Operation Ivy: November 1, 1952
By, Andrew K. Smith
In the bar an engaged couple were sitting around talking—they talked about what they had done, what they aspired to accomplish in life. There was a large jukebox with two dials on each end and it played Johnny Cash. It sat behind the busy bar tender that was a rugged Marlboro Man-esque fellow.
Shelbi in her wiggly pencil skirt unsaddled the bar stool and stood on her hind legs, pulled her cinnamon-brunette hair back and bent over and kissed her man on his beer coated inner-tubed lips and journeyed towards the ladies room. He spat into the spittoon beneath the long wooden bar that had adhesive beer residue—and gripped his beer like he gripped World War II paranoia. He was surrounded by moneybag Americans on a laugh in the suburbs of the west coast.
His long legged soon to be bride arrived back from the bathroom excited and refreshed. She sat down and smiled at her husband. She looked around the bar watching with her birdy eyes—dangling her wine glass waiting for her fiancé to make her laugh, because he was smoothest when he had some liquid courage in his system.
Johnny wore a white short sleeve dress shirt with a black tie, tucked-in on the upper end of perfect—it could have been his veteran training to blame. The night always had come like a scream though in the pinhole of a town.
Shelbi looked down and adjusted her cleavage and partly listened to a few fragments on the large cabinet-looking radio about the hydrogen bomb. She looked up and gazed around with her now glassy eyes.
“What do you think about atomic energy weapons?” Said Shelbi.
“Well, damn me, I think it’s no good. Fer krissakes, have a drink!”
Johnny was tipsy and warm when he ordered another beer for himself and another for his better half.
“Do you really believe the hydrogen bomb is a good thing?” Johnny said.
“I think its pretty cool we can make one.”
“Still, what do you think we should do with it?”
“I always knew I loved you.”
She smiled at his shaved face. Johnny looked deeper into her gorgeous pupils and wondered about the hydrogen bomb and why Robert Oppenheimer created it—and the pacific war too. Then he looked down into his brew and frowned. Then he reached down and tightened the laces of his boots.
Shelbi clasped her hand on his shoulder and leaned her head atop her palms—and closed her eyes for a moment. Johnny straightened his back and grabbed her hand.
“Want to head home—maybe have some dessert?”
“Sure! That would be very gentlemanly of you.”
They sputter out the door in pursuit of some sweet defiance and a place to make-out. Except they only found one: they found the dampened sand of the Californian beach and plopped their sore butts down. Nobody was around. Johnny unlaced her skirt while she unhooked his pants. They aggressively peeled the rest of their clothes off and it was them two naked in their birth clothes. He had her in the missionary position. His hands were on her shoulders with the sand crunching through the gaps of their feet. Her soft skin made his hands tremble and her long legs were wide open and then he entered inside the moist space of her thighs.
He felt the gooey juices of her bearded clam and started to pump, her mouth opened, and the moans reverbed across the flattened sand. Johnny and Shelbi were glazed with beads of sweat that had stuck to the sand—it made their skin feel like sandpaper. They trembled in a sensitive roar; the bodies crashed against each other like the waves crashed on the beach. Her boobs flopped in front of his eyes as they continued in motion—they created a small spoon-like groove in the powdered sand.
After several minutes of utter penetration, Shelbi dismounted from his heat-seeking moisture missile, and leaned over and projectile vomited. Johnny was still breathing heavy, but managed to laugh—which made it a painful laugh. He held her hair back and she proceeded to puke, and after half a dozen pukes she wiped her lips and sulked at him.
“I feel much better.”
“I hope so…you really put on a show there.”
She playfully pushed him in the chest and then they gathered them selves and slipped their clothes back on. They walked back to the main road in search of a cab for home.
It was mid-afternoon and Johnny woke up on their queen bed. Johnny lay there and his mind was doing figure eights: he thought about the hydrogen bomb and the announcement by Truman to have America start assembling them like they had done for everything in America. Then he thought about the morals of it—and maybe he should deny his assignment for working on a ship at Eniwetok Proving Grounds in the Marshall Islands for the first ever nuclear of testing of the United States. He was due out to the Naval Station, San Diego at thirteen hundred hours.
