A Compendium of Earthquakes

[creative nonfiction]

  1. The first one was in the egg shop. I was a baby, strapped to my mother’s back in a blue nylon carrier while she wandered Kotwali bazaar. Shelves of eggs, a single room with three walls and a pull-over aluminum door. All of the eggs broke. After the shaking stopped, the street dogs rushed in, thrilled, lapping the floor and shelves.
  2. They happened all the time in Dharamsala, my dad says. My brother remembers the one that broke the cottage above Macleod Ganj where the other ex-pats lived; he was in school reciting square root tables. My sister remembers, too; she had been on the roof, sweeping off monsoon rainwater.
  3. Halloween when I was 11: Katie and I went out—her witch hat, my face stamped with moon and stars—and got candy one last time. What are you? mothers asked, scowling at us. We were old now. In the morning, it was in the papers. They were rare in New England, after all. None of us had felt it, and we all wished we had.
  4. The train was too far from Matt’s house in Kent, Ohio, to hear the horn, but the vibrations woke me up at 4 a.m., 6 a.m., 8 a.m. I didn’t know yet that this is what an earthquake feels like. I slowed my breathing, one breath for every two of his, until I fell asleep again.
  5. In my lab in La Jolla, I was always worried I’d be working with radiation when one happened. I’d be closed in what we called the hot room, and the radioisotopes would spill over the bench, the floor, burn through my gloves and shoes and fry my ovaries. When one did come, I only had a bottle of saline solution. It went on so long that we all looked around at each other, wondering if we should get under the desks and hold their legs like the video said. We just stood there, eyebrows up, flasks and pipettes in our frozen hands, shaking. It passed and we got back to work.
  6. I felt one in the apartment in San Diego, too: rumble, pause, rumble. Max came back from his run, dripping, a half hour later. He hadn’t felt it: it turns out that in motion, you can’t feel the earth move under you. Oh man, he said, I missed it!
  7. In Berkeley, I sometimes startle awake at 2 a.m., bed shaking. I always wait, but when another movement doesn’t come, I know it’s just the subway shaking the ground.
  8. None of us are prepared. I have some dust masks, a hand-crank radio, but only a gallon of water stored under the bed. No canned food, no can opener, no crowbar to hack out of a collapsed building when The Big One comes. And my building will collapse: my walls already show cracks; my ceiling is already starting to buckle. No one I love has the money to live somewhere safe. Maybe this is why no one I love has bothered to get the recommended welding gloves, or waterproof matches. In the shape we’ll be in, we don’t want to survive.
  9. The last time, you were there with me. My bed was our bed for the evening; my body your body for the night. I was over you, my hands braced on your shoulders, hearts thumping. And then the bed shook. The headboard rattled. We stopped moving, eyes locked. A framed photograph fell from the wall. The ground kept shaking the building, and the building kept shaking the bed, and the bed kept shaking us, until my heart fell out of my chest and onto yours. It lay on you, throbbing, wet, ruby-red and oversized like a cartoon steak. I bled over you. The blood ran off your sides, pooled under your ribs, your belly button. You tried to place, and then shove, my heart back in my ribcage, but it wouldn’t fit. Well, you said, I think this is The Big One. You put your fist where my heart had been and stopped the bleeding.

 

Hope is a science writer in Berkeley, California. Her work has most recently been published in Lost Balloon, Pidgeonholes, and The Rumpus. You can find her at hoperhenderson.com, and on twitter @hoperhenderson.