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.