Fake Clouds

The clouds in my backyard were fake.

Puffed out from the never stopping stream of steam that still flows gently from the guts of two giant nuclear reactors that shaded our suburban home.

And every night while I slept, rods of naked uranium were evangelizing to H2O, tempting it to rise heavenward– turning mighty turbines so that the digital glow of my clock radio could haunt my dark room.

The only thing that separated my sleeping body from the unnaturalness nearby was a Farrah Fawcett poster, three-quarters of an inch of cheap sheet rock, eight inches of Pink Panther insulation, some dented up celery-green siding and three hundred yards of weeds…

Nothing that could stop radiation on the wing, let alone a full-blown nuclear winter.

When you’re young you always expect that the world is going to end. When you live next door to a nuclear reactor, you’re hardly a part of the living. The apocalypse is as everyday as a light switch. You can turn it on and off but it’ll never go away.

We used to live in the city where death is far more common than it is tree hundred yards from a towering pair of brick tits. That’s what my dad called the cooling towers. Brick tits. He said, we live next to the Jane Russell National Monument. Cross my heart.

Mama was forever discovering mysterious lumps on her neck and arms that she’d dazily rub while staring over a sink full of dishes out at the nuclear power plant. She’d find lumps on me and my dog Banjo too, but I didn’t think these lumps, bumps and bruises had anything to do with hot uranium.

Banjo and I would play meltdown in the backyard and I’d pretend the brick tits were imploding, shooting a mushroom cloud straight through the earth– all the way to China. We’d fall together and I’d wrestle Banjo in an imaginary nuclear winter, generating lots mysterious lumps and saving him from that long fall to Beijing.

One time when our neighbor was mowing his lawn and I was just sitting and watching him from my bedroom window… I was just sitting and petting Banjo and watching him push his mower along the security fence when he suddenly stopped.

He pulled out a handkerchief to wipe a sheet of sweat from his forehead.

At that same moment, my stomach lurched and Banjo barked.

At that same moment, the red lights atop the security fence began rhythmically flashing

Mama ran in, stopped us up and got us into the station wagon.

* * *

Nothing happened that day but I was comforted for another reason.

I thought about my neighbor stumbling back and Banjo barking and my stomach lurching like it did and I thought, we’ll know. We’ll know when it’s going to happen.

Every day, I still think I’ll die but every night the sun sinks quietly, below the fake clouds, behind the brick tits, and shines happily on China.


Fake Clouds was a 2003 Sundance Film Festival official selection.

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