He climbed out of bed and grabbed his bathrobe and walked into the kitchen and hugged the kindhearted digit of his soon to be bride. She made his favorite breakfast ever—French toast with bacon strips.
“The kitchen smells like morning heaven. Are you an angel and didn’t tell me?”
“I am too naughty to be an angel.”
They both laughed and walked in a slow manner over to the kitchen table for breakfast. He flipped through the morning paper and Shelbi took off her apron and sat at the table with him.
“I am going to miss you,” said Shelbi.
Johnny peaked over the newspaper and looked at Shelbi.
“I will miss you too. Let’s hope they know what they’re doing and not blow us all to tiny pieces.”
“Don’t joke like that—you’re scaring me.”
Johnny laughed under his breath and continued reading the paper at the table. He finished up his breakfast and showered and combed his short blond hair. He greased down his cowlicks with glossy pomade, but his hair always was a bit wild regardless. He dressed in his best uniform, a beige buttoned shirt with pants that matched. He’d worried about the fit, but his wife had the talent of a tailor and was a wizard with sewing—so his pants always fitted un the upper end of perfection. After knotting his green chartreuse tie, provided by the government, Johnny walked downstairs and kissed his wife good bye.
“Quit your job,” she said. “And come back to bed!”
“You’re supposed to be supportive.” And reached inside her pajama robe and squeezed her soft ass—then he walked out the front door locking it behind him. Johnny stepped away from his house, carried his duffle bag out to the driveway and tossed it in the back seat of his car and he drove off for base.
Johnny loved and valued his wife, and appreciated her intellectually stimulating remarks, comicalness, and body, but he also loved to watch her beautiful ass when she putzed around the house, and peek at her cleavage when he had the chance. He wanted her to know he still desired her and make up for the lost time he was away. She was his pride and joy.
When he was gone, she often dreamed about him. She dreamed they were dancing while she studied his eyes and he studied hers—and sometimes her dreams were nightmares. Johnny understood her fear while he was away, Johnny always wrote letters and post cards—and kept her informed of his whereabouts and she always wrote back.
On base Johnny met with his supervisor in his office—and he smelled like Lucky Tiger aftershave, Gillette deodorant, and sarcasm.
“Johnny you will be boarding the USS Estes; we are leaving tomorrow morning at zero five-hundred.”
“Yes Sir,” Johnny saluted.
“Johnny, you’re going to have a grand stand seat to watch the blast. You are apart of the joint task force 132.”
Johnny scurried out of his supervisor’s office and to his bunk for the night. He loved sleeping on the uncomfortable government beds, he felt like he was cocooned—and he felt safe. Most of all, he just wanted to do his job, he wanted to do it well. All he needed to do was put all his fears in an imaginary safety deposit box and lock it away.
Johnny was out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and his shirt was soggy from sweat. His face was tan and he was smoking a tobacco pipe leaning over the railing of the ship. His bunkmate Jermaine Washington was standing next to him and drank water out of a canteen. The wind was blowing against their backs.
“Are you exited to watch the sleeping giant…Ivy Mike?” said Mr. Washington.
“I think it’s just a powerful explosion. That’s all.”
“I know, but we will get to see it come out of the horizon—a birds eye view? We are witnessing history?”
“Still, I can’t think it’s a good thing. I didn’t join the navy to watch full-scale tests and experiments.”
“Oh, excuse me, Mr. Buzzkill.”
Johnny laughed and tapped his friend on the shoulder and starred across the jelly-like sapphire blue ocean. The hydrogen bomb was a contradiction and Johnny felt that Washington thought he was a fragile man. He wanted to tell him about his version of the truth and that he felt he was an accomplice to the experiment—the right side and left side of his heart conducted such a delicate negotiation within him.
“I don’t understand how they can do such a thing?”
“Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?” Washington said. “The government wants the divine, the power to explore something new and profound.”
