Before the Bomb Went Off

by Sarah Kobrinsky

As a child I had a recurring nightmare about nuclear warfare. It was the tail end of the Cold War. I remember an entire week at age ten when I wouldn’t leave my mother’s side as if she alone could protect me from mushroom clouds and fallout. The dream was always exactly the same, every detail the same. Visual verbatim.

It began at a family picnic in an enormous rolling park, the landscape impossibly green, yellow and blue like a child’s drawing of grass, sun and sky, like a cartoon. The smell of charcoal and fresh-mown lawn filled the air. My family would be gathered around large wooden tables covered in potato salad, chips, ketchup, so much food, my father close by roasting weenies on the grill.

Then, all of a sudden, Superman would swoop down, his cape flapping in the wind, and land, arms akimbo, on the grass–Superman in his red and blue, almost painted-on suit, his blue-black hair shellacked into stillness, his jaw jutted out in victorious right angles, his chin pointed far into a bright and distant future. 

But no one would notice his arrival apart from my brother and me. He’d walk toward us with a powerful, purposeful gait and gather us into his arms. Then we’d fly, one child on each arm, up into the sky. Three abreast, we’d float higher and higher (It’s  a bird! It’s a plane!) across endless cerulean blue. Down below rows of suburban houses grew smaller and smaller, every now and again the suggestion of a swimming pool, another park, the squiggle of rivers, patchwork farmland and, finally, clouds.

Then the scene would abruptly change. Jagged mountains came up from the ground and cut into the sky, turning it the violent color of blood. We seemed to fly forever over this volcanic terrain, smoke and fire as far as the eye could see. Then the scene would switch again and we’d fly back through blue skies to the barren parking lot of a grocery superstore. Superman would set us down gently in front of the automatic doors and disappear. 

Poor light filled the lonely aisles stacked with packaged foodstuffs. An ominous hum rose from the freezers in the frozen food section. The place would be empty except for the cashier in thick, black glasses and a red and blue polyester vest on check-out number ten: Clark Kent. He would ignore us as if we weren’t there, too busy ringing up countless cans of chicken soup for some invisible customer. Beefy silence would persist through the store until a tinny female voice would come over the PA and say: “The bomb will impact in 10 seconds. Have a nice day.” 

Then the countdown: TEN, NINE…the camera in my dreamer’s eye would cut rapidly from the store to the sky…EIGHT, SEVEN…and focus on the bomb falling through the air…SIX, FIVE…but it wasn’t a bomb at all…FOUR…it was a giant toy top…THREE…brightly colored and benign…TWO…how did we ever dream before film?…ONE…

 I always woke up before the bomb went off. Big bomb, beautiful bomb. Bang.


Sarah Kobrinsky writes poems and stories. She never grew out of it. 
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