Inspired by New Frontier by Donald Fagen
My dad he’s crazy, but he’s smart, and he’s built a bunker to keep the plague, the reds, and the rampant fires away. We’re gonna have a shindig in here, he says, lugging in cartons of beer, dancing with the dog. The dog and he are a special pair since Mom disappeared, they’re always having a wingding together. Dancing around with lots of beer.
Today he’s excited about our first visitor. Dad’s been trying to get me to find someone to live here with us. Someone to make us less lonely, to bring in some light. This has been my project for life on the new frontier. The one I found, I met her at Hooters when I stopped in for tacos. She seemed nice, and bored, and agreed to stop by later to see this place if I paid her for her time.
I’m a summer smoker, hope that’s okay, the girl said when I told her how happy I was that she’d visit our bunker.
I only smoke when I’m feeling too hot, she says, as if I was the kind of person to judge a person. Her breasts were large and angry looking. She made me feel so many things, but all I could say was, that makes sense to me!
Well, let’s not get too excited, Dad says. Let’s get to know her first.
I think we’ll all hit it off, I say.
It’s great to see him dancing. He’s usually sitting down in the same spot, drinking beer, remembering Mom, his eyes all misty. His eyes appear ready for the bombs to fall, they are American eyes, but they are not of this world. I’m prepared to meet the challenge of the new frontier, I say, and I’m looking at him as if I’m flowing with the flow.
She’d better have a face like Tuesday Weld if she’s real hope for the future, Dad says. Your grandmother had that kind of face.
Tuesday Weld, I think. Now that’s some name. A lot better than Wednesday Crap, a lot better than the people who say we don’t all need to find ourselves a new frontier. Dad pretends to smile. The corners of his lips fan out. I remind myself that I’m going to move to New York when things get normal again, that I’m going to find a life in the theatre. I’ll have an apartment. This is a temporary condition.
Summer Smoker laughs. She doesn’t have a face like Tuesday Weld. Her face is more like Norma Jean before Norma Jean summoned Marilyn in her mirror.
I keep telling myself if Doomsday comes Dad will be dancing with Summer Smoker. We all need a little Doomsday just to give us a chance to move on from the plague of life.
I keep asking my dad what it will feel like when they drop the bomb. He grabs Summer Smoker, kissing her with his tongue like it’s the end of the world, and tells me, Like this.
In the bunker, I play the keyboard as Summer Smoker and Dad dance the cha-cha. They dance the lindy hop and announce their intention to enter the All-Star Lindy Hop Finals, once this whole Doomsday phase blows over.
The dog and I sip domestic beer as we listen to the radio.
“How long will we be down here?” I ask.
Dads says, “Until we run out of beer.”
In the bunker, there are more than 99 bottles of beer on every wall.
Summer Smoker moves into the bunker with 137 cartons of cigarettes.
Even though it’s now the dead of winter, Summer Smoker smokes when she wakes and she smokes when she sleeps. She smokes when she eats, and she smokes after she eats and again when she gets hungry.
Living with a smoker in a bunker is hell. The bunker is like a giant cigar we’re all smoking by breathing. So, yeah, I’m a smoker now, just not by choice. I have the gall to tell Summer Smoker this, and she corrects me by saying, Cigarette smoke is inhaled deeply into the lungs, but cigar smoke is left in the mouth.
If she’s right, this bunker is more like a cigarette shared by all who live here, than a communal cigar. Or maybe it’s like a big old cigarillo?
You don’t inhale cigarillos, either, she tells me.
Then, why do people smoke cigars? I ask.
Because they love doing it, she says. Didn’t you ever do anything because you loved it?
I don’t answer.
At night, Summer Smoker is awake smoking her cigarettes. During the day, she falls asleep with a lit cigarette dangling from her lips or fingers. I just stand here, waiting and watching, ready for the cigarette to fall.
Meg Pokrass is the author of five flash fiction collections and a book of prose poetry, Cellulose Pajamas, for which she received the Blue Light Book Award. Her work has been widely internationally anthologized, most recently in New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018), Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015) and The Best Small Fictions 2018, 2019. She serves as Founding Co-Editor of Best Microfiction 2020 and teaches flash fiction online and in person. Find out more at megpokrass.com.
Aimee Parkison is the author of Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman, winner of the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize. Her new book, Girl Zoo, co-authored with Carol Guess, was published in 2019. Her other works include Woman with Dark Horses, The Innocent Party, and The Petals of Your Eyes. Parkison teaches at Oklahoma State University, where she is an Associate Professor of Fiction Writing and the Director of the Creative Writing Program.