The Wrong Side Of The Bomb 

The Wrong Side Of The Bomb

Bernadette's frock rucked up. She was simply uncomfortable out of trousers, at the best of times. Her voice was more certain than her demeanour:

"The bomb was easy to place, no policemen nearby, just a few wide-eyed citizens who thought I was one of them. They did not suspect I was a freedom-fighter, for they would have scattered like pigeons on flickering toes. I was dressed as an old woman with a wicker basket, a shawl over my head with the threads running from my frock and laddered stockings..."

Patrick wanted to interrupt Bernadette's senseless, yet deliberate, ramblings. It was as if she needed to over-rehearse a well-worn story in order to exonerate her actions.

"When does it go off?" Patrick's gruff voice acted disinterested, forehead tracked with frowns.

"In plenty of time to catch the nine o'clock news," Bernadette answered. The frock rode more further up her thighs.

Pete arrived with Molly for some beer. He toted a few cans as supplement to Patrick's supply in the ancient fridge. By then, Bernadette had changed back into the man's clothes which she preferred to wear, with a tie half-pulled towards the unbuttoned shirt-collar.

Pete and Molly were ignored.

Bernadette really thinks she's a cool dude, thought Patrick. He had been gradually falling out of love with her ever since he first met her. As for most men, relationships had always started with the climax only to tail off into something quite mutually destructive. Still, the common cause was greater than the common good...

"It was on the six o'clock news..." said Pete, drawing attention to himself as he sprung the first can, his words tailing off as he tipped back to drink it.

Patrick and Bernadette had unplugged the TV, for fear of it turning itself back on. Such uncanny phobias in hardened folk amused Pete. If one is purveyor of terror, one must suffer it for oneself.

Molly smiled sweetly. Beauty, in one so principled as a freedom-fighter, is striking. She often risked being left in the path of the bomb she'd placed, just for the gut thrill. But, today, it had been left to Patrick and Bernadette, for it was a day off for Pete and Molly.

The bomb had indeed been positioned badly. It had mostly killed the wrong side. The news had reported the explosion fifth item down. Better than nothing.

"Patrick," said Bernadette, a cigarette whitening the air around her face. "Pete must be wrong. Don't look at me like that. I planted it for blowing not before eight. It promised to blow when the *next* march was passing..."

Patrick stared.

"Bombs have no brains, Bernadette," he said. "It is us who must guide them, nurture them, tease them into blowing straight."

"But it promised... Its heart beat true. Not like the last one."

Bernadette pushed her tie tighter into the collar, fabricating a purpose for her nervous fingers where one previously did not exist. This exposed her as the woman she was trying to shake off.

Molly looked up. Her blonde hair fell in curves down her back, the front of the dress unbuttoned to the lacy top edge of her bra.

"*I* was among those marchers in the second group which you were meant to hit..." she muttered at Bernadette.

Pete frowned. The whole matter was becoming far too complex for his liking. He and Molly had not seen the results on TV at all, but amid the reality of life around them. Pigeons, toes up; people lying around without their limbs, some missing heads, the gutters flowing, then silting up; drums rolling down the slope of Destination Street; windows shattered in the nearby Junior School, teachers wandering the playground in a dazed state, looking for the children; torsoes still twitching, even making phantom grunts through the stumps of the necks; Pete's own ear-drums still throbbing from the blast.

Molly had run up to Pete in the street, cursing uncharacteristically. She was wet-nursing a baby in her arms, a baby which was dead, Pete could see. Nothing had gone the way it was planned. This crippled baby was on their side. They should never have left the bomb for Bernadette to set.

Bernadette suddenly had the urge to change back into a dress. The whole evening had turned sour. But, after all, by her clumsy efforts, she had effectively saved Molly herself from being blown up. No wars would be won if all the fighters were suicide pilots. And Molly had an uncanny knack of always being on the winning side, without really trying.

Bernadette motioned to Molly to come upstairs with her.

The steep stairs creaked as they walked behind each other. The men would soon have too much beer. It was dark in this house. It was something to do with the way it was built to keep darkness inside. A safe house, yes, but one that did not lend itself to the emotions; Bernadette always felt ill at home here.

The bedroom was no better. The wallpaper hung in strips. The ceiling blistered. The window boarded over after a previous mis-placing of a bomb.

Bernadette collapsed upon the bed, holding out her arms to Molly. "Come on, I need to hold someone. Let's just be quiet for a moment ... gentle."

Molly shook her head, sitting in the dark corner on a rickety deckchair. The window creaked, as the planking shifted.

Bernadette felt her insides weep. She was a woman after all, and Patrick's baby had left scars ... and all for nothing, since its body had exploded on exit. An explosion in her dreams, at the time, but, later, she was unsure. Tatters of flesh and red gristle had slowly tracked down the window in this very room before it had been boarded up.

Now, there were other things outside, come to haunt Bernadette: trunks with bloodsuckers which, even if they had their limbs and heads returned to them, could have climbed no better the outside wall of this terraced house, towards the very room in which she now dozed. Others, patient in their recriminations, slouched along the pavements, grunting complaints to an unlistening world. Some, beating bones upon their own hearts like squelchy drums, gathered at the front door, despite promising not to come.

Molly, seeing that Bernadette was asleep, returned downstairs, where Pat and Pete lurked somewhere or other with the beer. The two men were too similar. Like their names.

She remembered to button up the front of her dress, before she walked down the dark hall and, with a sweet smile, unlocked the front door.

There were no heroes in a war. And only a few heroines to needle-fuck.

(first published 'Nasty Piece Of Work' 1997)

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