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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Short Story (Terrorism Without the Politics)

Terrorism Without the  Politics

JP Beaty

            If everything went according to plan the surrounding area would be uninhabitable for a good 50 years. The media may refer to it as “The American Chernobyl” or draw comparisons to 9/11. The man at the center of it would be thoroughly analyzed and demonized. It wouldn’t matter anyway. He would be long dead, killed by the meltdown he started.

The night before, it had all come out. She had been sleeping with her subordinate, Jim Kowalski junior manager in charge if shipping. She had been very clear about this, repeating it to him multiple times, several times at the top of her lungs. She left in the graphic details, sprinkling them between analyses of his fault , all the time gesturing in a grandiose way. This performance took place in front of the large picture window as if she intended for the whole world to be an audience. He said nothing. He simply sank back into his carpet textured blue chair and tried to tune her out. As she yelled, his finger crinkled the edge of the sexually explicit emails he had printed out to provide backing for his original accusation. When he finally let them flutter to the ground the edges were almost unreadable. He said next to nothing, only providing a new direction for her to rant every ten minutes or so. Outside the sun began to set. The shadows sharpened and lengthened and the living room assumed a dull orange tint. He kept expecting her to turn on the light, but that never happened. Instead the sun disappeared behind the subdivision leaving the living room a black mass of confused shapes. Some definition returned as the streetlights flipped on outside. The room had a weak amber color throughout. She was beginning to slow down. More often than not  the living room was filled with a deep empty silence as she just stared at him a detached look in her eyes. He avoided her gaze and focused intently on the cloud of gnats orbiting the streetlight outside. It all ended with more a whisper than a bang. She simply left through the front door. He watched her headlights disappear into the night. She didn’t even turn the lights on.

They had gotten together when he was in grad school. He was involved in intense research and she acted as a release valve for him. She was completely detached from his field but that worked. He was never close to any of his classmates. They both saw him as arrogant and elitist and she told him that to his face. He responded by withdrawing even further into his work. For a good portion of his last year she was one of the only people he had contact with outside of the lab. He felt indebted to her for this. So he asked her to marry him. This didn’t come out of some major revelation or lengthy decision process. He did it because that’s what people do after being together for two years. He asked her to marry him on a bleak day in late November. She came in bundled against the cold with a sort of steam leeching out into the air from any inch of exposed skin. He went down onto one knee like people on television. The faux wood flooring of the student apartment hurt his knee. She said yes. That night he stayed up for hours filled with something akin to regret.

Endings Part 2
He stayed in his chair for an hour after she left. The house was filled with constant ambient creaks. The timer for the dryer went off. The moon rose between the trees at the edge of the neighborhood. The air conditioning oscillated between on and off five times. He eventually got up. His knee cracked. His leg continued to buzz, having fallen asleep at the tail end of her rant. He considered calling her but couldn’t bring himself to pick up the phone. He flipped on the kitchen light but the white fluorescent almost blinded him. He turned it back off and the kitchen returned to comfortable black amber. He needed a drink. However, when he opened the liquor cabinet he found that she had turned all the bottles onto their sides. The various alcoholic waterfalls converged into an amber and red pool on the stained white kitchen tile. It soaked into his socks. He checked the bottles for any remaining liquid but they were empty.

He owned multiple books about the Chernobyl disaster. His interest in the subject was sparked by a required history course he took as an undergraduate. He became so interested in the disaster that he wrote multiple papers on it during his college time. It was a part of his overall interest in Radiation. In his other classes he reduced radiation to cold mathematics but what fascinated him was the effects it had on people. He was obsessed with the way people could be so terrified about something invisible to them, the way a massive industry sprang up to deal with this fear, the way radiation played as a political bargaining chip between nations, the way its effects were indiscriminate. In some of his more theological moments he thought that radiation was a perfect instrument of God’s will. For the most part his musings on radiation remained secular. However there was something fittingly religious about the way the survivors of Chernobyl described the beauty of the irradiated night sky above the site of the disaster.

He had been told he was destined to do something great his entire life. It was a mantra repeated by authority figures in his life starting with the reverent way his teachers spoke about his reading ability. It was repeated in elementary school as he sat bored in the classes for gifted and talented. It was repeated by his junior high principal as he started taking math classes at the local college. His high school teachers would mention it after the research he did for school was published in conjunction with his teacher. In college his professors would routinely mention it in class, earning him the resentment of his classmates. Even his classmates would talk about his future greatness as they complained about him and fought for him to be in their lab group. This all culminated a few months before he finished grad school. His professor, Dr. Robbins, told him to stay back after class. He moved to the front of the room as the rest of the class hoisted their overloaded back packs and Dr. Robbins dug through the piles of paper on his desk. Robbins finally picked out a thin packet and walked over to him. He tried to read the sly grin that crossed Robbins’ face. Before he could say anything Robbins launched into a long congratulatory speech. It ended with a job offer and a promise that they would embark on doing great things together. He told Robbins that he would consider the offer and left.

The Job
He never accepted the offer. Her father got sick and he moved back to her hometown to care for her aging parents. With no opportunities for advanced physics research in a three hundred mile radius he put that on hold. With his advanced knowledge and experience he easily landed a job at the nuclear plant outside of town. He worked in the control room and spent his days sitting at a bank of computers monitoring the vital signs of the plant. He would make adjustments as necessary but in the average day he did very little save watching the screens spit out new data every five minutes. He tried to keep up with the latest breakthroughs in his field but it was hard to stay relevant. Even after her father’s health improved they stayed the setting for her burgeoning career. He continued to go through the metal detector to his job at the plant for another decade.

The Manifesto
After the abject disappointment of the liquor cabinet he walked confused around the house for a while. He was more numb than anything and regarded trinkets of their marriage with a sad confusion. Eventually anger began to break through the crust of numbness that had stayed in place since she left. He stared angrily at he photo on the wall before ripping it down for the nail that held it to the wall. He kicked over the faux antique coffee table she just had to have spraying magazines across the carpeted floor. At a certain point he just stood still shaking with anger. His heart rate rose and sweat dripped across his forehead. Eventually his rate of breathing slowed. He took a deep breath and set out purposefully over to the computer. In that moment he became absolutely sure of what he needed to do. He composed a manifesto combining half remembered philosophy, with some Marxist jargon he picked up from reading-about Russia, an argument that claimed that radiation was a cleansing force, sentences in all caps, meaningless strings of punctuation, and a sentence declaring that HE and no one else was responsible. It was sloppy, filled with many typos and confusing politics. The facts he put into support his shaky politics were shakier relying on half remembered sections of Internet articles.  Acquaintances interviewed after the fact expressed confusion saying that the arguments in the manifesto were completely divorced from any political belief he had held in the past. However as the sun rose over the neighborhood he printed off ten copies, sending them to the major media outlets with instructions to publish and leaving one on the kitchen counter. He then changed clothes and began the drive to work.

The Plot Part 2

He prepared to initiate a meltdown. He did not know that a SWAT team was on their way to his office. He did not know that she had come back to find his manifesto on the counter. He did not know that the plant safeguarded against what he planned to do. He did not know that his only notoriety in the press was as a rarely named “failed terrorist”. He did not know he would end up pleading insanity. He did not know his manifesto would achieve niche acclaim as he rotted in an institution in upstate New York. He thought that this was his chance to finally be known to achieve that greatness that had so far eluded him. He prepared to press the final button 5…4…3…2…

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