The bomb is scheduled for the early hours, but even after everything that’s been said tonight the two of you still get dressed and leave the room. There are other guests staying at the motel, and together you form a strange procession marching out across the dunes.
“Say, where you boys from?”
Big guy. Geometric crewcut on his squat head. Mistook you for brothers. You didn’t correct him.
“Hear that, kids? These fellas came from Los Angeles. We drove down from Salt Lake. Say, Alice, how long would you say it took us?”
“Seven hours. And let me tell you, it’s one heck of a lot warmer here than back home. But we just had to see this. I mean, it is a miracle of modern technology. And Alice and I, we’ve spoken about this, and we sleep easier in our beds knowing we have the bomb and the other fellas don’t. Say, did either of you see any action in the last war?”
You both shake your heads.
“Well, I was on Guadalcanal, and I do not want my boys experiencing anything like that; no, sir.”
Presently, the crowd stops on a ridge two hundred yards from the motel. Some brought foldaway chairs and cushions. Some of the men have bottles of beer. The mother of a nearby family begins laying out plates and Tupperware boxes on a red gingham blanket. Tired children yawn and rub their eyes. No-one quite knows what they’re about to witness.
The time given for the test was approximate, and so you wait, staring into the silent black, hardly daring to blink in case you miss something. Time passes. Then, from somewhere in the distance you hear a noise, a siren or an alarm, carried on the breeze.
Nick looks at you, his eyes glistening, and with an expression caught between hatred and undiminished love he whispers, “You know, you really broke my heart.”
His timing is Biblical; the light from the west so sudden, so brilliant it turns everything into a blank page. You screw your eyes shut and put your arm across your face but you can still see it – an orange glow that permeates every tissue, every skin cell, every blood cell. Even your bones. When you open your eyes again a globe of fire is forming over the horizon, turning the night sky a deep and bloody shade of red. It swells and churns, flaring yellow and white in its core, gorging itself on light.
Nick can’t take his eyes off it, and you watch a single tear escape and trickle down his cheek.
“It’s beautiful,” he says.
You look again as a cloud shaped like an oak tree rises and blooms over the desert. The crowd around you oohs and aahs as if they were watching fireworks. One of the younger children, a little girl, begins to scream.
And you think you know exactly how she feels.