from “World War III Doesn’t Last Long” by Nora Olsen


Fell was pretty sure she was in Sunnyside now, but her knowledge of Queens geography was a bit underdeveloped.  She wished the CitiGroup building was still standing.  It had been such a good landmark, the only really tall building in Queens.  It had been like a polestar that told you where you were.  Fell remembered shopping in Chinatown with Soo Jin and giggling at gaudy commemorative wall plaques of the CitiGroup building that were for sale on Canal Street.  They had joked that soon there wouldn’t be a skyscraper left in the city, just lots of commemorative plaques.  Soo Jin had worked as a math tutor to a little girl whose parents both worked in the CitiGroup building.  Soo Jin never heard from them again after the attack, and refused to look at the names of the dead.

The thing was, it was a pretty big declaration of love to travel across the city when the government was telling you to stay indoors because of the radiation.  Fell didn’t know if she was ready for that yet.  The declaring her love part.  She might be marginally more ready for radiation.  Lesbians were supposed to move really fast.  The cliche was that the second date was renting a U-Haul truck so they could move in together.  But it hadn’t been that way with Fell and Soo Jin.  If only she could have had a chance to talk to Soo Jin when the bombs fell on Pennsylvania.  They could have made some kind of plan.  But Fell had only been able to speak to her father in California, and then the phones had stopped working.  She should have called Soo Jin first.  She didn’t even really care about her father all that much.  Just thinking about this was making Fell feel nauseated.

Every way Fell turned she was confronted by a fence with some train tracks behind it.  It seemed to go on and on, and Fell was getting frustrated.  Then she started hearing music.  She knew it might be a mistake to go to it, but she was curious.  It was hard to tell where the sound was coming from.  Then she turned on to Skillman Avenue and saw the playground.

The two men in the park looked so natural that Fell wasn’t even surprised to see them.  They were two middle-aged black men.  One was doing chin-ups on the jungle gym.  The other, less fit-looking, was sitting reading the Daily News.  It must have been an old copy, but the man seemed engrossed.  A  boom pod was next to him, blasting out the music on its tiny, high-quality speakers.

Fell approached cautiously.  The chin-up man saw her and acknowledged her with a slight nod.  He continued his workout, dropping from the bars to knock off a few pushups.

“This guy wrote to Dear Abby,” newspaper guy said.  “He’s in prison and suspects his girlfriend is seeing another man.  He’s got two more years and he’s asking her what should he do.”

“There’s nothing he can do,” chin-up man said, not even out of breath.  “He’ll sit there in prison one way or the other.”

“My point exactly.  Two years is a long time.  He went and bought a stamp from the commissary, and sent off this letter to Dear Abby.  Now he’s waiting in his jumpsuit for her reply so he can find out what he’s supposed to do!”  The man slapped his newspaper and laughed.

“That’s off the hook,” said the other man.  He was finally panting.  He lay down on his back and begins to do some sort of sit-up.

“Excuse me, do either of you have cell phones that work?” Fell ventured.

Chin-up man barked out a laugh.  “No one does,” he said.  “And I’ll tell you something.  That’s a satellite station we’re listening to.  No DJ, all music.  So the radiation isn’t interfering with no waves.”

It was what Fell expected, but she was disappointed.  “Can you tell me the way to Steinway Street in Astoria?”

“Just keep going the way you’re going and take a right on 39th Street,” chin-up man said.  “That’ll take you over Sunnyside Yard.  You cross Northern Boulevard and boom, you’re there.”

“You have a blessed day,” newspaper guy said sternly, as if he knew she would disobey him and not have a blessed day.

“Thanks, you too,” she said.  Was that the right thing to say?  It didn’t sound right.  The man’s directions were excellent.  Soon Fell was coasting along Steinway Street, lined with its familiar shops.   A black car with TLC plates was speeding along the other way, and honked at her as he passed.  The car was going so fast that a blowback breeze made Fell’s hair stand up.  The only moving car she had seen all day.

Fell turned off onto 25th Avenue and there was Soo Jin’s building.  More classy than her own, brick not aluminum siding.  Now she was sick to her stomach with nervousness.  If Soo Jin wasn’t there, she had no Plan B.


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