By J. J. Roth
The bunker’s slick, brown concrete walls are hidden behind drywall textured in the “California Knockdown” pattern and painted a fresh, calming, newborn-boy blue.
Solomon sits on the off white wall-to-wall Berber carpet, his back against the wall next to the leaden door on which a scene is painted: kids on slides and swings. His boots are untied, and he wipes the barrel of his M4 with a rag, wrinkling his nose at the hint of new-carpet chemicals still out-gassing from the Berber after all this time. The air filtration system spins on with an almost inaudible whir and Solomon’s nose relaxes.
Sayers sits at the door’s other side, at a cherry veneer Queen Anne-style table, her rifle propped against the empty wing chair next to her. The wing chair’s cushioned seat is upholstered in wide, pastel vertical stripes reminiscent of spumoni.
The Mombu boy hops three of Sayers’s checkers and asks to be kinged; Sayers fakes a scowl.
In the bulletproof glass enclosure in the corner, one of many in common rooms throughout the vast complex, Nguyen sips reconstituted coffee clumpy with creamer, checks external water and air toxicity readings, taps the computer keyboard that controls the exterior cameras panning them left and right, and examines the readouts from other posts across the complex as they scroll down a black window on her display.
A fly buzzes around the fluorescent ceiling fixture, tinted and muted to give the light a friendly, incandescent glow, and Baker looks up from the workstation next to Nguyen’s wondering for a millisecond how the fly got there.
In the corner opposite the control enclosure, Fuller kneels in front of a storage unit that matches the table where Sayers sits, replacing board games and DVDs on shelves that, despite their frequent use, eerily fail to display scuff marks.
The Martinez twins sit cross-legged on the protective Sesame Street rug behind Fuller, eyes glued to The Sound of Music playing on the 62″ television. The Garbadon boy spilled grape juice on Elmo a few days ago, but as always, the rug is pristine. The almost sub-aural filtration system hums on again and whisks away a child’s fart, sweet and milky.
McDonough walks in from the dining room in his undershirt and jeans, a toothbrush in his mouth, and leaves down the hall that leads to the apartments and barracks.
In the rec area next to the kiddy corner, the White boy plays ping pong with the Schwartz girl, while the Schwartz boy plays pool with the White boy’s older brother. The Schwartz boy chalks his cue and breaks, sinks the nine-ball, pumps his fist and shouts, “Yes!” The Tiffany-style lamps hanging over the other, unused pool tables are dark; all the lamps, dark or not, used to swing slightly when the lights and television flickered, but that hasn’t happened in a while.
Dexter slumps in a bean bag chair next to the carrom set, hunched over a Nintendo DSI 4D-5D, thumbs flapping, launching tinny electronic dings and beeps and snippets of music into the recycled air.
D’Souza sits alone in one of the conversation groupings next to the rec area, shuts an ancient issue of The Economist and tosses it onto the leather sofa beside him. He folds his reading glasses, snaps them into a faux-leather case, and slides the case into his breast pocket. He glares at Dexter, shivers, and gazes across the room to the far wall where teenagers have painted a trompe l’oeil over the spackled drywall texture — a window onto a grassy meadow, Holsteins grazing, a red barn and silo in the background. To either side of the “window” hang soulless acrylic seascapes in ornate gilt frames, in the same lack of style as the paintings of flowers and birds in the hallways and the landscapes in all of the apartments.
A gang of children, including the Banks girl, runs across the room’s expanse squealing, then back toward the gym.
Three chimes sound over the PA system and a calm, musical female voice says, “Second group dinner begins in ten minutes. Tonight we feature Shepherd’s Pie, Quiche Lorraine, and Hunan Chicken.”
Tsarangopoulos and Sorkin head toward the dining room, arguing over a mathematical proof, almost colliding with an ersatz potted palm.
Sanderson guides his wife past the arguing men, his arm around her as she dabs eyes which have not stopped tearing since they arrived here expecting to meet their daughter who never showed up. “Try to eat something,” he says. “Please. Maybe the Shepherd’s Pie? You’ve always liked Shepherd’s Pie.”
In the bunker, another set of chimes, five this time, announces the Civil Defense report, “This Land is Your Land” playing in the background.
Belkin shushes the three people he’d been chatting with and shifts to the edge of his chair. Wong stows her e-reader in her canvas bag, shuts her eyes, and rests her greying head on the back of the sofa, waiting. Borg stares at the PA speaker as though it has a face. Reiner powders her nose in the mirror of a Christian Dior compact and runs her index finger along the edge of her lower lip to contain a lipstick bleed.
In the control enclosure, Nguyen stands behind Baker, points her finger to his screen and asks him to zoom in to a tiny spot, which, when enlarged, becomes a patch of green in a waste of grey ash. “Beginning tomorrow,” the speakers intone, “it will be safe to leave the facility. Please stand by for further instructions.”
A cry goes up in the common room. Belkin hugs Wong. Borg hugs himself and then Reiner. D’Souza stands immobile, eyes on the PA speaker as if he’s expecting video, too. The Schwartz boy jumps onto the pool table shouting, “Yes!” while his sister dances with the White boys.
Dexter fails to avoid a pixelated lava pit, slams his fist into his DSI, hurls his Giant’s cap across the room and shouts, “I hate this fucking level!”