There was a great rumbling in the sky followed by a burst of hawks.
Nenna tilted her neck back until her vision filled with blue. Bomb,
she thought, though she did not know if bombs rumbled. Perhaps people
were incinerated before they could even hear anything, or perhaps there
was no sound at all. Regardless, no one had cause to bomb a small town
like the one where Nenna lived. Beneath the booming sky, dogs barked,
air conditioners hummed and, somewhere down the street, a rooster
crowed. The next-door neighbor rode his mower up and down the lawn in
tidy strips, an American flag rippling overhead.
Nenna had long sensed some looming deterioration within herself and was
therefore spending more time out on the deck to soak up Vitamin D which,
according to the internet, was essential for maintaining healthy bones
and teeth. Weeks ago, she had tapped one of her canines with a
fingernail and knew from the hollow sound it produced that something was
She was glad to be outside, bearing witness to the resounding sky
instead of hiding inside mute walls. She felt she was meeting her fate,
whatever that meant. She felt that the sound was meant for her. I’m
ready, Nenna thought, though she knew nothing was really coming. She
was old enough to know better. All the same, she was ready.
Nenna, Nenna, said a voice inside her head. We’re sinking. It was
the lunchtime voice, the one that chimed around noon to let her know the
morning was spent. She dreaded these voices, for to announce the close
of one day was to forecast the start of another, and Nenna was through
with days. Her life had become one long day; the whole song and dance of
sun and moon was nothing but a rude disruption. She didn’t want to brush
her teeth anymore.
The rumbling passed. Nenna’s voices grew sharp and orange hued.
“Nice day, Nenny!” The neighbor dismounted his lawnmower and waved. His
lawn gleamed emerald in the sunlight. Bill was an unflagging UFO
enthusiast, and Nenna sometimes suspected he was trying to cultivate
grass so green and lustrous that aliens would notice his efforts all the
way from outer space and come down to congratulate him.
“Nice day, Nenny,” she grumbled. The voices groaned. They weren’t the
sort of voices that drove one mad—on the contrary, they sought to
drive Nenna sane. They wanted her to split up the day by meals, go to
bed at night, and partake in civil conversations with the neighbors. To
appease them, she called out, “Lawn’s looking healthy!”
“My pride and joy.”
“Lunatic,” she muttered under her breath. Nenna, Nenna, said the
Nenna hobbled indoors and surrendered to lunchtime: a mealy pear and
three burnt sugar cookies. Then she surrendered to television and sat
through a documentary about pumas. It was comforting to learn that pumas
were not endangered, that they sometimes ate raccoons. She admired the
way their muscles surged beneath their silky pelts when they chased
their prey. Long after Nenna was gone, pumas would surely endure.
The voices had calmed to a dim hush, as they often did after lunch,
which left her free to light her brain on fire. Evenings were for Nenna
alone. Between the hours of four and seven, she liked to poke holes in
the pillows, tilt picture frames askew, change the lightbulbs, and
reorganize the cupboards. As she went about disassembling her house, she
would think things like There is so much to do! or A woman’s work is
never done! and other such babble. Nenna had never been a mother or
housewife, but she had been a woman. She was scarcely one anymore, or
rather, her womanhood had long since become irrelevant to her, but still
she knew the script.
She alphabetized the spices and guzzled the vanilla, shrieking, “Down
the hatch!” After unplugging all the lamps in the house, she sat at her
computer desk and typed samurai into the search engine; then puma
eating raccoon, raccoon hands and, finally, what sound do bombs
make? She would learn the truth.
Samurai looked to Nenna like elegant robots. She’d thought raccoons had
thumbs but was mistaken. Almost no one in Hiroshima recalled hearing any
noise from the bomb.
Satisfied with her newfound glut of knowledge, Nenna proceeded back to
the deck, where she was certain the rumbling would find her again. The
suppertime voices did not follow. Perhaps they’d finally given up. She
closed her eyes and waited.
Bill was still outside, busy righting nature’s many wrongs. He was
chainsawing a rotting limb on the tree between their houses, sporting
safety goggles and earmuffs. The dark evening clouds had congealed into
a curious shape. It looked to Nenna like the head of a puma.
She stared transfixed at the apparition above. The sky boomed again,
deeper this time, reverberating in her weary bones. As she stared, a
shiny metal disc cut through the clouds, giving the puma a lopsided
sneer. It looked almost like—
“Bill,” she cried, a sudden lightness blooming in her chest. She pointed
a finger to the sky. “Bill, lookit!”
Bill did not look up from his sawing; he didn’t even seem to hear her.
The rumbling grew louder and louder until it swallowed Bill and his
chainsaw. Nenna hobbled down the wooden steps toward her neighbor. Her
pink slippers reached the stark green border of his property just as the
chainsaw severed the limb. It split with a deafening crack. Nenna,
Nenna. Bill removed his earmuffs a moment too late. He looked down.
Overhead, the puma opened its jaws and rain came pouring down on the
ill-fated neighbors, missed by no one.