A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

It's the mid fifties...


It’s stupid,” said Wallace in answer to the science teacher’s question “what do we do to save ourselves in the event of a nuclear attack.”

What’s stupid?” asked Mr Tewkbury, quite aware that his question had very little relevance to reality but wanting his teenage class to think about it.

If there’s a bomb falling anywhere near us we’ll be dust,” replied Wallace stubbornly. There had been a great deal of talk about the dangerously fine balance in the world that had, so far, led to no bombs flying and a lot of serious and depressing talk suggesting there might be nuclear conflagration any day soon.

We could hide?” suggested Penny Ashton.

Where?” asked Innocent Umbago perceptively. “I mean,” he added, “there’s nowhere left to hide when we’re surrounded by radiation and nuclear fallout. Even if we hide from the blast the chances are we’ll be dead soon enough. The radiation will get us. Our flesh will melt. I’ve read about it.

Maybe you should read a different kind of book,” laughed the teacher “It has been suggested,” he went on, “that we might hide until the danger’s over as over it must be sooner or later. Where would you suggest we hide?”

In a dirty great hole in the ground, then all future explorers would have to do is cover our bones with soil when they found us,” said Innocent.

It would have to be a deep hole,” added Wallace. “It scares me,” he added quietly, “all this talk of a nuclear war. I don’t want one and what’s more nobody I know wants one. But we’re told there are reds under our beds and the only way to get rid of them is to blow them to smithereens, and ourselves with them, I shouldn’t wonder.”

We mustn’t be too worried about reds being anywhere,” sighed Mr Tewkbury, “it’s not much more than ten years since the last war ended and with a bit of luck there won’t be another in our life times, yours or mine, and I’m a tad older than you lot. But in case there is we ought to be prepared.”

And do what?” asked Wallace bluntly.

Pray,” murmured the teacher, “I believe in science but in this instance I’d pray long and hard and even longer and harder. There can be no escape from a nuclear war. The fall out will blow on the winds and in the rain that falls for miles and miles, and lie like poison in the soils for generations. You’re right Umbaga, it will certainly be the end of life as we know it.

Generations of what, though?” asked Innocent hollowly.

The teacher nodded understandingly, and deep down he felt truly sorry that maybe very soon the young lives arraigned before him, some of them keen and eager to learn and others not so, might be ended in a savage flash, and he he was hard pushed to understand how that would solve anything.

And before the lesson could get to be more macabre the bell rang to announce that it was home time, and both teacher and pupils were pleased to hear it.

Well that’s it,” said Mr Tewbury, a little mischievously, it’s time to go home and with a little bit of luck there won’t be a war before our next lesson together.”

I’ll walk you home,” Wallace suggested to Penny once they were outside and walking in the direction of her street.

Okay,” she said, moodily.

Why, she’s beautiful even when she’s got it on her, thought Wallace. “What’s up?” he asked.

It’s all this talk about death,” she said quietly. “I don’t want to die, Wallace, I want to have a life. I want to dance like we did at the skiffle concert the other night, and hold hands with lovers, do grown up things in a peaceful way and not have a mushroom cloud hovering over me, with toxic rain falling on me.”

It won’t come to that,” he comforted her, “politicians will find a way out of it. They’ll hold back. It’s all posturing and showing off. After all, we’re no different from the Russians, not really.”

We might not be very different but our leaders don’t care about how we feel,” she told him. “I know they don’t care. I hear they’ve got bunkers to hide in, underground places where there’s light and heat and no way radiation can get at them.”

For ever,” Wallace told her, “they’ll have to stay hidden for ever. Or at least until they’re old and wrinkly and die!”

That’s what really scares me,” almost wept Penny, “when a person gets to be old they’ve got less life to look forward to, and those men who make the decisions and press the big red button, they’re all old. Death won’t mean much to them. They’ve lived most of their lives, and they know it. They know death can’t be too far away from them, so why not go in a fiery ball of hell rather than wait to die of old age next week? They’ll just be glad they won the war.”

But they won’t have won anything,” sighed Wallace. “You’re not a winner if you’ve got to hide for ever in a hole in the ground even if it is a posh bunker and the radioactivity can’t get at your bones straight away. No, they’re losers, like the rest of us.”

Losers, but with less to lose,” almost wept Penny.

And that was how they were that day as they made their way towards Penny’s street.

It was good, though, wasn’t it?” asked Wallace, changing the subject.

What?” mumbled Penny.

The concert of course, at the Palace the other night.”

It was good of your cousin to invite me,” said Penny, “and it was a surprise when my mum let me go! I didn’t think she would: she’s not into modern music, not the sort with guitars and drums anyway. She says it’s savage and unmusical and certainly not like the good old dance bands of her day. And the dancing. She says it’s disgusting, really disgusting. Yet she let me go!

My mum says the same,” agreed Wallace, “but I think it’s hopeful, positive, shows that we don’t always have to be the sort of creatures that go on and on making the same decisions, the same music, the same mistakes. We can change, for the better or for the worse, but we can change.

Mum doesn’t call it music.”

Neither does mine,” grinned Wallace, wondering if what he was saying was true of both of his mums.

She took him by one hand as they walked, and he glanced at her face. There was nothing more beautiful in the Universe as far as he was concerned, and he knew one thing above all others. If anyone, red or blue or rainbow, dared drop a bomb anywhere near Penny Ashton then they’d have him to answer to, and no mistake.

And Wallace Pratchett could mean real business when he got to be riled.

© Peter Rogerson 12.06.19

© 2019 Peter Rogerson

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Added on June 12, 2019
Last Updated on June 12, 2019
Tags: science, teacher, politicians, nuclear, radiation, skiffle, dancing



Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 75 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..