Imagine you live on Hawaii. You are salted and tanned. You are a farmer, a surfer, a mother. You wake up on a Sunday in January, put on your floral church dress, comb your long dark hair, when you receive a text that says:
“EMERGENCY ALERT: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.
SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
A little yellow triangle with an exclamation point tells you something bad is happening. You read it again, searching for instructions. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER.
Whose name do you call first? Your husband’s, sons’? You gather them, hustle them outside. You need to move, to feel like you’re going somewhere. You buckle your sons into their booster seats. Your husband drives, as usual. It is any Sunday, sunny, unremarkable. No signs of an incoming missile. Yet.
You live on an island, at sea-level, a place with no bomb shelters, no basements, no way to burrow underground. No ground solid enough to go under. You live on lava. Your world is burning. You’ve seen this message before. Last time, it took thirty-nine minutes for them to call off the threat. An expert of some kind estimated that it would take approximately thirty minutes for a nuclear missile sent from North Korea to reach Hawaii. You check your phone again. How long do you have left?
You live in paradise. Your grandparents were bombed here. They became American.
The island where you live is the closest part of the U.S. to Korea, so you will be the first to go. You read the news. You know that the president taunted North Korea’s despotic leader, bragged his big red button was bigger, and now a button has been pressed.
Go to the ocean. Gather your babies and hold them tight in the water. Your hearts will slow to the rhythm of the tides, the moon will call the water back, back, back. Your feet cannot touch the sand. You can see your legs kicking below. The waters are clear. You are infinitesimal; the ocean is everywhere. You don’t know how long it has been, how long you have left. You keep kicking. Look up to the sky. The sun is a missile.
Erika Nichols–Frazer has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her stories, essays, and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in HuffPost, OC87 Recovery Diaries, Runaway Parade, Please Do Not Remove: A Collection Celebrating Vermont Literature and Libraries, and elsewhere. You can find her work at nicholsfrazer.com. She lives in Vermont with her husband, dogs, cat, and chickens.
–Background Art by Marcos Lomba
–Foreground photo courtesy of the National Nuclear Security Administration (USA)