One Hundred Suns

Mid-day on Friday, Hiroshima Day, I drive to Santa Cruz with my current roommate Eva Pavelka.  She has the day off and I have just received nominal permission from my brother to go to his old house and retrieve his most important belongings.  He and his former girlfriend are no longer speaking and he’s unable or afraid to enter the house and if these things are not removed they will all be put in the trash.  He has listed on the back of a napkin the items I should look for:  his bag of volcanic rocks from Hawaii, a taillight, a small box of feathers that had belonged to our mom, a box of photos, some clothes, a sleeping bag, a book about the 20th century.  I ask Eva to come to bear witness and to help intervene as a neutral party in case there are any issues.

As we drive into Santa Cruz, my brother calls and ask us not to get his things.  It’s all over, he says, he wants nothing to do with his girlfriend, he doesn’t want any further violation, it’s all over, he says.  But it’s too late, the train has already left the station. We have entered Santa Cruz and we drive to his house and his girlfriend welcomes us into the living room stacked floor to ceiling with his boxes.  It’s complete chaos.  I set to going through them, quickly, methodically, with absolute intent.  The rocks are outside.  Journals are found.  Photos.  The small box of feathers.  I find wonderful books, bought new, still in their bags, lost in the bottom of boxes.  In one, I find a stunning art photo book, 100 Suns, documenting in large format photographs 100 nuclear mushroom clouds.  The book, new, untouched, still taped up in mylar, feels terrifying and hot.  I know why my brother has it.  Our father had died of a brain tumor.  In the 1950’s and 60’s he was researching mining history and spent several summers in Nevada at the time of the nuclear test blasts.  I grab the book and without thinking thrust the volume into one of the boxes that Eva carries outside to put in the car.

The girlfriend is sad and distraught over the breakup.  At some point her mother comes out – a sweet woman, with the air of being intensely calm and tired, she is dying of ovarian cancer.  Over three hours we find most about everything.

We are about to wrap and leave, when the girlfriend asks tentatively if we had taken 100 Suns. She was afraid to ask, had been wanting to ask, but couldn’t.  It had been promised to her as a Christmas present, but she had never received it.  Of course.  As far as I knew, it was hers to keep.  Eva retrieves the book but I ask if I can unwrap it and for just a moment look at the pictures.  When I am finished I stand and carry the book to the girlfriend, for a moment the book rests in the center of a triad – she, Eva, and myself.

Perhaps herein lies my brother’s genius.  Who cast these vectors that have traveled through time and space to intersect here between us in this fraction of a second in the nucleus of this book?  The girlfriend and her mother burning into dissipation; me, each morning gratefully submitting to a machine that fires high dose x-rays through my skull and brain; and Eva, who one morning twenty years ago had awoken in Czechoslavakia to learn of a burning reactor hundreds of kilometers away that by then had already dosed her body with toxic levels of radiation.

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