The entire Pacific Northwest is a subduction zone. Angela has been aware of this for most of her life, but has only recently added Earthquake to the file she keeps in the exact center of her chest. She has filed it alphabetically, after Cancer and Drunk Drivers, and before Kidnapping and Mass Shootings.
Lately, Angela has been having the same nightmare over and over. In it, she stumbles endlessly past upturned pickup trucks and flooded basements, kicking aside loose shingles in search of a pudgy hand or a matted head to clasp.
Angela avoids sleep. She can lie awake for hours, visualizing her children, fully-grown. She stretches them, fills them out, makes them outgrow her. She pictures Tommy as an excavator operator, and gives him a deep, rich voice, tightly curled chest hair, and plenty of dirt beneath his broad fingernails. She conjures for him a husband named Fernando and two hazel-eyed children. In Angela’s mind, June unfolds into a tall woman, a geneticist in a white lab coat and thick-rimmed glasses, but whose hair still slips out from every attempt at a ponytail. Angela gives June a partner named Patrick and a gently swelling stomach.
Of course, if tonight is the night, the children will never become adults, or parents, or even teenagers. They may open their eyes one last time as the previously solid floor begins to dip and roll like waves beneath their beds. Or maybe Angela will have time to gather them under the dining room table, where they will listen to the hammering of one another’s heartbeats as photos drop from flimsy wire nails, the refrigerator walks out of the kitchen, and, finally, the house sidles away from its foundations. Maybe they will even live to see all those things that had collapsed come rushing back toward them in a roiling wall of water: beds, chimneys, SUVs. But that is it. That is where the possibilities end. Angela has read that it is nearly impossible to survive a tsunami.
And yet, imagining it, a feeling of calm settles over her. Those final moments could get ugly – gasping, twisting, lungs burning – but Angela thinks that at least they would be brief. That her children would never have to watch her flesh devoured by hungry cancer cells, or clean her withered body while she eyes them warily, uncertain of who they are. And instead of tormenting herself with images of them drowning in a hotel swimming pool, or getting into a car with a drunk teenager, or marrying an angry man with steel in his eyes, perhaps there could be a certain beauty in the way she could simply stop struggling and clutch her family to her chest as they float, together, into eternity.
Rachel O’Cleary writes with Writers HQ. She studied creative writing at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and lives with her husband and three children in Ireland, squeezing her obsession for flash fiction into the spaces between school runs. You can find a list of her published work at https://rachelocleary.wordpress.com, and she occasionally tweets @RachelOCleary1.