Shopping in Chernobyl

By Amy Barnes

I’ve returned to my hometown but not my home because that is gone forever and all that’s left is a stripped down strip mall left standing in strips and straps and strops with closed department stores and childhood haunts, all label scarred across openings and exits, jagged in my mind jean stores and Jean’s Store and pet stores with cats and smells of cat food in tins and warm cookies in tins too wafting when I try to shop in the shops but have no money and there is no one selling anything anyway, as I can feel smell radiation smoke clouds hovering in blown out windows and glass ceilings and over the empty center fountain that is dry and full of only rusted pennies when I grab handfuls of dry change and make wishes but they only leave ghostly orange dust on my fingers, granting nothing to nobody even the man that is there trying to rescue all the cats while wearing a detective trench coat filled with ticking alarm clocks and candy watches hung on hooks, dragging on the ground with cat food cans and bacon in his pockets on the news, on TV store tube televisions that blast Max Headroom anchors spouting propaganda and praise songs and the national anthem of somewhere, telling me he’s searching and rescuing because that’s what he does but refuses to rescue me or see me as I pick up a hungry cat that is shopping for a home and stand in this man’s path, but he brushes past, brushes my shoulder into cinder ash fallout, all the while there’s a sale on cat food in the second floor pet store that is still announcing sales on a loop de loop when I drop penny dust in the carousel ticket box and climb aboard a looping copper dappled horse that sends splinters of hot wood into my thighs as we stand still, a girl and a cat and a horse that can all hear dog barks echoing but don’t encounter even one spaniel or pit-bull or bull terrier, just a deep voice on the loudspeaker and sad Burl Ives Christmas music playing because the man isn’t there to rescue the dogs, either.



Amy Barnes lives in the South with dogs and kids and words and at @amygcb on Twitter.


Art by Jay Baker, an artist from Colorado, living in Oregon by way of New Mexico; he records music as Tom Foe.