We had never thought of it as a refuge from the poisoned wind because it was too small. It would not have held a week's rations for two people. But, now, suddenly I wanted to see it again. So I walked along the bluff, alone, as I would always be now, until the day of my death.
Once again from the top of a sand-cliff, I saw the ocean as a wide, blue floor level to the far horizon, but now it was an ocean where there were no fish or algae or plankton or anything alive. A dead sea on a dead planet.
Once again I went down the dune wall, shuffling and sliding to the bottom of the hollow. Once again I lay on my back and watched white clouds drift across a fair blue sky, but this time there were no gulls diving and gliding down air-currents. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend that the last few days had never happened, that it was still the first day and that in another moment Bill would come to the rim of the hollow with a picnic basket and we would feast in the sun on chicken and wine and then walk back to the village hand in hand and turn on the radio to get the news of the world...
But I couldn't make myself believe it, even with my eyes shut, even in the hollow. There was no world. There would never be any news again. I was alone and there was every probability that I would die alone before long.
The world itself had died, as Sodom died, for its sins. Not petty sins of luxury and lust this time, but mortal sins of pride and intolerance and cruelty. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The command had been clear and simple for two thousand years, or more, but it had not been obeyed.
I was startled out of my wits by a sudden rustling of leaves. Had the wind found a way into the hollow at last? Or was there another of God's wretched creatures in this awful vacuum with me? I opened my eyes. I saw no movement, but I heard a trill of song, three bright, clear notes like three drops of water falling through the air on a descending scale, and then I saw hima small, brown bird, perched on a swaying twig.
The hollow that was too small to shield human beings had shielded one small bird. He may have been living here when Bill and I first saw him or he may have sheltered here the night the bombs fell and, instinct or chance, had kept him here. For surely so tiny a creature could not have survived this long unless he had been living largely on the seeds and berries that grew in the hollow. They would be a little less lethal than those elsewhere because they were out of the wind.
One bird alone, without a mate or a nest of eggs. The last bird of all singing to the last human being. Birds do not like to be alone. Why sing if there is no one to hear you?
I sat and listened while he poured forth the most joyous song I have ever heard. I believe he was glad to see me. I could almost hear words: Isn't it lovely? The sun, the sea, the sky? And the earth? Isn't God good? To give us all this?
As I listened to his innocent joy, slowly, for the first time since the bombs fell, tears began to slip down my cheeks. For I was not innocent. I shared the guilt of all my species.
At last, worn out by vain weeping, I lay down to sleep in the only place I knew in the whole world that was windless and clean.