Part 1: You
Your name is Eliza. Today you are going to get married. You’ve dated Giles since the beginning of college and after years of planning, plotting and drowning in credit card debt, you’re ready to get married. Your father is an imbecile and arrives two hours late. Your mother is dead so she can’t even show up. You’re having the time of your life. Everyone is smiling and dancing together, drunkenly singing along to Frank Sinatra, drinking way too much vodka and sniffing roses that were lined with cocaine. Everything is perfect.
Then you look outside and see something that makes your smile fade away. A large, bright glow overtakes the receding sunlight, something the world has only seen once before. A nuclear bomb has been dropped in the distance and the incoming blast destroys you, your family and the wedding venue. You’re dead. The victim of a conflict that first came to pass before you were a child. You were five when the war ended. There were parades, people wept tears of joy and soldiers came back home. Your father had been a coward and faked bone spurs to avoid being drafted. However, that hasn’t stopped him from having an affair with the next door neighbor, Karen, as your mother went to work in the local munitions factory. For most of the day, you, young Eliza, were alone. Trapped within your gilded cage, restless and wild. Only your nanny to care for you.
In the background of this suburban hell, you hear reports on the radio. Reports about nuclear weapons, Russians and all sorts of things you have yet to comprehend. A lingering threat thousands of miles away that will one day bring you pain.
You grow up confused. You grow up in a crazy world of stressful nights and increasingly lonely days, with many days without a nickel in your jeans. Guided only by the strength of your mother, your poor, overworked, pissed-off mother. A woman so fierce that once she was hit by a bus and later proceeded to hijack the bus and report the driver to his supervisor. But even more impressive, she still showed up to work on time.
You enter high school drowning in insecurities and consumed by questions about yourself. You long for the painful naïveté of your youth and feel increasingly alienated from your peers.
Your life had taken a dark turn in the five years before high school ever began, when it was revealed that your father and his mistress were actually Russian spies. They were tasked with manipulating the election of 1948, but they were both so incompetent that they spent the entirety of election night partying. They found themselves in a seedy, run down jazz club that smelled like chocolate, rainbows and all the good drugs. What exactly occurred is unknown but the night did end with three dead musicians, the loss of a reservoir of scotch and the discovery of true love.
They were arrested and you, as well as your poor mother, lost everything. Your home, your privilege, you even had to sell your dog in order to make ends meet, forcing you to now live in a closet that was previously owned by a troll. Your life pretty much sucked.
To make ends meet you took a job as a clown at birthday parties. Putting up with children so horrid you wanted to slap the smiles off their faces. But a gig is a gig, you supposed after all. You walked to school dressed in rags made of feral cat skins and candy wrappers, the butt of almost any joke. Even the teachers and staff occasionally joined in on the vicious insults.
Your only escape from this hell you find is in the movie theater. On Fridays you sneak into the 10 o’clock screening while your mother is sleeping. Watching whatever is being shown that night. Your favorites are the musicals. You imagine yourself dancing up there on the celluloid screen, dressed in colorful outfits with a smile plastered all over your face and accompanied by a charming, incredibly handsome partner. You are no longer the ragged girl, but a glamorous spectacle, on display for the world to look upon and admire. But, then the alluring fantasy portrayed up on the screen vanishes upon the return of a familiar face.
You first notice him when the film begins. A strange man dressed in an oddly familiar brown coat. He sits in the aisle behind you in the far left. It’s only halfway through the film that you recognize who it is. It’s your father.
Part 2: Your father
Years before this surprise meeting, your father was languishing away in a prison cell. He had received a life sentence and had only avoided the chair because he agreed to perform with the prison jazz band for the Warden’s wedding. Your father was separated from his lover and fellow spy, whose real name was Anastasia Romanov, last surviving member of the Russian royal family. Many had believed that she was dead, however little did anyone know that she was immortal, having gained the power after selling her soul to a mysterious beggar woman in exchange for a piece of candy on the streets of Moscow.
She was able to charm her way out of the electric chair and was released after seven months. She ended up living a very colorful life, the highlight of which was, long story short, poisoning JFK before Lee Harvey Oswald was even a thought in his mother’s mind. Too bad it took decades to take effect.
Anyway your father spent years wilting away in a jail cell. Surviving on a diet of human meat pies, ale and toothpaste. His only friend was his china doll. Something he had made in the arts and crafts course they offered at the prison. He called it Billy. Billy filled the hole that had been left ever since he abandoned you and your mother, a longing for companionship in an increasingly lonely world. You could say he almost forgot about his family even existed. They did everything together. Well everything you could do while serving a life sentence. They shanked fellow prisoners together, ate arsenic laced food together, reminisced about old times and on one occasion pranked the warden (also together). However it was this last act that would tear them apart.
The plot was simple. Billy was going to stab the warden in the leg, a seemingly harmless act that would result in a light hearted laugh and no hurt feelings. However they did not take into account that the warden would become consumed with fury. As any child would have foreseen, Billy and your father were reprimanded by the warden for this.
As punishment, your father and his doll Billy were separated. Forced into solitary confinement for six months. When they reconvened, Billy had changed. Confinement had tainted him mentally and physically, the painted smile on his face having been wiped away and replaced with a cold, blank expression.
