I’m honored to be among so many fine writers in The Coachella Review’s summer issue. Here’s a teaser from the opening chapter of my novel-in-progress, Fallout.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
Justine stood in the garage surrounded by white bags, large and lumpy, like tumors in a giant’s belly. In their plastic cases they looked benign. Her last contact with them was to put them in the back of her husband Jack’s car, and then he’d whisk them away to be cast off from her, dispersed to new bodies and new lives.
Jack came into the garage with his purposeful stride, his striped blue and white button-up shirt a flag of some kind—not the enemy, it said in its own pastel way. He didn’t stop or smile or make small talk and she was grateful for this, she supposed, though a part of her thought maybe they should make some final words. It had been one year after all. Shouldn’t they have a ritual: walking on a beach at sunset hand in hand, or sitting quietly in the woods somewhere, sharing a mug of hot cocoa or a good cry? But they couldn’t even talk about it, much less mark it in time in any other way than this. To cast off and away.
He lifted the bags with business-like precision, one after the other—it made her think of Wilbur lifting Charlotte’s egg sacs carefully at that near final-juncture at the fair in Charlotte’s Web. He made sure that none sat more on top of the other and then slammed the trunk shut. For one moment he looked at her, his eyes a little heavy, then pecked her on the lips and got into the car.
The heat of his exhaust hit her legs like a desert breeze but her body continued its program of cold; blood failing to reach her extremities. She clutched herself and waited until the garage door had closed fully before turning and going back into the house. She should be in the shower by now. Across town stood a building full of people expecting her to show up. Funny how today she didn’t feel much like what she did was worth being called a job. What did she actually do, anyway? Talk to people, listen to their longwinded stories, write about their events, their causes, their new businesses, their new babies…
Rather than step into the shower she sat before her computer with that feeling that there was someone she owed a message, as if it would ever be possible to thank all the people who had, in the past year—particularly early in the year—sent their notes and flowers and meals and quotes and religious sentiments. And at times she resented this having to muster the energy to thank people for their kindness; just like birth, grief was another of those times in your life when you were freed from all that politeness. But it wore off after awhile and then people went right back to forgetting, considered you rude, expected you to arise from your stupor and Go On Living As Before, as if such a thing were possible.
There were emails, always more than she could read in a sitting, and she scrolled through most of them until she landed on the one from Sofia. Sofia, who, at the interview for HeartWorks had introduced herself as, “Sofia—it means wisdom,” which at first Justine had found incredibly arrogant; but Sofia did turn out to be a bastion of wisdom, or at least information. She always had a tip Justine needed just when she needed it, knew the right people to talk to in difficult places. And even though Sofia had one of those commercial-worthy kinds of happiness—an intact family with a husband who made so much money it was quantified in points rather than dollars, an “allowance” that provided for her to work only on those causes she believed in (which were copious), public recognition and awards—she had also been the one to crawl into Justine’s bed after, almost like a lover, and take her in her arms when all the other friends stood dolefully at the doors and edges of her life, afraid, perhaps, of getting a little death on them. Even Justine’s husband had moved to the opposite side of the bed. But not Sofia. Under her pristine clothes and her smoother-than-normal pores beat the heart of a person who was not afraid of suffering, who didn’t shy away from its ravages when Justine needed exactly that.
So it was Sofia’s email that she opened, the only one.
CANCER RISKS FROM FUKUSHIMA REACTOR MORE SERIOUS THAN FIRST THOUGHT
The hard facts of the article dissipated before her eyes, fell away into the hyperbole of anxiety. She thought about this nuclear fallout, a radiant wind pushed all the way from Japan across the vast oceans to Oregon, Washington, and of course, California, where she sat, buzzing with newfound information that settled into her cells.
The radiation took on almost human characteristics in her mind, a big glowing mass, an amoeba, a deadly Casper the Not So Friendly Ghost moving with intention directly toward this part of the world so egregiously preoccupied with its health.
And while they slept, this radiant ghost had probed with its nuclear fingers through the food chain, lacing itself into the atoms of water, the DNA of crops at the seed level, rooting itself in and around everything, the seed of disease itself.