"What is your wife's name, Harry?" I asked, as we crossed the last of the Cascade Mountains.
"That's a lovely name, Harry."
"She's a most lovely person, too, Paul, warm, gentle, intelligent. She is a psychology professor at our local university... And your wife's name is?"
"Melanie! Melanie is an artist, one of the finest. But I don't suppose you can judge art, or an artist that way..."
On our descent, Harry pointed out some places he would love to take us to. And later, as Seattle lay stretched out beneath us he explained in great detail all there is to know about Boeing's plant, whatever is noteworthy about the city, our company's office tower, his sailing club, and of course the locality of his home.
"Here, go take my binoculars," he added. "See if you can recognize our house. It's a two level rancher on that rise over there by the water." He pointed to it. "It's the house nearest the edge, the last on the block, look for a circular driveway...."
"Yes, I think I can see it. There is a greenhouse in the back of it, and an above ground swimming pool...."
"Right! Can you see anyone in the pool?"
"Harry! The whole neighborhood is in your pool."
"Ah, that's the way it is on a normal day. When you come, be sure to bring your children and your bathing suits," he added.
He took the glasses back, after that, and I took the yoke. "I can see Brian," he said. "Oh, and there's Eloise. Did you notice the garden table?"
"Then you have seen Eloise; the most beautiful blond you ever laid eyes on. Her hair shines like the sun; her figure like you wouldn't believe. You simply must come for a visit and meet her." He handed the binoculars back, "Here, would you like to take another look?"
I had to decline the offer, since at the very moment the tower called us for landing instructions.
We were barely four miles from the Airport when the shrill sound of the National Emergency Broadcast abruptly ended whatever train of thought I had at that moment. I felt like I was back in Miami in an emergency response exercise session.
+ + +
SEATAC had just opened an international addition to its collection of remote terminals that were accessible only by subway. As expected, this latest addition was the most sumptuous, and probably the most expensive passenger terminal ever built, for its size. It featured a small, but elegant restaurant, thick carpeting, a free movie theater, and two sculptures in its central lounge, and a stairway made of glass that led to a glassed in observation deck.
Leaning comfortably into the soft leather seat, Frank was engaged in a conversation with Melanie. Frank had remarked on how absolutely marvelous their days together had been. "Just look at the children!" he said, smiling at her.
The children were on the observation deck. They had a bet going, as to who would be the first to spot United's extended capacity 747, a redesigned version of the twice stretched, extended capacity short haul jumbo jet that the older of Frank's boys called an overgrown dragon fly. They had their eyes glued on the runway, watching for Flight 023 coming in that would take them to Vancouver.
It was the children's idea to stay an extra day. "We want to be on daddy's plane," they had demanded. "We want to surprise him!" "He likes being scared," Fiona added.
"Being scared and surprised isn't the same thing," Melanie explained.
To judge by their gestures, the older kids on the observation deck had an exciting conversation going. Frank smiled, "They are probably figuring out what to brag about, when they get back to their friends at home; riding the Monorail, having lunch at the Space needle, staying at a hotel with two swimming pools and a whirlpool!"
"They would have missed all this," said Melanie, "if you hadn't convinced me to trust Dick as a baby sitter."
Dick, the oldest at twelve, was more excited about the airport than anything else, especially about the subway trains that linked the various terminals together.
"If only Jennie could have come with us," said Melanie. "She would have really enjoyed this little holiday."
"I'm sure she would have," said Frank, "except she wanted you to go. She knew you would enjoy the opera more than she ever would. We only two tickets."
"That is why she stayed home?"
Frank nodded, and smiled. "I had to promise not to say anything until now. She was afraid you might refuse her offer."
"Certainly I would have refused! You guys are really something. I should have realized she was up to something like that. That's just the kind of friend she is, a real angel! Both of you are just too much, you know; you're simply the best friends anyone could ever wish for."
"Paul would have enjoyed the opera," added Frank.
"He's been away far too often," Melanie replied. "He should have better routes that he has been getting."
Frank began to laugh; "He should come and work for our outfit!"
A wall of plate-glass gave a sweeping view of the runway and its incoming traffic, takeoffs, and lineups. Melanie glanced at the clock now and then and then at the runway. "What does this new plane look like?" she asked Frank.
"Is this where daddy's plane is coming to?" asked Fiona in a loud voice, with her arms stretched out towards a doorway where some people were lining up.
"No Fiona, he won't come to this door, but he will be here soon," said Frank. Frank took Fiona in his arms and went to the window.
"I can't wait to show him my dolly," Fiona exclaimed. "I love my daddy, you know. I'll tell him about the circus, and the fun we had."
"That wasn't a circus, Fiona," Frank explained. "You got this dolly at an amusement fair. There is much more to see and to do at a fair, than at a circus. For one thing, you can't win a dolly at a circus."
"But there was a clown there," Fiona remarked. "Right? He made funny faces. Isn't that what a circus is? Clowns are funny..."
Before Fiona could say more, the shrill sound of the National Emergency Broadcast filled the building. Then came its dreadful message.
+ + +
We must have gone two or three miles before it dawned on me that this was not a school exercise. I was shocked! The runway lay before us. Only seconds ago, everything was normal. The tower had spoken to us about a slippery spot in the breaking zone of the runway. "Hold your braking until..."
The high pitched sound cut the tower off in mid-sentence.
"Attention!" a voice called out. "Attention! This message is NOT a test..."
Those little words, "not a test," turned black into white, and white into a dark, murky, bottomless, gray: Nuclear War had begun! It was incomprehensible.
For one thing, the announcement sounded much too sweet for what it said. It sounded like a call for afternoon tea, too nicely spoken, too unemotional; and so it had to be. There is no voice on earth that can roar as loud in order to say what should be said to do justice to the pain that will be!
|| - page index -
|| - chapter index -
|| - Exit -