This caused your father immense amounts of pain. He couldn’t stand seeing his creation in such a state of despair, consumed by hopelessness and a constant grim expression on his face. So your father chose to put him down. Smothering the lifeless doll with a pillow as he imitated sleep. This caused your father great sorrow, allowing a rage to fester and grow within him. He would use this as a motivation to escape and return to the family he had abandoned for espionage.
His plot to escape was simple. Burn down the prison and hope that he wouldn’t be consumed by the flames. Thankfully the universe realized that was stupid and provided him with a much more logical means of escape. During a riot started over the latest Marilyn Monroe movie, your father was able to sneak out of the prison, dressed as a corrections officer and armed with a wooden knife, he finally made it out.
Now your father had one motivation, to make it back to the family he had abandoned all those years ago. After many misdirections that led him from the top of mount Everest to the local sock hop full of kids that beat him up for drug money, the man that got away had finally come home.
All sorts of conflicting emotions arise within you upon seeing him again. Justifiable anger is still left behind from when he betrayed you, your mother and upended your lives. Yet a surge of child like innocence begins to come pouring in. You remember the good times: watching him leave for ‘work’ and saying ‘I love you’ with all the sincerity of a career sociopath. So you do the only logical thing. You punch him right in the face.
Part 3: Your Mother
Always armed with a biting wit and quiet determination. During the war she had worked with thousands of other women in a munitions factory and despite the constant threat of death upon them, she loved it. The blood, the sweat, the healthcare benefits and the feeling of independence in a world that constantly wants to suppress it.
It’s here that she discovered joys that had evaded her before. The care of loving friends, a sense of ambition beyond being one of the numerous sad, stuck up housewives of southern New Jersey. A plan began to form within her mind. She was going to divorce her husband, who was taking up space more than anything, fulfill her long dormant dream of becoming a doctor and take you along with her for the ride.
And she planned to go through with it. That was until she came home to discover you surrounded by a swarm of police officers and was bluntly informed of her husband’s double life as a spy. Within a few months, the picturesque life you all had lived in the suburbs became undone. Her marriage was dissolved into dust beneath her feet and any great ambition she had gave way to a burning desire to survive.
Now she was overcome with all sorts of unforeseen burdens. When the war ended work in the factories dried up and few were willing to hire her. You both had to take on the aforementioned odd jobs to make ends meet, along with a few changes in scenery.
Soon a decade passed by like days. Your mother’s hands, weary and calloused from years of hard work, only to yield such mediocre results. Dressed in half burned wigs and five year old trash bags that smelled like expensive french wine.
She was attempting to catch a few more hours of sleep before you woke her, you having run the entire way from the movie theater. Hours before she had been working a shift at the local bar, whose tagline was Not Everyone Can Hold Their Arsenic, Can you? Where she served molotov cocktails to the local anarchist group that frequently patronized the establishment. Here she put up a facade. She put up a false smile and cracked self deprecating jokes to the drunken customers. Hoping that her false charm will make the customers tip more.
By the end of the night, your mother had collected three dollars and fifty cents in tips, slightly more than usual, but barely enough to make ends meet. She walked home, unable to pay the bus fare, passing by the crowds of Jimmy Stewart-looking businessmen on their way home.
When she finally returns to the closet you two shared in the slums, she collapses onto the straw mat and immediately drifts off into the strange state of dreams. All haunted by images of her past failures, ambitions and the life she lost. Before being jolted awake by your impassioned pleas. It took a moment for her to make sense of your incessant rambling and screams. Almost like a child. However once a familiar face entered the scene, all was made clear.
Your father had followed you from the theater and was now in front of you both. His slender, easily recognizable silhouette hanging over you both. Now this is where things took a turn for you.
He lit himself a cigarette before going through the motions most people in a similar position tend to take. He appealed to sympathy but soon discovered that there was none to be found. He said he was sorry for his various misdeeds, as if that made up for the misfortune he had caused. You and your mother especially believed none of it. Pathetic, he begged and cried. Still evoking no sense of emotion from your weary mother and justifiably so.
After an hour of listening to his pitiful cries, clearly going nowhere, he did something unexpected: he left. He stepped out onto the streets, which had now been consumed by a cloud of smoke and vanished. Never to be seen by your mother again. A smile began to form on her face. Yes, he had left again, but this time, she thought was for good and for a brief moment her face became filled with joy. Of course something awful had to happen next.
Five days later, she was run over by an ambulance, which had arrived to assist victims of a fire that had started in the building across from yours. You buried her in a shallow grave, that being the only thing you could afford. You tearfully bid your farewell and walked away into the melodramatically gloomy rain. Not long after you would be evicted and forced out onto the streets.
Adding another layer of despair was that an hour after your eviction, all of your money was stolen by an old woman who had pretended to be injured. But this would not be the end for you. In fact you would go on to great success. After taking part time jobs for the mob, cleaning up dead bodies and disposing of evidence, you would go to college. There you would succeed in your classes and earn your degree a year early, but meet the love of your life. You would eventually reconnect with your father despite how much you hate him and get married, with a bright future ahead of you in the form of an atomic blast. And that is your life.