“…but before long they began discovering smaller, more insidious devices in their glove compartments, bagged up with the apples in the crisper, safety-pinned to their children’s book bags at the end of the school day. Victims were often surprised to find that the devices did not tick. Some used a digital timer, but most were comprised of myriad configurations of circuit boards and repurposed plastic casing, presumably detonated by a fateful phone call. They began finding, in their tap water and dustpans, bombs of construction too minute to discern with the naked eye. When a Swiss dentist implanted one in a patient’s impacted molar by mistake, this seemingly minor event signaled the bomb’s presence within the body, the intimacy of fear and death.

The bombs never exploded, of course; by this time, this once-primary function had become vestigial. Readers will remember my account in Chapter V of how it was gradually phased out, beginning with a subtle shift in the language of explosive power. Where bombs once simply “exploded” or “blew up,” they began to “shake” weekend markets or “rock” the Muslim neighborhoods of third-world cities. They “tore through” schools, museums, and public squares as wolves through the very flesh of civilization.

The next shift did away altogether with the bomb itself. News outlets, having already ceased reportage on the explosion of bombs, began to move away from a conception of the bomb as a discrete object. Cars parked along major thoroughfares burst into flames, commercial jetliners disintegrated in midair, and government buildings levelled themselves of their own accord. People in the vicinities of such events dropped howling to the street. Casualties were sometimes uncountable, and shrapnel could be found hundreds of meters away, still hot to the touch. Though physical bombs (usually unexploded) continued to turn up, the bomb-as-object was no longer required to explain events that would once have been attributed to an actual explosive device. The bomb, now neither an object nor an event, began to exist in the same abstract yet irreducibly real sense as physical law. Experts cited the long-understood fact, rooted in the second law of thermodynamics, that the universe often falls apart spontaneously, without any need for terrorist plots or political motive.

So after the incident involving the Swiss dentist, the public realization that bombs persist in the smallest details of daily life seemed a natural if unsettling development, and few experienced acute alarm. From here, it took no great leap of the imagination for the bomb to dissolve into various bodily systems, causing hormonal imbalance, cognitive irregularities, or cancer. It infiltrated the cell nucleus, distorting the genetic information therein. It penetrated the structure of the atom and played havoc with subatomic particles. Today, we have finally arrived at the conclusion that the bomb is placeless and timeless (eternal in the truest sense), and accepted the knowledge that existence itself seems built to explode.”

—Miranda T. Albert, “Eleven Case Studies in the History of the Bomb,” pp. 884-5.


John McKever earned a BA in English from Northern Arizona University in 2012, and is currently applying to MFA programs in fiction. He has published very little: a poem (also about bombs, coincidentally) in an alternative newspaper in Flagstaff and an essay about Bruce Springsteen in PopMatters. This is his first published story, though he writes a lot of fiction and is working hard to get it out into the light of day.

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