Life During Wartime
I sit hunched down in the seat, scarf pulled up over my nose and mouth. My bags and jacket cover the seats next to me. I don’t want anyone sitting there, especially now. It seems like people always sit next to me on an otherwise empty train. And this train is almost empty. Has been emptier every day for a week. A few rows up, a woman coughs several times. We all glare at her.
I have zombie walked through the day, through Computer Math and German. Now I am in Civics class. Everyone is quiet.
Who watched it, the teacher asks. Do you want to talk about it?
We had all watched. ABC prime time.
A made-up global war between the United States and the Soviet Union that started in Berlin.
Mutual self-destruction via missile strikes. Flashes of light. Nuclear winter. The obliteration of life and life as it had been known. A farmer, gut-shot, his food stolen. Steve Guttenberg, his face scabbed over, looks on, as row after row of others sick with radiation writhe in a field hospital.
A story more real than all the end times stories we’d been weaned on. An angel and a trumpet blast. The virtuous swept up into heaven. Unbelievers and sinners left behind to suffer.
If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?
We do not want to talk about it. We just want our MTv.
I am in a museum in Germany doing research. In my hands is an early 16th century drawing, maybe by Albrecht Dürer?
A wall has fallen, a curtain of iron rusted away. A drunk Yeltsin staggers through the American capitol at night in search of pizza.
In Weimar, a young woman looks up at me from brittle paper. A skeletal corpse rises from a grave behind her, the train of her gown thrown over his shoulders like a shroud.
The drawing is usually dated to around 1505, a plague year.
Death sweeps his arm towards up as if presenting her. Behold.
I go upstairs before it’s over. I can’t watch the disaster unfurling in red across the television screen. Somehow, I had hoped I would be wrong, but there’s no way he won’t win now.
I lie awake most of the night and manage to just drift off until the alarm reminds me to get up. Reminds me of what I’m waking up to.
On the train to the city, I am numb.
I hide behind Jackie O sunglasses and hope I am wrong about what’s coming.
$300 in cash in my wallet and a full tank of gas. Before I go home to lock myself in, I stop at the grocery store. Canned goods. Dried beans. Rice. Some peanut butter.
The man behind me in line, cart full of toilet paper, makes a joke about how everyone is overreacting. It’s just a flu.
Laugh it up, I think.
The disaster I have been preparing for my whole life has finally arrived.