Nineveh Fades Extract – Part One
The below is an edited extract from my novel, Nineveh Fades, or, The Bomb Shelter.
Growing up in New York, it was easy to imagine that one day a large tide would sweep away all the accumulated junk that was stuck to streets. Streets that had once been simple farmland with crofts and barrows, and grass that followed the sun. And when the sea claimed it back, all the broken down cars, and plastic cups, and sandwich wraps, could have just sunk to the bottom of the bay and been glad of it. Only it never happened. And while it was easy to imagine a tide, Lori Brave would have never believed it could be a wave of fire that rolled across the bay at them like the close of a red curtain, even if her parents had seen the end coming, had flipped up their seats and headed down into the pit with, decamped like ancient Athenians to Salamis, if not to witness the event, then at least to imagine it every time they closed their eyes.
It suited them in a way. What with Lori’s mother telling her she had an obsession with death. She had begun liking guys who looked like corpses, sure. Like, liking, like really liking, getting sweet for, whatever. Those dead-sunk faces got her hot, the deep pits for eyes and the high bones, the faint taint of blood at the lips, chalk skin, and tomb-boy teeth. The kind of hombres they drew in her brother’s surviving comic books using electrified charcoal.
When she walked down Broadway before, she had seen them for real sometimes, in the corners, just outside the margin, where the world passed them by, and she was captivated, though never allowed to gaze for long. Instead she saw them drifting past her the other way like the reel of a movie, encouraging her to join the film club at Berkeley Carroll, to try and charm the boy who did projections, so much so that he had even touched her, once, brushed her breast as they passed, in the darkened room, with the dust that floated across the bright light from the cine-scope like specks of fallout after the bombs.
Now, in her head, in the depths of the shelter, she could have any boy she could imagine for herself — all of those corpse spirits made above ground, taken in, soaked through the soil, blown down the vent, and she could take advantage, which meant of course giving them a kiss. Recently she had seen the same corpsey-looking interpretation of the film club boy every night in her head, projected himself, into some strange scene that she could not fathom, her interpretation of what was left above no doubt, stood with the drag end of an apple between his fingers, clinging on to it, the way the Braves clung on to the idea of an outside world outside. The surface of his fruit had lost its usual sheen, the one she could remember from better times, become an approximation of a classroom display. She watched as a strange white skewer worked its way out of the thing. Then another. Soon maggots began to surface all over it, like missiles, making pretty ringlets at the base of the fruit, childhood curls, somewhere off of South America, before they dropped.
All around them was a strange sky, no hills or trees to see. They must have been someplace high, on a skyscraper. Lori tried to ask but no words came out. By then her boy had ducked down and gone after the maggots anyway, scooping them into his mouth with piles of dirt, not caring. Could this really be the remnant of New York? The landscape could have been any time, or before time, or after, so blank and washed away, and she wondered whether time could undergo a sort of splitting like the atom, so that if a person tried to break a minute down, piece by piece by piece, they’d eventually hit an indivisible rock, an atomic second, the way the Doomsday clock had flicked over to midnight, like her father promised. Or did time continue to break apart, slip away, become a soil that would trickle through the fingers and be lost in the breeze like so many lives?
When she awoke she often wondered who the person she had seen in her dreams really was. Yes it looked like the guy from school, but it also looked like all boys, all men. Hadn’t her mother told her something like that? That they were all the same? So was it Micky, her brother too? Something in her mind somehow reflecting on the thought that they might be the only two left of their generation in the world, and would thus be forced to repopulate the earth, become ‘Anytime-Adam’ and ‘Ever-willing-Eve’. The thought made her shake inside, screw herself up as if her guts carried yesterdays news and attempt to kick herself to the curb.
Micky, too, had dreamt of broken worlds, drowned by fear, shattered times gone and then to come, or the sight of mighty ICBMs taking off, the roar of their rocket jets that made the sound of all the pages of a person’s life being ripped from time’s ledger to pulp.
It was at night when Lori and Micky huddled like birds, when she told him that she couldn’t take away his dreams. It was here, with her arms around him that she felt his body wasting away. She put her hand over his chest, between his arm and his side and let her fingers rest. In the weeks since they had entered the shelter, she noticed that his ribs became more prominent, ladder-like, a route she could climb to tickle his chin, but resisted, if only for the want of keeping him still.
“Last night,” he would say before they floated free, “last night I was on a busy street, in the city. And I remember the cars and the long shadow that went under me as I walked. But there was no-one else.”
She had seen a similar thing: these long willowy figures of themselves stretching away from their toes, like scorch marks that they had seen on television left on the walls around Hiroshima, the last glimpses of the people who stood and watched when it came. They lay in bed shivering despite the damp heat, like a display of cakes at a diner going around and around as the nights passed, hardening, until the moments when Lori was gone again from her world under the world, and emerged into that place she didn’t know.