Earthquake Murder Plane Crash Flood
by Michael Cadnum
No wonder we decided to add a room to our house and no wonder we were happy with the room just before it was finished--when an electrical cable hung out of the ash-wood veneer paneling and an expert on stilts stapled acoustical tile into the ceiling. Echoes, whispers--this was the room we wanted it to be.
You murmured to me one night that the woman across the street wandered naked room to room, drinking hard, straight out of the bottle. That was why we believed in God, because of all we could not see but that really happened, the gunshots out by the junior high, the blood but no body.
If we got up early and stood beside the curb, they would begin the tests again, breaking open the verbs, releasing a desert, and even in the cold, waiting for the headlights, we would not feel small at the flash behind the mountain.
We grew. We developed new bones, inside, where they gave no strength, but ached. This, we would think. We must talk about this.
We did not speak. In our neighborhood, every canny creature was armored--the horned toads, the desert tortoise. Mathematics was new. Each number was still warm, and the old alphabet was being peeled off to dry, earth stacked and trucked away. We could laugh as long as the sound was fashionable, a quiet, cheerful low-note, high-note. No one wept.
The nectarine tree stayed hard all summer, its answer to the drought-- never ripening, its leaves never going gold and drifting. When we planted tomatoes the sphinx moths kissed the vines and left large, green fingers. larvae that clutched and consumed.
At night you could hear the secret arguments, and when the mason arrived to build the chimney we knew it was already too late. Dad left. Mom got her eye makeup tattooed.
Finishing meant nothing. Starting was what we cherished. The tar paper and sticky putty were what we loved best, the sliding door with the glass! sticker warning us away. The chalky, mock-crumby antique appearance of the brick was fresh, ready-made by a factory in the next county. We knew the body in the dry creek was too small to be human, but human. We knew that living was not what we liked, we liked life.
That was when the earthquakes started, the eagerness in the new studs, fresh nail heads chattering. And that was when the river began to search eastward, over the shipwright’s back lot, fiberglass husks and uncompleted skeletons. Mice drowned, wisps of fur along the high-water line along the walls.
The dry weather returned. Opossums nested in the inventory, and jack rabbits dodged the fire inspector. Dad called, but stayed gone.
A Cessna crashed in the center of the two-lane, and we agreed over breakfast that the pilot had done it on purpose on his way through the hard pane that finished off every post hole, a strata of adobe you could dig up and bake into bricks. He wanted all the way through, and succeeded.
Our conversation was like humor, but there was nothing funny. We got so we always talked like that, disaster turned to salt by our accents. It was our way of not wanting it, not desiring the way we knew we had to make-do.
And it was a way of not loving the sound of the buzz from the predawn sky, the quick silence, no impact noise, and almost no scar on the asphalt, either. It happened. It didn‘t.
A mark was left on the two-lane, an eye that wouldn’t look.
- Earthquake Murder short-short story Cadnum