Chernobyl 3010

All the clovers here have four leaves. They feel wonderfully green and fresh beneath my withered brown feet as I stand upon my rooftop and watch the white sun rise above my city. Far off in the misty distance a flock of 3-winged seagulls rise like rosy stars against the jagged skyline. The precious subway-water slides sweetly down my throat, and I savor it with all the practice of 70 years.

“Good morning!” I yell cheerfully to the empty city, and my voice booms raspingly back from the rotted billboards, the crumbling digi-ship docks, the baseball stadium filled with shoulder-high grass where striped gazelles lift up their heads in alarm and then return to their grazing. I feel a toothy smile crack my wrinkled face and turn back to my apartment in the snowy sunlight.

The bleeding-hearts are doing fine. In my mutant garden beneath the remnant of the triple towers, enclosed by crumbling walls fast surrendering to the blue-green ivy, they coat the ground in a luscious panoply of purple and magenta. I wade through them, arms laden with the plastic gallons of water with which I feed every flower I see. The water was obtained with great difficulty from the once acid-caverns deep beneath the empty subway lines, where the luminescent fungi purifies it from the taint of generations. Up here in the white sun my head swims with overpowering fragrances, and my vision blurs at the edges into the dark blues and violets of morning glories. I reach the Tree and am seized, as ever, by a wordless sense of awe. Here is the triumph of nature over man, the triumph of beauty over corruption. Somehow pure and whole in this mutated wilderness (like me, I think), it stands tall and strong and brown, its foamy head of green higher even than the reactor. At its foot are their graves.

They are old graves, rusty gray, made out of scraps of twisted metal in the early days when I couldn’t find anything else. The one on the left is larger, and “Clara, 2983-3010, beloved wife and mother” is carved onto it in a trembly sort of hand. I remember carving it- my arms had still been half-melted from the explosion and I had had trouble making out the letters. The one on the right is smaller, and says “Rosemary, 3006- 3010, beloved daughter”. There had only been rubble, and a much smaller version of the Tree, when I put the graves here.
There are no bodies. They were taken away when the last digi-ships left, 70 years ago, for some sort of cryogenic ice-burial deep in star-space. The government men had had a hard time prying them from me, my beautiful blue-eyed wife with hair the color I read that the sun used to be, once upon a time- though most of it had fallen out by then from the nuclear radiation. She had died slow. And my little daughter, just turned 4, with her dark frizz of hair and large brown eyes, her gap-toothed grin, who hadn’t lasted nearly as long.

I had been an accountant in Chicago then, not a particularly profitable job, but a steady one. We- me, Clara, and little Rosemary- had lived in a red-brick apartment over Fifth Avenue. I still remember how they had looked that morning, my wife with her hair pulled back in a messy yellow ponytail, in running clothes, trying to get our daughter to eat her cornflakes. I had been in a worn suit, with a red tie with whales on it, though we were far from the ocean. I remember Rosemary always used to get a giggle out of it, and thus it was my favorite tie. I had kissed my wife on the cheek, kissed my daughter on the forehead, and left.

That morning, April 30, 3010, a nearby nuclear reactor had exploded. There was no known cause. Millions of people, citizens of Chicago and its suburbs and a good deal of the surrounding country, had died. I should have been one of them- but that is a thought of the early days. For some reason unknown probably even to God, the code that sleeps inside each honeycombing particle me has gone uncorrupted. I have accepted my life as the lone human in this ghost city, and my death, which will surely be soon- I turn 96 in a season, after all. And it is not so bad a fate. I see beauty everywhere in this overgrown husk, in the transformed plants and flowers and animals. I love the albino bats that nest in the iron girders sticking out like ribs, the yellow flowers that sprout from every sidewalk crack (of which there are many), the whole menagerie of strange creatures that look like they escaped from the dreams of a schizophrenic.

But I have lost myself in thoughts, kneeling on the moss beneath this tree whose leaves fall onto my shoulders like rain. I stand up to go and hear a soft growl behind me.

It is a lioness. She has large golden eyes that fix on me hypnotically, golden fur that is sleek and healthy and strong, a whiskered mouth full of ivory teeth. She growls again, her three tasseled tails swaying back and forth.

“Peace, friend” I say, and she comes close enough bite me. Her whiskers trail softly across my face and we share a communion deeper than speech. It is like a tickling caress. And then she bounds away into the green of the garden. A pygmy giraffe, perhaps, or one of the striped gazelles, shall feed her. I smile and walk through the peonies back to my apartment and know that tonight I will die, still smiling, in my sleep.





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