My Beauty is So Heavy It Could Crush the Whole of the World
We took turns touching the warhead. Amanda was the braver of us two, setting the palm of her hand on the side and closing her eyes. I barely poked at it, expecting at any moment to jostle it just so that it would explode and destroy us and the silo and the house and the whole wide world above.
No need to worry, Commander Arsenic said. That motherfucker is a real piece of work.
Amanda and me had been down there all of two hours. We’d been digging up a space in the backyard for a pool. She didn’t think we could do it ourselves, told me I should call on some professionals, but we didn’t have the money for such things and I had a pretty big ego at the time. I figured I could trudge up enough dirt and then get in some concrete and we’d be lounging poolside with some margaritas before the week was over. Then I found the hatch and gave it a few knocks with the shovel.
What is that? Amanda said from the edge of the hole. She had a watered-down drink in hand. Is that some kind of spaceship? she said.
No, I said. I think it’s a silo. Government’s got ‘em hidden all over the country, I said.
Pretty soon the hatch opened and Commander Arsenic and Private Blowtorch came to the surface. They were hollow-eyed and emaciated. Truth be told, they looked four days past crazy. Congratulations, Commander Arsenic said. You found Silo Number Four-Thousand-Fifty-Niner.
Well, I said. Ain’t that something?
It is something, Private Blowtorch said.
Permission to come aboard, I said.
You sure? Amanda said. Fear and drunkenness fogged her eyes.
When’s the last time you went down in a nuclear silo? I said.
Exactly, Commander Arsenic said. Come in and look around. We got drinks and snacks, he said.
That was enough for Amanda. She was a boozehound and didn’t know how to turn anyone down who offered spirits. In fact, she took the lead and led us all down into the silo, nearly running down the steel steps. A few feet in and we saw, in the distance, the tip of the missile Commander Arsenic and Private Blowtorch had nicknamed Hallelujah.
Hallelujah, Private Blowtorch said, was commissioned in Nineteen-Eighty-Two.
She’s been asleep ever since, Commander Arsenic said. He pointed at a control panel with a blinking green light. She dreams of flying through the deep blue sky and separating in the troposphere.
Looks like she’d do some real damage, I said.
You don’t know the half of it, Private Blowtorch said.
The two of them took us into the main control room, a good mile and a half underground. The cramped, circular room had everything you’d ever want. Coffee machines. A washer and dryer. An entire wall for TV viewing and a stereo stocked with every popular record up until Nineteen-Eighty-Two. Private Blowtorch pulled out a Merle Haggard live album and showed us how impressive the acoustics were.
Merle belted out a song about loving the US of A.
Holy shit, I said. That’s impressive.
Damned right it’s impressive, Commander Arsenic said. And that’s just level four out of ten. You get that sucker up to ten and you’ll be hurting.
It’s a contingency, Private Blowtorch said and replaced the record with one full of children’s songs. A syrupy voice sang for us a version of Old McDonald. If a war got going, Private Blowtorch said, you’d have to try and listen over all the explosions topside.
If a war got going, Amanda said, dreamily.
We all can hope, Private Blowtorch said. He made a shaker full of martinis and handed me and Amanda and Commander Arsenic a glass. Maybe someday, he said.
Let’s go take a look, Commander Arsenic said. Let’s get you a glance at Hallelujah.
Amanda and me followed through another set of doors and into the actual silo itself. Machines whirred and the way was lit by shaky fluorescent lights. Another set of stairs and we were climbing parallel to Hallelujah. On her side, in what appeared to be crazed, green spray paint, someone had scribbled the phrase TO ALL OF MINE ENEMIES, REAL AND IMAGINED, LET YE KNOW YR FATES.
Is that biblical? Amanda asked.
No, Commander Arsenic said. It’s from the book Private Blowtorch is working on. Actually, he said, stopping on a stair and squinting his eyes, it’s more of a tome. It passed beyond the realm of book a long, long time ago.
Up close Hallelujah was hypnotic in its grandeur. It felt as if you could stare at it for days and never really take it all in. I touched it first, but quickly pulled away. Amanda, as I’ve said, took more liberties.
