What do nine-year-olds dream of? Well, if you’re Trina Finster…
[Book Excerpt from The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson. Available February 2017]
RIPTIDE, OREGON, 1983
Trina learned to fear the bomb two weeks after her mother died, and she fell into that fear like someone slipping into bed after a hard day’s work. Fell into it with a relief that bordered on gratitude. When she thought of the bomb, she felt like someone who was gravely ill witnessing a terrible and violent event: a merciless distraction, but at least one outside of her own body.
When thoughts of her mother came now, thoughts that made her ache and curl up in bed like a plant without sunlight, she read The Looming Error. She read about Mutual Assured Destruction—M.A.D.—and at night those three letters ran the plainsong of their zippered teeth along her heart as she stared at the ceiling wishing for sleep. It was a lullaby that made her heart fearful and clumsy, those three letters, that idea, but—and this was the important part—it took up too much room to worry about anything else. To feel sad for herself. To miss her mom. The world, Trina knew, was doomed, and it was terrible, but there was some part of her that felt glad that at least this part of it would be over. The world wouldn’t survive, and there was something freeing about that, like finally throwing up after you’ve felt sick for a long, long time.
Those three letters, M.A.D., and how they spelled the end of everything. The book lay under her bed and sometimes it felt like she slept above a bomb for all the power it had.
The thing she hated most about the Soviets and the United States both was their babyishness. How much they seemed like grumpy, spoiled kids playing with toys they didn’t want to give up. There was a lot about the negotiations in the book, and she could picture it all too well, the two countries discussing things in a big room somewhere, everyone with their own glass of water by their hands, old white men in suits trying to work out trades in practically the same way that she and Sam had bartered the gross parts of their school lunches when she was a baby back in first grade:
United States: We want you to reduce the number of your SS-20 missile launchers in Europe, okay? You have 243 of them and we want you to only have 75.
Russia: Hmm. Okay. If you also only have 75 launchers for your Tomahawk cruise missiles there as well.
United States: Fine by us.
Russia: Ha! Except we both know that your Tomahawks carry four warheads compared to the one warhead of the SS-20, so you would have like 300 warheads to our 75! Cheater!
Trina knew they did not actually talk like this, but still. Practically.
It went on and on. And this, she knew, was just one type of nuclear missile, when both sides had so many different kinds, thousands of missiles of all different kinds, and all of them capable of doing their little part for M.A.D. One Tomahawk, The Looming Error said, carried a nuclear yield up to ten times the one at Hiroshima! And still they argued about it like little babies over their toys. Their tens of thousands of toys.
ICBMs. NCBMs. SLBMs. IRBMs.
B-1s. MXs. Poseidons.
These characters at night became like glyphs to her, these names a hidden language that battled the shadows skirting her wall, battled the shapes of the trees outside her window, the yawning realization that her mother was never, ever coming back, that Trina would never see her again, that she was dead in the ground right now even—
Trident IIs. Pershing IIs. Tomahawks.
Soviet SS-4s. SS-5s. SS-18s. SS-19s. SS-20s.
She read them in the book and repeated them; it was a cadence that had become familiar, intimate. The Looming Error was overdue but she couldn’t imagine turning it back in to the library. She carried it in her backpack to school; she could practically feel it under the bed at night, whispering like a bad friend.
End of excerpt
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