A LIFETIME IN A NANOSECOND
Copyright © Cary Allen Stone
A LIFETIME IN A NANOSECOND©
In the Washington mall, I found an empty bench and decided to recline and people watch. I like to people watch. It’s more fun than any channel on the television, news network, reality show or sporting events. It was one of those wondrous days with a cobalt blue, cloudless sky and the noon sun providing tepid warmth—good afternoon napping weather. There was life going on all around me. People walking to see the museums, take photographs and to engage one another over the issues of the day.
To the right of me, a young girl, maybe ten years of age, was standing by a tree. She was leaning back against it oblivious to the feel of the bark against her bareback. She appeared to be lost in thought as she stared at the panoramic view around her. What thoughts a ten-year-old girl might entertain I wouldn’t’t know. I simply made note of her presence, her red and green dress, and her red hair. My eyes lids were drooping. I blamed it on the brightness of the sun. Someone else would say it was from the boredom of an unemployed old man.
With my eyes closed, I thought about my own children, my son and daughter. They weren’t’t children any longer and were off in another state living their lives with their children. I was only a sideshow in their lives. I thought about their mother who had without any real ability at foresight, wisely chose to leave me years ago. I believed that I had provided as best I could, but still the times had changed.
Being unemployed gave me more time to contemplate the universe. I had attended good schools and followed all of the advice and directions of those who had gone before me but they too no longer understood what was happening to our world. Nothing was like it was supposed to be. It seemed like the change was too rapid for the human species to adjust to at times. We were overwhelmed, confused and getting more lost by the minute. There wasn’t’t anyone on the horizon to lead us out of it.
During my daydream, I cracked one eye open to survey for the police who might insist that I not loiter. There were none, but I did see five men in dark suits approaching from the north side of the mall. There walked deliberately but not fast. Four of them wore dark Ray-Ban’s. The man in the center, boxed in by the other four, looked familiar. His face had been on the news many times and he always seemed to be bearing bad news. I was too old to care any more so I mostly tuned him out, a habit I had learned as a married man with children.
The man in the middle had a dire look on his face. I opened another eye to watch the parade. The other four men stared straight ahead but never were more than two feet from the middleman. He looked more and more familiar but I still could not place who he was. He was dressed in an expensive suit. He had a red and blue tie on against a white shirt and he had a pin on his lapel. I was wearing all that I owned. I glanced at the girl and she was staring directly at the man in the center of the other four. She seemed to have tensed up but I didn’t’t know why. From that moment on her eyes never left that man.
He took a seat at an empty bench in the middle of the mall. The sun was still shining and the sky was still blue. You could hear the wind blow through the trees, and cars nearby. Otherwise, not a sound. The man in the middle reached toward one of the perimeter men and he in turn handed a suitcase back. Deliberately, the sitting man placed the briefcase on his lap and opened the latches. I couldn’t’t see what was inside.
He never took out a legal pad or white papers from inside the briefcase. I thought he might take out his lunch to eat and enjoy the afternoon like the rest of us. But there was no visible brown paper bag, saran-wrapped sandwich. There were no napkins or container of coffee—just the briefcase. He was doing something with his hands inside the case while covered. Then as deliberately as he had started, he closed the latches and handed the bag back to the perimeter man. While he sat quietly on the bench, the other men stood motionless at four points around him. The sitting man took a long hard look at his watch, hesitated, then brushed the sleeves of his expensive suit and gently placed his hands on his lap.
I looked at the middleman but he never looked back at me nor did the perimeter men. I glanced over at the little girl and she gave me a brief, sad look and then stared at the middleman the rest of the time. My eyes were heavy again. It was getting a bit warmer outside but the breeze made the temperature tolerable. I thought I might get up and find a fountain for a drink of water but decided to delay it. My schedule would allow such a journey after a nap. I drifted for a few moments, comfortable in the respite.
In the background sounds I heard, jet aircraft were departing from Reagan Airport. They were on their way to destinations across America. The passengers on board, although it had been many years, still contemplated both the terror of flying itself and to those who led the attacks. Their eyes searched the descending ground as if they were trying to see loved ones left behind.
