Meltdown part 4. Desire.
Arkwright’s hands shook as he poured the Martinis. Then he told Thor they were going into the reactor.
Inside? Didn’t that mean if not a certain death then an uncertain one?
He remembered his Meltdown training from his first week at the facility:
1.Don the anti-rad suit.
So Thor wasn’t sure if he had heard right but then he saw Arkwright taking down the reactor key from its peg, putting it in his pocket.
There was a plaque above the gates that bore down on him every morning as he arrived:
History repeats itself, first as farce and then as tragedy.
It came back to him like a flood, his childhood game, Albert, Reggie and him naked and covered in tomato sauce, his mother’s shocked reaction as she tipped them out of the coffins.
He had been a bad son.
Why had she jumped off that bridge?
It was because of him.
I’ll come with you, he said to Arkwright and as he pulled on his designated anti-rad suit and aviator goggles he reeled off the symptoms he had memorised from that TV show he had seen as a child; nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, severe headache, fever, ditziness and disintegration, weakness and fatigue, total body hair loss, internal bleeding leading to blood vomit and blood shits, massive infections, low blood pressure, death.
The previous night on the NewsTM the leader of the Middle Eastern country whose general had been murdered on the toilet had promised revenge was imminent, nuclear weapons were being obtained.
In response the Prime Minister was reported to have contacted his chief balloon maker. The biggest ever display of balloons were to be ordered and affixed to the sides of the Houses of ParliamentTM.
Rumour was that they would spell out, “BRING IT ON” and then there would be a huge balloon middle finger sticking up. Then the Prime Minister was going to take a photo of it, put it on a postcard with a thumbprint of his ass, to prove that it was him. Or an ass-print of his ass. Whatever.
He wasn’t a details guy.
More of a big picture one.
The Prime Minister was Making Great Britain GreatTM. He had made a speech.
“It was time to call a spade a spadeTM.”
People had loved it, crowds had gathered, fireworks been let off. Then as the crowds were going home a woman on a train had had her burka pulled off, a Polish pickle shop had had its windows smashed.
Things were coming to a head.
For the previous three months tattoo shops had reported an upsurge of requests for bulldogs, Union Jacks, pictures of biscuit dunking, red post boxes, fish & chips, the names of football teams, the White Cliffs of Dover, bags of crisps, cups of tea, red telephone boxes, policemen’s helmets.
One man had had ‘God Save the Queen’ tattooed on his willy and ‘Up the Arsenal’ across his bum, although it was quickly pointed out by his mates down the pub that the latter might have been a mistake. The man blamed the tattooist who happened to be Slovakian.
He had done it deliberately.
A campaign had been started to get him put ‘on the next boat out of here’. It had gathered 1.2 million signatures and a group of non-elected governmental advisers were already drawing up plans for the stricter regulation of tattoo shops. It was rumoured their plans would also include beauty parlours, dog groomers, hairdressers, fish mongers, fruit and veg sellers, Post Office counter staff and even colonic irrigators. This sub-paragraph was non-ironically titled, Making our shit sacred.
They were only putting into law what a lot of people believed about a lot of things.
Vox Pops and radio phone-in shows were full of bile and hatred.
Thor had heard one man say the root cause of all evil was decimalisation and Chinese cockle-pickers. And so what if they got washed out to sea due to poor Health & Safety? Couldn’t British people be washed out to sea? That was what was wrong with this country.
It was all going to hell in a handcart so why not go into the reactor with Arkwright?
And if he did get sick then maybe Mermaid would come to the hospital to visit him.
It might be just the kind of icebreaker he needed.
They could fall in love in spite of his failing organs, the blood pouring from his bumhole, the persistent beeping of the machine which meant his heart was still beating.
The concrete reactors loomed out of the darkness like giant Martello towers with cherries on the top. Red light flashing to warn away the lobster fleet.
As Arkwright fumbled with the keys Thor squinted out to the horizon where the little boats bobbed. That was heroism. Going out there every night. What he did, was doing, was nothing.
