On the Pripyat
Dima sat, exhausted, watching the fish in its final throes at the bottom of the boat. A monstrous catfish that had taken all his strength to haul out, gasping for air, clinging onto life for as long as possible. Now there they were, not so different from each other.
This wasn’t the first fish of such a size he’d caught. The river was teeming with them. He’d heard them called mutants after the disaster by adventurous fishermen who crossed into the zone in order to fish for these beasts, but Dima didn’t believe any of that. After the town was evacuated one year ago, the fish had simply been left to grow without human interference. It was the same with other forms of wildlife. Animals were stealthily approaching Pripyat, gradually taking up residence where people had unsuspectingly gone about their business not so long ago.
And he saw the daily advance of plants over the contaminated soil, moving to invade and encroach, to make abandoned concrete and brickwork their own. It was obvious to Dima that nature had no regard for the predictions of scientists and that his town was soon to be filled with life yet again.
Dima sighed. The fish had stilled. He picked up his knife, squatted down and brought the point to its soft belly. It was gory gutting such a large animal, but it didn’t bother him. He washed the insides with the clear river water, aware of the silent killer permeating the flesh he touched, mingling with the water he was using, soaking into the fabric of the boat he was sitting in, lurking within his own body.
He washed the final remnants of gut from his hands by rubbing them in the cool water. He would take the fish home and cook it, keep a small portion for himself and leave the rest in the old grocery store on the corner, where the community of selfsettlers had unofficially agreed to leave surplus food whenever they had some. Dima didn’t know exactly how many like him there were as he preferred the company of memories, but fewer than 50 he guessed. They roamed this ghost town that had once been so full of promises ‒ a town housing what was to be the biggest nuclear power station in the world.
Dima and the other selfsettlers had been evacuated of course. For a day or so after the disaster, nothing much happened. He remembered children running barefoot outside, military men appearing in protective gear and the streets being washed with cleaning fluid. Then all of a sudden they were given two hours to pack important papers and essentials, enough to last them three days. What must have been thousands of buses appeared and the town was emptied in just two hours.
A year later Dima defied the authorities and returned home. The time he spent sharing a flat with other evacuees outside Kyiv were the darkest cloud in his mind. Of his friends and family, why had only he survived? To go back wasn’t a choice he made, it was a compulsion brought on by anxiety.
Dima raised himself up in the boat and grabbed the oars. He paused for a moment. Against the horizon loomed the ill-fated plant with its dying reactor entombed in a concrete and steal sarcophagus. It was meant to limit radiation, but he didn’t believe it worked. In this post-apocalyptic world of his existence, Dima had turned sceptic. But he thought that the view from the boat on the river, must be just as good as the view was that night on the bridge, where the people of the town came out to watch the fireworks. They were told radiaton would be minimal, that they would be safe. And how spectacular the rainbow-coloured flames of the burning graphite nuclear core must have looked. The flames higher than the towering smoke stack that had always inspired Dima with awe!
Dima started to row back to shore. The boat was noticeably heavier with the fish. As he rowed he thought that perhaps it had been worth it for those people. Perhaps the beauty of the display was such that they died happy, because nothing in life would ever equal it. He liked to think that way, because his wife and daughter had been amongst the crowd on the bridge that night.
When Dima reached the river bank where he usually left the boat, he couldn’t quite find the energy to get out. The sickness he played host to was sapping his strength. He rested his head in his hands, closed his eyes and listened to the clucking of the water against the boat. So soothing! A familiar sound, as if nothing had really changed.
Dima dragged the boat up on the beach until it was positioned by the diamond-shaped warning sign where the water never reached. He bent down to haul his catch out and place it over his shoulder. The cold eyes of the fish stared back at him.
The authorities had tried to make them all leave. They said it was dangerous. But for Dima the radiation was much less dangerous than to leave the city where he’d known happiness. He had no right to abandon this place. He was attached to it like a tree to its roots; to leave would make him yet another victim, to stay meant a few more weeks living in the lightest place of his heart.
Ray of Dawn
A sun beam sliced its way in between the slats of the Venetian blinds, through the gloom, and illuminated Ray’s big toe where it poked out from underneath the duvet. Ray lay in bed, resting his hand on the Dawn shaped dent in the mattress; a dent that mirrored the shape of the wound inside his soul.
Specs of dust danced a dance through the single sun beam. Ray had loved to dance with Dawn. And dust had made Dawn wheeze.
As the minutes passed, the beam of light jumped down from Ray’s toe and traced a path along the floor towards the window. Dawn had had a trace of the softest down along her hairline.
Ray got out of bed and shuffled towards the wardrobe. His dark suit hung next to Dawn’s sunny dress, like an eclipse. Ray put it on, flicked some dust off the lapels and sighed.
To earth from earth, to ashes from ashes, to dust from dust and send the bright Dawn down into the deepest darkest grave.
The Colour of Choice
From the far end of a narrow tunnel through blue, Stephen’s gaze travels and falls on his own wrists. The blue soaks back into his skin, radiates upwards, out through his mind, back down to his wrists and around again, endlessly. Like an electric circuit, only devoid of energy.
He sits slumped over on the green park bench. The yellow sun warms his body and a gentle breeze strokes his hair. A detached part of himself observes that it’s good ‒ it goes no further.
Stephen doesn’t often leave home, but he’s been told he needs to get out. His doctor calls it ”depression”. To Stephen it’s a matter of one syllable versus three ‒ life is blue.
So here Stephen sits on the bench:
– a pigeon strolls by.
– a dog on a leash.
– a skateboard.
– the long sound of an aeroplane.
– and a pair of legs walk up…
”May I sit here?”
She’s wearing a red summer dress ‒ a person from the other end of the spectrum. She unwraps a sandwich and starts eating.
”I haven’t seen you here before.”, she says
Stephen responds quietly:
”No, no. I don’t come here often.”
It’s a Skype call through the tunnel. He’s distant, somewhere blurred in space, with a time-lapse. She’s defined, here and now, exactly where she’s supposed to be.
She takes a smoothie out of her bag and drinks.
”My name’s Rosie”, she stretches out a hand, confident in her absolute right to existence. Stephen takes it. Warm and soft.
She rests, her face towards the sun, then she turns and looks at him quizzically, smiling:
”You have a kind face.”, she says. ”Maybe I’ll see you here tomorrow?”
Rosie packs her things and waves goodbye. Stephen closes his eyes and turns his face to the sun. The blue inside him becomes tinged with yellow , blending into a bright shade of green crossing back into blue, and right at the center, at the edges of the opening of the blue tunnel, is a hint of purple.
He’ll be here tomorrow.