by Mickie Kennedy
My mother grew up near Chernobyl, decided to go to her aunt’s house after the accident. Her brother stayed behind, a good soldier taking orders. He moved concrete blocks and bags of sand, developed a sunburn despite being inside.
They rotated him out and he spent a few days in the hospital, mostly for observation. Other men fared much worse: some made it, others did not. One told him that he watched the sun set behind blackened crops and knew he too was withering on the vine.
My uncle always felt he was a time bomb, but eventually he let his guard down, fell in love, started a family. My mother moved to the United States with one of her cousins, having taken classes in C++, securing a work visa that turned into a marriage and two kids.
My uncle’s family came to visit when I was little. I have pictures of him holding me, but I remember nothing. Shortly after that he developed a cough. The doctors found lung cancer. It didn’t help he smoked cigarettes. They took his left lung. My mother said that must have been the side facing the reactor as he worked.
He survived. He’s still alive. Fifty-nine years old. My mother talks to him on Skype in Russian. I only understand occasional names. The conversation always mentions the word Chernobyl.
I ask what they discuss and she always says, everything and nothing. I watched a documentary on the accident and the sarcophagus erected to keep the radiation inside. I asked my mother if she had seen it. She shook her head no and said, I’ve already seen too much.
Mickie Kennedy (he/him) is a gay writer who resides in Baltimore County, Maryland with his family and two feuding cats. A Pushcart Prize nominee, his work has appeared in The Bangalore Review, The Pinch, Plainsongs, Portland Review, Wisconsin Review, and elsewhere. He earned an MFA from George Mason University.