“How can you find this blind acceptance for the hydrogen bomb?”
“I don’t think it’s necessarily bad.”
This was how Johnny rationalized the situation—yet Johnny felt that America had failed him and he had failed himself. He felt guilt for being involved, but knew he needed to provide for himself and his soul mate. The government was not about expanding the minds or preserving the opinions of the public.
Shelbi sat at the bar in the afternoon drinking Bloody Marys and thought about when her and Johnny were high school sweethearts at Palm Springs High in California. They met in physics class freshman year and eventually slept together that inaugural semester, and kept sleeping together for the next 6 years. It was the textbook love story of the century: blond guy with brunette girl on white sheets. Shebi and Johnny were happily in love and young and snuck into each other’s windows at night in high school and made love.
They took the same classes as each other and ate the same foods and read the same exact authors. Johnny and Shelbi were inseparable. Shelbi’s parents died in Pearl Harbor—so they thought about eloping after graduation, but instead he proposed to her one night when she lost her tooth and he exchanged the tooth for a ring under her pillow and she caught him in the act.
They moved to California because Johnny enlisted in the military and that was where basic training was located. They bought a house and paid their taxes. They were a very happy couple and had talked about kids in the immediate future. Though they both loved being wild and getting hammered on weekends—so they took baby steps on added responsibility.
The countdown was about to start for the hydrogen bomb test and everyone was crowded outside the ship with brown goggles strapped around their eyes. Johnny and Washington stood next to each other against the railing. They were fully clothed now and sweated anxiously awaiting the detonation.
Johnny felt that he was committing a small sin and he knew that because his friend Washington had read fewer books then he had didn’t make his opinion any more wrong than his opinion. Johnny had all these unanswered questions that scrambled through the neuron fields of his brain. Then came a long warm uncomfortable silence over everyone. Over the intercom above them was a voice.
“30 seconds to zero time. Tighten your goggles or turn away.”
Everyone’s hands moved to their heads like mimes and waited.
“Minus 15 seconds.”
Everyone was looking out towards the west side of Bikini atoll where Ivy Mike was about to make history for the United States. Everyone was downright alone in his or her own worlds—the hype and curiosity was blooming inside the skulls of everyone on board. Was the explosion going to work? Were they all escaping real life for a few moments? Was the bomb going to be more powerful than anticipated and blow them into products of natural selection? Nobody knew. The salt-water smell lingered through the noses of everyone and the anticipation followed.
The intercom blared, “Minus 10 seconds.”
Shelbi was still at the bar and was drinking herself blind. She was approaching blotto—the bar tender contemplated calling her a cab, but decided against it. She missed her Johnny and worried about his safety and worried about her future as a military wife and the military mans promise. She was not sure if she could handle the time alone and if they were to have kids she would have to take care of them all by herself when he was gone. She wanted an answer to all her questions that were boiling in her head. The spicy tomato tanginess and celery was a good coping devise, but it was not enough.
Shelbi placed her hands on the bar for balance and pushed herself off the stool onto her feet and headed to the bathroom. Inside the bathroom she closed the stall door and sat on the toilet and was bent over with her hands in her face—and cried.
Back on the boat the test was getting very close to zero time. Human history for the United States was approaching at lighting speed. Several pairs of eyes gleamed out across the ocean and waited for science to work its course. Some members of the military closed their eyes because they were scared while the gutsy types smiled and anxiously bit their fingernails.
“Niner, eight, seven, six…” said the voice over the intercom.
Johnny was becoming light headed and thought he was going to throw up because he was so torn and on edge—but he managed to hold it together.
Seconds away from zero time and Johnny backed off the railing and cried under his goggles. He missed his wife and he wanted no part of these government experiments.
As the fusion bomb went off, both Johnny and Shelbi were miles away from each other but both of them cried for similar reasons. Johnny wanted to be a good father and he knew that it was going to be difficult to complete his fatherly duties while away on assignments.
Johnny decided in his mind that he was going to quit and that his life on the battleship was not for him.