Sunday
Oct052014

Fat Man and Little Boy

By Mike Meginnis


Black Balloon Publishing
October 2014
978-1936787203


 

Little Boy dreams of the nurse who found him beneath the wavering sapling. He did not know she was a nurse then but would find out about it later. She was dressed in Western clothing: a checkered black and white turtleneck sweater and a long blue skirt, both stained with blood. She had yellow slippers.

She wiped her puffy red nose with the back of her hand and sniffled to win his attention.

He looked up at her, opened his mouth as if to speak. There was nothing to say. She was talking Japanese. She talked to him like he was a baby. Bending forward slightly, pressing her knees together, resting her palms on her thighs. It made him feel safe and he didn't want her to stop. He reached up for her as if his legs were broken.

For a second she looked very tired, and he thought he must not be the first to reach for her this way. He grunted like a baby, he moved his lips as if to suckle. Her face smoothed. Something in her posture hardened. She stooped to lift. He wrapped his arms around her neck and sighed. Her turtleneck collar hung a little loose. There was a black mark on the pale soft skin of her neck like a big thumbprint.

She made her way, bouncing him on her hip and humming a song. They passed through wreckage. She walked around two bodies. He hid his face in her shoulder so he wouldn't have to see. They met a man, not a nurse, who seemed to know her. He wore an undershirt with orange-red blots down its middle. His nose was red and puffy too. He sneezed. He wiped it with the back of his hand.

He made an empty-handed gesture and talked an apology. Yet he had brought her shoes. He let them hang from his hand by their laces. She looked away and then nodded, agreeing. The man came close. He wrapped his arms around Little Boy's chest beneath his armpits. Little Boy dug in with his fingers, he scratched and pinched her skin, but he was not strong enough to keep his grip. The nurse pried his legs from her hips. He left a boy-shaped stain on her clothing. The man whispered something in Little Boy's ear. Little Boy wanted to know how to say, Give her back.

The man shifted his weight from heel to heel and watched the nurse. She knelt to take off her slippers and put on the shoes. They fit her well enough. She kissed the man on his cheek because these shoes were better than the slippers.

They walked together. The nurse's new shoes clomped with each step. She sneezed into her sleeve. She wiped the snot from her cheek. The man kept looking at her. The man, like Little Boy, was very thin. Their bones touched through their skins. They were joined by a middle-aged man leading an old blind woman by her arm. He spoke to her in a constant, calming whisper, maybe describing the scenery or telling where her feet should go. All her clothes had burnt away from her body and her skin had fallen off her back in long, narrow strips. Little Boy looked away from her before he could see too much.

Here was the school. The walls were fallen down. Here was an overturned vegetable cart and here were the vegetables, pulped. Here a dead man.

They were joined by two women carrying a boy on a stretcher. He was sleeping. He was naked, and his face and chest were all burned and looked like wet tree bark.

Little Boy was passed off again to the nurse. She bore him cheerfully as she could.

They came to an improvised clinic, a small concert hall or a playhouse. The main room was large and littered with wooden folding chairs. There were bodies all over the floor on thin mats and blankets, some of them moving, some of them still. An old man lay spooning his adult son and sung to him, quietly, while the young man bled on the floor. Everyone was quiet, except for a woman Little Boy couldn't see, who made an awful sort of braying, until she stopped, until she started up again. A little girl prodded her big sister, who would not respond. A man and his wife lay facing each other. They watched each other's eyes and touched their noses. They were burned all over. They had been rubbed with white cream. Little Boy floated over the scene in his nurse's arms. She bounced him on her hip, which made the world stutter.

A doctor knelt by a policeman and pulled glass from his leg. After each piece was removed, he daubed the wound with a cotton ball. When the cotton ball was used up he pulled another from a bag and held it, overturning a bottle of alcohol in his palm, soaking the ball. The policeman gritted his teeth. He thanked the doctor for each piece that was pulled.

The nurse called someone's name. An older woman came and took Little Boy away from the nurse. The old woman placed Little Boy down on the floor beside the wounded policeman. The doctor was pulling three inches of glass from the policeman's calf; he was pulling the long, thin shard quick as he could without its breaking. Little Boy's nurse and the old woman left. The old woman came back with a pair of tweezers and a small tin pan. She made Little Boy lie down. She took his left foot by the ankle and lifted it until she could see what was inside. Thick, partly-clotted blood fell out of him. She put the tweezers to his skin. They were cold.

