The context was already known to us down here, the world had already been told that the end was coming, we had heard it on the news via the radio, via the tv, via the internet. But we did not know if it was really true or maybe just more lies created to further someone’s obscure political ends, we did not want to believe, and in any case, we could not comprehend the enormity of what we had been told. We knew that "up there" somewhere in the northern hemisphere the bombs had been thrown, so many that the fallout would engulf us all, that there was no chance of our survival. We knew the fallout was expected to arrive here in Christchurch at about 9:30am. But this was an intellectual knowledge, it was not real to us, we did not know how to believe it, we did not know what to do.
Because this had never happened before, we had no idea of how to act.
So we did our normal things. It was a weekday so we went to work, because if it was not true, and how could it be, then we could not afford to take the day from work when we had bills to pay. We could not risk losing our jobs by taking this day off work. So here we were, in the factory and our children were at their schools.
A peculiar atmosphere pervaded the factory, feelings of uncertainty and tension. Some people worked as normal, fast and hard, making their bonuses, and becoming annoyed at those people who were working more desultorily, clearly uncertain as to whether they should be here in the factory at all, wondering if they should have stayed at home with their families. I remember I started to work at my normal speed, then slowed, and stopped altogether, listening instead to the factory radio.
At 9:15am the factory hooter blew. Over the intercom, a disembodied voice told us to go and spend our last fifteen minutes of life outside. We filed out.
It was a beautiful spring day outside in the factory garden. The sky was blue and cloudless, the sun still shone. We all stood around, on the green grass, in small groups, wondering what to do now. Some of the women wanted to go back inside and thoroughly clean the factory. They wanted to leave all in order for the next people who would come to the factory, in case we really did die. They were unable to comprehend that there would be no next people, that what was imminent was the finish, the death of all human life on this planet forever.
I lit a cigarette and wandered down beside the river, choosing to be on my own. I stood under a tree, near a bridge, and listened to the birds in the trees, suddenly realising that they were unlikely to survive the fallout either. I could hear the sound of vehicles travelling down the nearby road just as they always did. And I thought about my children in the playground at school, probably playing in separate areas. I thought about the three of us all dying in separate places and afraid. I thought about their fear. We should have been together.
But also, I knew that if I left to go to the school, and then the world did not end and life did not finish and the fallout did not arrive, then I would lose my job when the hooter called us back in to the factory.
Another woman had walked down to the river, and I asked her what the time was. She checked her watch and told me the time was now 9:25am, and I knew the school was ten minutes away by car, and of course, I do not own a car, so I knew I could not get there in time anyway.
So I thought about my children who would have to die on their own, and I knew my own incompetence and failure, and suddenly I knew it was all true, and we really were all going to die, and the birds and the animals were going to die, and maybe the trees and the plants as well. I tried to visualise what kind of barren wasteland would be left, and tried to imagine if any form of life would ever exist here again on this planet, and how many millions of years it would be before any kind of life could evolve. And then I could no longer bear my thoughts and I walked back up to the gardens and away from the river, back to where the other people were all still standing around, some talking together in nervous whispers, others just standing silent.
And then I turned and I looked behind me, and I saw the end arrive. I saw an impenetrable metallic grayish-white mist, like fluffy steel wool, come rolling in, a mist with so much sound, hissing and crackling and fizzing as it seemed to slide along the grass, and as it rolled thickly along its implacable path towards us, it blotted out all the landscape behind it. I saw it growing ever thicker, larger, and higher, blotting out the sun and the sky too, so they could no longer be seen. I felt my own horror, heard the gasps of horror from the people around me, found myself foolishly starting to back away when there was absolutely no escape, no possible retreat, nowhere to go. And then a woman behind me seized my arm, and pulled me into a small hollow on the side of the hill with her, as though to gain a few more pointless seconds of life, and I saw the mist rolling around at the entrance of the hollow. I smelt its foul stink, I felt the burning moistness of the chemicals as the mist swirled onto my skin and entered my burning eyes.
And I wanted to be holding my children.