Excerpt: 'Bombyonder' by Reb Livingston
Some kind of war happened at some time or another and continued for quite some time to come. There had to be an end to it, sometime, but when that time would be I couldn’t say. What I could say was that historians from another time, along with the archivists, archaeologists and scuba divers from that same time discovered some kind of bomb, one of the kinds of bombs invented by my father, a bomb he slowly worked on for most of his existence to ensure he maintained an existence after he was long gone. Once this discovery was made, my life was never recorded the same.
My father referred to the bomb as his philanthropy, explained that most academics are known for such philanthropy yet haven’t the time or inclination as they should to work on philanthropy because there are so many tests and papers to grade, so many conferences to attend, so many committees to chair, so many responsibilities just to exist in the present that kept them away from building and preserving their names. For when the time came to recall these existing-for-the-present academics they no longer existed. They squandered their existence because they didn’t use it to pursue their philanthropy. Existence without philanthropy doesn’t exist in the books.
“I’m not afraid of dying, dying is one of the necessary ingredients. I acknowledge the imprints in cement. But I am concerned with being written into abstraction. Nobody bothers with the abstract. If nobody remembers my name, I was never here and if I wasn’t here, I never happened. We can’t happen without others remembering and comprehending a simple narrative skeleton. It’s a tricky job speaking for the dead. You can’t leave it to the living. You must leave them a script,” my father explained.
For years he tried to stave off the army of demanding human need, but there was a war that needed ending. Philanthropy, this kind of philanthropy, took time to establish. He needed more years, more of this kind . . . this kindness, because this was to be his legacy, the legacy of the KIND BOMB.
Until the time came when there was no more time to give to his day-to-day existence, not if he wanted to exist in the first place. The bomb was needed immediately. So my father took a sabbatical from his day-to-day existence and got to work on his philanthropy to meet the requirements for achieving a recognized existence. Ready or not, he invented his legacy.
This kind of bomb, with its many brightly lit wires, consisted of a variety of impressive colors and sheens positively twinkling. I could not help but want to touch it. When I did touch it, it felt small, potent, much unlike any man I ever encountered. The urge to swallow it whole overwhelmed me. A new experience. For until that point my life was a topical survey of all things underwhelming. Little impressed. Or excited. Or felt worth investigating.
I wanted to know all about this kind bomb and asked my father many questions.
When the bomb goes off will there be a flash? Will people and buildings explode or will they incinerate? Will people be able to breathe? Will their lungs, eyes and skin burn? Will they be able to see? Will future generations be born without heads? Will men’s testicles have more or less hair? Will women still have to wax? Will gender reflect in the symptoms? When the bomb strikes will there be a loud boom? Will it damage people’s hearing? Will it cause blindness? Will there be smoke? Radiation? Gas? Will the effects linger and if so, for how long? Is the bomb clean or dirty? How can a bomb be clean? What’s the difference? Is there a kind of bomb that won’t make such a mess?
Father was selective in his responses. He never cared for over-explanation. I could only glean that the bomb changed the enemy in some way and that was far more beneficial than killing them. He needed the enemy to continue existing so they could remember him, so their children would go to schools and cross bridges named after him. This was necessary because if he didn’t live on after the fact, what was the point in living at all?
“Dead people don’t write books or produce films or even tweet. The dead serve no purpose for me,” he said and who could argue with that logic? Not that I would have even if I could. Father didn’t care for me when I was disagreeable and I needed to be cared for, in some way, by someone.
Does the bomb target their emotions? Could we make the enemy love us? Make them stop desiring what we don’t want them to desire and weren’t going to let them have in the first place? A massacre of want? Of needs? What exactly are we annihilating?
My father wasn’t specific, but aloof and silent, like my father. In those days I knew so little of my inherited gifts and precious curses. The gift was the curse and the curse was the gift. The gift arrived on a bomb and curse wrapped the gift in tinsel. After you swallow the gift it takes a while to digest, not everything easily makes its way through and what comes out can be a bit unsightly. That was the conundrum. What to do with all the unwanted, undumpable crap. It didn’t go away on its own.
What if everyone in my neighborhood stood on our roofs and shot down planes, behaving like goddamn sky terrorists, instigating the army to drop this kind of bomb on top of us? What exactly would happen to us as we stood shooting our guns on our roofs?
A nearby soldier claimed that the bomb would have to fall directly on top of someone to kill him. He claimed to have seen it happen in battle to a good man who deserved better and god bless his soul. But my father claimed that even if the bomb directly hit a person, the event would not kill, only change him. Now this change might be that the person wished to die and if the following chain of events led to death, well that’s another thing entirely and it would be unfair to pin such results on a perfectly kind bomb.
Father demonstrated by putting a bomb in a test dummy’s mouth. The explosion was small and didn’t leave a mark. It was all about smoke and invisibility, ripples and awe, shock and animals, cause and results freed from responsibility. That dummy’s turds would be linked by tinsel, like paper doll cutouts. That dummy wasn’t a dummy any longer. That dummy changed into something else entirely. Something worth mentioning.
What a nice bomb.
“Not nice, there’s nothing NICE about this bomb or any bomb for that matter. This is a KIND bomb. There’s a difference. Nice is how one behaves to contribute towards their outward appearance. People try to seem nice. Nice is a con. Being kind comes from within. Kindness has a humanity to it. There’s no point in building a bomb if you don’t account for what it does to humanity. The philanthropy becomes the legacy which is always about the humanity, the architecture, structure, the blueprints of society.”
So what does the bomb do, Daddy? What does the bomb tear apart? What does the bomb change? What good is change without awareness or control, Daddy? What kind of kindness can a bomb bring?
Excerpted from Bombyonder, by Reb Livingston, published by Bitter Cherry Books.