The earthquake sent us all into confusion. All along the Michigan-Indiana border, we mistook the vibrations for a million other things. A sleeping woman in Dowagiac dreamt someone was fucking her on a coffee table. Kids on the beach near St. Joe imagined frantic sea-beasts rushing out of the swelling waves. Bible-thumpers by Elkhart grabbed their crosses and whooped with glee—get down on your knees, Barbara, it’s go time.
Charlie might have been the first to think the word earthquake. She flunked seventh grade twice but remembered some stuff about plate tectonics, the way the earth cracks like eggshells under our feet. Her first instinct, somewhat stupidly, was to drape the TV Guide she’d been reading over her face and lie very, very still.
As we braced ourselves in doorways we knew we weren’t always so disconnected—ice and generators once passed from house to house and big-bellied fathers sat on porches with guitars in their laps. Yet Charlie alone found her mother splayed over the dinner table, looking as if she was going to boogie board through the hall.
“Charlie, help me,” her mother said. “Charlie, I can't move.”
She touched her mother's hand, the skin stretched tight and cool.
“You gotta get Raymond, baby,” her mother said. “You gotta help me.”
Mothers begging their daughters, earthquakes in Michigan—we thought, what next?
We don’t know how Charlie replied, but we know that the air felt cooler on her bike. Charcoal clouds swung down from the sky. Traffic lights bobbed at the ends of their delicate steel arms like overripe fruit. As she pedaled, she looked for signs that the earth had shifted. Charlie hadn't seen her father since her mother started instructing her to call him father because Raymond from the dentist’s office was now daddy. Her mother told her that she shouldn't be so mean to Raymond. He was a nice man and didn't hit anybody.
Charlie knew she should be scared of what would come next, knew that violence always led to more violence, but she didn’t care, because Charlie deserved it, or she thought she did, sometimes.
We swear, Charlie, you're not a little shit. We said, the windows have broken, the water main is busted, we wish we could help you, but our things are all over the floor. Charlie, you couldn’t blame us for not knowing, for we do know that you can bike to your father's place with your eyes closed. We picked our way through the darkened hallways and said, watch for potholes, Charlie. We opened the front door an inch at a time and murmured, careful now, careful—that volcanic anger you love so much, deep and tough as muscle, is only an afterthought, only an echo.
On our porches we counted branches in the street, goosebumps on our arms. We saw the girl whizzing past, with purpose we’d never seen before. We wondered where she was headed. We thought, somebody has got to get that child inside.
Laura Citino is a fiction writer and essayist from southeastern Michigan. She received her MFA from Eastern Washington University in 2013. Her short stories and essays have been published in numerous journals in print and online, including Passages North, Sou'wester, Gigantic Sequins, and cream city review. She currently serves as Managing Editor at Sundog Lit and lives in Kalamazoo, MI.
Athena Frances Harden was born in rural SW Pennsylvania in 1989 and received a BFA from Point Park University in 2013. Using an array of mediums from photography to videography and paper collage, Athena brings awareness to simple detail and relationships, making visual art to better understand self and the world we inhabit. Currently residing in Pittsburgh, traveling often and breathing carefully.