- Earthquake Weather
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Around dawn, the house shakes us awake. As Californians, we know what to do. Never hang pictures above your bed, or shelves of books. Those mistakes could kill you. Avoid windows. Huddle in a doorway or beneath a table. When the earth is still again, evacuate the building. After the sun’s come up, stand in the driveway with your husband and screaming cat. Watch the roof collapse. [End Page 35]
Before the earthquake, George slept. I stared at my phone in the dark. I was done with my first trimester and buzzed with cataclysmic energy. I read about every impending disaster: coral reefs bleached like teeth, dormant volcanoes erupting in the Pacific, waters rising and drowning cities, contagions coating lettuce and broccoli, birds vanishing as if swallowed by passing planes. Our cat, Beanie, did her nightly rounds. She’s gone dotty in her senility and shrieked as she prowled the house. Her alarms were not meant to warn us. Cats only look out for themselves. But Beanie must have felt some movement undetectable to humans and divined a foreign strangeness in her small world.
In the morning, while Beanie and I take shelter in the car, George calls the insurance company. Neither of us is talented in the ways of adulthood, but he tends to it anyway. House stuff, money stuff. The baby tut-tuts in my gut, as if she knows just what kind of mess we’re in.
A fireman knocks on the window for me to join him in the driveway. “It’s been some time since I’ve seen so much damage to just one house,” he says. The neighboring single-story bungalows are marred by a few spider-veined fissures, while ours is cracked and wet and full of holes. Our neighbors’ children run across their lawn as if the whole occasion is fun. He loosens the collar of his yellow rubber jacket. “It’s like your house was built over a hot spot.”
“Maybe it sits on the gate to hell,” I say.
He looks at me like I am so weird. “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
The fireman can’t have heard the album that was supposed to be my big break, critically panned commercial failure that it was.
“I don’t suppose you’re a fan of obscure art rock?”
“You paint rocks?”
Then his face flashes recognition. “I know! I saw you on Linda’s Latte Hour.” He gushes about how much he loved the segment on estranged sisters.
I haven’t seen my sister Patty since April, when she asked me to appear on Linda’s Latte Hour to promote her memoir, Sisters in Silence. Patty is a therapist to the fabulously wealthy, formerly radical hippies of Marin County. Sisters in Silence is four hundred pages of confessional trash mining our family trauma for sound bites. I was not eager to put on an act of sorority on Linda’s Latte Hour, but George said it might help Patty and me get back to a dependent, owed closeness. I think he just [End Page 36] wanted breathing room on the loan she gave us to buy our house. We needed to stay on her good side.
Linda, the host, was highly skilled at pitting us against each other— the taping was not as cathartic as the fireman assumes. It’s now September, and the book’s a best-seller. I guess readers love confessional trash.
“I loved the part where Linda hugged your sister and told her she would heal.” His eyes tear up. “My dad was a drunk, too.”
“Alcoholism runs in our family, you know. Patty left that part out of the book, how she spent years in and out of AA.”
“It’s called Alcoholics Anonymous for a reason,” says the fireman with diluted sympathy.
That won’t do—I’m a sympathy junkie. I touch his padded rubber arm and apologize, using my sweetest tone, the one perfected to bend men’s hearts with its exposed wire of vulnerability. “My sister’s been sober for...