We were in Kansas City five days when the skies turned.
Lake Michigan rose up foaming as if from the underworld and it breached the Iowa state line washing out everything in its path, so we knew it was time to head elsewhere. My husband and I packed our twin girls into the van and knowing we wouldn’t ever return we headed west on I-80 out of Iowa City. With everyone else doing the same thing the road was soon clogged and impassible with parked or stalled-out vehicles by the time we arrived in Des Moines.
There were hundreds of people walking on the highway shoulder. All of them out of the city and into the immense flatlands beneath the open blue sky and we too fell in line, carrying everything we could with us including two sidearms hidden in our waistbands, one for my husband and one for me. The girls were very frightened and on the verge of tears. Now and then I’d see a dead person in a ditch on the side of the road and I’d point in the other direction at nothing in particular and the girls would look over to where I pointed, their eyes straining past the endless fields and out to the circling birds and webs of clouds. A sky so high and neat and endless. I couldn’t tell if either of the girls had already seen the body. Everything was nothing. There were no airplanes in the air and without the roar of traffic the world was eerily quiet.
We were always thirsty and we often talked with others on the road, exchanging information with the ones that seemed decent and had kids of their own. People told us they’d heard the day after the quake a nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania had failed and was contaminating the air. This besides the explosion we all knew about in Washington state. Or where Washington state used to be, now slipped entire into the ocean. Secretly I wondered about the plutonium plants, not to mention the nuke bombs and missiles, wherever they might be. The government wasn’t saying anything but there had to be serious problems. There had to be warheads nestled somewhere deep in the Earth’s mantle, just sitting there where the ground had swallowed them up.
I asked my husband about it that first night on the road. Our legs were tired beyond belief and our nerves frayed. I missed home. The girls were asleep under the moonlight and with the stars brighter than I’d ever seen them I whispered to him, What would happen if there were nukes buried down in the Earth? What would happen if they went off?
My husband had fought in Afghanistan and he said that I shouldn’t worry about such things. He said he’d walked through miles and miles of mine fields before and the worst thing you could do was think about the mines.
The both of us slept badly and the sunshine woke the girls early in the morning. We set off again southbound on US-69 with a thin line of people both in front and behind us, a wasted group of ghosts. I felt as though we were the last wretched souls on Earth, slinking slowly from the damned. Or maybe we were the damned, walking into the mouth of our eternal anguish.
This is an abbreviated chapter.