The policeman took Little Boy's hand and squeezed as if to say, Now squeeze me back.

The hidden woman brayed.

The old woman put the tweezers in his foot. She pulled something loose and set it in the pan, where it glistened wetly. She reached in—he squeezed the policeman's hand—and pulled something else free. It made a scraping sound as it left him, as if it didn't want to go. The policeman screamed.

 

They made Little Boy wait for clothes until they could find something Western. When they did it was a little gangster costume; a blue suit, cheaper than it looked, with matching fedora. They watched him dress. They asked him questions that he couldn't answer, so he didn't. He sulked until they left him alone. He laid around on the floor.

He thought about how it was to explode.

They brought a little boy to the empty space beside him. The boy was pulling out the hairs from his own head one at a time. He set them in a pile on the floor. He was burnt all over but did not seem to notice. Little Boy wanted to trace the weird patterns with his fingers. He wanted to reach under the other boy's skin and see what he could find.

He wanted his nurse.

She was busy among the bodies, checking temperatures with the back of her hand, finding pulses with her fingertips. She wouldn't look at Little Boy. When the father holding his bleeding adult son cried out, it was his nurse that came running. She watched his chest and touched his temple. He was dead. One of the other nurses found the energy to say something gentle, to touch the old man's head. They left. The father held his dead son as before and was quiet.

Little Boy went looking for his nurse. He searched outside, where young people shared the cigarettes they'd found and watched the sun set over those parts of the city still standing. She was not there. He searched the improvised operation rooms where surgeons sutured, disinfected, stanched gut wounds, and pruned dead skin. They shooed away Little Boy. She was not there.

Next, the empty stage, on which the policeman slept. Little Boy slipped behind the curtain. It was dark there. Hanging on the walls, grotesque masks, whether pale or demon-faced, all glaring and grinning and twisted, distressed. Shadow puppets dangled from hooks, limp and cheap-looking. Costumes were heaped and hung on trunks and racks. More suits in other sizes, and dresses, Western and Japanese. There was a long paper dragon with many, many bright streamers coiled in the dark corner.

At the dragon's tail end, behind a rack of clothes, Little Boy heard his nurse's coarse, husky whisper drift on the air. The young man, her friend from the search party, stood behind her. Little Boy could make out their shapes because of the light that spilled from the window, but it was a small window, it was faint light. The young man breathed in her neck.

No doubt, thought Little Boy, watching them through a gap between the silken costumes hanging from the rack, the vivid colors flattened by the window's graying light, No doubt he takes great pleasure in her smells of scorched caramels and dried vanilla. The nurse's friend was speaking into her ear or he was licking it. She swayed in his arms like a dead tree in the wind.

She said something.

Her friend said something back.

She was shaking her head.

He was nodding and kissing her neck.

She was lifting her checkered turtleneck sweater.

He was running his hands over her abdomen.

From waist to neck her skin was marked.

Smudged, like ink fingerprints.

Like charcoal squares, in checkers.

Burnt in the pattern of her sweater.

The nurse's friend kneaded her breasts as she fumbled to hitch up her skirt in the back—as they twisted their heads to unnatural, perhaps painful angles, like graceless swans, so that their eyes could touch, so that their lips could meet.

The masks on the walls made faces at the couple. They floated like ghosts. They seemed to react to the scene. Some with horror, some with great sadness, and some with a fiendish delight. Little Boy's nurse whispered something, leaning into the man. He hushed her.

Little Boy felt himself between his legs. There was nothing, no response. They backed away from him, into deeper shadow, so that he could not see what he heard, or know.

He felt very alone.

The sun was set. Only a thin red line on the horizon. Only the sound of their love, the soft squelch, like sucking a pool of thick spit through his teeth and pushing it out into the reservoir of bottom lip, again, and again. He chewed his cheeks to pulp. It was quiet there.

When they were done he ran away. Some days later, on news of the second bomb, he began to search for what would be a brother.