She was born in Pittsburgh, Commander Arsenic said. A man named Dr. Leopold Jurgens completed her at nineteen-hundred hours and she was loaded onto the back of a truck and smuggled under the cover of darkness.
All the way out here, Amanda said, stroking Hallelujah’s side.
All the way out here, Commander Arsenic said.
Before too long Private Blowtorch joined us with another batch of martinis in hand. He took his turn touching the warhead and wept openly. She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, he said to us, as if pleading.
She’s gorgeous, Amanda agreed.
A real piece of art, I said.
The finest thing America ever had to offer, Commander Arsenic said.
We took silent draws from our drinks.
Private Blowtorch removed a can of green spray paint from his pocket and shook it. He took in the missile like a hungry lover and depressed the button. When the deed was done a new phrase hung under the old one. This one read MY BEAUTY IS SO HEAVY IT COULD CRUSH THE WHOLE OF THE WORLD.
Perfect, Commander Arsenic said. Is that from a new chapter?
It is, Private Blowtorch said.
We admired Hallelujah and Private Blowtorch’s art in silence for a good half hour. I shook myself from my trance and asked Amanda if we should go or stay.
Stay, she said. We have to stay.
You have to stay, Commander Arsenic said. We’ll have more drinks.
So we stayed and had more drinks. Another round of martinis and then another. Commander Arsenic took the time to explain to us his philosophy of war and purification. It seemed, to him, that if mankind was to strive so hard to wipe itself out then it probably served to offer that they should be granted their wish.
If we want fire, he said between drinks, then we should have fire. If we want to reduce the world to ash and soot, then ash and soot we deserve.
Only in the burn do we find redemption, Private Blowtorch said.
It’s simple math, Commander Arsenic said. The barbarism has a taste of its own and we are drunk in its steed.
I don’t know if it was the liquor or the surroundings, but what Commander Arsenic was saying made a whole ton of sense. I could tell by looking at Amanda that she thought so too. It’s a real shame, I said, that she might never fire.
Private Blowtorch nodded somberly and began to weep again.
Forgive my associate, Commander Arsenic said. It’s his greatest fear.
To imagine her sleeping forever, Private Blowtorch said. A wonderful creature set to hibernate from here to eternity. She deserves better, so much better.
She does, Amanda said. She had finished her martini and taken mine. Every bird deserves flight. Every fish a vast ocean.
Private Blowtorch had taken out a pad of paper and was furiously taking notes. Every fish a vast ocean, he repeated.
To imagine her sleeping in this hollow of earth, Amanda said, there couldn’t be a worse thought.
Just think, Commander Arsenic said. You’re walking home from the store. You’re in Russia. You’re in North Korea. You’re in China. You’re walking your rickshaw back from the farmer’s market and a star descends from the sky. It’s a perfect circle, a miniature sun floating so very gingerly down to the soil.
It’s silent at first, Private Blowtorch said. A quiet, peaceful miracle.
It detonates like an angry god, Amanda said.
That’s right, Commander Arsenic said.
A wall of flame and heat, I said.
The full and fiery fist of America, Private Blowtorch said.
We had another drink. We discussed our options.
You’ve made the point fairly well, Commander Arsenic said. We launch in an hour.
We had more drinks. We shook hands like happy heads of state.
If only we could see her fly, Amanda said.
That’s part of the tragedy, Private Blowtorch said. He had his spray paint out again. We went with him to the missile and watched as he wrote THIS FAVOR OF DESTRUCTION I GIVE TO YOU, HAPPY IN HEART AND SOUL.
Another round of drinks. The world turned to soup in my eyes. Amanda traded martinis for Commander Arsenic’s embrace. Private Blowtorch and I watched and prepared the keys in the control panel.
Kiss me you cheap bastard, Amanda said to me, and I did.
At the agreed upon time Commander Arsenic and Private Blowtorch turned their respective keys. We began to sing America The Beautiful, but that turned to Old McDonald without so much as a thought. We were discussing the cows and their moos, the pigs and their oinks, the ducks and their quacks, as the belly of Hallelujah began to growl.