Squawking gulls from the coast were flying overhead and I hoped that they would not leave a remembrance that they were there. I heard someone, near the other side of the mall and up on an elevation, start to play a song on a hollow body guitar. It was an old song, one from the peace movement days of the sixties but I couldn’t’t remember the name of it, or the words.
Out of the slit of one open eye, I saw a black man walking with low-slung jeans, no socks and untied tennis shoes, a white T-shirt. He didn’t’t seem to have anywhere to go like me. I thought if the middleman and his entourage left, the black man would be able to sit on the bench. I could always make room on mine. I heard a policeman’s whistle blow and the driver of the car deciding to move. But I drifted off again.
The sirens startled me awake. My eyes snapped open. I looked toward the little girl in the red and green dress and her hands were covering her mouth, her eyes were frightened wide. I saw the black man standing, breathing hard. I looked over to the man in the middle, sitting on the bench. The perimeter men had not moved an inch since I last spied them. The man on the bench looked for the longest time at his wristwatch. Then he pulled his sleeves down, brushed them off, pointed a finger at the perimeter man immediately in front of him and then slowly placed his hands back on his lap.
The perimeter man reached into his suit coat. His right hand came out with an automatic handgun. He points it directly at the man in the middle’s forehead and fires one round killing the man instantly. The perimeter men then take each other’s lives concurrently. The girl screams in horror as all five men drop to the freshly mowed grass. I can’t move.
The warning whistles and sirens began to sound. The ICBM’s were falling from the sky when children were leaving for school and adults leaving for work when a prayer had just begun and during a friendly wave given to a neighbor, when a mother tended to her child’s needs, and during the first look out of the eyes of a terminal patient. When a doctor first pressed a cold stethoscope against a bare chest and during the verbal curse because of a mechanic’s lost grip on a tool and during the discordant sounds emanating from a traveling school bus and before the first dire news report by a news anchor When the opening bell sounded on the stock exchange, before the first gavel drop in Congress, and when the first words in a Miranda warning were given, before the first look in a mirror and before the first grasp of a handshake, before the first touch of a lover’s kiss and before the first smell of a sewage treatment plant.
The tear falling down the side of my face never made a sound. The airplanes that had left Reagan would never reach their destinations. All of us were rerouted. We were first blinded, and then we were mass murdered. I knew I had been incinerated—melted, pulverized but for some odd reason I was aware of my surroundings. Maybe it is my soul speaking on my way to the peaceful oblivion of hell. My current flight plan is inside a soundless roar as I am being levitated and sucked into the plume of an angry cloud. I see the face, just the face, no arms, torso or legs of the red-haired girl. She is also ascending. Other human pieces are everywhere disconnected from their bases. I watch as an expensive black briefcase, torn open with the handle flapping passes me. I struggle and kick even though I have nothing to kick with. Still, I try to return to the ground. I have no mass. I am ejected out of the mushroom cloud for miles. The sky is so clear and blue outside of the cloud. The sun seems dull now compared to the white light of the blast.
I can only propose that a very few men decided for every other man, woman and child that life should end, excluding the consultation and concurrence of the Great Maker.
It is the end of green trees, new license plates, car washes, Wall Street, wailing ambulances, bacon and eggs, constitutional law, dreams, CNN, discrimination, illness, the future and the past, us, freedom, knowledge, books and language, thought and debate, opinion, science, baseball and soccer, bibles and Torahs—religion, breakfast, marketing, YouTube and MySpace, art, suicide and procreation, erotica, cherry and apple pie, specialty coffee, fanaticism, vanity, the String Theory, nations and capitals, dialogue, poverty, AIDS, ethnicity, taxes, and mortgages, crime, sex, drugs and Rock & Roll, MTV, black and white, dead or alive.
No monuments to men, no coliseums for sports, no theme parks for fun—nothing higher than an inch for thousands of miles and even the cockroaches’ weren’t’t going to make it through this one.
Blinded in the blink of an eye, my Lasik-corrected eyes exploding, I, for a brief second, caught the smell of seared, singed, melting flesh from the intense heat of the colliding atoms. There was the subtle sound of my collarbone snapping. Fortunately, the whole thing was quick. I didn’t’t want to have time to think about it, become afraid, agonize and then be irradiated. The earth, home, was being sterilized.
It was quiet.
Cary Allen Stone