So this is it, said Arkwright, the heart of the baby. And you can take your protective goggles and suit off now. They were just a precaution in case someone was watching from the mudflats. We get them sometimes, nosey buggers with binoculars who wonder what all this nuclear malarkey is about.
It took some time for Thor’s eyes to adjust to the light, the lack of it. He might have been in a church, or a planetarium, or one of those buildings where they grow climate inappropriate fruits.
He had visited one of these once on a university trip and he had kissed a girl behind a geographically inappropriate banana. He had said thank you and she had called him a doofus and put a hand down his pants. Then she had made a disparaging remark about the size of his widget.
Later he consoled himself that this might have been due to perspective.
Those bananas had been huge!
And besides he had no concerns about the size of his willy.
The school nurse had even once complemented it on its yearly measuring. He had been 14 and she said he had the willy of a sixteen year old. Which was ironic because that was when he had been dating Reggie and Reggie was sixteen and Reggie’s willy had been all his so why not put that in your pipe and smoke it?
Behold, said Arkwright, Prometheus’ Cave. A miracle of wonders and Northern grit.
Thor had expected heat, a kind of x-ray effect so that holding up his hand he would have seen the precise delineation of his bones beneath his flesh like in the movie X: The Man With X-ray Specs. Instead there was a musty smell, a low but gently moaning and a sense of beasts.
Pit ponies, said Arkwright, confirming everything. After the closing of the pits there were hundreds of them and those hundred bred. We could never have afforded proper nuclear although the sound of it was pretty great. A few of us got together and…
He gave a dull hacking cough, put a hand out to steady himself.
…so instead we’ve got this. Heavenly beasts of burden. They walk around. They turn the turbines. The turbines produce electricity. It’s a win-win for everyone. The turbines are a much lighter weight than a wagon full of coal. And their breathing, they breathe like angles these days. They’re better off here than a mountain in Norway. Or down a pit. Or being slaughtered. The truth is I love them and I’m trusting you to take care of them when I’m gone. That’s my legacy. Yours too if you want it.
Thor was with Arkwright when he died. The nurse closed his eyes and said she always admired those who died peacefully. Last week they had had a diver who the seals had gone at. She shook her head and attempted the words he used, well, what exactly was a cunting cunt?
Arkwright’s last words to Thor were that he should get a bit of gumption, stop worrying about the whole bloody world, and, to go and speak to that lass you fancy.
You’re a bloody loss unto yourself. That’s what you are. If I could I’d grab you by the balls myself. I’ve wanted to do it for ages but I think you might think, you know?
That very night, striking while the iron was hot, Thor put on his Bjorn Borg headband and matching pair John McEnroe wristbands and walked along the front to Ginny’s Palace.
Mermaid was there, sitting majestically behind her Perspex screen adorned with old adverts for battered sausages, end of pier comics, now long dead, old black and white movies staring Carole Lombard and Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers.
In response to her ‘hello’ Thor blushed and let it slip that he was now in charge of the nuclear plant. He pulled the keys hanging from his belt in a proprietary manner and then asked Mermaid if she had change for a fifty. There was some confusion as hands went back and forth to the till drawer, to the neatly organised stacks of ready prepared coins, and Thor blushed when he said that he meant 50p and not 50 pounds. He had never had a 50 pound note, never in his life, and you had to be careful because a lot of them were forgeries.
But that was it. Two weeks later he and Mermaid went on their first date and the rest, as they say, is history. Love bloomed.
Eighteen perfect months later Thor was with Mermaid when their baby was born. The nurse who was assisting wore a pair of perfectly fitting kid gloves. Pinned to her uniform were other gloves; cotton, wool, silk, some with shining malachite buttons. Each had a price tag next to them and Thor recalled the leaflet handed out to him at the Birthing Clinic.
In bold letters at the top so it couldn’t be missed it had explained how the nurses, with the sale of these gloves, supplemented their meagre incomes.
It’s a boy, said the nurse and without even going into her glove sales pitch she said, Wait, I’ll fetch the doctor.
