Unconditional Surrender by Dave Gregory

The ground shakes beneath the giant, painted statue of a blue-suited sailor manhandling a blonde nurse into a break-neck kiss. A low, earthly rumble builds until it rivals an airplane’s roar. Violent tremors make the ground bounce and split. The couple wobbles, strains and cracks.

On a hot sunny day in San Diego, at a crowded, waterfront park, pedestrians scream and run. The jolting earth knocks people off their feet. Many huddle in groups on the lawn. Mothers shout for their children. A small boy watches a seam lengthen and widen to expose a corroded water main beneath the soil. The pipe bends, vibrates and rattles, then bursts. Water escapes with an alarming hiss.

Moored nearby is the USS Midway, a World War II aircraft carrier converted to a museum. Tourists flee in clusters of elbows and pushing hands, feet clanking on the gangway.

Statue and carrier represent the mystique of the greatest generation. Daily, the daunting behemoths mock those lacking confidence, lust, and bravado.

But upheaval threatens.

A safety zone is vacated around the statue, amidst fears it may topple. The nurse, tall as a tree and all in white, looks dangerously unbalanced. Her right leg is bent, only her toes touch the ground. The sailor has yanked her so far back she appears headless, from every angle except behind. Is he kissing her or sucking her blood? For years, he’s held her this way, preventing her from standing upright.

But it’s the sailor whose left knee buckles. Then his neck breaks. His white-capped head rolls across the nurse’s chest, hits the ground and clangs like a gong before splitting in two. The right arm cracks at the shoulder, separates, and slides down the nurse’s pristine skirt. When his legs give way, the sailor collapses in ruin.

Several downtown buildings suffer a similar fate. Sheets of glass, from dozens of gleaming towers, shatter, and rain lethal shards onto sidewalks. Inside, picture frames leap from walls, filing cabinets topple, ceiling plaster falls. Shaking intensifies. Foundations cleave and support beams disintegrate. Entire buildings are levelled and menacing dust clouds billow along thoroughfares of stalled, honking traffic.

When the earth stabilizes, the nurse stands alone.

She opens her eyes and inhales.

Tilted dangerously backward, her first vision is an upside-down glimpse of the USS Midway. The quake, though it frightened civilians away, barely registered on the decks of the floating aircraft carrier. All is calm on board, militaristic. Bright flags flutter. The relic exudes strength and power.

The giant nurse lifts her head and stands erect. Huddled tourists rise and stare, jaws hanging. Men shout expletives of surprise. Women applaud.

The trained medic’s eyes focus on the devastated skyline. She reckons the imposing military machine, behind her, is somehow responsible for the damage. Smoothing her skirt, she steps off her pedestal, indifferent to the rubble at her feet, which crumbles to powder beneath the heels of her sparkling white shoes.

She walks to the city, to assist the wounded.

Dave Gregory is a Canadian writer who worked on cruise ships and sailed the world for nearly two decades. He is an associate editor with the Los Angeles-based Exposition Review. His work has most recently appeared in Across the Margin, Fictive Dream, & Lowestoft Chronicle. Please follow him on Twitter @CourtlandAvenue.

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