I am writing you this letter because, foolishly, I like the permanence it pretends to invoke. Don’t imagine for one minute I think it will find its way to you, there on the outside. They’re too good for that – no hope of even smuggling it out in the toilet waste. They’ve grubby, greedy fingers, and they feed their suspicions on my fleshy words. But still, when I write, when I press the pen to paper (poor surrogate for your skin) I can hope for one tiny moment.
I am writing you this letter because they gave us pens and paper. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is a deliberately exquisite form of torture – to offer the means of creating communication which can never be received. Nothing can leave the Exclusion Zone.
I am writing you this letter because I miss you. I remember running with you along the Prospect of Builders. We were proud to be the young denizens of Atomograd – the truest and most devoted Children of Kurchatov. I held your hand and we laughed – you, with cheeks flushed, in cotton clothes. We laughed, we Seekers of the New Dawn.
I am writing you this letter to tell you that I didn’t die. That I and many others survived the disaster. To tell you that they didn’t just evacuate – they screened – and that there were those of us, too irradiated to live, too stubborn to die, who were kept confined: at best as a safety precaution, at worst, as an experiment. They drop us food. Visit us in Hazmat Suits, as though our very atmosphere is alien. If we ask, they say they will pass on messages and gifts. I know they never do, and what I have I to bribe them with anyway?
I am writing you this letter to say that the Polsie is returning. The trees are very beautiful in autumn, and now they lace their way through the platforms at Yanov Station, where I left you for the last time, when we still had nuclear light in our eyes. They came to regain the place that it rightfully theirs – instead of the Red Army, the Red Forest marches its way across our Boulevards and Streets.
I wish we had made love.
I am writing you this letter because I am the last one left. They come to count us, to call us to register. For the last three times, I have been the only one to report. I am sure there were more, delirious from the power of our small sun. Disfigured and demented. Sometimes, we would commune, at others fight for food and the best wood for primitive fires. In the early days we had raided shops, watched TV with a strange, desperate indolence – a sense of holiday, freedom from the world, tempered by the desire not to be anymore lonesome. Slowly, our signal grew less – I can only assume things have changed, and our technology has been left behind. I do not even know what year it is, or what time – my watch has been stuck at 03.45 for too long now.
I am writing you this letter before I myself succumb – to disease or solitude or my own brain, I am not sure. But I know that I will succumb, and so I write, in the deluded hope that in the ashes of this, the final burnout, my toxic hands will leave something on this earth which expresses to you…which expresses…well.
Maybe you know.
Early morning, and the frost glitters on the tarmac. Everything is ice, and quiet, as though sound itself has chosen to freeze, and listen to itself shatter. I came out here for the quiet, and for the sunrise – in the east, the sky is bleeding.
No-one is awake yet, inside. Perhaps they are dreaming of presents. Perhaps they are recovering from last night’s festivities. Perhaps. Everything seemed rather raucous this year. Kids full of sweeties, adults full of brandy and wine. This is the only peace there will be all day. Breathe: it is so cold my breath doesn’t even steam.
Creaking. Water flushing. Someone, groggily, moves downstairs. I watch them, through the window of the living room. There she is, my Enid. She looks better now than she has for years. Her hair is dyed that vibrant red she so likes (and I have to admit, thinking about it, I don’t know why I didn’t like it before), and she is trim, athletic almost. Her pyjamas are new – no wine stains or splodges of pasta sauce. She crouches around the tree, groans slightly with the movement downwards, but manages to creep low enough to make sure that all the presents are there. She pauses over one for a long time, a small box marked, ‘To Enid, with love, from Dai’. Then she puts it down, amongst the others.
Almost immediately, there is a shriek from upstairs. That’d be Deri, our eldest. He’s always been too excitable, and this year he is more so than most. I hear him squealing with delight upstairs, and Enid giggling with him. Then I hear the softer footsteps of my little girl, Gwen. Her full name is Gwenfrewi, but we were always inclined to shorten our kids names. Pryderi and Gwenfrewi. Mouthfuls, but I’m a traditionalist.
I hear Gweni slide down the stairs on her arse. Clearly, she’s not yet mastered the art of walking down. I feel vaguely disappointed in her – otherwise, she’s so bright. She emerges into the living room, tiny and pale with big dark eyes, and she looks out of the window, directly at me. But she doesn’t seem bothered. She turns around, and pokes at the presents, sitting with the bottled up patience needed to wait for her mother and a suitably calmed brother to emerge. She’s always seemed older than Deri. She looks out of the window again, and I think she almost sees me, there against the background of the trees. She narrows her eyes, and is about to say something when Enid comes in and distracts her with a stocking. I never did stockings – this is new, and Gwen jumps up, more the five year old she really is. She never looked like that when she was with me.
I hear other steps. It’s the other man, the man from last night, downstairs with a fighting seven year old in his arms. He puts the flailing child down, and it’s my son, who has never seemed so happy. He pecks Enid on the cheek, then draws her into a long kiss, and I have to turn away because my stomach is doing somersaults.
“I told you,” says Dai, “everything is alright now.”
“I know,” she says. “I don’t miss that man at all.”
My name is Drystan! Say my name!
“I want to give you a special present first. I want this to be our Christmas as a proper family. So kids, can you wait till I give your Mammy something?”
They nod. Little traitors. Kids are so mercurial. Not my fault. Not at all.
He pulls out the little box from the pile, and she opens it, with an expectant, knowing look. I see a blink of diamond and gold under the light from the tree, and I don’t need to look to know it is a ring. Now everything crumbles, and I am going with it. I see you, all together, so happy like we never were. I know you don’t care, you never did. I told you as much whilst you watched me with blackened eyes. All I wanted was for you to see me, but you never did, did you? Not really. You said I wasn’t there anymore, that the drink had taken me, but you just didn’t look hard enough, Eni, just not hard enough. Not even when I hit you to make you pay attention. And now I can see – I can see it all, everything. Everything in your eyes says you are happy. And I am faded…
“Spooky. I could swear someone was watching.”
“Nothing there, Enid cariad. Nothing at all.”