When the doctor arrived, for the same reasons as the nurse but with a higher value of products due to his enhanced position, he was pulling a drum kit behind him on wheels. Hanging from his shoulders on straps were a guitar, a banjo, a violin and a very tiny ukulele.
I’m very sorry, he said, accompanied by the rattle and hum of his instruments, you’re baby is deformed. He will never walk. He may not even crawl.
Then he had tried to sell them a saxophone. Perfect, he said, for playing the blues.
Thor and Mermaid had converted one of the toilet cubicles in their apartment into a crib. In another of the cubicles Thor sat flushing the cistern over and over to hide the sound of his sobs.
Oh Atlas, he said. Oh my little Atlas.
They called the boy Atlas, after the son of Poseidon and the first king of Atlantis.
Only work provided a distraction.
Thor, now in sole charge of nuclear facility, instead of sitting in the control room smoking Egyptian cigarettes, drinking martinis while keeping a watch on the useless buttons and displays, let himself into the reactors and tended the ponies.
He found comfort in their beastliness, their persistence, the way they turned their big eyes up at him when he treated them with cubes of sugar.
For a moment he could forget that he had a son who would never walk. Never crawl. And then it would come back to him.
Everyone he had ever loved had died. Or was damaged in some way.
Better that he himself was never born and he imagined lying down on the dung-filled ground, letting the ponies trample over him.
Walk, my beauties, he would say, just walk. Take away my pains. Absolve me of my sins.
But one day he was altered by the klaxon of the perimeter alarm. On the CCTV camera he saw the grainy image of a person on the mudflats walking slowly backwards and forwards around the fence.
It was the perambulator he recognised as he had made it himself, attaching the big wheels of two penny farthings onto a lobster pot. Mermaid.
The next day she was there again, and the next. He challenged her about it in bed, running his hand through her hair, salt encrusted from the many hours she spent half submerged in the sea.
I’ve seen it in the comics, is what she said at first, choking back tears, and then she listed them off, pulling the comic books from where she had hidden them under the mattress.
Cromoman, whose eyes could pierce through solid metal, Firestorm who could perform nuclear pyrokinesis, Atom, able to shrink to subatomic level, Flash with his superhuman speed.
The townsfolk have always complained that having a nuclear power station so close is dangerous but maybe radiation will give our baby special abilities. Just imagine.
It came to Thor the next day as he watched the ponies going around and around. Life was a circle. It went on regardless. There was no end, just beginnings. Countless beginnings.
Oh Mermaid, he said. Oh Atlas.
What he needed was persistence. Desire. The desire to believe and to then persevere.
Fuck it, he said and with a roar of laughter he opened wide the loading doors, letting in the light.
Fly, he screamed, fly, and one by one he released the ponies. At first reluctant, soon they were streaming outside.
What do you look like? said Mermaid as he joined her out on the mudflats. He had mounted one of the ponies, was sitting proudly on its back.
You look like Jesus or something, she said.
Don Quixote, he said.
A seal waddled along the beach. Overhead flew a fat gull, a chip gripped in its beak.
Then he told her they’d had a meltdown. Right now radiation was flooding out from the reactors. They whole town would be affected but it would affect those most who were closest to the epicentre.
And this, he said, this is the epicentre. Me, you and little Atlas are slap bang in the middle of it.
And right on cue another of the ponies sidled up. Its blinkers were like window shutters. Its little hooves sunk down into the sand. It let out a low moan, like it might’ve wanted to be a wolf.
Here they are, thought Thor, these ponies, me, my family, we are all made of atoms, billions of atoms, and each atom in turn is made of protons, neutrons and electrons. The protons and the neutrons make up the nucleus and around the nucleus fly the electrons. And that is something that all matter is made up of.
We are all the same.
With these words Thor felt a frisson, a fusion, a fission. It was happening!
Thor reached for Atlas and placed him in front of him on the pony’s back. Then he reached for Mermaid. And like that they set off down the beach. They were an allegory, a special moment, a tipping point.
Their child didn’t needa special power. He already had one.
He was born of desire and desire was enough. Enough to power the world.
Desire by Talk Talk https://youtu.be/Av8JLWiXDUI