Project Plowshare

It sounded like a gun shot and all the women she was with at the little station overlooking the desert startled and gasped. Then they saw in the distance a mound of earth rising then fire spilling out of it. Then it was like the sound of a million galloping horses as the dust cloud roiled toward them, like steeds charging in panic.

“Take me to the test,” she’d begged. “C’mon. Please.”

He’d been assigned to something called Project Sedan.

“Is the army building a car?” she asked as he polished his boots.

“No,” he laughed. “It’s a test. A bomb they’re setting off in the desert. And we have to do some work out there.”

Neither of them had been to Las Vegas before, and when he finally talked his commanding officer into hiring her as a secretary, they both had a paid trip.

They spent the night before the test at a bar dancing.

“Do you know the Louvin Brothers,” she asked the band leader at the bar with a smile.

“Of course, yes, we do,” he said with a wink.

“Well, there’s a beer in it for you,” she winked back with one of her bright green eyes, “If you do The Great Atomic Power.”

“This goes out to that pretty lady going to watch the end of the world tomorrow,” the band leader said from the stage.

She and her Kansas cowboy danced to the song she requested.

“There’s nothing you can’t get when you want it is there?” he asked.

“Not a thing,” she said. “Not yet.”

Are you ready for that great atomic power?
Will you rise and meet your Savior in the end?
Will you shout or will you cry when the fire rains from on high?
Are you ready for that great atomic power?

At the end of the song, he kissed her. She blew a kiss to the band leader and he blew one back.

That night she couldn’t sleep from excitement. And when the truck taking them to the site arrived, she was giddy.

“All you’ll need is sunglasses,” said a sergeant. “You’ll hear a loud noise and there will be a lot of dust. But all the radiation is underground, so don’t worry.”

He was working the blast, doing something he couldn’t tell her about. She wished they could watch together but he said he’d be watching it too.

All that dust would overtake their position miles away, north of the blast. It was a hot dust. She was used to dust and wind. It coating everything. She coughed. And when they got home, back to Albuquerque, she kept coughing. It would come and go.

Later, the doctors were perplexed by her complaints. The coughing. The fatigue. They prescribed various things and offered suggestions. Soon, they moved back to Kansas, but before they left, she got a prescription.

Before they left, a doctor took him aside.

“Sometimes women, you know, it’s in their heads.”

“What do you mean?”

“This is all in her head,” the doctor said. “You keep an eye on her and if she takes this, it should calm her down.”

“Her mom did have problems.”

“Exactly,” the doctor said putting his arm on his shoulder. “This kind of thing runs in the family. Don’t worry.”

They moved to Lebanon, and the move made her sad. It didn’t help the cough. But she kept taking the medication. She was pregnant again.

“This time it’s a girl,” she said. “I can feel it.”

“How do you know?”

“I know my body.”

But she didn’t.

She drove with her oldest son to Smith Center to get the pills. He held the baby I’m his arms in the front seat.

“Mommy will wait here,” she said. “I have to hold your sister.”

The boy went into the pharmacy and retrieved the prescription.

“What took so long,” she said sternly as he climbed in the car.

“Jesus, mom,” he said. “They gave me a me hell in there about it. About the medicine. Lots of questions. The I said it was for my mom. Then they let up. What the hell.”

“I need it,” she said. “I need it. Hold her.”

Halfway back to Lebanon she stopped and opened a can, put a pill in her mouth and rinsed it down. Then she steered the car back onto the road. She hummed a song.

“Why do you hum and sing instead of play the radio,” the boy asked.

She smiled as she felt the sunlight of the drink and medicine wash over her.

“Music,” she said. “We listen and we try to sing. You know mama loves music. So I sing.”

But she didn’t as they arrived at home. She took the baby and looked into her eyes and kissed her.

“You are mama’s hope,” she said to the infant cooing in her arms. “You are my baby girl.”

Her husband was waiting.

“I thought we said no more pills,” he said as he took the baby from her at the door.

“Fuck you,” she said quietly. “Your red neck rovers are already telling you my every move. Go see your girlfriend. I have kids to raise.”

“Well, fuck you back,” he said. “I’m only looking out for these damned kids.”

“Well,” she said smiling. “You moved us here to this fucking outpost of the white man. Where’s your family? I’m sick and they aren’t doing shit.”

She left him there with the boy and the baby.

“Go put your sister away,” he said handing the baby to the boy. “I’m taking off for awhile. I need a drink. Watch your mother. Watch those pills. Hang on to them.”

The boy still had the bag with the pills he’d brought from the car. He took the girl upstairs to the crib. He could hear his mother singing.

You don’t love me, it’s plain
I should know, I’ll never wear your ring
I should hate you the whole night through
Instead of having sweet dreams about you

She emerged, her hair down, holding a can.

“Son,” she said. “Where’s the pills you picked up for mama?”

The boy was scared but sensed an advantage.

“What will you give me for them,” he asked.

She was a little stunned.

“You little bastard,” she said. “You give mama those pills.”

“If you give me one,” the boy said. “If they’re so good for you then they must be good for me.”

She wasn’t thinking anymore. Something else was working. She was bargaining with her own boy now.

“Now wait a minute,” she said sitting on a chair and taking a brush from a table. She started to brush her hair. “Who do you think you are?”

She brushed and the boy waited.

“Fine,” she said. “Give them to me and I’ll give you one.”

They made the exchange.

“This is our secret, right?”

The boy nodded and went to his room. He could hear his mother singing Patsy Cline. He watched his baby sister sleeping. He looked at the pill.

“They call them, ‘The Blues’” he remembered his mother saying once about the pills. Now he had a sister. He hated it all. He put the pill in his mouth and swallowed it.

When he woke up, he was looking at his father looming over him, asking questions and slapping his face.

His mother was dead. He never understood why or how. He just knew it was his fault.

There is one way to escape and be prepared to meet the Lord
Give your heart and soul to Jesus, He will be your shield and sword
He will surely stand beside and you’ll never taste of death
For your soul will fly to safety and eternal peace and rest